Apple Archive

Is It Worth It to Upgrade Your Older Power Mac?

- 2003.04.25

When you first bought your Mac, you probably didn't even think about how in only a few years it would become just as "outdated" as the computer you had been using before. A few years go by relatively quickly, and all of a sudden you find that your computer can't do as much as newer models can.

Is it worth upgrading or not?

Since the value of upgrading an older machine diminishes as it ages (which means it's changing all the time), it's hard to tell whether it's worthwhile installing some new components that might give the machine another year or more of life.

Pre-G3 Power Macs

In the case of pre-G3 Macs, I'd say only a few are really worth upgrading. These include the 9500 and 9600, but the 73-7600 series have little going for them when it comes to upgrades. Yes, they will accept the same upgrade cards as the other 9500 and 9600, but they only have three PCI slots and two drive bays (one if you have a Zip drive installed), so you don't get any major benefit by giving them some more life. 9500s and 9600s, on the other hand, have six PCI slots (five plus the video card), so many more things can be installed.

G3 Power Macs

Power Mac G3s are often worth upgrading. Since the processor uses a ZIF socket, you can usually use a faster G3 processor from another machine (G4 processors from the Yikes! G4 aren't compatible) or a third party G4 upgrade.

Hard drives in the Power Mac G3s are IDE, so they are available very reasonably. I just ordered a 40 GB drive for my G3 tower for US$54.

RAM is also cheap, as the G3s are compatible with standard PC100 or PC133 memory. Upgrading to several hundred megabytes shouldn't cost more than US$30-40.

Prioritize

I recommend upgrading the RAM and the hard drive first, as it is usually these - not the processor - that make the computer feel the slowest. Replacing the hard drive could cut startup time in half, and adding RAM usually makes menus, folders, and applications open much more quickly and smoothly.

If it still feels slow after that, there are a number of processor upgrade options to look at. Sonnet Technologies offers several. For $600 you can upgrade your old G3 to a 1 GHz G4, and for $170 you can upgrade to a 500 MHz G3 processor. For $300, Newer Technology offers a 550 MHz G4 processor.

What About OS X?

If you plan on running OS X, you may not want to use your G3's standard video. Most beige G3s came with 2 MB of VRAM, which isn't really enough for Aqua. This can be upgraded to 6 MB, or you could just buy a PCI video card for the machine. If you have a blue and white G3, the video card has 16 MB, which is fine for basic things in OS X, but if you deal with graphics or video, you might consider a better one.

Upgrade or Replace?

If you have never upgraded your system in the past, you might want to think twice about upgrading it now, especially if it was a low-end model to begin with. On PCs, you can replace your motherboard, processor, and hard drive to come up with a completely new machine. You can't do that on the Mac, so if you haven't invested somewhat heavily in the past on the hardware you already have, you might be better off buying a completely new machine or a used machine similar to yours with some of the upgrades already installed (this usually ends up being cheaper than if you were to upgrade your own).

Unfortunately, without an under-$1000 model, Apple computers aren't exactly what I would call affordable right now. You occasionally see G4 Macs (usually "Yikes!" models) on the used market for around $700, so this is an option to consider - especially if you plan on spending almost that much upgrading an old beige G3. The G4 has built in USB, FireWire, 100Base-T ethernet, and often DVD, which most beige G3s did not have. It's an option to consider if you just want a more up-to-date Mac and don't need a whole lot of speed.

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