Slot Loading iMacs: The SE/30 for a New Generation
- 2008.05.20 - Tip Jar
About a year ago, I decided that my Mac museum would be incomplete without an iMac, what with it being the "computer that saved Apple" and all. I began browsing eBay with the intent of finding an original Bondi blue tray-loader for the collection. I hadn't really paid much attention recently to the old CRT iMacs, and I was caught a little off guard by how cheaply they could be acquired.
Various resellers on eBay were selling whole flats of early tray-loading iMacs for well under $100 per machine (without keyboard or mouse). As a matter of fact, for an individual iMac, shipping was often more expensive than the computer itself. Even slot-loaders were under a c-note, and I began to have the glimmerings of an idea. I mean, sure, a Bondi blue unit would be swell for the museum, but some of those slot loaders had DVD drives, and I'm of the firm belief that a computer that can run OS X and has a DVD drive, as well as USB and FireWire ports, is never really useless.
Pretty soon I settled on a Graphite G3/400 DV SE and placed a bid. I won the auction with a total outlay around a hundred bucks, shipping included, and the big box showed up on my doorstep. The computer had arrived with a mismatched Bondi blue keyboard, a raspberry hockey puck mouse, and a pretty bare-bones install of Mac OS 9. Happy as a clam with my new acquisition, but not really sure what to do with it, I set it up on the dresser in my bedroom where I could use it to watch DVD movies and as a bookshelf CD player.
Not long after my move to Indiana, I started my experiment of doing all my computing on old Macs. I set up the iMac on my desk along with my G4 tower, figuring I could use it for . . . well, something, I was sure. I installed Jaguar and a couple of old games on it and considered hooking it into the network, but stringing 20' of Cat 5 to the router was too long of a run for too short of a slide. It mostly sat idle until I got my iPod nano.
Now that I had an iPod, suddenly I wanted to rip all my CDs and download video from the 'net. I just didn't want to tie up my main desktop doing it. The third-generation nano required Tiger to run - would the old iMac handle it? I installed OS X 10.4, and it ran fine.
Now I had to get the older unit onto the network. After tying myself in Gordian Knots of cable, I added a Hawking USB WiFi gizmo. Bam! I was pulling pages from the Web in no time flat.
Of course, between the keyboard and the USB WiFi, I was now out of USB ports. I bought an inexpensive powered USB hub, and I was in business!
The addition of the powered hub solved another problem. I do all my photography for my various blogs using an old Nikon Coolpix that takes Compact Flash cards, and I use a USB card reader to extract the photos. Since my G4 Sawtooth only has the two USB ports, which were clogged with the Logitech mouse and keyboard, getting photos onto the computer involved disconnecting the keyboard so I could hook up the card reader. Now I could just leave the card reader hooked to the powered hub and extract images to the iMac.
In a total reversal of fortune, the little iMac that I'd bought because it was cheap so I could use it to play music and movies in my bedroom has become a vital part of my in-home network. It serves as the main portal for my iPod, handling the downloading of media from the Web and ripping CDs without interrupting productive work on my main desktop machine. It also serves as a repository for all my photos. As the 13 GB internal hard drive fills up, I can just add an external FireWire drive for additional media storage, which would have the added bonus of being able to be connected to either of the other Macs I currently use for work.
Thanks to seamless networking and being able to mount its drive on either my main desktop or laptop, it serves as an always-on photo server, letting me post content no matter whether I'm blogging over my first cup of coffee on my desktop in the office or from the front porch with my iBook, sipping a cold beer after mowing the lawn. When you consider that the total outlay for the iMac was about the cost of two tanks of gas in this day and age, deals don't come much better than that.
Really, a later slot-loading DVD CRT iMac makes a great utility infielder in any home network. They're compact and don't require a separate monitor to get them up and running, plus they're dirt cheap and are convection-cooled quiet. All this makes them the SE/30 for the new generation: Cheap to acquire, able to run a modern OS and interface with a network, small of footprint, and quiet of operation, they can be tucked away and used as inexpensive servers long after the spec sheet says they're obsolete.
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