Mac Musings

The Evolving Low End

Daniel Knight - 2002.09.05 -

I had fun doing some number crunching on Monday. Yeah, Labor day. Yeah, I really am a geek. ;-)

I wanted to get a better picture of where visitors to Low End Mac are with their hardware, so I was especially interested in finding out which computer profiles are the most accessed. That changes over time, and we need to follow that change to better serve our readers.

Back in July 1997, the first month for which I have statistics, the top profiles were the Mac Plus (158 hits), SE/30 (148), IIci (139), SE (137), and LC III (124). This was partly due to the fact that we weren't yet covering Power Macs.

The 6100 Era

By January 1998, the Power Mac 6100 was our top model (682 hits), followed by the Quadra 605 (515), SE/30 (478), Plus (458), and IIci. Six months later, the yet-to-ship iMac was #1 with 1,381 hits, followed by the beige G3 (869), SE/30 (868), 6100 (695), and IIci (679).

In January 1999, the brand new blue & white G3 topped the list (3,448), followed by the 6100 (2,120), SE/30 (1,504), Rev. B iMac (1,339), and Power Mac 7100 (1,303). That July the just announced iBook topped our charts (3,139 hits), along with the SE/30 (3,118), IIci (2,059), 6100 (1,744), and SE (1,462).

Fast forward another six months, and we find the 6100 back at the top of the heap (2,929 hits), and the Quadra 605 (2,871), 7100 (2,086), Quadra 630 (1,981), and Power Mac 7200 (1,774) not too far behind. In July, the 6100 retained first place with 2,411 hits, followed by the perennial bridesmaid, the SE/30, at 2,090. Next came the 7100 (2,018), 7200 (1,585), and SE (1,528).

Moving to the start of 2001, the good old 6100 from 1994 was still the most visited computer profile on the site (3,572 hits). Next in line was the barely shipping PowerBook G4 (2,639), along with the beige G3 (2,407), 7200 (2,200), and Power Mac G4/Digital Audio (2,154).

Basically, from shortly after we added Power Mac profiles in late 1997 through early 2001, the Power Mac 6100 was the #1 or #2 profile on our site - and then the PCI models came to dominance on our site.

Ready for OS X

By July 2001, the beige G3 had become the most popular profile on the site (2,699 hits), along with the Power Mac 7500 (2,548), 6100 (2,136), SE/30 (2,020), and 7200. None of these were new models in their month of glory, and three of the top five profiles were PCI-based Power Macs.

Move forward another six months, and we find the beige G3 still holding the top spot in January 2002 with 5,091 hits. Next up were the still amazingly popular 6100 (3,783), the PowerBook 1400 (3,633), the blue & white G3(2,936), and the 7100. We had a PowerBook in the top ranks, but not a single 68k model. (The Quadra 630 was the top ranked vintage Mac in 16th place.)

Last month the beige G3 remained the king of the hill (4,967 hits), followed by the Power Mac G4/AGP (3,886), blue & white G3 (3,839), Pismo PowerBook G3 (3,007), and old reliable, the 6100 (2,776).

What Does It All Mean?

The beige G3 came out in late 1997 and became the top profile about 3-4 years later. The same goes for the 6100 that dominated before it. The blue & white G3 seems destined to surpass the beige G3 in coming months, and it will eventually give way to the various Power Mac G4 models, starting with the Sawtooth/AGP version.

It's great to see PowerBooks moving up in the ranks, since a lot of us see portable computers as the best solution in most situations.

"Energizer" Computers

Like that crazy Energizer bunny, Macs last and last. Visitors to Low End Mac hold on to their computers for three, five, seven, ten, or more years. The 6100 may be #5 on the hit chart today, but the profile is also seeing more traffic today than it did in 1999. It's become a real hit among low-end users.

As Apple introduces new models and slightly older ones enter the used market, our focus shifts. Where articles about Quadras once dominated the site, we've gone through the NuBus Power Mac stage and PCI Power Mac stage to reach the point where the earliest model to support Mac OS X is the most visited profile on the site - and articles about the G3s have become the most read hardware pieces on the site.

The low-end is a moving target. As I enjoy reminding my customers at the camera shop as well as Mac users, unless it breaks, your hardware will always do exactly what it did when you bought it. It may do more, thanks to add ons, but it won't lose capabilities. There's a lot of value in old computers, and I still run into people happily using 1970s 35mm SLR cameras as well as early 1990s Macintosh computers.

Whether you're using a Mac Plus or IIfx with System 6, an SE/30 or Centris 650 with 7.1, a Quadra 840av or PCI clone with Mac OS 8.1, or a beige G3 or PowerBook G4 with Mac OS X, the question isn't how much better today's Macs are, but whether your older Mac has really become inadequate - and whether that shortcoming can only be addressed by a new computer, not a low-cost upgrade or a newer Mac.

There are some incredible deals on used and refurbished Macs, whether that means moving from an SE to an SE/30, a II to a IIfx or Quadra 950, a Centris 610 to a Power Mac 6100, or a 7200 to a beige G3. Old Macs remain useful for an awfully long time.

And even if you do buy new, keep in mind that sooner or later that dual G4 1.25 GHz machine is going to be low-end, too. And we'll be around to help you get the most of it in 3-5 years when the G4/DDR machines top our popularity list.