Should I Wait for OS X Before Upgrading My Macs?

1999 – I enjoyed your article, Is It Time to Buy an iMac? Personally, I’m still using my 6-1/2 year old Quadra 800 quite successfully. I know that $5,500 was a lot of money back in Spring ’93, and I’m squeezing every last bit of power out of it. For most tasks, it seems about as fast as the pre-G3 PowerPC machines. But on another note, I also have real problems with the stability of newer versions of the Mac OS on PowerPC Macs.

My Quadra 800 runs System 7.6.1 and hardly ever crashes, even while using lots of devices, printing, networking, etc. simultaneously. PowerPC Macs seem to crash much more often and suffer from extreme System Folder bloat. I’m anxiously awaiting Mac OS X, which offers the hope of Unix-like stability.

If that proves true, I’ll be the first person to sign up for a G4. Any thoughts?

A. Until a little over a year ago, I was getting by with a Centris 610 (20 MHz 68LC040, about half the speed of your Quadra 800). Once we hit about 132-180 MHz PowerPC 604-based Macs at work, the Centris just seemed too pokey – especially for my primary task, Web design. I could have spent about $300 for a QuadDoubler that would double CPU speed and provide the FPU my Centris lacked, but that plus a larger hard drive and a faster CD-ROM (mine was an external 1x unit) would bring the cost of updating the computer to about $800.

Umax SuperMac J700Fortunately that was about the time the last clones were discontinued; the SuperMac machines went on “fire sale” pricing in June 1998. So I replaced my $1,300 (original cost) Centris 610 with an $800 (discounted from $1,800!) SuperMac J700, a 180 MHz 604e machine. I haven’t regretted it. I’ll probably be happy with this for another two-to-four years,* especially since I can drop in a fast G3 or G4 card later on.

Honest truth: I ordered a replacement computer this week. Small Dog Electronics had stripped SuperMac S900s for $299. I’ll put everything from my J700 into the S900, then dropped my old video card and an old hard drive into the J700, along with a third-party 4x CD-ROM drive and $39 180 MHz 604e processor. My new computer will be exactly like what I’m using now, but in a tower configuration with two extra PCI slots. And my old computer will be just like it was when I bought it. The J700 will become my new home server, replacing a Centris 660av handling IPNetRouter, a Quadra 650 running Stalker Internet Mail Server and NetPresenz, and a Quadra 630 using Macjordomo to process over a dozen mailing lists. Low End Mac really is a low-end operation.

My SuperMacs will run OS 8.1, 8.6, and 9.0, although Apple won’t officially support them on a clone. I’ve heard OS 9 is incredibly stable, but I won’t try it until I get my “new” SuperMac S900 set up and have a second hard drive to play with.

All of these versions of the Mac OS are very stable. I run OS 8.1 on every Quadra in the house. They’re solid as rocks. Ditto for the SuperMacs and Power Macs running OS 8.6 – and 9.0 appears to be even better.

Since nothing I currently own may ever run OS X, that’s not an issue for me. Some day it would be great to have it, but until then, my older Quadras and Power Macs will keep my happy. [Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah didn’t ship until March 24, 2001. It required a PowerPC G3 or later, 128 MB of system memory, and 1.5 GB of available hard drive space.]

If you have enough memory (at least 24 MB, preferably more), visit Small Dog for some great deals on a Mac OS 8.1 CD – usually available for under $30 (depending on the current special).

 * I used those SuperMac computers as my primary computers from summer 1999 until the 15″ Titanium PowerBook G4 shipped in January 2001. They remained in use for some time after that.

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