Buying Used Macs

Why write a book about buying used Macs?

People buy used Macs for all sorts of reasons. Often the prime motive to passing over the latest model out of Cupertino is the need to save money. After all, a G3 or G4 iMac might not be the fastest thing on the block, but it will certainly prove to be a rock-solid word processing and web-surfing machine. Students in particular are always like to find bargains, and a used iBook or one of the older G4 PowerBooks may only cost a few hundred dollars but will still provide all the horsepower you need to write a dissertation, carry out research on the Internet, and keep up your coursework.

Other people don’t really need another Mac, they just like collecting them. I’ve got a Mac Plus, a Mac SE, a couple of pizza-box LCs, and a PowerBook 3400 that fall into this category. None of them do any serious work, though I do use the PowerBook for transferring files from other computers onto floppy disks. No, I keep these machines around because I like them and none of them cost very much. It’s fun to upgrade and improve them, and the Internet is a great place to track down obsolete computer programs and expansion cards for these machines. For the Mac geek, there’s really nothing more satisfying than figuring out how to connect a 17 year old Mac SE to the Internet, or better yet, turning it into a web server!

Used Macs can be very useful presents for children. An old Mac running ClarisWorks and KidPix is an ideal way to introduce young people to the basics of computing like how to edit text or draw with a mouse. Sure, more modern computers add extra things like access to the Internet and multimedia capabilities, but all to often higher-end machines get hijacked by any teens in the house and wind up being used more or less exclusively for stealing music, instant messaging, and surfing the Web. But give the little people in your household something that doesn’t do anything more that draw, word process, and print, and you’ll find the older kids will practically ignore it.

But finding a place that sells used Macs is only half the story. There are pros and cons to buying machines on eBay, for example. Many sellers on eBay are not completely helpful when it comes to describing their wares, and it is all too easy to wind up with an overpriced paperweight. There are definitely things to look out for when checking out the advertisements on eBay, and unless you’re happy to take a bit of a gamble, it’s often better to go to a reputable used Mac reseller (such as Small Dog Electronics). While retailers charge a little more, they do offer some sort of warranty, and that gives you some degree of security, and with used Macs, which are inherently more likely to fail than brand new ones, that security is well worth paying for.

Then there is the question of choosing between the models. Which ones were turkeys right out of the door? Which ones remain solid machines with plenty of upgrade potential and decent performance? Some models are definitely better than others, but even the best ones may have specific issues you’ll want to question the seller about before you drop down your hard earned cash. Once you’ve bought a machine, which upgrades are worth the money, and which ones don’t make any economic sense at all?

Getting a used Mac working for you may mean more than simply switching it on. How are you going to move files from one Mac to another? If you have a modern PowerBook or iMac for example, getting software you downloaded from the Internet across to a Mac SE or a Duo is going to be much more complicated than you might imagine. New Macs don’t have floppy drives, for example, and older Macs don’t have Ethernet ports. USB floppy drives read and write to 1.4 MB disks, but not to the 800 K disks that older Macs use. CDs and Zip disks are convenient, but not every Mac can use them, and if you have USB and FireWire devices are only supported by the more recent Mac models.

These are all issues that experienced Mac users will be familiar with, and there’s certainly plenty of information on the Internet (not least of all at Apple’s own web site) but to date no-one seems to have put everything down in one place, which is where my eBook, Buying Used Macs, comes in. It covers all the issues mentioned here, as well as plenty more. To begin with there’s over a hundred pages covering practically every Macintosh ever made: what each machine is good for nowadays, any particular hardware issues the buyer needs to be aware of, and information on useful upgrades that can extend the useful life of an older Mac. Then there’s stuff on basic repairs and fixes that any used Mac owner will have to deal with sooner or later, such as dead PRAM batteries, loose hinges on PowerBooks, and wear and tear to cables and adapters. Realistic prices (in US dollars) are supplied to help you figure out whether or not that used Mac on eBay really is a bargain.

One of the bits of the book that I think is most useful parts are the detailed tables help you figure out the differences between models of Mac that were turned out in a confusing array of variants. Need to know how to tell a DVI PowerBook G4 from a Gigabit one? Not sure how to pick a Revision D iMac from an Autumn 1999 one? Is a Sawtooth G4 really that much better than a Yikes G4? Not sure if you can use a FireWire-equipped iPod with a Wall Street G3 PowerBook? Will that Power Mac run OS X? Don’t worry, it’s all covered here.

Other chapters in the book cover the standards used for networking and peripherals for all the Macs, right back to the original compact Mac 128. This is key information if you need to share files and programs between new and older Macs. Then there’s stuff on where to find old software (and whether or not its legal to use it!) as well as links to places that sell used Macs and Mac-compatible peripherals, upgrades, and accessories. Basically, if you’re planning on buying a used Mac, or have one on storage that you’d like to revitalise, then Buying Used Macs should be just the thing to get you going.


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