Can I rebuild it? Better than it was before? Better, stronger, faster?
April 8, 2009 9:54 AM   Subscribe

iMacFilter: Upgrade or find something new? That is the question. But, as is often the case, there's a bit more...

I have an iMac G5, 1.8 GHz PowerPC, 512 MB, OS 10.3.9 - capacity is 72GB, currently 8GB available. As you might expect, it runs a bit slowly, especially when multiple programs are running. Lately too, the fan has been running high, wheezing in a manner reminiscent of my even older car.

I'm hoping to use some upcoming time off from my job to improve my computer and web skills. Besides making my understandings of basic web design more systematic I'm going to begin looking into things like Content Management Systems (specifically Drupal). Maybe also start wading into Wordpress as well.

So, can I upgrade this old machine, enable it to deal with the new stuff I'm going to be throwing at it? And if so, what's best for the money? Add more memory, update the OS, upgrade the drive, get an extra drive to use in some clever way, some go-faster racing stripes?

Or should I sell/donate/use as a backup drive and bite the bullet and buy something newer? If so, what would be a wise choice? I have read in the news of folks buying models at the wrong time - how do you know when a given model isn't about to be outmoded? My pockets aren't all that deep (& mostly have lint in them) so stretching the dollar is what I'm looking for in terms of options.

Please note: I'm sure there are good options in the PC realm but I want to stick with Mac for now so I'm not having to learn too many new things at once. Also, my knowledge of computers and the web is still somewhat patchwork so beginner-ese is always appreciated.

(I did see this question and it provided some information but I'm hoping for a bit more specifics...)
posted by jammy to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
The iMacs (and their other desktops) were refreshed (IIRC) just a month ago, so I wouldn't see any problem buying them right now.

And as far as your current machine, go for the RAM first. More storage does next to nothing re: performance unless you're REALLY low. Racing stripes wouldn't hurt either :)
posted by ConstantineXVI at 10:00 AM on April 8, 2009

Best answer: 1/ Max out your memory. Check (among others) for reasonable prices and an easy interface to find the right part.

2/ Yes - you also want to upgrade to 10.5 ... 10.3 is pretty long in the tooth. Specifically if you're doing web stuff you'll want firefox 3 (to test, if nothing else) which needs 10.4+.

I have a 1.6GHz G4 (powerbook) with 2G, 80G disk and it runs "just fine" (for various values of fine) for the types of tasks you need. No need to replace the machine yet, unless you have money burning a hole in your pocket.
posted by devbrain at 10:01 AM on April 8, 2009

Best answer: You absolutely can't go wrong with more RAM. I think the maximum RAM for an iMac G5 is 2.5gb, so you really should install more. It's relatively cheap, and it's easy to install yourself (instructions on the apple website here).
posted by spockette at 10:02 AM on April 8, 2009

Wordpress and Drupal are going to be fine on your computer, IDEs and browsers are bigger resource hogs.
posted by samsm at 10:11 AM on April 8, 2009

Do the math. More RAM, larger HD, 10.5 upgrade...If purchasing these items adds up to about 1/4 the price of a new iMac, then I'd sell the current system and go for a new one. BONUS! It would be an Intel system and you could run Windows, and Linux and so on on one system.
posted by Gungho at 10:27 AM on April 8, 2009

RAM is pretty cheap, although a bit more expensive for this model than newer Macs. You've only got half a gig in there, and I consider that totally inadequate. You're hitting the cache all the time. If you choose to upgrade, get 2 gigs. Hard drives are super cheap, although don't do much to provide a speedup. Racing stripes, despite what you may have heard, are totally overrated. Your machine will run OS X 10.5 just fine (with more RAM), and it has a number of improvements that make it feel faster.

If you buy all this stuff, you'll be looking at $300-400. If you buy a new iMac, you'll be looking at $1200+ for something that's got all those upgrades and is at least 4x as fast as well. I've got a 2.0 GHz G5 iMac that I've already upgraded, and I'm hoping to buy a new one in a few months.
posted by adamrice at 10:29 AM on April 8, 2009

Best answer: I have the same model iMac. I upgraded to 2 MB RAM (easy to install) and use the current version of the OS. I work with WordPress all the time and bigger stuff, like an enterprise wiki, with no problems. The Mac is my main business machine.

I don't think you'd need a bigger hard drive for what you're planning unless you're going to be storing lots of audio or video.

I notice speed issues when I'm editing video or creating 3D images. I suspect music editing would be more pleasant on a faster machine as well. But my system is fine for WordPress, intermediate photo editing, and lower-end media stuff like exporting Flash from animated Keynote presentations.

There are tips on the web for quieting an aged fan. These include setting processor performance to "automatic" under Energy Saver in System Preferences. You might search for "iMac fan noise" or "iMac whine" for tips.

I'll eventually get a new Mac so I can run Windows on it (required by clients) and retire my Windows laptop. But as much as I dislike the fan noise, my current Mac's performance is still fine for what I do, so I can't justify the switch right now.
posted by PatoPata at 10:47 AM on April 8, 2009

Best answer: The Rev. A, B, and C iMac G5's are vulnerable to a problem with the materials that the capacitors on the logic boards were made of. It's a long story, and one involving industrial espionage, and which affects many company's products.

Almost all of the first rev (Rev. A) iMac G5s are affected and the Rev. B and C ones to a lesser extent. To give you an data point: out of a group of 75 Rev. A iMac G5's, I had to have more than 50 of them repaired by Apple due to logic board and power supply failures. Note that many people, myself included, believe this problem also affects the 1GHz eMacs, which Apple hasn't officially recognized yet with a repair extension program. Apple does have a repair extension program for many of their iMac G5 models.

My point here is that you may have in your possession a machine that has a high probability for failure. You can use the link above to see if its serial number falls within the range of serials that Apple is acknowledging as being affected. You should know that I've personally seen about a dozen iMac G5s fail that were not listed in Apple's officially-recognized ranges. On three occasions, I was able to convince Apple that the ineligible iMac G5 should be repaired, despite its serial number not being in the accepted range. This involved taking the machine to an Apple Store, opening the back and showing the technician there the bulging capacitors, after which their managers signed off on the repair (almost always a logic board swap).

Were this my own iMac G5, I'm not certain I'd put a lot of faith in its long-term survival, especially if you're past the 3-year window Apple describes in their repair extension program. You may find yourself buying a new iMac anyway if yours dies as these models are wont to do. So, evaluate your timing...if you can afford to buy a new iMac at pretty much any point in the next six months, go ahead and use this until it dies and hope that it doesn't. If you can really only afford to buy immediately, then you should replace it now and sell this lemon off before it turns into a turd.

Oh, yes of course:

Rev. A iMac G5 = 17" and 20", 1.8GHz
Rev. B iMac G5 = 17" and 20", 1.8GHz & 2.0GHz, includes Ambient Light Sensor
Rev. C iMac G5 = 17" and 20", 1.9 and 2.1GHz, includes iSight camera above LCD screen

Good luck!
posted by at 11:29 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: thanks muchly for the detailed answers, MeFolk - it is very appreciated - all of it

i think i'm going to go with the upgrading for now, put in more RAM first (thanks for the instructions, spockette), update the OS & see how it goes from there - i don't have high hopes for the fan so i'll just have to crank the tunes to drown it out ;) much thanks for the insider info - eight months into having this G5 its power supply completely failed - freaked me out but luckily i had some people figure out what the problem was - hopefully the fact that it got replaced will give me a longer window in terms of its survival - but i hear you & appreciate the heads-up
posted by jammy at 3:14 PM on April 10, 2009

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