Apple Archive

Picking a Used G3 iMac: 600 MHz Is Sweet

, 2005.04.22

My last article, Picking an Older Power Mac: Go G4, brought up the subject of buying an older Power Mac for basic, typical modern computing tasks. While Power Macs are very useful, expandable, and great for those who want to use a large monitor, they're not what everyone is looking for.

Five years ago, if you wanted an all-in-one Mac, you had to go with something like the Performa 5400 - unless you didn't mind the 5200 series (which had many inherent design problems) or the non-PowerPC LC/Performa 500 series.

These days there are some much better options for those looking for an inexpensive all-in-one computer. For the same $300 that gets you a 400 MHz PowerMac G4, you can get quite a nice 600 MHz G3 iMac.

I'm not too big a fan of the early iMacs - the ones that use tray-loading CD-ROM drives. They're slow, not worth upgrading, somewhat ugly, and have a tendency for the analogue boards to fail.

They are cheap, though - for around $100 you can get yourself a decent, working 266 MHz iMac setup. (See This Week's Best iMac G3 Deals.) You'll be able to run OS X, but only if you don't mind waiting for the text you type to catch up with you (especially if you're using more than one application at a time or don't have the maximum RAM).

iMacWhat's next in the line? There were the 350 MHz blueberry iMacs, which used the new (much nicer) case design and a slot-loading CD-ROM drive. All 400 MHz and faster models had built-in FireWire, so if you plan on going for one of these, be sure you get a model that has it. If you don't, Apple won't officially support Mac OS X 10.4.* These are great machines for OS 9, and they run OS X about as decently as a blue and white G3.

That may not be decent enough for you. The next step in the line is a 400 MHz iMac. Most 400 MHz iMacs shipped with CD-ROM, but some have DVD-ROM drives, and they're decent performers with OS X. They also shipped with the newer Apple Pro keyboard and mouse, so if you're not planning on buying third-party peripherals, you might consider one of these machines based on the peripherals that come with it.

Then again, many times these older machines get resold without the keyboard and mouse, so that may be irrelevant. The additional performance in OS X is noticeable over even a 350 MHz machine.

There was a single 450 MHz iMac. It included a DVD drive, and it's not nearly as common as other iMac speeds.

These machines are sometimes available for under $200 these days, and a 500 MHz CD-RW model is generally available for not much more.

But if you want something that will be sitting on your desk for more than six months, you might consider one of the 600 MHz iMacs. These came with CD-RW drives,* were available in the more subdued graphite and snow colors, and generally have a more professional look to them.

The 600 MHz processor as well as the better video card (the 350-450 MHz iMacs had only 8 MB of VRAM with Rage 128 graphics, as did some 500 MHz models; other 500 MHz and all 600-700 MHz models had 16 MB with Rage Ultra 128) will significantly increase OS X performance - some of these models shipped with OS X installed. If you go with a 500 MHz iMac, try to find one with Rage Ultra.

Flat Panel iMacIf you've got a bit more money to spend, G4 iMacs are available for under $600. However, unless you really need the integrated display, it's probably a better idea to simply buy a $499 Mac mini. It's an amazing value - you're getting a machine almost twice as fast as the low-end iMac G4 with all the same features except for the display (which you may already have from a previous computer).

If you want to keep it under $300, I recommend the 600 MHz iMac. If not, go with the Mac mini.

* Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4) will ship on DVD. Only the faster 1999 and 2000 iMac models included DVD-ROM drives, so if you want to go with Tiger, your options are sending the DVD back to Apple with $10 to cover shipping on the CD version or picking up a DVD-ROM, Combo, or DVD-RW drive (internal or external using FireWire). ed

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