Mac Daniel'sAdvice

Adding an Intel Mac mini Can Be Cheaper than Upgrading a Power Mac G4!

Dan Knight - 2007.02.14

I just read your Upgrade thePower Mac or Buy an Intel Mac mini? article, and I have a similarquandary. My wife and I have a G4 733MHz Digital Audio. It is the high-end one with DVD about $4Koriginally. We have never upgraded the hardware at all yet.

We have OS X 10.3 and will soon be upgrading to 10.4. I want tospeed this system up, since we are not in a position to buy a newsystem. My wife is taking a Final Cut Pro class at our communitycollege and will be doing a lot of video work very soon. She has aclassic version of Final Cut Pro.

Is it possible to speed this system up enough to process thevideo or should we be looking at a Mac mini (cheap one). Could you pleaseadvise on your recommended upgrades for storage, memory, processor,etc. for the G4 or for a particular Mac mini. I am not that savvyon how she would work between the two systems, as you stated inyour article that you would use the G4 as a workhorse and the minifor video.

We need to keep expenses down and remain in the Mac world. I hada Mac Plus, SE, and a Quadra 650 before I met my wife, whobought this Digital Audio loaded with software from Power Max in2001.

Thank you for your time and feel free to use this in your website.


My workhorse computer is a Power MacG4/1 GHz dual, which means it has about three times the rawhorsepower of your G43/733. It's great for everything I do on adaily basis, and my sons find it quite nice for World of Warcraft,but it turns into a real slug when I work with digital video.

Let's look at your two options: upgrading your Power Mac orbuying a Mac mini.

Upgrade the Power Mac

First of all, if you've never upgraded RAM beyond the original128 MB, you need to. An absolute minimum for reasonable Tigerperformance is 512 MB, and if you're going to be working withdigital video, I'd recommend 1 GB as a minimum. Ramseekerlists 512 MB modules as available for $56 today. Add a pair to the128 MB stick in your G4 for $112.

Then you'll want a big, fast hard drive, as video files tend tobe big to begin with, and edit files eat up disk space quickly. A250-320 GB drive should be available for $100 or so - but there's acatch. The ATA/66 controller in your older Mac doesn't supportdrives over 128 GB, so you'll want to add an ATA/100, ATA/133, orSerial ATA (SATA) controller in one of your PCI expansion slots.That brings us up to about $275.

If you're going to continue to use the Classic version of FinalCut Pro, you won't benefit much from dual processors, so fastsingle CPU upgrade would make the most sense. Still, that's $300and up once you get past the 1 GHz mark.

If you're going to be using iMovie, iDVD, etc., which are OS Xnative, a dual processor upgrade makes more sense. PowerLogix makesa dual 1.3 GHz upgrade for $325, which will provide a lot moreoverall horsepower than a single 1.6 GHz CPU.

That's $600.

The 2x SuperDrive should be adequate for burning a DVD now andthen, but you can replace it with a 16x dual-layer SuperDrive for$60 if you find you need more speed.

Buy a Mac mini

You can buy a refurbished Mac mini with SuperDrive for $649(1.66 GHz) or $699 (1.83 GHz) from Apple these days. It comes with512 MB of RAM and an 80 GB hard drive, which already puts it aheadof your G4/733. And the dual-core Intel CPU has at 4-8x the rawcomputing power of your current system, which makes it a lot morepowerful than even a dual 2.0 GHz G4 upgrade.

You'll want to upgrade memory to at least 1 GB, which goes for$80 according to Ramseeker.(2 GB is $145.) That brings us to $730. (Upgrading RAM in aMac mini is not for the faint of heart.)

You'll probably find the internal 5400 rpm drive adequate, butif you need or want more space and more speed, look into anexternal FireWire hard drive. I'm a big fan of the NewerTechminiStack, which has USB 2.0 and FireWire, matches theappearance of the Mac mini, has excellent cooling for the fast harddrive inside, and is quite reasonably price.

There are ways to use the Mac mini with your existing keyboard,mouse, and monitor, such as a KVM (keyboard video mouse) switch andVNC (virtual network computer) software.

The Better Choice

In the end, we're looking at $600 worth of upgrades to a greatold Power Mac or $785 for an upgraded Mac mini plus an overdue 512MB memory upgrade for your Power Mac.

What do you gain for the $185 difference in price? First andforemost, you gain a second computer - even if you're not settingup a second computer system. You'll be able to use your Power Macfor all of your Classic software that isn't supported on the newerIntel Macs. And you'll be able to start your Mac mini working on atime intensive video project (importing video, converting video,applying a filter, or mastering a DVD) and go back to work on thePower Mac.

I've experimented a bit with VNC software, and it's a workablesolution. I really like the Chicken of the VNC client, andRealVNC and OSXvnc are recommended asgood clients for the remotely controlled Mac. VNC should work verysmoothly over 100 Kbps fast ethernet or Megabit ethernet if you'renot using your ethernet port for anything else, and you can alsoconnect the two Macs using FireWire networking.

If budget is a big concern, here's what I'd do:

  1. Buy a refurbished 1.66 GHz Mac mini Core Duo with Combo drive.$519 from the Apple Store when available. (They are listed thismorning.) Upgrades as mentioned above.
  2. Buy an ethernet crossover cable or FireWire cable to networkthe two computers and use VNC to remotely control the whichever Macyou want running as your secondary computer.
  3. Do all of your video work except for burning DVDs on the Macmini. Do your disc burning on the Power Mac, which already has aSuperDrive (albeit a slow one).

Your net cost for this would be about the same as the cost ofupgrading your Power Mac with a $300 CPU upgrade plus the otherthings mentioned. You'll have far faster editing performance withthe Mac mini, and if you ever need two separate systems, you'llonly need to add a keyboard, mouse, and monitor so both systemswill be fully usable at all times. LEM

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