phoenix

Need suggestions on a used cheap Mac to get

Recommended Posts

I have almost no experience with modern Macs outside of playing with them at the Apple Store on occasion when I'm tagging along on a trip to the local mall. The last Macs I used (in depth) were IIcis and IIfxs and some of those really tiny ones (Mac SE?) way back in the day.

I wanted to buy one cheap just to get a feel for MacOS X, preferably one of the newer versions. This is just for learning so I don't mind if it's slow (even really slow) so long as I can go through the motions of installing the OS, setting up networking, running the various iWhatever applications they tend to come with, etc. I mainly want it to be cheap since it's out of my pocket and this is just to do a few weekends of learning :)

What's the minimum sort of Mac model I could get that would run the current MacOS operating system for the above purposes? I already have monitors (I assume it uses standard PC-type monitor connections like DVI or D-SUB?) so I guess I'd need the Mac, keyboard and a mouse. If I can get a "minimum" model number and specs then I will have something in hand to go searching ebay and elsewhere for :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Those are interesting. By cheap I was thinking a few hundred bucks at most. Free certainly is cheaper, although I don't have an OSX image. Certainly, if those solutions are a bit buggy, I wouldn't mind spending a few hundred bucks to avoid the hassle.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sounds like a first-gen (e.g. Core Solo) Intel Mac Mini would suit your needs. Plenty fast (blows away the old PowerPC ones), and since you use your own keyboard/mouse/monitor you'd save the expense of an iMac's built-in display.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You could start by looking at the Mac OS X Panther (10.3) system requirements, the Mac OS X Tiger (10.4) system requirements, and the iLife '04-'06 system requirements.

So, for running OS X and iLife '06, any G4 Mac with at least 256MB of RAM, a hard drive, and a DVD-ROM drive should do in theory. (You'll also want at least 20GB of hard drive space. Well, you probably could get by with a 10GB or 13GB drive, but there might not be enough room for a full iLife installation. In fact, if you want to make certain you have enough "breathing room," so to speak, get at least 30GB. In any case, anything less than 10GB would be like trying to run WinXP on a 4GB drive.) Regarding RAM, the conventional wisdom is to have at least 512MB, but the big speedup is in having at least 384MB of RAM, and I think that should be fine (as long as you don't run tons of programs simultaneously and you don't make heavy use of Fast User Switching). For light use, 320MB might not be much slower than 384MB. If you are sufficiently patient, you may be able to get by with 256MB of RAM.

If you get a G3, you're giving up compatibility with iLife '06. (So if you get a G3, you'll need to make sure that it comes with iLife or that you can obtain iLife '04 or '05 separately.) I also suspect that Leopard (OS X 10.5) will be incompatible with G3's when it comes out. Furthermore, at a given clock speed, a G3 is going to feel considerably slower in OS X than a G4. (For instance, my experience is that a 450MHz G4 with 384MB of RAM feels much faster than a 500MHz G3 with 1GB of RAM.) Another way of looking at it is that YouTube is (for the most part) usable on G4's but a slide show with a soundtrack on G3's. So, a G4 would be much better than a G3, but a G3 may also do if the limitations (no iLife '06, probably no Leopard, really slow) are not a problem for you.

If you decide to get a G3, make sure it's compatible with at least Panther (10.3). (Check Apple's system requirements page if you're not sure.) Actually, in addition to that, also make sure not to get an iMac with a tray-loading (as opposed to slot-loading) optical drive. While these older G3's (that is, tray-loading iMacs and G3's which are not supported by Panther) can technically run OS X, they have all sorts of weird quirks that could cause trouble (such as unaccelerated video drivers that are so painfully slow that they inspired a class action lawsuit and firmware that can only read data from the first 8GB of the hard drive).

A few final notes: People seem to disagree about whether Panther or Tiger is faster on old Macs. Personally, I've found Tiger to be considerably faster. However, there are other reasons to prefer Tiger. Apple stopped producing security updates for Jaguar (10.2) around the release of Tiger (10.4), so it's possible that they might similarly drop security support for Panther (10.3) when Leopard (10.5) is released. Already, Apple has updated 10.4 for the DST changes, but not 10.3 (sort of the way that XP has a patch on Windows Update but Win2K doesn't). I guess what I'm saying is that if you care about being able to get security updates down the road, Tiger would be better than Panther.

Man, that ended up being a bit longer than I intended. Anyway, I hope it helps...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What's the minimum sort of Mac model I could get that would run the current MacOS operating system for the above purposes?

Bare minimum would be a G4, and the going rate for a stripped-down one is about $100.

I've got about a dozen PCs and servers in my workshop, but I keep one Mac going just for the heck of it. A couple months back I paid $75 for a stripped-out (no memory or Hard drive) 533-Mhz G4 tower, threw in some PC-133 memory and an IDE hard drive salvaged from a PC, and loaded it up with OSX 10.3.9. A few weeks later I paid $100 for a 400-mhz G4 just to get the ATI Rage AGP video card out of it (Mac video cards are different than PC video cards even though they both use PCI or AGP, and AGP cards for Mac are hard to find at a reasonable price) I put the AGP card in mine, stuck my PCI video card in the 400-Mhz box and sold it on craigslist for $100, same price I'd paid.

Prior to that, I ran a "Blue-and-White" G3 for a while last summer, also on OSX 10.3.9. I think I had the same $75 to $100 in it but I wouldn't really recommend it unless you find one at a give-away price. There's a noticeable difference between G3 and G4 even at the same clock speed, the G4s use faster components - faster ATA speeds on the hard drives, IIRC ATA100/133 on a G4 vs. ATA33/66 on a G3, and PC133 memory on a G4 vs. PC100 on a G3.

So for the same $100 or so, go for a G4, even though you could probably do what you want to do on a G3 albeit slower.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would say your best bets would be either a Core Solo mini for future software compatibility, or an early G4 mini if you don't mind the fact that it will likely be dropped from support by 10.6 and iLife '08 or '09.

Yeah, you can use older, ~$100 computers that can be upgraded to run OS X well, but if you just want to experience OS X as it was meant to be, just go buy a mini.

(I am successfully running 10.3 on an original 233 MHz iMac with 96 MB RAM; and have 10.4 running on a Blue & White G3 upgraded to 500 MHz G4 with 512 MB RAM. It's marginally usable on the iMac, and decently usable on the Power Mac, but I can't do any 'modern' things on it like video editing. Even iTunes-Store-purchased videos are unplayable on the Power Mac.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks everyone for the great input. It helped out a great deal. I'll be keeping my eye out for various G4 models as well as rock bottom Mac Minis. I agree that the Mac Mini might be a good choice for me, since I'd likely get some mileage out of it as a Windows PC if the MacOS thing didn't work out, but I'll have to see how cheap they are....

Edited by phoenix

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I reccomend this place:

http://www.geeks.com/products_sc.asp?cat=810

They're a storefront for a distributor i used to use, and they have used imacs for 50$ and up, which is where my friend got his 800mhz ibook for like 350$ for his girlfriend. It came with a replacement power cord, not origional, was his only gripe.

I still use my imac DV, g3 400mhz 384mb ram and 100gb hd, running OS X 10.4 just fine without any issues. Mac's tend to be good for the long haul, so if your not doing anything crazy on it you should have no issues with a late model g3 or early model g4.

Edited by serial

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now