The Budget Mac

Low End Mac Is a Gold Mine for Anyone Using Older Macs

- 2012.04.06 - Tip Jar

PowerBook 1400c
PowerBook 1400c

I stumbled on Low End Mac (LEM) back in late 2006 when my fiancé gave me his college laptop as a Christmas present. It was a 117 MHz PowerBook 1400c, already 10 years old by that point, and it was beautiful. It had 12 MB of RAM, a 1 GB hard drive, an 8x CD-ROM, and a working battery. He had kept the original gray plastic BookCover and dressed it up with a fun decal, and the whole unit was in pristine physical condition. It ran System 7.5.3 like a champ.

I was in love. The design, the sturdiness, the ability to play Snood and Shufflepuck Cafe - this was the perfect Christmas present.

12-inch PowerBook G4
12" PowerBook G4

But I didn't know much about older Macs, and especially not about older PowerBooks. I'd only recently picked up a 12" 1.5 GHz PowerBook G4, and while I was enamored with how flexible Mac OS X was, I wanted to try my hand at hardware upgrades, too, and modern Macs are designed to keep casual tinkering to a minimum. The 1400 was designed to be easy to service, and these swappable bays meant more upgrade possibilities.

I turned to Google to learn more about the 1400, and there was LEM to give me all the info I needed: Which OS would work best, which was best for Internet connectivity, and why those weren't the same version. Where to find RAM, running the OS off of Compact Flash instead of the stock hard drive - it was a gold mine.

Thanks to LEM and the discussion lists, I eventually bought an unopened PowerBook 1400c and upgraded it to a G3, maxed the RAM, replaced the hard drive with a Compact Flash adapter, added a 12x CD-ROM and a working battery. It's been my favorite writing machine ever since.

Over the years, I kept returning to LEM whenever I acquired another vintage Mac or whenever I needed an answer to a Mac-related question from a client or family member. After a short time, I joined several of the LEM discussion groups on Google Groups and LEMswap. Everyone was so welcoming and helpful, and the sheer amount of knowledge was wonderful to behold.

Sometime in late 2008, I noticed that there was a bit of a slowdown in content posted to the site, and I wrote to Dan asking if he was interested in articles from freelancers. (It turns out he had just been on vacation - go figure.) He graciously extended a welcome, and I submitted my first article, Every Working Computer Is Useful to Someone, while planning to write many more.

Unfortunately, life doesn't always stop to let you explore new opportunities to their fullest, and only a month or so after my first article, I ended up being pulled into serious family medical responsibilities that erased any free time for the foreseeable future. I also had a fledgling business that was inching towards a full-time job, and taken together, than left very little room for personal projects to write about.

Since that time, I've been able to contribute sporadically, mostly to the LEM Round Tables, which were going on in email between staff long before they were ever a regular feature, and it's been a joy to be counted amongst such talented and dedicated people.

My relationship to vintage Mac hardware and software has evolved over the last couple of years, too:

  • I have a house full of vintage Macs and unfinished projects, and that can get expensive very quickly if you can't find new homes for your collectibles.
  • I used my PowerBook G4 until the video processing bottleneck made it too frustrating, and then I made the switch to Intel.
  • I don't use my HackBook anymore, because Apple makes a much, much better version in the 11" MacBook Air.
  • I don't recommend G3 iMacs or lower-speed G4 Power Macs very often anymore, because they just can't cope with the modern, Flash-driven Internet. On top of that, with the advent of relatively affordable, ubiquitous, touch-based devices like e-readers and tablets, dedicated computers for writing, email, and playing educational games just aren't in demand.

Despite all of that, I still have an enormous amount of affection for vintage Macs, and I still pull out my maxed-out PowerBook 1400c for writing and vintage gaming. And I'll keep writing for LEM as long as they let me! LEM

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