Despite Apple’s current problems supplying hardware to its resellers (see page 16), I managed to upgrade my system at home after three years of productive time with my 733MHz Quicksilver Power Mac G4. This computer wasn’t broken. It hadn’t started crashing or swapping my iPhoto:Rome screensaver for kernel-panic screens. I didn’t drop it, pour warm tea into it, kick it when it took seven minutes to boot up, forget to clean it and discover a 2kg ball of fur inside, lean too hard on the CD tray, slam the side door too aggressively, melt it by placing it next to a radiator, or yank all the cables out the back with all the ferocity of a man who can’t see which bloody connection is USB, FireWire, (uh) Ethernet, (argh) speaker, or (oh, no!) power cable...
I didn’t fall out of love with its smooth polycarbonate case, get bored of its colourless features, end my frustration that the CD bezel could be opened only by someone with four-inch fingernails, or get paranoid that its see-through handles wouldn’t stand for all the extra hard-disks I’d installed. And I haven’t changed my preference for desktop at home and laptop for work – every house I live in seems to be constructed of resolutely anti-wireless materials, so I’ve given up trying.
So why have I got the credit-card out after just three years’ faithful service from my trusty G4? To be honest, I’m not quite sure myself. I certainly wasn’t tempted by Apple’s G5 ad campaign – the rather poor one that claimed the Power Mac was the fastest computer the world had ever seen, and which ended up with a guy looking like Doc Brown from Back to the Future with soot all over his face. That ad hasn’t been aired for months anyway, as the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that it was a bit dodgy claiming to be the world’s fastest anything when the commercial was made several moons before the campaign started.
Maybe it was using a few of the new Power Macs at the Macworld offices that convinced me that lightning-fast restarts and instant application-opening were preferable to watching the ticking grey wheel and waiting for the Dock to appear, let alone stop bouncing.
I could have been unconsciously depressed at owning a machine that Apple no longer cares a damn about. Apple has continued to sell the ageing Power Mac G4 to those hang-about customers who insist on buying Macs that can still boot in OS 9. OS 9! The official line was that it continues to flog the rotten old things until they run out of stock. The G4 has now disappeared from the UK Apple Store, and the US online shop is telling people to rush as stocks are running low. With G5 supplies as rare as British Olympic medals, I reckon I could flog my old Quicksilver to some poor sod still nursing a blue-&-white G3 but terrified of OS X.
I may never be able to put my finger on what exactly pushed me into upgrading to the G5. But it got me thinking about the other times I’ve purchased and then upgraded computer equipment at home. I can be happy as Larry for months with my setup, and then I get an irresistible urge to change something more interesting – and possibly cheaper – than yet another flipping inkjet cartridge.. like the actual printer itself.
The first Mac I bought was an LC 2/40 – that’s 2MB of RAM, and a 40MB hard drive, sir. It came with a 12-inch colour screen; although I had to upgrade immediately to System 7 (about £50 if I remember rightly) to take advantage of the colour part of the equation. This cute little bundle cost me close on £1,500 – about two months’ salary at the time. I also bought the world’s cheapest and possibly slowest Apple LaserWriter for about £600.
This system – and debt – lasted me an astonishing six years, before I landed a Mac that wasn’t even made by Apple. Power Computing was the brashest of the Mac-clone manufacturers, and its computers often beat Apple’s own in speed tests. It was when Power started eating into its market share that Apple bought the company, shut it down, and announced that no new licences would be granted – and that none of the existing clones would run its forthcoming OS 8. My PowerBase 200 cost about as much as the LC, but the minitower boasted 16MB of RAM and a 1.2GB hard drive.
How in heaven’s name did I get by with a 40MB hard disk for six years? I remember a drawer full of floppies, but I can’t connect such monk-like simplicity in storage needs to my current multi-disk existence (three internal Ultra-ATA and two external FireWire).
I actually blew up the PowerBase when first plugging it in – it had been sent direct from Austin, Texas, and was switched to expect a US power supply. But after fitting a new supply, the PowerBase and I got on like a PowerBook on fire. Despite Apple’s clone-killing OS barrier, it carried me through to OS 8.6 before I moved back to the comforting beige of Apple’s Power Mac G3/300 tower a couple of years later.
This beast of a machine took up nearly all my study space, unlike the svelte form of the PowerBase and the smartly compact LC. Even though I limited myself to a 17-inch CRT, there was little room for the mouse let alone the keyboard.
It wasn’t quite new, so I managed to pick the 300MHz G3 up for about £1,400 – pretty good value as it lasted me for a whole three years before I flogged it on eBay.
Now, three years hence again, and I’m boxing up its Quicksilver replacement – which also worked out at about £450 a year – for a dual-1.8GHz Power Mac G5. Yes, I know I could have waited for the dual-2.5GHz model, or opted for the dual-2GHz mid-range system, but the 1.8GHz DP is so much faster than the G4 but not a whole £750 slower than the latest top-end model.
Looking back on my Mac-owning history I can see a pattern emerging that just under £1,500 marks the line between my urge to upgrade and need to pay off the credit card. The fact that my new system has 1GB of RAM, 330GB of disks, and a DVD-R SuperDrive compared to the LC’s 2MB of memory, 40MB disk and 1.4MB floppy drive demonstrates that huge leaps in technology make little difference to how much I’m prepared to pay for a new computer. Apple knows it will probably get me again in three to four years, with God knows what heap of memory, capacious hard drive and super-speed DVD-R – all for £1,449, I guarantee it. MW