Beater Macs

Adam Williams:

Let’s face it, Macs are expensive. They are more than worth it of course, but there’s no getting around the fact that any recently released Mac, regardless of model, costs a significant amount of money and is a gleaming thief-magnet, liable to being dropped or lost.

I agree completely and I love how he outlines getting a “beater” Mac for under $300 to use as a secondary machine you can feel comfortable abusing. I’ve been doing the same thing for as long as I’ve had a Mac. Collecting and repurposing old hardware can also be quite an enjoyable hobby in itself. I just have one problem with his article.

I think Williams severly underestimates what you can get for $300.

Nowadays, at that pricepoint, you should be able to do better than a G4 iBook. 1 Last year, for a $100 more, I was able to pick up a used 2.0 Ghz C2D Macbook Pro(Pre Unibody) in excellent condition, with no repairs required.  That’s no longer merely “beater” territory.

In fact, I’m writing this post on a 2006 2.16 Ghz C2D iMac that I picked up for $150. The harddrive had failed so I was able to get a good deal for it. I’m booting Lion from an external FireWire 400 drive and I spent $70 maxing out the RAM to 3GB. 2 I’ve spent less than $300 for my main, day to day machine.

So I’d like to offer up some complementary points to Williams’ article to help in your search for a “beater” Mac:

  • I’d recommend using eBay last if you’re looking for the best deal. Check Craiglist or any other classified sites you have in your area first. eBay has it’s own economy and market where used Macs tend to retain their resale value much more. You’ll have to spend an enormous amount of time watching and bidding agressively on multiple items on eBay to get the same deal you’d negotiate with a single seller in a few hours on Craigslist. You’ll also save on the shipping and worries if you can pick up locally. Tip: people tend to overprice on Craigslist in response to most buyers aggresively lowballing, so don’t be afraid to negotiate.
  • If you’re comfortable doing repairs yourself, or have someone who is willing to do it pro bono, look for notebooks and desktops that have broken/missing disks and Ram. It’s easier to negotiate a lower price with these and those parts are generally cheap and easy to replace. I’d avoid broken/missing batteries, logic boards and screens. Those parts, even for older PowerPC Macs, are still expensive and difficult to replace.
  • If you’re willing to spend a bit more, $400 - $500 should get you something with an Intel processor and decent specs. You’ll get a more powerful desktop in this price range than a comparable notebook, as is the norm. Here’s an Aluminium iMac listed at $550 and a Macbook Pro for the same price in my area. Sticking with our $300 budget, here’s a dual G5 PowerMac and at $400, a 15’ PowerBook G4. You can probably negotiate on the prices of all of these. Point is, there are better deals to be had than just an iBook.
  • A 1Ghz PowerPC processor is the bare minimum that will run Leopard, and as such, it will run minimally. Stick to Tiger.

The more important thing to retain from Williams’ article is just how much life can be squeezed out of Apple Hardware and Software, something most of you already know:

I know that to some extent I’m going to be preaching to the choir here and many within Mac.Appstorm’s knowledgeable readership will be well aware of the usefulness of older Mac models. For those who are new to OS X however, the above will hopefully offer an idea of just what you can get out of these old machines, for a fraction of the price that a new Mac commands.

Old Macs aren’t merely useful as secondary machines, they can also in some cases make perfectly good main machines. Whenever people tell me that despite wanting one, Macs are just too expensive, I almost always suggest trying a used one, even if just to get a feel for the system if they are switching from a PC. If you have an old Mac lying around you don’t use, gifting it to someone you know who’s desperately in need of an upgrade can be a wonderful thing.

In many situations, even an old Mac can be a huge upgrade from a modern PC.

Link via Minimal Mac


1. He did spend only $150 on his, but I’m assuming the addition of a new harddrive and his time spent came up to around the same thing.

2. DDR2 RAM chips are strangely still quite pricey.

3. At the moment I’m writing this, I’m using simultaneously Mars Edit, Twitter for Mac, Safari (6 tabs), iTunes, Mail and encoding videos with Handbrake. My 5 year old iMac isn’t screaming, but there’s no noticable slowdown either, everything is smooth.


    1. smarterbits posted this