No Windows for Me

G3 and G4 Power Macs and Clamshell iBooks Still Useful

- 2008.01.29

As many of you know, Apple has long since made the transition from PowerPC processors to Intel CPUs. In fact, they've been all Intel since late 2006.

Benchmarks indicate that the Intel Macs are tons faster, so aren't those old G3s and G4s useless by now? Not a chance.

Let's explore some of the ways you can breathe new life into these old Macs.

Blue & White G3 to Digital Audio G4 Power Macs

While these can be found for between $30 and $150 used, these 7-to-10-year-old Macs are quite the workhorses. Expandable, stable, and relatively quiet, these Macs make good servers or basic email/web browsing stations for those less demanding users. My second Mac was a Digital Audio G4/466 MHz, and with 512 MB of RAM, it ran Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4) fine. I used it as my main computer at my dad's house, and it worked fine for things like messaging, iTunes, and browsing the local Craigslist for my next conquests. I also learned a lot about the way Macs work in general, because it's easily accessible to hardware newbies who want to see what's inside.

Blue and White G3s are also great little music/media servers, and they work great for kid's (or adult's, maybe I'm talking about mental age here ;) ) games. For these systems, pick up 512 MB or so of RAM if you're gonna run Tiger or Panther (OS X 10.3). Upgrading the hard drive to 7200 rpm works wonders in terms of performance.

Quicksilver and Mirror Drive Door G4 Power Macs

At $200 to $600, these are the cream of the G4 crop. They can easily be used as one's main computer, running Panther, Tiger, or even Leopard (with at least 1 GB of RAM). If you are, however, one of those more fortunate (read: affluent) souls, these make excellent high-powered servers; it's easy to add storage in 'em. In fact, these things will hold their own for projects like minor image editing and cutting together family videos.

For you gamers out there, you can buy a video card like the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro to scream through games like Halo and . . . well, I'm not a gamer. 512 MB of RAM is fine under Tiger, go for 1 GB or more under Leopard. If your Power Mac didn't come with a 7200 rpm hard drive, get one. Now.

Clamshell iBooks

Ah, the iBook G3s. How I love thee, O plastic-clad consumer portables. I was about to lump you in with the other G3-based Apple portables, but you are just too eccentric to be squashed with your similarly powered peers!

Anyway, the clamshells are taxed relatively easily by moderately demanding tasks, but that doesn't mean they're useless. You can use these for a lot of the same things as early Sawtooth Power Mac G4s, except for the server stuff. Buying a new battery ($65 or so) will really unlock a world of possibilities.

There's a mod somewhere that turns Clamshells into a kind of giant fruity Newton, complete with touchscreen and tablet mode. Sparing, however, the eccentric case/hardware modifications, you could always set one up with OS 9 and use it to run all your Classic apps and games - without any need for Classic Mode in OS X! Alternatively, there are plenty of Clamshells humming along right now with OS X, and I find Panther will actually run better on most G3s than Jaguar (OS X 10.2).

I really try to stay away from talking about impossible case mods, but you can make the cases clear without an insane amount of effort. The nice thing about Clamshells is that their batteries (if yours is decent or new) will hold a charge for around six hours of normal use. The keyboards on clamshells are most certainly useable, which makes Clamshells one of the best note-taking laptops ever. To do anything useful on a clamshell, might I recommend 288 MB or 320 MB RAM for OS 9, and 544 MB or 576 MB RAM for OS X. LEM

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Benjamin Zalutsky is a recent Mac convert.

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