Should You Upgrade or Replace Your Older Mac?

Since you’re here, I’ll assume you have a low-end Mac (any Mac or clone that doesn’t have a G3). There are many factors to consider in deciding whether you’re better off upgrading your current Mac or buying a newer computer.

If we had the money, the choice would be easy: Buy the fastest Macintosh made (or an iMac for its good looks). But this is the real world, and we all have budgets.

Step One: Identify Your Computer’s Limitations and Your Unmet Needs

What are the limitations of your Mac? Can you address them without replacing it? Here are some examples of hardware limitations:

  • You want color, but your Mac Plus doesn’t support it. (While you might find a card for an SE or SE/30, you’re out of luck adding color to a Plus, Classic, or Classic II – unless you can find an ancient, slow SCSI video adapter.)
  • You need 32 MB of memory, but your LC only goes to 10 MB and doesn’t support virtual memory. (Some accelerators provide extra horsepower and the ability to address more memory.)
  • You need a 17″ 1024 x 768 screen, but your SE/30 or LC III can’t support it. (You may be able to scrounge up a video card, assuming the processor direct slot isn’t occupied with an accelerator or network card.)
  • Your IIci is nice, but just too slow. (A CPU upgrade could be just the ticket.)
  • You can’t find upgrades for your Mac II any longer. (Options include dropping in a IIx or IIfx motherboard, scrounging for PAL SIMMs and FDHD upgrades, living with 800KB floppies and getting an accelerator, or buying a new Mac or clone.)

The beauty of the Macintosh is that, with a few exceptions, your old peripherals will work with a newer Macintosh (the iMac with only USB being a blatant exception to the rule). Some other exceptions: pre-ADB keyboards and mice, pre-SCSI and a few older SCSI hard drives, accelerators, some older scanners, SIMMs, and NuBus cards.) An investment in a new SCSI hard drive, Zip drive, scanner, trackball, sketch tablet, or monitor continues to provide value even if you buy a newer computer.

Step Two: Consider the Cost

A few upgrades are no-brainers. Memory is cheap. The old 30-pin SIMMs are still easy to find – and cheaper than ever. Upgrading a IIci from 4 MB or 8 MB to 20 MB should cost under $80. A $150 accelerator may make a lot more sense than a $1,300 computer (assuming a tight budget).

But if you’re considering more than one upgrade, add up the cost. How much for more RAM? a larger hard drive? that accelerator? a faster CD-ROM? Add up those numbers. If they’re over $500, figure out what your Mac could be worth if you sold it – or as an extra Mac around the house. Add this to the upgrade cost.

For instance, I had a Centris 610, the cheapest version without ethernet. I’ve already upgraded to 24 MB RAM and 1 MB VRAM, but I needed a bigger hard drive, still more RAM, and ethernet. And I really would like a CD-ROM player.

We’ll compare this with the Umax J700/233, which was on close-out for $800 in June 1998.

Need Centris 610 Umax J700
add 64 MB RAM $100 $70
ethernet $100 (660av board) incl.
2 GB hard drive $170 incl.
CD-ROM $130 incl.
upgrade cost $500 $870
More Speed
QuadDoubler $300
sell Centris as is -$200
End Cost $800 $670

Umax SuperMac J700Adding up the numbers convinced me that I would be far better off with the Umax J700. It’s probably ten times faster than the accelerated Centris would have been, has accelerated video (not a Centris option), and can be upgraded with a G3 daughter card in the future.

On top of that, when I received the computer, I discovered it came with a 56k modem. I don’t need two, so I sold it for $50, reducing my net cost to $620.

Other close-outs on remaining Umax, Motorola, and Power Computing equipment can be equally attractive.

Weigh your options. If it would cost $600 to bring your aging Mac where you want it, maybe upgrading isn’t the best decision. Your monitor will probably work with a new Mac or Mac clone (even the iMac can support a large external screen). So should most or all of your external accessories.

If your Mac is in good shape, you can probably sell it for a reasonable price. Throw in several hundred dollars more and you’ll have a brand new computer that would run circles around anything you could do to beef up your aging Mac.

And there are other possibilities for your old Mac, such as turning it into a file server, print server, or internet gateway if you have several computers at home.

Another thing to consider is the used computer market. If you have an LC II, finding a nice used Quadra 605 or Centris 650 might be just what you need for the next year or two. Quadra owners can often find a great deal on a first-generation Power Mac with plenty of RAM, a larger hard drive, and CD-ROM. And the price can be very competitive with adding an accelerator plus RAM, CD-ROM, or hard drive to your aging Mac.

If you think a used Mac might be for you, check out Best Buys in Used Macs.

Step Three: Take the Plunge

You’ve weighed the alternatives and made your choice. So what’s it gonna be: upgrade or replace?

This article was first published in September 1997 and last updated before the Power Mac G4 was introduced at the end of August 1999.