My Almost iMac

1999: I’ve been running The iMac Channel since May 1998. I still don’t own an iMac, but my home computer is getting closer to the iMac’s specs all the time. (For the record, we now have two iMacs at work. Our web server is a Rev. B iMac; the other is a 333 MHz iMac Rev. D – the third fastest computer in the building, now that we have our first Power Mac G4 set up.)

The same month that I launched The iMac Channel, I also replaced my aging Macintosh Centris 610. The old 20 MHz workhorse really got bogged down on the Internet, or even when writing columns in Claris Home Page. (There’s a reason I call my site Low End Mac.)

Umax SuperMac J700That was the month of the SuperMac fire sale, since Apple made it very clear to Umax that it would not renew Umax’ Mac OS license (see Apple Squeezes Mac Clones Out of the Market for the history of Apple’s failed Macintosh clone experiment). After conferring with some fellow Mac webmasters and getting glowing reports, I found a SuperMac J700/180 for $799. It has a huge 2.1 GB hard drive (compared to 540 MB in my Centris), an 8x CD-ROM (far better than my NEC 1x external drive), and a pedestrian 24 MB of memory.

Even before I received the computer, I ordered a 64 MB memory upgrade. With 80 MB of RAM, a fast 180 MHz 604e processor, and a humongous hard drive, it rivaled the Power Mac 7600/200 I used at work at the time.

I’ve made some small improvements over the past year. When the ixMicro Ultimate Rez card was on sale for $80, I replaced the TwinTurbo that came in the J700. MacBench only shows about a 20% improvement, but that means that 24-bit video is now as fast as 16-bit was on the old card.

In August, I replaced the 180 MHz 604e processor with a Newer Tech 250 MHz G3 card, which increased CPU performance by about 75% and made the home computer nearly as perky as the 300 MHz Blue and White G3 I use at work.

Over the past week, I’ve added a USB card (expect a review soon on MacUSB) so my wife can connect her Canon MultiPASS printer/copier/scanner/fax machine and I can finally use my Contour UniMouse on my home computer. I’ve even added a 7-port powered hub made by Pertek. You can expect reviews of these and more USB devised in the near future.

All told, I’ve invested $800 in the computer, $70 in memory, $80 in a video card, $240 in a G3 CPU, and $30 in a USB card. Then add in the Compaq V410e monitor I bought refurbished for $70, and I’ve spent $1,290 for a computer that pretty much matches the original iMac in features and performance.

It’s not as pretty as the Bondi Blue babe, but it still has two free PCI slots, uses my beloved MicroSpeed ADB keyboard, has a SCSI port for my scanner and Zip drive, and has several internal drive bays that I can use when I outgrow 2.1 GB of space.

It even has that almost useless piece of hardware: a floppy drive.

There’s no internal modem, and the graphics may not quite hold a candle to the ATI Rage used in the iMac Rev. B and later iMacs, but it’s a great machine for surfing the Web, writing, and handling email. It even does a nice job with games, in those rare instances when I find time to play.

My “almost” iMac is a bridge between the old standards (SCSI, ADB, GeoPorts, and LocalTalk) and the new (ethernet and USB). What it lacks in contemporary styling it makes up for in sheer function and flexibility.

And even though it cost about as much as an iMac, at least I didn’t have to pay the whole $1,290 at once.