The Practical Mac

The Complete Mac Makeover

Updating an Older Power Mac or iMac for Under $500

- 2003.03.04 - Tip Jar

I am not a technogeek. I don't rush out and buy every new product or upgrade that comes along. My Mac is a tool to accomplish my work. To have it in a constant state of upgrade flux is, to me, unsettling and ultimately counterproductive.

I generally only upgrade when it is necessary (i.e., to run a new program that my current Mac won't run) or when I come across a deal that would make it foolish not to upgrade.

An example of this last scenario is the purchase of my wife's PowerBook G4. The unit originally sold for $2,999. It was purchased from a large national retailer with a "no questions asked" 30-day return policy. Someone purchased it and returned it on the 30th day. In this intervening 30-day period, Apple unveiled the next PB G4 models and discontinued this particular model, thus greatly diminishing its retail value literally overnight.

The unit had all original packing materials, software, documentation, etc., and had been returned to its "new" state by the retailers technicians. It still carried the full one-year Apple factory warranty (from the day I purchased it) and was eligible for AppleCare. I bought the unit for $1,429. This was well over a year ago, and it has only been in the last 60 days that I have noticed this same model selling on eBay for less than what I paid for it.

I have not come across such a no-brainer before or since.

Deals such as this don't happen every day. Most of us (myself included - this purchase was for my wife, remember!) have to make do with the Mac we have or upgrade it to fit our needs. I pride myself on squeezing every last mile out of my Macs before I pass them on to a new owner. Here are some suggestions on how you can do the same. Note: Prices were taken from Other World Computing in late February 2003 and may not be current when you read this. This retailer was chosen as a reference only. The products mentioned are available in a number of other locations at prices that may vary from these.

Power Mac 6100

What!?! You're still using a nine-year old computer? And the '62 Nash Rambler in the garage probably still gets you where you want to go.

Although it has come to be my opinion over the last year that it is probably time to put the 680x0 Macs out to pasture, there is still some mileage left in the pre-G3 Power Macs, even in the 6100, the original entry-level consumer Power Mac. Most of the upgrades in this section are also applicable to the Power Mac 7100 and 8100 as well.

With a few tweaks, even a stock 6100 can be useful today. Having said that, the caveat is that this Mac does not now and never will run OS X, regardless of the upgrades you put in it. OS X requires PCI architecture on a very fundamental level; the original Power Macs (the x100 models) use NuBus architecture.

Processor: That PowerPC 601 must go. Pop in a Sonnet Crescendo G3/NuBus processor upgrade card. Cost is $199 for a card with a 500 MHz processor.

RAM: Don't just upgrade here; take out what is in the 6100 and replace it with all new memory. RAM must be installed in pairs and they must be identical. Pick up two 32 MB 72-pin SIMMs for $14.99 each or 64 MB SIMMs for $17.95 each. Unlike the 7100 and 8100, the 6100 will also work with 128 MB SIMMs, although OWC doesn't have any listed.

Hard Drive: The largest standard hard drive was 500 MB, paltry by today's standards. Swap out your old hard drive for a 9 GB IBM UltraStar for $49.95 - or splurge on a 36.7 GB drive for $139. Bear in mind that these older Power Macs use SCSI drives, not the more common, less costly IDE variety.

The 6100 has a built-in AAUI ethernet connector. With the appropriate dongle, you can connect to an ethernet network, cable modem, DSL, etc. If you don't have such a dongle, they can usually be picked up from a variety of sources, including eBay, for less than $10.

You can upgrade the CD-ROM to a faster model (the stock is 2x) for $19.95, but here we are focusing on the bare essentials required to make this Mac suitable for most tasks.

The total to bring that 6100 up to par: $278.93 plus shipping. When you consider that used 6100s often sell for $20 or less, you could have quite a bargain here. There are no USB or FireWire adapters for NuBus Macs, so the x100 series is limited in this respect. Despite this limitation, I have a 6100 upgraded exactly as outlined here, running OS 9.1, and I find it imminently useful for most everyday tasks.

Power Mac 7500

By 1995, Apple had it all right. With the 7500, Power Macs switched to PCI architecture and appeared to be manufactured with future upgradeability in mind. Most products mentioned here are also suitable for the 8500 and 9500 Power Macs.

Processor: Sonnet Crescendo G3/400 for PCI Macs: $99.97. G4 upgrades starting at $227.99.

With the Sonnet Crescendo processor upgrade, you can use either the Sonnet PCI X Installer for $29.95 or XPostFacto (free, but $10 to register for tech support, which is highly recommended ) to install OS X on your upgraded Power Mac.

RAM: It is also recommended that you remove any stock RAM and start anew. The 7500 has 8 RAM slots, allowing up to 1 GB of memory! Four 128 MB 168 pin DIMMs will give you a generous 512 MB of RAM for $107.88

Hard Drive: Hard drive options are the same as for the 6100: a 9 GB IBM UltraStar for $49.95 or a 36.7 GB drive for $139

Other: One of the most versatile upgrades for this Mac is the Macally USB 2.0/FireWire card. Using one of the PCI expansion slots, it gives you 3 FireWire and 2 USB 2.0 ports for $79.

Total cost to get your 7500 humming nicely: $336.80

Original [Rev. A-D] iMac

While the original Bondi Blue iMac was revolutionary in 1998, it is getting a bit long in the tooth. Here are some ways to bring it up to speed (literally as well as figuratively):

Processor: Although the original 233-333 MHz G3 processors are adequate for OS X, they could benefit from a speed boost (especially the 233 and 266 MHz versions). The Sonnet HARMONi G3/500 adds a FireWire port to the original iMacs, supports up to 512 MB of RAM, as well as giving a speed bump. Cost: $298.99.

RAM: Two 256 MB PC100 DIMMs will give you a plentiful 512 MB of memory for $56.97 each.

Hard Drive: Upgrading the original 4-6 GB hard drive with a 30 GB Maxtor FireBall 5400 RPM drive is $69.97 Replacing the hard drive on an iMac is not a simple matter. However, if you are technically inclined, an excellent tutorial can be found at (If you ever plan on using Mac OS X on a Rev. A-D iMac, be sure to create a first partion no larger than 8 GB in size. This is the only way you will be able to install and run Mac OS X on a drive larger than 8 GB on these iMacs.)

Total upgrade cost for the original iMac: $482.90.

If you cannot afford the Mac of Your Dreams, for a little cash and some sweat equity, you can probably make your current Mac come pretty close. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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