Fact Controlled
for Special Learners

by Steve Wood
August 10, 1998



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G3 MinitowerMy new Power Macintosh G3 arrived on Monday of spring break. Great planning, Apple! I purchased a 266 Mhz Minitower model through Apple's Educator Advantage program. While not quite the configuration I wanted, I wasn't willing to wait until the Apple Store had build-to-order capability for education individuals. Since I'm perilously close to 50, I got the MultiScan 720 17" monitor to go with it. After working at a 13" screen for years, it seems like a picture window to my aging eyes. I upgraded the G3 to 96 MB of RAM and added an Orange Micro PC compatibility card with 64MB of RAM on it. Since the MATH DITTOS 2 series is now a cross-platform shareware, having both Mac and Win95 on the same machine will be a giant time saver. Our kids loved to laugh at me as I worked at the Mac, transferred files to our Acer on a Zip disk, and jumped from machine to machine! While I'll still test Windows versions on the Acer, composing pages and files will all be done on the Mac...er...Mac with Windows, too.

What can you say about the G3 Macs? I suppose by next year, a 266 Mhz G3 may be considered slow, but it truly is, "Oh my gosh" fast. The tower is a monster. If you're limited on desk space, it's a tight fit. I don't like a tower on the floor (too many dust bunnies [rhinos] in my house :-) ). Working graphics on it is a joy. With 96 MB of RAM (Now 112) and a fast chip with an onboard hardware graphics accelerator, applying filters and such is a snap!

The software CD that comes with the G3 is a good one. It has System 8.1, but also has a disk image of the original files to reinstall. The hard drive in a G3 comes formatted in Mac Standard, but the disk image reinstaller allows you to switch to the new HFS+ Extended format. That's really important on large drives. Under the old formatting, an alias took 97K as opposed to 4K in the new format if you use just one partition for the 6 gig drive. As with most Apple products, there aren't a lot of freebies included on the CD.

One interesting item is that my regular System 8.1 CD will not work on the G3, even for creating startup disks for other machines. I get a message that it will not work on this machine. I found this while trying to create a Zip Drive startup disk for the PM 7200 I use at school. Using the G3 System CD that came with the new computer worked fine, although it installs some of the extra extensions necessary to run the G3.

I haven't experienced any of the problems noted on some message boards. There seemed to be a number of G3's with bad motherboards, but it appears that Apple has worked that out. My old modem wouldn't work with this machine, until I upgraded to 3Com's high speed modem script. I'm still fighting some major printing problems with my Epson Color Stylus Inkjet Printer. A partial fix appears to be that you must print from the modem port. There are still problems, but the printer doesn't regularly lock up and quit, as it did when printing from the printer port. The fan on the minitower is a bit noisy, but it may be the extra fan on the Orange Micro card. You also have to fiddle a bit with the Orange Micro card to get it to work. I had to reinsert it 3 or 4 times before it made good contact! But after that, it started up every time without error. So there's really nothing major that I've found terribly wrong with the machine.

PM 7200 is similar to G3Upgrading RAM, VRAM, and adding PCI cards is fairly easy. My classroom has a PM 7200, so I'd gotten used to, really spoiled by, a fold-out design. The desktop G3's are supposed to retain that same ease of upgrading using the same case as a 7200. About the only cautions I can offer is to be careful opening the case not to bend the interior metal grounding and to always be sure to release the lock before closing the fold out. The picture at right is my PM 7200 at school, not a G3 desktop.

Tight FitThe minitower opened easily per Apple's accurate directions. Looking at the power supply and drives, however, makes me think adding another hard drive would be a tight fit. My minitower came with a built-in Zip drive, so there's only one bay available for another disk. The close, close-up at left shows the cramped area to install another drive.

Inside G3The Orange Micro 530 PCI PC card seemed to work best in PCI slot C1, the one closest to the bottom in picture at left of the case. I had to reinsert the card several times before it would function properly. Once installed properly, however, it worked without a flaw. This card has only one RAM slot that curiously uses Mac RAM! When I upgraded, the 16 MB RAM chip that came with the card went to school and into "my" PM 7200 there.

Installing RAM on the G3 was easy. It clicked in with moderate force. I'm always afraid I'll break something when snapping in chips with the side buttons. New machines or slots that have never been used always take a bit more force that used slots.

The directions for installing the 4MB VRAM chip are pretty poor. You have to look very carefully to make sure you're doing it right.

Overall, Apple's fold out tower design is excellent. I may change that appraisal after installing an additional drive :-)...fat fingers. All that open territory on the right side is where the power supply and drives fold back into.

And yes, if you looked closely, the picture at the top of this page has a simulated picture. The lighting makes it so either the computer shows or the screen, but not both without heavily editing the photo. It was much easier to snap a screenshot and size it to fit, although it lacks the natural curve of the screen.

After all of this, would I recommend buying a Power Macintosh G3? I absolutely love mine, but the real answer is, "It depends on what your needs are in a computer."

  • Consider if you really need the top-of-the-line G3? There are now 300 Mhz G3's in $3,000+ and $4,000+ configurations. The desktop models have the same chip. Either the new iMac or the All-In-One G3 model, code named Artemis, for the education market might be a good choice. If the Artemis models are half as good as my Performa 575 has been, or two or three times as good as the crummy LC 5200-5500 lines are, it'll be a great deal for around $1600! Apple has not announced any plans for general retail sales however. I can't add much to what everyone else has already said about the iMac. If it fits your needs, go for it at $1299 retail.
  • Do you really need the Mac platform? (No, don't start flaming me. When I get cut, I bleed the Mac OS. At my wife's WinTel dominated job, they call me "Mac Steve!") If you must access Windows 95 programs, you can have a new, separate, complete PC for less than I paid for my Orange Micro card! You could also use Connectix's Virtual PC or Insignia Solution's SoftWindows 95 on a Mac for a lot less money than an Orange Micro card. In fact, if you're buying a G3 through the end of April through Apple's Education Advantage Program, or Home Purchase, you can elect to receive Virtual PC for free (I chose an extra two years of warranty, instead.).
  • If you're a true Machead, but lack the funds for a G3, consider a Power Mac 6500. They are just about to be discontinued. When that happens, prices will plummet. But make sure you're not paying close to what you would for one of the G3 models. If they're close in price, go for the G3 every time, because they're certainly not even close in performance. There currently isn't anything on the market close to a G3. (Yeah, I know. That's my opinion. But then, I do work on both platforms.)
  • If you have an older Mac, you may be able to upgrade it to a G3 chip! There are upgrades for most of the older Power Macs that had a removable chip, and even ones for the 6100 series. I gave up on my Performa 575 (PowerMac 575) as it was simply maxed-out in all areas. There were no cost effective upgrades available, the RAM was maxed...and the kids needed their own Mac. Read that as Dad wanted his own Mac :-).
  • A last option for the budget minded, look into a used computer. Don't get trapped into paying too much, however. Many people will try to sell you on all the improvements they've made and all the software they've bought. If you're buying used, look for rock bottom prices!
  • Finally, if you've got the bucks or credit, if you really do heavy-duty computing work, or if you've just got to have the latest, best, etc., go for it. The Apple Store is open 24 hours a day! I really think you'll be glad you did.

Since writing this little ditty on my G3, I've added a second G3 computer via the upgrade route. Although my comments above indicate I recommend otherwise, I found my budget so constrained when I made the move that I went with a a PowerMac 7500 with a Newer MAXpowr G3/250 MHz upgrade card. It has been a good investment, although I wish I could have snagged an 8500 or 8600 to upgrade. There's also the constant nagging worry about a 5 year old power supply and such. I feel no speed change at all when moving from the G3 266 MHz minitower at home to the G3/7500 250 MHz at school.

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©1998 Steven L. Wood