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iMac G4 as a main computer? Thoughts?


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Although I have tons of great old computers that I try and keep in good condition, for a while now I've felt the need for my own "main" computer that can support my usual Internet and music endeavors. (eBay, Facebook, Yahoo, music programs like Finale, etc.)

 

For a while now I've been thinking about getting an iMac G4. I've seen a couple of them on eBay that I can pick up without too much hassle. And yes, in the future I'll probably end up getting my own brand-new computer anyway. But in the meantime...would an iMac G4 be a good and reliable main computer? G4 owners...thoughts? Ideas? Warnings?

 

-Apostrophe

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Have owned two of these, one brand new back in '02 as my primary, one used, much more recently ('09 or early '10 I think) just to play with.

 

Fantastic machines - beautiful, super-function, and perhaps the most fun and nearly "human" of all Macs.

 

But for modern browsing with multiple pages/tabs, flash, and such, it's kind of a dog. Even with maxed out RAM it's not going to be snappy.

 

For music I think it'd be fine, although the machines are a little noisier than today's iMacs and Macbook Pros/Airs (though much LESS noisy than the appallingly loud iMac G5s).

 

Hope this helps!

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Anything with a G4 in it is a lousy "daily driver" unless you have low expectations. Yes, you can still "read the web" with it for the most part, but look *carefully* at the list of things you do each day on the web. If any of them involve Flash, viewing videos, or any other active content that's either performance-sensitive or requires a plug-in scratch the iMac G4 off your list.

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Going lowend these days brings new possibilities to the fore. I would respond by observing merely that you can buy a dual G5 tower for not much more than a G4 iMac, and it will be a much more powerful and expandable machine for regular use. If I were to get my hands on a G4 iMac, on the other hand, I think it would just get put on a shelf with all the other old crap. ;)

 

Currently, I use a 12" G4 PowerBook (1.5GHz) regularly, and a couple of dual G5 towers (home and work) regularly, and can tell you that a G5 tower runs rings around the G4 PowerBook. I suspect that a G4 iMac would be slower than the PowerBook, as the former was a consumer, and the latter a professional product. Cache size, for instance, is likely to be different.

 

A dual G4 will also bring performance benefits. For instance, I have popped a dual G4 500MHz in a (hacked) G4 Cube that was originally a 450MHz single G4, and the performance benefit was very, very noticeable. In a duallie, Activity Monitor shows both processors working consistently, so that even while using applications that are not designed to use dual processors (MS Office, for instance), there are overall benefits that become immediately apparent. Multi-processor machines are just more satisfying to use.

 

Now, if a dual G4 could be shoehorned into an iMac, things might be different.... I have never looked into that.

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Hey, thanks for the quick replies everyone,

 

Yeah, I was afraid I'd get "meh" responses. I've used my iMac G3 to browse the Web before, and as you can probably guess, it left a lot to be desired. :p

 

I was hoping a G4 would be a high enough step up that I'd be able to do internet things with reasonable ease...but I suppose not. :/ I'll remember what Beachycove said about dual G5 towers and such, and I'll definitely look into that. But anyway, thanks for your G4 responses, that's exactly what I wanted to know.

 

So I'll either get a G5, or else get one of those new "mini laptops" that cost like a couple hundred bucks...as you may have guessed, I don't need anything particularly high-end. Just something that works.

 

Thanks everyone.

-Apostrophe

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Personally I'd recommend scratching G5s off your list as well. Not so much for raw performance, which is still mostly adequate in a "Pentium 4's are still good enough too" sort of way, but because of the problems of software availability. Speed helps but the lack of updated plugins and whatnots (including operating system updates) is a problem with *any* PowerPC Macintosh. PPC Macs will undoubtedly linger in production for a few more years running old software that can't be updated but for a general purpose web browser don't waste your money.

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$100-150 will get you a nice used PC to do daily chores with, then you can use the older macs for play. You can probably find a decent PC in need of repair or maybe some parts for little to nothing if you like fixing things.

 

I view G4/G5 to be expensive dead ends for main machines (you need Intel macs just for Netflix these days).

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For the financially challenged, $140-150 or so spent on a G5 represents excellent value in a Mac.

 

Sort of the same way dressing yourself like a cardboard box and lurking in the dumpster behind a fancy restaurant all night waiting for someone to get sick represents excellent value in caviar. Sure, you'll get some but there's a good chance you won't enjoy eating it.

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My main computer is my trusty quad G5.

 

I do have an iMac G4 but I use it as a backup workstation. It works well enough within the relatively limited usage I need for it (playing music, TenFourFox, terminal logins to the house servers).

 

Edit: I should add, too, that my expectations are much lower than apparently much of the other posters. I don't use Netflix, Hulu, Steam or indeed any streaming or software service, and I don't use iTunes. Even though I am the maintainer-dictator, TenFourFox works fine for me for banking, billpay and posting to 68KMLA, which is all anyone needs to do on the Net. ;) Also, because it is Gecko, it still gets security patches which cover most of the gaps in the OS except for plugins and certain other flaws, and a good firewall can greatly reduce that attack surface -- which I have (the internal network can't route to the T1 directly; everything is through proxies and specific ports).

 

For the few situations I do need video, that's what the QuickTime Enabler is for. It's coming along. My top priority is to get it fooling Vimeo to cough up H.264.

 

If you expect to do everything a modern PC does, a Power Mac will disappoint you. But I don't need to do all that, and I already have a significant investment in the hardware. If you can do it cheaply, and you understand the limitations, then do it. Just understand the limitations thoroughly first.

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Using an iMac G4 as your main computer depends pretty significantly on what you're using as your main computer right now.

 

If you're using a G3 as your main computer -- then sure, a G4 will be a big step up. If you're using anything x86 whatsoever, (even if that x86 machine is *also* from 2002/2003) then the G4 will be a step down. I've got a ThinkPad T30 from 2003 whose 1.8GHz Pentium 4 Mobile (Northwood, if I remember correctly) gets the same Cinebench results as the 2005 1.67GHz PowerBook G4.

 

So when it comes to Pentium 4s -- I wouldn't scoff too hard. Even if you're doing the same thing on it as you would be on a G4, it'll do them faster and you will be able to use newer software if you were so-inclined.

 

But it also depends on how old you are. Even though I had the TiBook, while I was in high school (2002-2006) my main computer alternated between an 840av and a bluewhite G3 -- just because I had nowhere near as much need to stay current with document formats or collaborate with anybody or use an email system with any modicum of security. (And most of the Internet email providers have ramped up the security methods they use on pop/IMAP connections since then anyway.)

 

As of today, a G4 can still do most of the Internet. (And it can run every program it could the day it was new, and other programs that'll run within what its got available.) And even more becomes technically (maybe not practically) possible if you're willing to run, say, "linux" on it. But leave it to the computer industry to invent a few more things in the next one to two years to make a G4 not very fun on the Internet.

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I'll add that I owned a 1GHz PowerBook G4 (with a half a gig of ram) in 2003 to 2005. That computer was one of the ONLY computers I actually ever felt became completely insufficient for my needs after just two years. I went from "oh, I will check email and write word documents" to "oh, I need to design pages with PageMaker 6.5 and later inDesign CS/CS2" to "I own a camera and would like to view and organize the photos from that camera with it." -- and the machine just didn't keep up at all.

 

I don't know if my particular camera really was just a huge challenge, or if it was that sliding scale of expectations that really killed it, or if it was just the fact that the G4 was a processor that had already seen its prime time, and was honestly ready for a replacement. (The whole architecture, in 2002.)

 

Compare and contrast with every x86 machine I've owned since then. I don't know if it's just that x86 software is written better, or Windows with an anti-virus application have *that* much lower an overhead, or if it's that my needs (photoshop, virtualization, productivity + Internet) actually haven't changed as much in the three years I've owned my current computer, as they had in the three years I owned that PowerBook.)

 

But I'm willing to bet that it's a lot more related to the G4 than anything else.

 

(It's worth noting I have two x86 laptops from 2002. One's a T30 with a 1.8GHz P4m and (today) 1gb of memory. The other is an X24 1.13GHz PIIIm with 384mb of ram. In 2011, I wouldn't really consider either of them sufficient for my photoshop work, nor would either of them really want to try to virtualize anything -- but I suspect that if I tried, I'd notice a few things. the first is that either of them would probably do my photo processing more efficiently than the TiBook did. The second is that the T30 would be far better than the X24. By the time you got to the Northwood microarch, the P4 was on its way to becoming an excellent performer, and if you can get a Cedarmill or newer P4 or P|D on a 900-series or newer Intel chipset, then you'll have a very nice, well-performing computer capable of photoshop batching, virtualization, running newer graphics cards, and even running 64-bit code and using 8gb of memory. (On the 965 chipset, which admittedly also supports most of the Core2 chips of the Conroe and Allendale varieties.)

 

But that's all based on my usage, which existed in 2002, but 6mp raw photos were reserved for higher end (dual processor) Macs and PC workstations with >1gb of ram. (I now have a 12mp camera, and the X24 has successfully processed those photos, but I'll describe it as maybe not being the best idea ever. My Pentium M machine and anything Core2 and newer chews through it like no tomorow though. Which is great.)

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+1 for depends on what you do on the net.

 

I'm 21 and my main machine is a G4 1.25GHz AlBook. 1GB RAM and 250GB HD running 10.5.8 and I couldn't ask for more in a daily computer. Covers my internet banking, facebook, occasional youtube video. I run Office 2004 on it (with the .docx package thing), organise and edit my photo library, design flyers and logos in Photoshop, make up the occasional video in iMovie HD, sync and keep my iPhone 4 up to date. It's seen me through my degree the last 3 years and is currently seeing me through my next degree. Mail does everything I need in an email client. Safari 5.0.6 is still a current browser and it's the fastest I've run on it yet. Basically, I don't ever find this computer lacking in all my day to day computer chores. And honestly, yeh it's no i5 but it's seriously perfectly speedy for all the tasks I've mentioned. Yeh granted I couldn't do my audio production work on it (I have a Mac Pro for that, but that's not even connected to the internet and it lives over in my studio) but that's not the point. Just wanted to say that as a daily driver, I love this thing.

 

 

T

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You mention Facebook in your OP. I find Facebook to be a massive CPU and RAM pig on older hardware, especially with more than one FB tab open. My dual 1Ghz G4 tower could just barely cope with Youtube, too.

 

It may interest you to know that used (non Mac) Core2Duo desktops - even some laptops - are available around the price range you're looking at, with a bit of hunting.

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Here's another thought, and really this thought maybe belongs on my blog or in the lounge, but it's relevant here.

 

In 2001 when the 68kMLA started (and arguably out until 2003, which was when I switched from my 840av to my TiBook) -- the point of the 68kMLA was that most of the 68k Macs were still useful for this, that or the other. Indeed, in 2003, my 840av ran a lot of the same programs I was actually using on my TiBook (word processor, QuarkXPress, PageMaker, IE and OE 4, etc.) and was able to visit most of the same websites more or less efficiently. This applies ot the last of the 68ks, which if I remember correctly is the PB190 from 1995.

 

Today, in 2011, it seems that G4s are in almost exactly the same boat that the 040s were in 2001-2003. You can still use them, but they are noticeably on their way out. There's not anything you can buy today, even with an atom processor, that will be slower than a G4, and while the G5 has more cores and more expandability, moving upmarket (say, to a machine with a "Pentium Dual Core" processor) will get you a machine with the same or better expansion and that *will* whip the pants off of that G5, performancewise.

 

If the endgame was switching to linux anyway.

 

So, if you want to show your solidarity for a dead platform, and prove to somebody that you can indeed use an older computer, then by all means go ahead. But if your apps are available on linux, or you can deal with Windows (and with W7, it's a lot better than it had been) and you're absolutely set on a certain budget (say, "less than $400") that can't be achieved with modern Mac hardware -- save yourself the time and heart-ache and buy a new PC and use the money you saved on upgrades/updates (outdated ram/hdd) on a backup hard disk or a stack of rewriteable DVDs for backup purposes. (or a cloud backup software subscription.)

 

(Sidenote: If I had to reccomend a super cheap desktop for general purpose computing to somebody today, I'd think about something with the 965 chipset or newer, and P|D or newer.

 

http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=OPTIPLEX-745DT-PB-3R&cat=SYS (P|D @ 3.0GHz, .5/80/XPp)

http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=223-0637&cat=SYS (Core2 @ 2.33GHz, 2/80/VistaUltimate)

 

That same site has cheap monitors as well: http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=P170ST-B&cat=MON

 

)

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Sorry, it looks like I'm talking ot myself, but I had just one more thought:

 

All of what I and everybody else mentioned taken into account -- if you want it, and you have the money, go for it. There's something to be said for beig able to do what you want with your own money, and I think that sometimes people giving and asking-for advice on the Internet can forget that. I can yak on for hours about how horrible the PPC platform was, both today and when it was new, and how bad a plan it is economically and if you want something for less than $250 all-told there are far better options -- objectively. But sometimes that can't change the fact that you want a specific thing.

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To sum it up, if you want it to add to your collection and use it with its limitations then go for it. I have spent a ton of money on relics while getting newer machines for free (funny what people will throw out). If you just want to do programming, office tasks, light video encoding, music , etc then a G4 is fine for that. Anything it could run when new it can still run now (and much better if you have newer HDs and maxed out RAM).

 

If you look at it historically when the internet became multimedia enabled all the old machines designed and built before that time tended to be obsolete for that use. Any machine that might hold up to the challenge but was abondonned bu the manufacturer would also not be a good platform for major web use. The G4/G5 has been obsoleted by Apple, so being a closed platform with no major support its not the best choice for web/video/movies. Even old P4/Athlon 64s of the same era have decent support for video even today. It used to be Apple supported machines way past their prime (OS 8.1 running on a 68K for example way after PPC had taken over), that is not the case anymore.

 

The good thing about older macs pre x86 is people are tossing all the old apps and hardware so you can be a retro geek on the cheap with a full complement of legit software for most needs.

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I find Facebook to be a massive CPU and RAM pig on older hardware, especially with more than one FB tab open.

 

That's all the JavaScript. I don't use FB personally, but Google+ is certainly manageable on my 1.33GHz iBook G4, and I'm working on method compilation for TenFourFox which will make that even faster.

 

Otherwise, there are always the mobile sites.

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I thought I had replied to this thread, I guess not. Huh.

 

Anyway, my daughter used to use a 12" PowerBook G4 - 867 MHz, 640 MB RAM, GeForce4 420 Go w/ 32 MB RAM, 10.4. It worked "adequately" for her. Now she's on a 17" iMac G4 - 800 MHz, 768 MB RAM, GeForce4 MX w/ 32 MB RAM, 10.5. It works equally well for nearly everything she does. The bigger screen is the good thing, the slight bump in RAM and slightly slower CPU seem to balance each other out.

 

Yeah, Flash websites can be a little slow, but they work.

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Here's my $0.02, hope it can help you out.

 

I've recently acquired an iMac G4 (17", 1GHz, 512MB RAM, 80 GB HDD, 10.4.11). I use it as my secondary computer, since my desktop PC is on its last legs. For what I've used it for, the machine does alright. I've surfed facebook, browsed forums/ web, listen to music, iChat, wireless printing, etc... I'm sure adding additional RAM would help but its usable. Youtube isn't the best, but it works. The fan in the top of unit isn't too loud, but its noticeable if you don't have something else going on to drown out the noise (doesn't bother me though). It still seems like a pretty capable machine, but then again, I haven't tried to do anything CPU-intensive on it. I plan on utilizing it more after I get an external HDD and more RAM.

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