Yes, you can own a usable Mac for less than a night down the pub.
A few months ago I published an article on how you could purchase a usable Mac for less than £50, you can read it here.
I was quite flattered to find the article mentioned on several forums, and feedback was generally good. But a couple of people actually emailed in and said they thought you could get even more for less… Challenge accepted.
The same principals applied as last time; the Mac has to be usable, had to be fully working and in good physical condition. But this time I had a much more stringent budget, just £25.
This was going to be tough.
Just as before, there was nothing to be found in local classified ads or at local boot fairs, I was going to have to brave eBay if I was going to find anything.
Luckily, after a couple of weeks of searching an interesting looking G4 PowerMac turned up, with a starting price of just 99p.
The G4 PowerMac
The PowerMac was Apples tower PC range from the early 1990s up to 2004. The designs varied quite a bit depending on what version you bought, but the up side of this is that it can make it quite easy to work out the specifications just from looking at them.
Unlike the eMac that was bought in the last challenge, this machine has no built in screen. But most had built in speakers, and they were definitely a lot easier to upgrade and repair than the eMac.
The G4 PowerMacs were replaced in 2004 by the G5 version, which featured a radically different aluminium design and much faster performance. A G5 would be well out of my budget, but a G4 should be possible, depending on the specs.
The PowerMac I had my eye on was being sold by a guy in the next village, but he hadn’t provided much in the way of information about the specs. He did say that it was in working order, though, so it might be worth a closer look.
From the photos I could tell that this was a “Quicksilver” model of PowerMac, which meant it was built between 2001-2002 and would have a processor speed somewhere between 733MHz and dual 800MHz processors. It also came with up to 512MB of RAM as standard and a 40GB hard disk.
I took a gamble and put in a maximum bid of £15 – there, was no indication of whether a keyboard, mouse or monitor were included, but the extra £10 would be enough to cover these if I were careful (and not too fussy).
Luckily the lack of information seemed to put off other eBayers, and I landed this G4 PowerMac…. for £7.
The £7 PowerMac.
So, just like I did a few months ago, I trundled off to collect my new Mac from an eBay seller. The transaction was pleasant, he seemed a nice enough guy. But sadly, my fears were realized when no keyboard, mouse or monitor were included in the sale.
Still, this little beauty was in excellent condition.
You can tell it hadn’t been used in an office; there were no asset tags, security labels or other stickers stuck to the casing, and it was relatively scratch free as well, except for a couple of light blemishes to the plastic outer casing.
To the front of the case you have the speaker, the power button and dual optical drive slots. Most of these machines came with a single optical drive, but a 2nd drive was a factory option, so I may have gotten lucky.
The design qualities of these machine are definitely Apple. The plastic outer casing featured curved acrylic corners that kept the tower off of the floor and allowed it to be carried around easily.
Inside it was in pretty good shape as well; there was a little bit of dust floating about, but a quick blast with a can of compressed air took care of this. All of the fans looked to be in working order, and nothing showed any signs of abuse or having been replaced.
Time to power it up and see what sort of specifications it had.
While my shiny new Mac featured OS X 10.4 (Tiger), it unfortunately only had two user accounts set up. Both were administrators, and both were protected by passwords.
Normally this would mean that the machine would have to have the OS reloaded – which is probably what the previous owner counted on. But sadly, he hadn’t provided me any recovery disks, and I don’t tend to carry disks for ten year old Macs that I don’t own.
Luckily, I have a few tricks up my sleeve, and was able to gain access to the Mac and setup my own user account. You can read more about how I did this here.
What do we have here…
Ok, so I’m into the Mac, time to see what £7 had bought me.
A quick look at the system information showed that this was the slowest of the Quicksilver PowerMacs – the 733MHz version. Still, it had had a memory upgrade and was running fairly well. Here’s the full specs:
- G4 PowerPC Processor – 733MHz
- 1 GB of SD-RAM
- 40GB Hard disk
- 4x AGP Nvidia Geforce 2 graphics – 32MB
- CD-ROM drive
- On board 10/100/1000Mbps network
- 56Kbps Modem
- 2 x Firewire ports
- 2 x USB ports
- Optional WiFi (not included).
- MAC OS X 10.4 Tiger
There was quite a bit of software included with this Mac (as with the eMac in the previous article). Adobe CS2 was installed and activited, as was Microsoft Office, RealPlayer and an older version of iLife.
This is a good thing; modern versions of these packages are not released for the PowerPC architecture, so I would be limited in what software I could buy and install on this machine.
Living with it
Even though it’s getting on a bit, this G4 chugs along quite nicely.
I connected it to my 40″ Samsung TV and was able to run the Mac’s graphics card at a native 1080 line resolution, that’s full HD.
Unfortunately there was no keyboard or mouse included in the auction, so I bought a Mac compatible keyboard and a USB mouse on eBay for £15, including shipping.
All of the installed applications work fairly well, making this an ideal office machine.
When it comes to web browsing, 99% of websites will display correctly, the latest version of Firefox will work with G4 machines. The only thing that did slow the machine down to a crawl was streaming video from Vimeo and YouTube. Unfortunately this machine just doesn’t have the grunt to handle that kind of thing.
For locally stored media, I found that iTunes, Real Player and XBMC all moved along nicely for audio and standard definition video. XBMC ran surprisingly well on a machine that’s now over 10 years old.
Gaming is, of course, out of the question, but as a second machine for the home, there’s no faulting this little beasty.
So, that’s £7 for the Mac, and £15 for the keyboard and mouse. That brings us to £22, 12% under the original budget.
Yes, I know that doesn’t include a monitor, but most people will have some sort of display device available to use, and if not, I’d warrant that you could lay your hands on a 15″ flatscreen on eBay for £3 if you’re prepared to wait a couple of weeks.
The point is this, the Mac itself cost 7 quid. You might have a mouse and keyboard laying around. You may have a display that will do for now. But for less than £25 you should be able to get up and running comfortably.
It’s worth baring in mind that your “new” Mac is going to be a disposable item. For what it will cost you in spare parts it will be easier and cheaper to buy another second hand machine online. It will also become harder and harder to get new software for these older Macs, so don’t count on the fact that it will ever be able to do more than it does for you right now.