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The Mac Is Back (Sorta)

The PowerPC G3 remains the go-to processor in the Macintosh line. But it’s the iMac that still gets all the buzz.

It used to be the first question that you asked when shopping for a computer: Should I buy a PC or a Mac? Today fewer and fewer people ask that question. Indeed, about 90% of computer users work on PCs. But the Mac has been making a comeback lately, and it deserves a second look.

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The PowerPC G3 is the go-to processor in the Macintosh line. Featuring speeds that run from 266 MHz to 333 MHz, the G3 desktop machines cost between $1,600 and $3,000. Prices reflect not only different processor speeds but also varying amounts of RAM (32 MB in the least-expensive system; 128 MB in the top-of-the-line model) and hard-disk space (as much as 9 GB). For graphic designers, only a high-end Power Macintosh 333-MHz G3 system will do. Home users will find all-in-one G3 systems attractive.

But it’s the iMac, introduced last summer, that still gets all the buzz. The $1,299 iMac uses a 233-MHz PowerPC G3 processor, which closely matches the performance of Mac desktop systems powered by a 266-MHz G3 chip. There’s also an Ethernet adapter, so you can plug the system directly into most corporate networks. And the iMac features two USB ports, which make it easy to connect new peripherals to the machine.

Unfortunately, the iMac is not ready for prime-time business use. The machine lacks an internal floppy drive, so you must buy an external drive if you want to use diskettes. And the iMac can’t play DVD discs, which are likely to begin replacing CD-ROM discs next year. Worst of all, the machine lacks internal PCI expansion slots, making it difficult to upgrade.

If you’re enamored of the iMac, wait until some of these options, especially a DVD drive, become available. In the meantime, if you’re still plugging away on a two-year-old PowerMac, you should think about giving it a performance boost. One of the best upgrade options is Newer Technology’s $500 MAXpowr G3 card. The 210-MHz version of the card can turn a lowly 6100/60 PowerMac into a punchy G3 Mac.

Coordinates: Apple Computer Inc., 800-795-1000, www.apple.com; Newer Technology, 316-943-0222, www.newertech.com

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