A year ago, Mac users had stopped asking the age-old question “Which Mac should I buy?” and instead wondered whether their next computer should be a Mac at all. Given Apple’s uncertain future and the power of the seemingly unstoppable Wintel juggernaut, you could hardly blame people for cocking an inquiring eye at the Windows platform.
But that’s all changed now.
With the exception of the eagerly anticipated consumer portable, Apple (408/996-1010,
) has provided configurations to accommodate just about every type of user. Whether you’re a publishing maven, mobile or office-bound professional, hobbyist, or die-hard gamer, there’s an ideal Mac for you out there.
So after gathering every shipping Mac and putting them through their paces in the Macworld Lab (see the benchmark, “A Mac for All Seasons”), we pulled in our resident know-it-allstechies, artists, and editors with vast experience in publishing, multimedia, office productivity, and entertainment mediato offer essential advice for finding the best Macs, peripherals, and software for four different profiles: multimedia and publishing gurus, business professionals, home users, and die-hard Mac gamers and enthusiasts.
Each section provides the best core products to help get you started, along with a wish list of awesome extras. Browse among our suggestions and pick those products best suited to the way you work and play. (Prices given are manufacturers’ list prices unless otherwise noted.)
Although the rest of the computing world seems to cry out with a rebel yell for more, more, moremore-powerful CPUs, more hard-drive space, more PCI slotstypical business applications don’t require the kind of power demanded by multimedia, graphics, and entertainment programs. Most business users will find that a Power Macintosh G3/300 provides plenty of computing muscle at a reasonable price.
When your work isn’t confined to the office, consider a powerful on-the-go partnera G3-based PowerBook. Today’s PowerBooks have nearly everything you need in one convenient package: a fast modem; a CD-ROM drive; and, of course, a display, keyboard, and pointing device. For a mighty PowerBook that can also double as a desktop computer, the right Mac for the job is the PowerBook G3/266.
1MB cache, 64MB of RAM,
4GB hard drive,
Hewlett-Packard HP DeskJet 340 ($269). On occasion, you must print while on the road. This portable printer is small enough to take along with you.
Expansion bay, floppy drive from Apple ($99).
Microsoft Office 98 business suite ($450); FileMaker Pro 4.1 database ($199); Qualcomm Eudora Pro 4.0.1 e-mail client ($39; 510/490-4750,
For true enthusiasts, your Mac is a source of both pride and entertainment. Although you know the value of a dollar, expense is a secondary consideration. You want a fast computer such as the 350MHz Power Mac G3, loads of memory, and tons of toys. You’ll outfit your system with any device that will give you amusementa DVD player, high-fidelity speakers, a digital camera, several game controllers, and plenty of games to boot. Face it, you’re a gear-head and damned proud of it.
A Mac at home or in a dorm doesn’t need to be terribly expensivebut it should be easy to set up and maintain, compact, and powerful enough to handle whatever you throw at it. That means the family finances, the kids’ favorite art program, and, of course, just about any game you care to play. Since you don’t need a machine that’s going to drain your bank account or one that requires an enormous initial outlay of funds for software, consider the affordable and versatile iMac.
iDock ($200; 714/557-5510;
).This crafty computer stand houses several ports: a three-port USB hub, two serial ports, and a parallel port for PC printers.
Umax Astra 1220U ($150; 510/651-4000, www
.umax.com).A fine scanner for putting pictures on the Web, in your e-mail, or in electronic holiday cards.
Canon PowerShot A5 ($150; 516/328-5000,
).A low-priced, easy-to-use camera that takes perfectly reason-able pictures.
USB Removable Storage Card
Newer Technology uFlash-CF ($89).
An essential card for the Canon non-USB digital camera.
MicroConversions’ GameWizard for iMac 12MB Voodoo 2 card (233MHz iMacs only) ($199; 877/986-4276,
).Glide games such as Quake, Unreal, and F/A-18 Korea look glorious with this card.
Multimedia and publishing gurus who work with digital video and/or audio on a daily basis understand that budget takes a backseat to the practical need for a powerful processor and fast storage. Because Adobe Photoshop can take a long time to render complex images on a slow computer, you’ll be happiest with nothing less than the top of the linethe 400MHz Power Macintosh G3. And although FireWire’s promise is bright, a slew of SCSI peripherals will benefit from this Mac’s Ultra SCSI II PCI card (see the sidebar “Maintaining a Legacy”).
Epson Stylus Color 900N ($649; 310/782-0770,
). Prints on a variety of papers, including card stock.
ISDN or DSL (depending on the work you do).
PCI Expansion Chassis
SBS Bit 3 Operations PCI Slot Expansion Unit ($1,036 to $1,846; 651/905-4700,
). Multimedia users require lots of PCI slotsslots that are anything but abundant on the Power Mac G3’s.
With the arrival of the iMac and new Power Macintosh G3 systems, Apple has left behind many of the conventions of computing in the 1980s. Gone are the serial and SCSI ports of oldfaster, hot-pluggable protocols such as USB and FireWire are the flavors of Apple’s future (see “The USB Connection,” October 1998, and “iMac Envy,” March 1999). But while USB and FireWire are promising, what are today’s users supposed to do with their accumulated serial and SCSI devices?
Although Apple has moved on, other developers have stepped into the breach and are providing solutions for connecting old hardware to new Macintosh models. With the help of an adapter or two, your legacy hardware can live on to work another day.
Printers and Modems
Since all of Apple’s current desktop models have 10/100BaseT on board, you won’t have trouble using a printer that has Ethernet. However, if you have a LocalTalk or serial printer, you need an adapter.
Be warned, however, that some adapters don’t work with all serial devices. For example, although Keyspan’s (510/222-0131,
) $80 USB Serial Adapter allows you to connect certain modems and printers to your USB-compatible Mac, it doesn’t support LocalTalk printers and networks, nor does it work with MIDI devices such as MIDI interfaces and synthesizers that include a serial port.
Griffin Technology’s (615/255-0990,
) iPort and gPort adapters, on the other hand, support not only standard serial devices, such as modems, but LocalTalk devices and MIDI as well. The $80 iPort mounts inside the older iMacs and also provides an external video port (the iPort is currently not compatible with the multicolored 266MHz iMacs). Although the gPort doesn’t provide additional video output, it does offer a single serial port. The gPort connects internally to the blue Power Mac G3’s motherboard.
) solves the serial/LocalTalk problem with an adapter for eachthe iPrint LT and iPrint SL. Both of these devices, $100 each (company’s estimated price), allow you to print via your Mac’s Ethernet port. The iPrint LT supports up to eight LocalTalk devices, including iMacs and G3’s, and the iPrint SL allows you to print to an Apple StyleWriter.
One lonely ADB port remains on the blue Power Mac G3’s, but it’s completely absent from the iMac. If you’d like to use an ADB keyboard and mouse, buy Griffin Technologies’ $40 USB-to-ADB iMate adapter. And gamers should be on the lookout for the JoyPort USB adapter from Kernel Productions (302/456-3026,
). This $50 device will allow you to connect Genesis, Atari, Sony PlayStation, and Nintendo 64 gaming devices to your USB Mac. By the time you read this, USB game controllers will also be available from Ariston Technologies, Saitek, CH Products, and Gravis.
USB allows you to connect multiple devices to your new Mac, but to do so you need a huba box that bears several USB ports. One of the most interesting hubs is CompuCable’s (714/557-5510,
) iDock. This handy $200 iMac swivel stand carries a three-port USB hub, two serial ports, and a parallel port for PC printers. Reportedly, the iDock won’t support LocalTalk, nor are drivers supplied for the parallel printerthose drivers must be obtained by the printer’s manufacturer.
At press time, USB-to-SCSI converters were not yet available, but three of them should be on the shelves by the time you read this. Newer Technology (316/943-0222,
) is preparing the $80 uSCSI; Microtech (203/483-9402,
) is slated to ship the $80 Xpress USB; and SecondWave (512/329-9283,
) is selling the $79 ScusBee.
Be forewarned: before you buy one of these devices, be sure to consider their limitations. Data moves over USB at only 1.2 MBpsslower than the 5-MBps transfer rate of most Macs’ external SCSI and far slower than any SCSI card. This means that not only will data move fairly slowly between your SCSI drives and your new Mac, but applications that require fast data transferaudio- and video-editing programs, for examplemay not be able to pull data quickly enough from these drives. Also, at least one of the manufacturers claims that its product is intended to work only with storage devices; SCSI scanners, for example, may not work with these converters. Although iMac owners will have to rely on such converters for SCSI support, Power Mac G3 users should simply add a PCI SCSI card.
Essentials for Every Mac
There are as many ways to build a perfect Mac as there are Mac users. But some products will enhance any Mac user’s computing experience. For example, although Apple has become increasingly generous in its allocation of RAM and hard-drive space, we still feel that your computer can never be too fast. And while Apple provides a serviceable set of utilities, you can do better with the addition of a few troubleshooting, backup, and Internet tools.
To Mac users of old, 32MB of RAM may seem extravagant. But in these days of memory-munching applications, it’s barely enough to load the Mac OS and a word processor. Although additional RAM won’t make most operations go any faster unless your Mac currently relies on virtual memory, it does allow you to open more applications.
Apple’s Extensions Manager is a good start, but it’s not nearly as capable as Casady & Greene’s Conflict Catcher 8 (
; $80; 831/484-9228,
). There’s simply no better tool for managing control panels and extensions, and it’s also invaluable for tracking down crash-causing extension conflicts. If your screen is littered with extension and control panel icons when you start up, you need this utility.
Regardless of how you use your Mac, you must back up your data, and a member of the Retrospect family can do just thatDantz Development’s Retrospect 4.1 (
; $249; 925/253-3000,
) or Retrospect Express 4.1 (
Apple has shown the way: the floppy drive is dead. From all appearances its successor is Iomega’s Zip drive (
; $150; 801/778-1000,
). Despite the occasional reliability problems with these drives, the Zip provides handy and relatively fast storage at a reasonable price. If it’s not already installed, we’d add one to each of our recommended configurations. PowerBook users can add VST Technologies’ PowerBook Zip (
; $249; 978/635-8200,
Although Apple bundles Microsoft’s Internet applications, Internet Explorer 4.5 (
) and Outlook Express 4.0 (
), on all Mac models, there are additional Internet applications that every Mac should have. Given some Web sites’ preference for one particular browser, it would be wise to install Netscape Communicator 4.5 (
; free; 650/254-1900,
) on your Mac. Likewise, Simon Fraser’s MT-NewsWatcher 2.4.4 (free;
) is an excellent newsgroup reader. And if you need to employ FTP services, download a copy of Stairways’ Anarchie Pro 3.5 (
; $35 shareware;
To navigate around your Mac more easily from within Apple’s limited Open and Find dialog boxes, buy a copy of Power On Technology’s Action Files 1.1 ($50; 612/317-0344,
THE LAST WORD
When it comes to finding the perfect Macintosh, you’re the best judge of which Mac provides you with all the necessities and fits your budget at the same time. However, certain home truths must be considered when deciding which Mac you should buy. If you’re working with high-end graphics and video, you need the fastest Mac on the planet, complete with as much RAM and hard-drive space as you can afford. The entry-level Power Macintosh G3 is a smart business buy, but if you’re working on the go, consider a swift PowerBook G3. You’ll find no greater bargain in the Apple universe than the iMacperfect for the home or dormitory. And the enthusiasts just need enough power and exotic peripherals to keep them entertained until Apple begins shipping the next generation of processors.
And there you have it in a single, neat packagethe Mac you should buy, the configurations you should consider, the core applications you should have for the work you do and games you play, and numerous suggestions for simultaneously enhancing your Mac and draining your bank account. The Mac you purchase will certainly have the Apple logo affixed to it. But the rest is up to you.
The “Enthusiast” user is based entirely on the life and desires of Contributing Editor and Mac expert CHRISTOPHER BREEN. He is a coauthor of a forthcoming book about the iMac (IDG Books Worldwide, 1999).