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That old Mac...still useful?
by David Norton

First, let me tell you what this column will be about, who I am, and why I'm doing this.

What - Three Cents will usually be an opinion column, or an informative column about Macs with a dash of opinion mixed in. This column would probably be classified with the latter. I am naming it Three Cents on the Web because I wanted something to complement my magazine-based column, My Two Cents Worth. Because of inflation, and I needed to Think Different™-ly, and because this is on the web, I had to come up with a new name; ergo, "Three Cents on the Web." Thanks to Joe Speiser at MacProvider for helping me figure out the name. At least one or two of my 7 brothers, and probably my Mom, will be proofreading these columns. I ask you to email any mistakes to david@macmilitia.com

Who - As of this writing, I am a homeschooled 9th grader, and I live in the United States (which is about as specific as I will get about my location). I would have a picture, but due to safety reasons... ;-)

Why - Since my Mom is pushing me to get some creative writing done for homeschool, I needed something to do. I also wanted to get a name for myself, so that's why I'm writing this.

OK, enough about myself so you can read about my opinion on old Macs.

Overview

Here you are, using your Mac. It may be a brand spanking new PowerMac G4, or it might be 2-3 years old. You might even be reading this on a 5-6 year old computer. In my column's debut, I'll talk about older Macs, why you may or may not want to upgrade, and other things like that. I realize this could spark a lot of controversy, so I suggest you read through this entire article, read through it again if you want to, and then go argue about it in the MacProvider/MacMilitia.com discussion boards. If you'd rather not post it there, then email me at david@macmilitia.com

Upgrading

Some people want to upgrade their five year old Macs, instead of buying a new Mac. Let me tell you what I think about this: that's stupid. Old Macs can still be sold or given away, or used as a second Mac. Let me show you what it would cost to upgrade a 3-year old 6400/180:

Upgrading a 6400:
Item

Cost

MAXpowr 300MHz G3 card:

$400

32MB RAM:

$80

4GB hard disk:

$200

56K modem:

$100

10/100 Ethernet PCI card:*

$50

2-port USB card:*

$40

RAGE Orion:*

$180

*Pick two, because of the limited PCI slots.

What you get:
Upgraded 6400
iMac

300MHz G3

333MHz G3

48MB RAM

32MB RAM**

5.6GB disk space

6GB hard disk space

56K modem

56K modem

10/100 Ethernet

Built-in 10/100 Ethernet

2-port USB card

2 USB ports

Upgrade cost: $900+

Cost: $1199

**You can usually get free RAM with an iMac.

Please email me with any technical mistakes.

And I could talk you into next Tuesday about the problems with the upgrade arrangement. Mainly, that would be about the best you could get with the 6400, whereas the iMac could still get more RAM (in fact, you can usually get a brand-new iMac with lots of free RAM as well). The iMac's graphics card would still whup all over the 6400. You could still sell the 6400, or give it away to a school, church, or one of your relatives. Or you could use it at the same time as the iMac (surf the web on the Performa while playing StarCraft on the iMac). I am writing this column on a Centris 610 in my room, with Mac OS 8.1. Sure, I'd take an iMac any day, but for most my purposes (writing articles, programming in REALbasic, playing multiplayer Marathon games against my brothers, etc.) it does fine. For surfing the 'net, playing some of the newer games, and writing emails, I use the family Performa 6400 (which will soon have an iMac as a neighbor, once we convince my Dad that it would be worth it).

Game consoles

Some misguided people say that you should use a Nintendo 64 (or other consoles) for games and all you need for everything else is an old LC or something. I say that's nuts. Word 98 (not my favorite word processor, but the one most Mac users use) requires a 120MHz or faster PowerPC. The latest versions of Netscape Communicator and MSIE require PowerPC chips, and they run slow even on a 200MHz 603e (what my Performa has). Lots of games are much better on or absolutely require a computer rather than a console. FutureCop cost twice as much on the console, didn't have as good graphics, and to play two player you had to use a split-screen. Games like StarCraft and Falcon 4 aren't made for consoles because there are so many keys you need to be able to use. Also, if there is a Playstation or PC game that you just have to play, you can get emulators such as Connectix Virtual Game Station or Virtual PC. In my opinion, the Mac is a much better gaming machine than the wimpy Nintendo 64 and Playstation.

The "Gotta wait because they will upgrade it soon" syndrome

This is the trap lots of people fall into: they are in need of a new Mac, they have their eyes set on just the right one, but they hear rumors flying around the web that it will be revised soon, or that the price will drop. So they just keep on waiting, and when it does get upgraded or the price is dropped, they hear more of the same rumors. So they keep on waiting and waiting, and they never buy it. In some cases this can be good, because it will keep people from buying lots of computers, but it can also be very bad. I suggest if you really need it, buy it. Otherwise you will probably want to wait. Read on...

I need the iBook! Sure, I just bought a PowerBook G3, but...

We all do this. I do it. My family bought a 6400 in November 1996, and my mouth was watering over the 9600s, then the PowerMac G3s, and then my brother and I had made our minds up to buy an iMac right away. We didn't, and I'm glad. We will be getting an iMac sometime soon, about the time our current computer turns 3. Graphics professionals, of course, need to get a new computer every year or so so that they can use the latest and greatest software, as well as take advantage of new technologies, such as USB, FireWire, and the RAGE 128, without having to fill up precious PCI slots.

One last thing

This is off-topic, but I would like to say this: will people stop complaining that the PowerMac G3/G4 doesn't have SCSI? It is one of the worst technologies ever made. You have to shut down your computer to plug something in or unplug it, the cords are almost as wide as your finger, only 8 devices can be plugged in at a time, you have to set IDs manually for each one, etc. Firewire, on the other hand, has hot pluggability, the cords are a whole bunch smaller, it's superfast, up to 63 devices at a time, and no ID setting. While currently there may not be as many devices for it as SCSI, the number is growing, and VST Tech is a pioneer in Firewire, with both hard drives and Zip drives, all in red and yellow.

The end

There, I'm done. If you're ticked off, then I'm actually kind of happy. I want to think differently, and that means my opinion will probably differ from most other people.

I spend some time writing for the MacProvider/MacMilitia.com forums. You can read some more of my writing there (hope that doesn't scare you off!) The last thing I'd like to say is, phew! What a long column!

-David Norton,
david@macmilitia.com.

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