by Christopher Sunner
Reprinted by permission
This is a guide to help people who need to accelerate any non-PowerPC Macintosh, from the Plus to the Quadra models. Personally, I own a LC III which has lasted me a good five years and is still going strong. I can't do Adobe Photoshop, nor can I run the latest games out there. Yet I can do most things that 90% of computer users out there do already: word processing (MS Word 5.1A); personal finances (Quicken 4); spreadsheets and creating presentations (ClarisWorks 3.0); internet (AOL 2.7); and even games (Myst, Star Trek's Final Unity, not to mention many others).
Many Mac users would be surprised that many people and businesses out there still older Macintosh models. Why should anyone be surprised? Must people have the latest and greatest machine? Let me be truthful: if someone gave me the newest Macintosh model that screams along with four processors each clocking at over 500 MHz outfitted with 2 gigabytes of RAM, and a 10 terabyte hard drive (you realize, of course, no such machine exists), I would be one very happy human being and would go on a major ego kick. We would all like to have such a machine if it dropped into our laps for free. But brand-new Macs don't grow on trees, and some of us need to consider what we new the latest Mac for. Here are a few such people:
--Web sites developers & corporate personnel needing fast servers
--People in the music and film industries
--Programmers of all types
I failed to mention hard-core game fanatics for a reason: you don't need a $4000 system to play games. Get a Nintendo 64 and use the rest of your money for a good therapist.
If you do not fit one or more of the above, why spend all of that money? And if you have money to burn, for heaven sakes, send me some of that! I have bills to pay! Yet, too many people in this world spend all sorts of money getting a high-powered system to do the most basic of tasks that a low-end machine can do.
For example, a friend of mine used a SE/30 for his business as a translator. That meant, he would need to do some heavy-duty word processing. His SE/30 broke and he had to go back using his original Mac 512K model (one of the first released that had no hard drive and had to be booted up from a floppy.) Even that old system worked for him, but having no hard drive to store your programs and other data is a major pain. I carefully evaluated what he needed in a computer by finding out what he needed to do on it. I confirmed my hunch: word processing, personal finances, spreadsheets, and doing simple graphics.
My solution: My friends and I bought him a Mac SE which uses a 68000 processor operating at 8 MHz, had 4 megs of RAM, and an 80 meg hard drive. I outfitted his machine with system 7.1, MS Word 5.1A, Clarisworks 3.0, AOL 2.5, Quicken 4, and Adobe Illustrator 3.2.
His reaction: He was tickled pink. Neither he nor my friends and I had the money to get him a sophisticated system or the latest model. Yet he has a machine that will still take care of all of his computing needs quite easily for many years to come.
His old machine will even send and receive e-mail on the internet, yet for web-browsing, he might need an LC II or LC III, or even a Quadra/Centris. Hence, my first rule:
Rule #1: Evaluate what you need before you even think about buying a computer.
Seriously ask yourself what you need a computer for. Write it down. There are many uses:
--Surfing the internet
--Personal or business finances
--Learning and education
Be truthful to thyself! Figure out what you need to use it for. If you need to do simple word processing, spread sheets, faxing, and are not into games, get one of the following: Mac Plus, Classic, or SE. These are compact models with nine-inch black & white screens. Better yet, they usually go for less than $100. I bought my friend's SE for only $50, with 4 megs of RAM and an 80 meg hard drive (sans keyboard & mouse).
If you want color, then purchase a Mac II, IIx, LC I, or Color Classic. They cost a little more because you need to purchase a color monitor.
If you do the above plus internet capabilities for surfing the net, get a Mac with a 68030 processor, such as an LC III, Performa 600, IIsi, or a IIci and outfit it with an internet browser or AOL and a good speed modem.
If you need to do all of that plus play great games or do more graphic intensive work, then buy a Quadra or Centris model, or even a Powermac 61/71/8100 model.
Rule #2: Research what you need to accomplish your tasks.
If you need to use it for word processing and sending/receiving e-mail, a low-end Macintosh such as a Plus, Classic, or SE will do the job just as well as the latest Powermac.
A good friend of mine who is a teacher like myself bought a high-end machine last year. A few months later, I asked him how everything was going. His response was not enthusiastic: everything was going fine, but he felt he bought a machine and he would not exploit it to its full potential. He said all he does is word processing and spreadsheets for creating grade records. I told him he could have bought a used Powerbook 165 or 170 and outfitted it with a good version of Clarisworks and saved thousands of dollars, and he agreed with me completely.
Many people get swept up in the hype over the latest and greatest Macintosh models, and they fell the need to own one. Even I have succumbed to the siren's call to buy the most powerful Mac available. Yet in the end two things have stopped me. First, I don't have that kind of money (and how many of us really do?); second, I always ask myself what will do with this machine? Will I do some heavy-duty work on it or will I waste my computer's processor power playing the latest games?
Yet some people will need more power than what a Plus or an SE will provide them. Maybe you need to move up to one of the LC, Quadra/Centris, or even a Powermac 6100/7100/8100 models. Find out which is right for you.
Read Macintosh magazines, talk to people, check out books on older Macs, and surf the web for sites to give you more information. Find out what you need and what model can adequately accomplish those needs.
Rule #3: Research each potential system you have your sights set upon and figure out its strengths, weaknesses, and upgradability.
Different Macs come with different qualities. Somewhere out there is a Mac for each one of us that will fit our needs and keep us happy like warm blanket on a cold winter's night. Your job is to do the necessary research. Each Mac has certain advantages and disadvantages over others. Make sure you know your machine inside and out. Read magazines, talk to people, and check out forums provided by various internet services.
Rule #4: Don't spend any more than you can afford.
It is a common problem to buy a computer and spend too much it. Credit cards make it very easy to commit that mistake. Spend your money reasonably. Do you really need that laser printer when a nice bubblejet can do the same job for hundreds and even thousands of dollars less? Consider even getting a dot matrix printer like the Imagewriter I/II printers if you are just doing some basic word processing. Those Imagewriters were built like tanks (and weigh about the same) yet they function marvelously.
The same goes for computers. My friend's Mac 512K was made back in 1984 when the Macintosh was first being introduced and we still marvel that it is still functioning. Apple still makes a good product, but I have heard too many stories about defective parts being used and problems arising over motherboard flaws in the Powermacs in the last few years. My LC III has not had one suffered one problem since I bought it five years ago, and any problems that did arose was because of my own damn fault, not Apple's. Just goes to show you that older Macs are still good machines and can make even good aquariums (see Andy Ihnatko's article on converting a portable Mac into an aquarium available in AOL; it makes for some interesting, even hilarious reading).
Many people have older Macs sitting around in their closets that they are just willing to give away. My brother-in-law gave me his Mac Plus, which I gave to my mother, who is about as computer illiterate as they come (but I still love you Mom!!!!). She uses it to compute finances and write up necessary insurance documents for her massage therapy business, as well as for some home business as well. She loves it and doesn't need anything more sophisticated. She thought about getting a more powerful system when I asked her what she would do with it. Her response was she wanted to create standardized forms for her business and explore desktop publishing. I then showed her she could do the exact same thing with her little Mac Plus without buying anything extra. Those little Macs are not to be ignored, nor underestimated.
Rule #5: When you get the computer, use it to its fullest potential.
Many people don't use their computer to its fullest potential. My answer to this is to spend a little time and do some research. Buy books, play with programs like Quicken, MS Word, and Clarisworks, and above all, talk to people. You would be surprised at what your Mac can do if you invest some time rather than investing great sums of money. Hook up with people or organizations who cherish their Macs and could teach you a thing or two, especially if your Mac suffers a problem and you need some advice on how to solve it.
My rule of thumb for older machines is not to use the latest version but find an older version that works and is geared for my machine. You can find older versions of your favorite program at AOL Classifieds sections, software stores, even newspaper classifieds, so take a look around. You might even know people who will give you their old copies of programs. Below are my suggestions as which programs you can use even on the oldest Macs and will work quite well.
Word processing: MS Word 5.1 is my number one choice. Works very well on all machines. Word 6.0 is too slow in most cases and can't be used in machines using anything other than a PowerPC or 68040 processor, and Word 4.0 really doesn't have enough features like Word 5.1. Also consider Clarisworks 2.0 or 3.0. Nisus Writer is good, as is MacWrite.
Graphics: My number one choice is Clarisworks 2.0 or 3.0. Great interface and easy to use. You can also use Adobe Illustrator 3.5 or older on even the Mac Plus. Mac Draw is an oldie but still a goodie, as is Lightening Paint (shareware).
Spreadsheets: Again, my choice is ClarisWorks 2.0 or 3.0. Cassidy and Greene's Keep It Simple Spreadsheet is also very easy to use, as is Microsoft Excel 3.0 or 4.0. They will work on any Mac from the Plus to the Powermac.
Finances: Quicken 4.0 is the best version to use for speed and simplicity.
Utilities: Norton Utilities 3.1 can still work on even the oldest of Macs and is still my favorite program to repair my hard drive or recover erased files. Disk First Aid and HDSC should also be kept in case of an emergency as well.
AOL: For anything other than a PowerPC, use 2.7 or 2.5. I used AOL 3.0 on my LC III for about a week and went back to 2.7 only because it was too slow and filled my System Folder with too many extensions. And who needs that?
Think about purchasing all-in-one programs like Clarisworks 2.0 or 3.0 or even Microsoft Office 3.x. These are great programs that will work quite well. Older versions exist, but are bulkier, taking up a lot of memory, hard drive space, and tax your processor to the point where you'll turn old and gray before you finish with your work.
What should at least get:
Take my advice or leave it, but you should make sure your computer comes with at least three basics:
1) 4 megabytes of RAM (yes, you can run your basic needs with just four megs). 2) 40 megabyte hard drive (external or internal). You will need some room to expand and grown as you use your computer. If you can get more, please do. Besides, hard drives are pretty cheap these days. 3) System 7.0 or higher. I have found that older Macs like the SE, Classic, or Plus can accommodate 7.1 quite nicely. Even though they can take up to System 7.5.5, I would stick with 7.1 because 7.5, 7.5.3, or 7.5.5 put more of a strain on your older machine and slow it down some. If you have choose a computer with a 68020 processor, then use System 7.5.5. The 68030/68040 machines should use System 7.6.1. A PowerPC should use OS 8.0.
A Final Word
If you have an old Mac that still works, then find a use for it. If you can't think of any, then here are some suggestions:
--Donate it to a school, charity, or church for a tax deduction. Just make sure it works and has all parts and equipment to it! Many schools don't even have computers (like mine) and any donations will be greatly appreciated.
--Give it to a young child who can learn to use it in preparation for using it in school. You'll help teach that child the basics.
--Give it to a relative who is not very knowledgeable about computers and let them learn how to use it. I converted my mother into a Mac supporter this same way. She went from being "Anti-Technological Super Mom Out to Save the Ecosystem" to " Hey, Hand Me that Torax #8 Wrench So I Can Replace My Mac's Motherboard." Go figure.
--Sell it or give it to anyone who can put it to good use. That's better than letting it sit in a closet only to collect dust.
--Use it as a back-up if you have another Mac. You never know when something might go wrong with the Mac you regularly work on and this will give you some peace of mind.
--Use it as a fax machine. Even Mac Pluses, Classics and SE's can accomplish this task. But don't spend too much on a modem: their ports can only transmit at a maximum of 9600 baud, so get a slow modem. At least it will be cheap.
I hope this helps. But remember that there will be time when you will need a fast system. You'll know when you need it. Make your choice wisely, and I hope you get the system that's right for you and your family. Check out companies that specialize in used or refurbished systems. You'll save tons of money.
For more about the specifics of your machine and what you can do to expand it, the refer to T. Kelley Boylan's excellent "This Old Mac" articles that he ran in the 1997 issues of MacAddict magazine. They are also found at MacAddict's website (www.macaddict.com). He really gets into the specifics of older non-PowerPC macs, and devotes each issue to a single model or group of related models. They also make excellent specs on that one can refer to now and then for good information and troubleshooting.
Good luck! Let me know how things go for you. If you have suggestions, share them with me, please! If you know others with older Macs, let them in on the advice I have provided.
-- Christopher Sunner (Red Lambda@aol.com)
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