Thoughts on the First Generation Power Macs

It was 26 years ago that Apple first introduced the Power Macintosh Line of computers, the Power Macintosh 6100/60, 7100/66, and 8100/80.  The first Power Macs were an important step towards faster performance, and on paper they offered an incredible boost in performance compared to any of the 68040 based machines.  The most basic Power Mac had a 60 MHz PowerPC 601 Processor and offered about 2.5x the CPU performance and more than 11x the FPU performance of the previous fastest Mac, the 40 MHz 68040 Mac Quadra 840AV.

The new Power Macs sounded awesome, but there was a problem.  

While the PowerPC chips are much faster than even the fastest 68040 chips, the Operating System Software running on the new Power Macs was written entirely in 68000 based code.  This meant that the OS had to be run in 68000 emulation mode.  This made the new Power Macs feel closer in performance to the 25 MHz 68030 based Mac IIci, about 1/4 the speed of the Quadra 840AV. 

Okay so the OS felt pokey on Power Macs, maybe that wasn’t a big deal for you.  Perhaps you spent most of your time in Photoshop or QuarkXpress.  Well you could forget using your existing copies, that software was also in 68k code.  Assuming there was a PowerPC optimized version of the software you needed you’d have to spend even more money on it if you wanted your new machine not to feel like a lethargic slug.  What If there wasn’t a PowerPC version available?  Well, you were stuck watching molasses in January until there was.

It took Apple over four and a half years to release an OS that didn’t rely on any based 68000 code (Mac OS 8.5).  By the time it was released in late 1998, the first Power Macs were nearly five years old.  Even though technically they benefitted from the fully PowerPC compatible OS, Mac OS 8.5 was nowhere near as lean as System 7.5 was.  This meant the first Power Macs still felt sluggish despite the native PowerPC support.

What does all of this mean today?

I suppose these days I would say that the only reason the First Generation Power Macs have any importance is because they were the first to use PowerPC chips. They aren’t bad, but their performance is mediocre at best.  

Would I recommend them today for nostalgic computing?

Probably not.  The First Generation Power Macs are interesting to talk about, but besides their pedestrian performance they also have one other major problem:  They were the only Macs to use the HDI-45 port for the monitor connector.  This means you’ll either need the special HDI-45 to DB-15 adaptor to connect a monitor, or a video card with the DB-15 connector in addition to a DB-15 to VGA adaptor (if you’re connecting to a Non-Apple monitor).  This makes for additional expense and complexity for a machine that really isn’t going to dazzle you with its performance to begin with.

What would I recommend instead?

Stay tuned!  I’m busy putting together my 2020 list of the best Macs for nostalgic computing.  It will be published soon!