Mac Musings

First Impressions of a Low-End eMac

Daniel Knight - 2003.06.18

Low End Mac's newest computer, a refurbished eMac 700 with a Combo drive ordered from the Apple Store last week, arrived yesterday. I didn't have much time to work with it before I had to go to work at the camera store, but I did get it set up.

The first step was making sure that my monitor stand was strong enough. The box says it's rated for 85 pounds, so the 50 pound eMac won't break it. Then take the TiBook off the stand, take out a 1" spacer, and put the eMac on it. This puts the computer at a very comfortable working height with the top of the display roughly at eye level.

First Impressions

Since I already have a wireless mouse and keyboard, the white eMac keyboard replaced the original compact keyboard on the iMac 333 my wife uses for her business, and my second oldest son claimed the white Pro mouse to replace the round iMac mouse he's been using for month.

The hardest part was turning the computer on. There's no power button on the front, which is where the iMacs and Power Macs have had it. Instead, it's on the side behind the modem, ethernet, FireWire, USB, and sound ports. I had to check the setup sheet to find it.

After I got home from work and playing "taxi dad," I boosted the RAM by adding a 512 MB module, purchased from Coast to Coast Memory for about US$66 shipped (less than I paid for a 1 MB SIMM for my first Mac a dozen years ago). That made a world of difference. The eMac worked nicely under OS X, but it didn't seem any faster than my 400 MHz TiBook until I boosted memory from 128 MB to 640.

I also verified that this eMac can boot into OS 9, something I rarely do, but the only way I can rebuild the Claris Emailer database or get decent performance from SimCity 2000.

Hard Drives

The hard drive is sluggish. It's an inexpensive Seagate ST340810A 40 GB hard drive, which was designed to be "one of the quietest drives in the industry." Spinning at a pedestrian 5400 rpm and including a 2 MB buffer, this is a very popular low-cost drive. The Seagate currently sells for $51 to $79 from a wide variety of vendors, significantly less than 7200 rpm drives sell for.

My plan is to run the computer from an external Western Digital 80 GB hard drive in a FireWire enclosure. The drive I have spins at 7200 rpm and includes an 8 MB buffer, so I expect it will be a lot more sprightly than the internal drive.

I've got to plan the best partitioning scheme and how to move everything over from the TiBook while not losing the eMac software. Since the eMac will be my production machine, a file server, and a network backup host, I want to create a separate partition for shared files that anyone in the house can access and another one that only my wife and her employees will have access to. That one I'd like to set up so it can be accessed remotely just as .mac users access their iDisk.

Until I get everything figured out, I'm running the eMac from the internal hard drive in my TiBook (which makes my PowerBook G4 one very expensive external hard drive!). It took some playing around to figure it all out, but I finally got FireWire Disk Mode working. The key was to boot the TiBook after the eMac was up and running; otherwise it wouldn't see it.

The beauty of this setup is that it lets me work with the same hard drive, structure, and setup that I've been using - just on a faster computer.

The Screen

Compared with the 1152 x 768 display on my TiBook, the 17" 1280 x 960 screen on the eMac is wonderful. I used to run a 19" monitor at 1280 x 1024 with my old SuperMac S900, and I'd forgotten how spacious a bigger monitor can seem after 28 months on a PowerBook.

The screen is also much brighter than the one on my TiBook, which isn't as bright as the screens on current PowerBooks. Early in the morning the sun sometimes streams through the sliding glass door and makes it impossible to read the screen on my PowerBook until I turn it. With the eMac's flat 17" CRT, the sun is streaming in, contrast is reduced a bit, but it's not the least bit unusable.

Screen colors are also different from those on the PowerBook's LCD display. Yellows are especially vibrant, something I really notice with the Low End Mac graphic at the top of each page.

Although I still find the slightly off white eMac boring (c'mon, Apple, bring back some color), the rest of the machine's design is excellent. The ports are on the side, both RAM slots and the battery are easily accessed through a cover on the eMac's bottom, and the way the CRT is set within the white and transparent case is a visual treat.

At this point, I'm pretty happy with my purchase. I think I was just lucky to find the refurbished Combo drive 700 MHz eMac at the Apple Store for $749 (plus sales tax, but including shipping), since most days they don't have any of these listed.


Well, things are not quite perfect. So far the eMac has locked up three or four times. I'm going to boot into OS 9 and run RAMometer to look for memory problems after I upload this article. I have been having some problems lately with classic locking up, but this goes beyond that and locks up the whole computer.

By the way, when the eMac locks up so tight that it won't even respond to a three-fingered salute (cmd-opt-esc) restart, just hold the power key for five seconds to shut down the machine. One more tidbit I found in the manual.

More later in the week as I get the other drives set up, move files from the TiBook, and spend more time with eM (doesn't everyone name their Mac?).