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Clockwork (Racing Edition)

[PowerMac G4 Digital Audio]My main work computer is a PowerMac G4 "Digital Audio". It's one of the last Macs with that really pretty blue-and-grey color scheme that came after the kinda cheesy blue-and-white G3s and before they switched to the Quicksilver look with that hole in the snout. It is also a four-year-old machine that is still serving me very well.

However, now that Myst IV is out, the graphics card is letting me down (I took the small 466MHz version that has a measly ATI Rage 128 with 16 MB of VRAM). I'm neither a hardware freak, nor have I really had the need to upgrade any of my Macs before, except for the odd bit of added RAM when we'd been cheap and didn't get a sufficient amount right away. But when the Mac Mini arrived on the scene, I thought I'd just get one of those as a second Mac. Then I started calculating, and realized the basic Mini wouldn't cut it:

With the (headless) iBook and a DVD player in the house, I don't really need another DVD/CD-RW drive. I added an (admittedly slow, but therefore cheap) 80GB second internal HD to the G4 a few years ago, so the additional 40 in the Mini aren't really that interesting either. I haven't used the internal 56k modem in any of our Macs in the last three years, so that was also excess baggage. The Mini also only has one RAM slot with 256 MB of RAM, meaning I needed to have it built-to-order to have 512 MB if I wanted a Mac that was actually useful on OS X. And its Radeon 9200 only had 64 MB of VRAM, which most people who were familiar with today's games told me wasn't really a graphics card that'd keep me happy for a while.

So, I went to look around a little. The Apple dealer in Mannheim had a nice offer for a Radeon 9000 Pro AGP with 128 MB (I shortly considered a PCI one because it would be cheaper and I wouldn't have to take out the Rage -- but numerous comments on the web combined with my knowledge from System Programming class about how AGP works made me decide against the slower PCI). They want 140 €. That, or a similar one from somewhere else, would get me on Myst's good side for a few years to last.

Then I found FastMac. They offer all sorts of upgrade stuff for Macs: I found a 512 MB RAM chip for the third bank in my Mac, which (combined with the 384 MB I already have in there) took me to 896 MB, which will be really noticeable as it'll reduce the time my Mac spends swapping out RAM to disk. The RAM was roughly 67 €.

They also offer a SuperDrive for my G4, which would be the first drive in the house able to burn DVDs. And it's the same make as Apple's, so DVD player, Finder, iMovie and iDVD will accept it without complaints. Add another 75 € for that. And finally, they offer a G4 CPU upgrade for my Mac, which would bring it up to 1.4 GHz. 280 €.

Due to lucky circumstances, I found some rebate opportunities, and with two 256MB SO-DIMMs to max out my sister's iMac, plus shipping and handling (40 $ via DHL) arrived at 636 € for the whole kit'n kaboodle, and 577 € without Ruth's RAM.

For the more curious among the disinterested, a Mini with the SuperDrive option and 512 MB RAM costs me about 669 €. It would only have 1.25 GHz, and only 16 MB VRAM on its graphics card, and 384 MB of RAM less. Since the Mini ships without keyboard, screen or mouse, I'd have to attach my G4's peripherals anyway, thus effectively delegating the trusty machine to headless server duty. I'd also have to use the G4 as a router for the Mini, because an AirPort card would set me back 79 €, and without it, the Mini wouldn't have Internet.

I was really surprised that the decision was this hard for me. It definitely shows what a good deal the Mini is. However, considering my G4's extensibility (You can imagine how happy I was when I realized it had a third RAM bank and I wouldn't have to throw out any chips yet), and all the hardware junk it's crammed full with, the Mini is not for me. Not to mention this update will save me the weeks to get my stuff moved to a new Mac.

In the interest of blogability, I'll probably dare a stepwise update, starting with the RAM and SuperDrive, plugging in the CPU a little later, and the graphics card coming last. I really want to find out what difference the various changes really make. My guess is the RAM will make the largest difference, but tripling the CPU's MHzs should still be noticeable. And who knows what effect a Quartz-Extreme-capable GPU will make on perceived system performance.

Just one problem left: Where do I find the money to buy Myst IV now ...?

Created: 2005-02-04 @232 Last change: 2005-02-04 @313 | Home | Admin | Edit
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