Average Joe's Tips

Going Retro With a PowerPC

Last year I went to my school district’s surplus warehouse, looking to pick up a Mac. I hoped to find a Power Mac G4 in order to relive my college days of cutting video on them. Sure, there are certainly faster Macs available for doing that, but certainly not at the cost of a used classroom one.

I found a pallet full of Mac desktops, but it only took a glance to tell they weren’t G4’s. The boxes were the same shape, but colored a light blue; something I hadn’t seen before. My friend who was with me told me it was a G3. I had no idea what specs it had, but all I knew was that I wanted it.

We fired it up there in the warehouse and found out that the hard drive worked, it had OS 9.2, and it clocked in at 300 MHz. I still wanted it. My friend told me how Tiger could be installed on it, despite its lack of a DVD drive. Forty bucks later, and the box and monitor were mine.

And so the obsession began.

I went from knowing little about Macs before the age of Intel chips, to scouring websites and discussion boards about Power PCs. Sites like Low End Mac and Other World Computing showed me that not only is it possible to keep an old Mac alive and kicking, but parts for upgrading it are still available.

In just a few months I installed OS X 10.4.11 Tiger, maxed my G3 out on 1GB of memory, installed a wireless card, a DVD drive, and a ZIF chip that took it from 300 MHz to 500. Thanks to Circuit City going out of business, I also got a Bluetooth dongle for only $20. Amazingly, what I found made the biggest difference was getting a new Radeon video card that bumped the video memory from 8 MB to 32 MB, which made a dramatic effect on the bus speed.

What at first I thought would be a hobby turned into a reliable workhorse. I write every morning on it, actually opting for it over my MacBook Pro. There’s a rewarding feeling about working on a desktop that I fixed up. Also, the fact that browsing the web or checking e-mail takes a little longer than usual helps keep me focused on just writing.

The G3 marked Apple’s turning away from beige boxes. Even ten years later, the G3’s exterior is a thing of beauty. Inside, it’s solid and reliable. I would highly recommend buying a PowerPC to any Mac fan who doesn’t already have one. As long as you get rid of the expectation to use anything past Tiger on it, and are willing to spend some money to upgrade it, you can own a reliable piece of Apple hardware. I can’t see Cover Flow in iTunes, and YouTube is more of a waiting game, but I’d take my 10-year-old G3 over a 10-year-old PC any day.

Macs age the way Harrison Ford does–improving as they get older. PCs tend to age like Carol Channing.


October 20th, 10.7 Lion Preview?

Lion + Back to the Mac =  Mac OS X 10.7 Lion?

“Come see what’s new for the Mac on October 20, including a sneak peek of the next major version of Mac OS X.”

What are you expecting. Will 10.7 run iOS apps? Let us know what you think. Leave a comment.