Mac Daniel's Advice

Picking a Used Mac

Charlie Ruggiero - 2001.06.04

Q: I would buy Macintosh, but it seems like Macintosh hardware is more expensive than PC hardware.

A: In some ways Macintosh computers are more expensive than Wintel computers, but I believe Macs are a better value - or at least even the score in the end.

Shop Around: If you are in the market for standard equipment like RAM or hard drives, you should not always rely on retail sources. One of the biggest traps you can get into when buying ram are the "RAM Selectors." They are tempting to use, because all you do is enter your Mac type and it pops up some RAM, but usually only one kind of RAM. Most of the time these sites have a lot of other brands of RAM that will work at cheaper prices. There are two ways to get these prices:

  1. Find out what kind of RAM your computer takes. You can get this information by using the RAM selector and then search for that kind of RAM (not brand). You can also go to sites like or Apple's support site to get specifics on RAM.
  2. Call the mail order or online store up and tell them the kind of computer you have. To stay competitive they will usually give you the lowest price they have and not what their RAM selector came up with.

Never assume that RAM prices are the same at every company. In a quick search of the web for 128 MB of RAM for a Beige G3 Tower, I found prices from $179 down to $30. This is quite a range and gives you an idea how different prices can be on any given day.

If you find a good price on RAM, do not wait a long time to decide to get it. RAM may get cheaper, but it may also get more expensive depending on production, supply problems, demand, and even weather in the areas that make the RAM.

If you are in the market for a Mac and want to save some money, get one with an IDE hard drive. You can purchase IDE drives at almost every major electronics, computer, and even office supply store (Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, Staples, Office Max, etc.). Most major brands of IDE drives work in IDE Macs. A 9 GB SCSI drive may cost you $200, but for $200 you can get a 60 GB IDE drive.

Macs Last Longer: Although not as true today as it was a five years ago, a Macintosh tends to last longer in terms of "good use." You do not find many people using 486's or low-end Pentiums on a daily basis. Most can run nothing higher than Win95 and are too sluggish for most recent applications. Quadras can run Mac OS 8.1, and all PowerPC Macs can run Mac OS 9.1. If you want, you can even run Mac OS 7.5.5 on a Mac Plus. I would not argue the Mac Plus and similar machines are useful on a daily basis, but it goes to show that a fairly modern operating system can still be run on a Mac built in 1986.

Macs can be found cheap: Don't rely on just online stores for used Macs. You can sometimes find great deals at auction sites, classified, usegroups, and even local pawn shops. I have found that local pawn shops have a bad sense of what Macs are worth, and this results in two situations: Macs that are way over priced and Macs that are way under priced. Get a sense of the worth of the model you are looking for and then check out those pawn shop prices. Remember to insist on checking out the computer before purchasing. Check everything (including sound, mic and speaker ports, CD-ROM, floppy, and so on.) Most places do not allow returns.

Here are some older Macs I consider to be pretty good used deals and the reasons for my choices:

Beige G3 Desktop or Tower

  • $350 to $750
  • Has IDE and SCSI, CD-ROM, G3 processor, upgradable to G4, uses cheap memory, built in ethernet, 3 PCI slots.

iMac DV (any model with FireWire)

  • $550 to $1,300
  • Has IDE, CD-ROM (or DVD), G3 processor, uses cheap memory, built in ethernet, FireWire, USB, built-in monitor.

Blue & White G3

  • $600 to $1000
  • Has IDE, CD-ROM (or DVD), G3 processor, upgradable to G4, uses cheap memory, built in ethernet, FireWire, USB, 3 PCI slots.

Power Mac 7300, 7500, 7600

  • $85 to $350
  • CD-ROM (usually), able to run Office 2001 (except 7500 with original 100 MHz CPU), upgradable to G3, built in ethernet, 3 PCI slots.
  • Drawback: IDE support not built in, requires separate card.

Keep in mind the more RAM and extras (like printers, scanners, monitors and so on) that come with the system, the higher the price. Sellers tend to jack up the price with these extras, but you can sometimes get them to drop the price or simply drop the extras if you don't want them.

When bidding on auctions try to find things that end at odd times (like 03.00 a.m. Pacific or 04.45 p.m. EST on a business day - people are less likely to bid right before the end of the work day). These times have less competition for the auction items, so you are more likely to win a bid closer to the price you want.

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Not sure if you should upgrade your old Mac or replace it? Check the Mac Daniel index to see if we've already addressed your problem.

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