Lesson 4: More RAM and Upgrade Time

Quite a few readers wrote in the last few months with some questions, so I thought I would take this column to try and answer them.

Q: Why can’t I run more than one program at a time?
-Janice

A: Ah! An easy one to start off with. The reason you cannot run more than one program at a time is that you do not have enough memory on your computer. You can either buy more memory (which is lowering in price as I write this) or you can turn on Virtual Memory from your Memory Control Panel. Virtual Memory used to be synonymous with making your computer slow, but Apple has done a pretty good job with the last few system upgrades to make it better. And there is always RAM Doubler, third party software from Connectix that does a better job than Apple’s Virtual Memory.

My advice? Go buy as much real RAM (memory) as you can. It will make your Mac much more stable and dependable.

Q: Should I upgrade my Performa 6400/200, or spring for an iMac?
-Tom

A: Tom, it depends on a few things. How many peripherals do you currently own? How much do you have invested in the 6400? How much money are you talking about to upgrade? What needs to be upgraded? Looking at a stock 6400, it came with a 200MHz 603e microprocessor and 16MB of memory. This was adequate then, but the memory is insufficient and the processor quite slow by today’s standards. It started shipping in 1996, making it an antique in computer terms (though if you try and find a productive PC still in active use that was made in 1996, you would see why people hold onto and continue using older Macs much longer than PCs).

If the 6400 is still stock, you will need to upgrade both memory and the CPU. Yes, you can turn your 6400 into a fast G3 and see huge benefits in speed, performance, and reliability. (The 603e chips, I think, cause more crashes than the system software does. My 6500 would always crash, but once upgraded to a G3 chip, 95% of those crashes went away)

For starters, you will want to put as much memory in the machine as you can. A 6400 can take up to 136MB. This will cost you under $250 if you shop around. Next, you will want to upgrade the processor. This will be the more expensive upgrade, costing anywhere from $299 to $599. Of course, if you’re going to the expense of upgrading an older machine so that you do not have to spring for a new Mac, you may as well upgrade to the best you can get, and that would be a 400MHz G3 card with a 1MB backside cache. With 136MB of memory and a 400MHz G3 running in your 6400, your Mac will indeed be very fast. (Keep in mind, though, that Mac OS X will NOT run on a pre-G3 processor upgraded Mac.)

Total cost to upgrade: between $500-$800.

A new iMac, even the low-end model, will run you between $799 to $1599. And it will be able to run the next generation Mac operating system, as well as having better graphics performance. Also important is the fact that the iMac already has USB, and it seems all the new gadgests coming out for the Mac are connected via USB. Now the accessories. Do you currently have a printer? You should know that it probably won’t work on the iMac without an adapter. Do you have a CD burner? I’ll bet it’s SCSI, which also won’t work on the iMac without an adapter. Same with the scanner you have. The good news here is that you can upgrade your 6400 to use USB with a PCI card. They work and work well, and will cost you less than $40.

So the quick answer is “buy an iMac if the 6400 doesn’t come with a bunch of baggage,” or “upgrade the 6400 if you have a lot of other stuff invested in it, such as a trackball, printer, scanner, CD-R, etcŠ”

Hope this helps, Tom. For the record, Tom upgraded the 6400 with a Sonnet G3 400MHz, and it’s now running fast and smooth. He says it has never been more stable or fast, and it is like owning a whole new computer.


Tim Robertson
publisher@mymac.com

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