Is It Worth Maxing the RAM in Old G3 and G4 Macs?
- 2009.04.15 - Tip Jar
This has been a long asked question, one I see on mailing groups regularly. Older RAM can be quite expensive, especially the PC100 or PC133 type for G3 and G4 machines.
Currently a 512 MB stick of PC133 for machines like the PowerBook G3 and PowerBook G4 are around £25, which isn't too bad for higher-end Titaniums like mine, but the RAM can sometimes cost more than the machines themselves, especially in machines like the slot-load iMac G3, which can take two 512 MB sticks.
I currently use a 15" Titanium PowerBook G4 867 MHz, which I have had for about six months. When I first got it, it came with two 256 MB sticks. This machine officially supports Mac OS X 10.5 'Leopard'. With only 512 MB of RAM it would have suited Tiger, but Leopard wasn't going to be too smooth an experience. Luckily, I had a spare 512 MB stick laying around. So I upped the RAM to 768 MB at no extra expense and installed Leopard.
I have been running it like this for a few months, and I must say it has been a good experience. A few days ago I got hold of another 512 MB stick, took out the 256 MB, and maxed the machine to it 1 GB limit.
It Was Worth It
Is it worth it from a performance point of view? And is it worth it from a financial point of view? And is their a fine line between performance and value?
I have been running my TiBook with 1 GB of RAM for a few hours, and the difference is instantly noticeable. Boot time is a lot faster, and app loading time is faster, especially with processor heavy apps. Photoshop loaded quicker, opening large files was slightly faster, and even editing them was quicker. iTunes encoded audio tracks about 10% faster, and adding effects to audio files in Audacity was quicker too.
I benchmarked the system before and after I upgraded the RAM, and even that has a positive reflection. With 768 MB of RAM, Xbench results were 21.85 and Geekbench was 424. With 1 GB of RAM, Xbench results were 26.43 and Geekbench was 519. These increases are large - especially on older machines.
Leopard is a huge operating system (OS), and it is very RAM hungry, so it is no surprise that the added RAM helps general system and application handling.
Also Better with Tiger
However, this isn't just limited to Leopard. A few months ago I had a Power Mac G4 'Sawtooth'. Running at 400 MHz, it wasn't the fastest G4 by a long stretch, but I upped the RAM from the measly 256 MB it came with, and the performance was instantly improved. I was running Mac OS X 10.4 'Tiger' - which according to Apple has a minimum requirement of 256 MB - but realistically, it needs to be a lot higher.
I upped it from 256 MB to 512 MB, and the performance shot through the roof. It was no longer sluggish at booting, it no longer showed the "spinning wheel of death" every time you asked it do something, and apps loaded and handled so much faster. Taking it even further to 1 GB - by means of four 256 MB sticks of RAM - you could have easily forgotten it was only a 400 MHz G4.
This machine supported up to 2 GB of RAM, however I didn't have the funds to shell out for extra RAM, but it would have been interested to see how much further performance would have improved with all the extra RAM.
Living at the Low End
Performance-wise, more RAM is better. However, most of us low-end Mac users don't just use older Macs because we love them; we use them because funds are tight and we cannot afford the expense of a new shiny Mac. In my local Mac User Group, I have gained a reputation for collecting all the older equipment and usually get first refusal on older equipment. I have been offered G3 and G4 towers, iMac G3s galore, even an iBook G3 recently - simply because they are "too old" for most people to bother with.
With that in mind, is it financially viable to spend lots of money upping the RAM in older machines?
I would initially say no. Don't go out and spend £50 maxing the RAM in a G3 iMac that is probably only worth about £30. Use that money to buy a slighter faster machine that wouldn't necessarily need cramming full of RAM to get the most out it.
For example. A 600 MHz iMac G3 model could be picked up for free or around the £20 mark, maxing it with two sticks of 512 MB PC133 RAM will set you back around £40. Then there is the hassle and expense of getting an AirPort bracket and AirPort Card at around £35 if you want to have WiFi.
A 1.25 GHz eMac G4 can be picked up for £60. Two sticks of 1 GB DDR RAM will set you back no more than £20 and a AirPort Extreme Card will cost you around £15, so for around £95 you could get an AirPort enabled maxed out G3 iMac or a AirPort Extreme enabled, maxed out G4 eMac.
Take your pick.
My PowerBook G4 867 MHz is probably worth around £150 - so I wouldn't want to spend £50 on maxing the RAM only to add £10-20 on the final resale value, which is dropping each month I keep hold of it.
In conclusion, upping the RAM is a good idea in older Macs, it gives the OS and software so much more breathing room, but be careful. Do it is cheaply as you can. Remember that these machines do not have a great resale value, and adding lots of RAM probably won't increase that resale value by the amount you have spent on the RAM. Your payback comes from working more efficiently, not resale value.
Recent articles by Simon Royal
- Vintage Computer Festival SouthEast, April 20-21, 2013, 2013.02.25. Old Apple gear and old PCs.
- iMessage: The Ultimate Messaging Service?, 2013.02.21. In most ways, Apple's iMessage is far superior to BlackBerry Messenger.
- iDroid: Run Android on iOS Hardware, 2013.02.20. Yes, you can run Android on an iPhone or iPod touch. But do you want to?
- More in the Mac Spectrum index.
Links for the Day
- Mac of the Day: Power Mac 7500, introduced 1995.08.08. This workhorse introduced a new desktop case and CPU daughter cards.
- June 19 in LEM history: 00: Mac software not 'as pathetic as it could be' - 01: Hate Windows? Get a Mac - Little payments, big business - 02: Undoing years of Mac evangelism? - 03: Back on the low-end TiBook - 06: Pimping my PowerBook G4 - 07: Safari for Windows not a slam dunk success - 08: What about the iPod touch? - Falling for the Sony Alpha α200
- Support Low End Mac
Recent Content on Low End Mac
- World Book Encyclopedia 2012 DVD, Tommy Thomas, Reviews, 2013.03.05. "You may be asking yourself, in an age of Wikipedia and instant information, is World Book still relevant?"
- More links in our archive.
- Best Mac mini Deals
- Best 13" MacBook Pro Deals
- Best Intel iMac Deals
- Best iPod touch Deals
- Best iPhone Deals
- Best iPod nano Deals
- Best iPod classic Deals
- Best Apple TV Prices
- More deals in our archive.
Low End Mac Reader Specials
Cult of Mac
Shrine of Apple
The Mac Observer
Accelerate Your Mac
The Vintage Mac Museum
Mac Driver Museum
System 6 Heaven
System 7 Today
the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ