The Practical Mac

The Value of a Low End Mac

- 2003.02.04 - Tip Jar

Some of the PC columnists are really starting to get on my nerves as they sound like a broken record. Actually, a lot of them got on my nerves long before they started sounding like a broken record, but that is a discussion for another time.

If I hear them say, "Apple computers cost sooooo much more than PCs" one more time, I am going to rip the Athlon right out of my only non-Macintosh computer and toss it over the back fence.

There is a huge difference in cost and value, and most of these guys don't get it.

Now before I get accused of painting with a wide brush, I will be the first to say that I have been pleasantly surprised at the good press Apple has gotten lately, particularly in publications that traditionally don't even mention Apple unless it is to take their name in vain. I continue to applaud David Coursey of ZD's Anchor Desk, a traditionally PC-centric kind of guy who approached Apple one day with an open mind and came away a changed man. The "open mind" is the key here.

Please allow me to introduce you to my case study, which I call, "A Study in Contrast." In one corner is my trusty Power Mac 7500, and in the other corner my white box clone PC, which I shall refer to as "iMClone." On second thought, I better not refer to it by that title - it might tick off Martha Stewart. Let's just call it the "clone."

The Power Mac 7500 was built in 1995, eight years ago. Eight years. That's like 1,000 years in computer time. The Power Mac 7500 is to the dual 1.42 GHz Power Mac G4 what the Roman chariot is to the Dodge Viper. They both serve the same purpose, but hardly in the same fashion.

Despite this comparison, my PM 7500 somehow manages to continue to do everything I need it to do. Over the years, I have spent about $350 in upgrades. I have swapped the old PowerPC 601 for a G3 processor and upgraded the RAM, L2 cache, and hard drive. I think I upgraded the VRAM, too, but it has been so long I have forgotten.

For the lump sum of much less than $400 in upgrades over the course of eight years, I essentially have a PowerMac G3/450 with a 20 GB hard drive and 256 MB of RAM. Not top of the line, but not too shabby.

Today, the 7500 runs every program I need, including the latest versions of AppleWorks, Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop (okay, version 6,which is admittedly not the "latest," but it will have to do until I can afford Photoshop 7), Internet Explorer, and the list goes on. Thanks to some nifty third-party utilities, it even runs Mac OS X - and runs it well. I have my new/refurbished iBook for portability and my iMac DV/SE because my wife got a PowerBook G4 and I inherited it. I have never really needed the iMac as a desktop, since I have the 7500.

Contrast this with the clone. I had it built brand-new in 1998. It has a Cyrix 233 MHz processor, 64 MB of RAM, and an 8 GB hard drive. These were close to top-of-the line specs in 1998, at least for what the average consumer (me) could afford to pay.

I know I said the Athlon was my only non-Mac computer, but what I meant was that the Athlon is my only non-Mac computer still serving a useful purpose. The clone used to run Windows 95 until I outgrew that OS. It won't run Windows 2000 or XP without at least a memory upgrade. If I did upgrade the memory, 2000 and XP would probably load but would take all day.

Replace the processor, you say? That would be great except that this motherboard won't support a processor much faster than the 233 already in it.

Replace the motherboard? Yes, except it is an AT style, and I don't think they make those anymore, what with ATX and all

Okay, then replace the power supply and drill new holes in the case to make the new motherboard fit. Sure, that is possible, but it is way more time and effort than I wish to spend.

When I upgraded the 7500, I snapped open the case, pulled out the old processor, and snapped the new one into the slot. It had plenty of open RAM slots, so I just had to pop in the additional RAM. The L2 cache and VRAM were also of the just unplug and replace genre.

I had to actually remove some screws to upgrade the hard drive, but that was just to put the mounting rails on the new hard drive. The point is, it was all pretty easy. Certainly easy enough that even a novice could have done it.

I don't think a novice should replace a motherboard, power supply and who know what else on a PC.

My PowerMac 7500 is upgraded, and it could be upgraded a lot more. A 1 GHz G4 processor upgrade is available and would take about 60 seconds to install. I don't need that right now, as the G3 is sufficient. But it is good to know I have that option. I have room for more RAM, too.

Eight years later, it is still a more than capable machine. Five years later, the PC is a boat anchor.

You get what you pay for. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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