Wall Writings
My Mac Magazine #30, Oct. ’97

Hello out there to all you My Mac readers! I’m back after my one month college-adjustment-leave-of-absence. In that time, I have learned a couple of valuable lessons:

1. You don’t have as much free time in college as you think you do.
2. Homework always takes longer than you think it will.
3. College football is tougher, more demanding, and more time-consuming than high school football.
4. Always be careful about what you write when you send something to your publisher, because you never know when it might see print.

I couldn’t resist that last one; I had fully expected to not see my column at all in the last issue. And of all the things to see reprinted, that letter to Tim was the one I least expected! After that, I’m glad to have some fresh material to publish, and I don’t plan on missing too many more months in the near future!

Seriously, this month I will tell you the story I had meant to last month, but some unforeseen circumstances made it impossible for me to do so. Here we go!

Upgrading a Downgrade
For the last two and a half years, I have enjoyed using my family’s Macintosh LC 575. While not outstanding, it’s a pretty decent system – CD-ROM drive, ‘040 processor, 250 megabyte hard drive. But as I prepared to go to college this summer, my family made it very clear I was not going to take their computer with me. So, what was I to do?

It was suggested to me by a number of people that I should buy a used or refurbished Power Mac. Weighing my options, and my pocketbook (since I have now officially entered the ranks of the starving college student, that is an increasingly important factor!), I decided that the best I could do would be to buy a first-generation Power Mac, such as a 6100 or, at best, a 7100.

Then, my dad had a good idea – my family’s first computer, an original LC, has been sitting dormant in the basement for a couple of years. Why not take that along with me?

While I initially thought taking that glorified word processor with me would be a waste of desk space, the option became more attractive to me after some careful thinking. If I went with the used Power Mac, I would be buying a computer that I would want to replace in a few years, anyway. A 6100 won’t run Rhapsody, and its 66 MHz 601 processor is incredibly outdated by today’s standards. On the other hand, if I used the LC, I would also have a computer that I would want to replace in a few years, but at a fraction of the cost. After seeing the situation in that light, I readily accepted the LC. I had a computer of my very own.

Time out for a quick sidebar: I love the LC’s pizza box design. That, coupled with its small-but-cute 12 inch RGB monitor, makes for a nice system with a small footprint on the desk. Very attractive looking, in my mind, and one of the best desktop designs I’ve ever seen. Everything is pretty easy to get to inside, also. Why did Apple stop making these? It sure looks a heckuva lot better than the relatively UGLY LC 575 I’m used to. OK, back to the regularly scheduled program…

I would have to spend a little dough to make the LC useful, however. The first thing I needed to do was increase the RAM. The most the LC can have is 10 megabytes, which meant buying two 4 Meg SIMMS in addition to the standard 2 Megs. I searched around for the best prices, and settled on choosing Coast to Coast Memory. I was very pleased with the company. They were polite and helpful while taking my order over the phone, delivery was prompt, and the memory is trouble-free. All RAM they sell also carries a great warranty. Their web site is http://www.18004MEMORY.com
, which just so happens to be their phone number as well.

Now that I could handle running more than SimpleText on my machine, I needed storage space. The LC’s 40 meg internal hard drive was much too small for me, but I didn’t want to waste the money on a big one or two gigabyte drive. Once again, I took to the web to find the best deals. MacResQ turned out to be the company I settled on. They offer tons of used and refurbished equipment: complete systems, hard drives, printers, and more. I picked up a 170 megabyte internal Quantum drive for around fifty bucks, and it fits my needs nicely. This was the first time I had ever placed an order over the Internet, and I had no problems at all with the transaction. You can check out MacResQ for yourself at http://www.macresq.com

I’ve got the memory and the storage space. Now, I had one problem – the 16 MHz 68020 processor in the LC was glacially slow. I couldn’t believe I actually used this computer every day for over three years before my family purchased the LC 575. Something had to be done about that.

The search for the proper accelerator was a tricky one. I didn’t want to choose one that was too “low-end,” because it wouldn’t be worth the investment. However, I didn’t want to choose one that was too expensive, either, because then I’d come close to spending so much money that I just as well have bought that used 6100.

Several companies offer a dazzling array of accelerator cards that fit into the PDS slot of the LC, and most work for all of the LC series – I, II, or III. The choices in processors, external cache, extra SIMM slots, and FPUs make for an almost endless list of possible configurations. I settled on the ThunderCache, a 33 MHz 68030 processor upgrade with 32K of external cache, for only a hundred bucks, from MicroMac Technology (http://www.micromac.com
). The folks at MicroMac were wonderful, especially their tech support. They were very helpful when I ran into some installation problems, and when it turned out that the accelerator was defective, they were very good about taking it back and sending me a brand new one. The ThunderCache is supposed to increase the LC’s speed by 170%, possibly up to 220%, and although I haven’t done any formal testing, the machine does feel twice as fast. At least it can keep up with my typing.

Some of you out there may remember when I got a 33.6 modem, and tossed aside my old 14.4. The same goes for when my family bought a color printer; our old monochrome StyleWriter got thrown in a closet somewhere. Those two peripherals are now integral parts of my dorm room desktop system.

Finally, I needed to get the software installed onto my hard drive. This looked to be a little tricky, since a lot of software comes on CD-ROM now. Thank God for the Zip drive!!! I now have a complete copy of the System software installer CD-ROM on a Zip disk, and another disk full of essential software such as ClarisWorks, Eudora, Netscape, and many shareware titles.

So, for only slightly over $200, I transformed a 16 MHz 68020 with 4 megabytes of RAM and a 40 meg hard drive into a 33 MHz 68030 with 10 megs of RAM and a 170 meg hard drive, complete with modem and printer. I’m ably running System 7.5.5, and can use 2.0 versions of Netscape or Explorer without a problem. What seemed like a pathetically outdated, unusable system turned into a pathetically outdated, perfectly good and useful system. Granted, I was lucky to have so much used equipment lying around in my home, but a little research showed I could have gotten everything for slightly under five hundred bucks, which is a good deal in my mind.

The moral of the story could be that there’s a lot of life left in those old computers that have been left for junk. The moral of the story could be that you don’t need the most powerful Mac around to be efficient and happy with your computing experience. The moral of the story could be that there are a lot of good deals to be found on the Internet and through smaller outlets, rather than ordering through catalogs or buying at your local computer superstore. Those could all be good morals. Take your pick.

I’ll stick with my own personal moral: taking the time to type out a personal story that will be read by thousands of people, and that has absolutely nothing to do with the price of rice in China, is a lot more fun than doing that half-completed General Chemistry assignment sitting on top of my monitor. (Editor’s Note- back to homework now, Mike!)

So, if you’re still with me, thanks for indulging me and reading about my new computing environment. I would have loved to keep going and talk about my troubles getting onto the campus network, coping with the nearly 100% Windows-based campus computer labs, and so forth, but I’ll save that for next month. There’s a lot of good fodder for stories in this… I’ve got my monthly column covered for well into 1998 now! (Just kidding. No one could possible stand reading about this old LC every month for the next six months, not even me!)

I’d also love to has over the recent goings-on at Apple, the clone situation, and so forth, but I’m not feeling that serious right now, and I’ll leave that to the other thousand writers out there. So, until next month, happy Macintosh computing!

Mike Wallinga (mlwall@mtcnet.net)

Leave a Reply