PowerBook G4 Econo-Mac Stimulus Plan '08
What to do with $600 Check from the Feds? Upgrade your Old Mac!

by Joe Leo, Columnist

FEATURE: 4.30.08-- A majority of you this week will be the first of many to receive their share of the government's economic stimulus package in order to boost the economy. We wouldn't suggest buying a new Mac with that money--which can range anywhere from $300 to $1200--especially after yesterday's piece on "why buy new?" We won't stop you from doing so either.

But what if you have an old Mac that's relatively new, that you don't plan on giving up anytime soon, and just want to level the playing field a little? Here's a nice econo-Mac package for you.

AD: Still in the market for an "old" Aluminum PowerBook G4? They're not available at the Apple Store anymore, but Mac Prices has a section where you can find the lowest prices and latest deals on PowerBook G4s. You can also check out PBC Classifieds for buying (or selling?) one at a negotiable price!

Since this site was originally designed for PowerBook users/enthusiasts back in its heyday, we're going to focus on one old Mac that's still got a hefty presence out there in Intel-based Mac land. We're talking about the venerable aluminum PowerBook G4.

The only thing keeping it from being new is because it doesn't have Intel inside, so we're going to give you the inside intel on how to keep your faithful old Mac a trooper.

The one great thing about the PowerBook G4 is that it looks like a current Mac notebook. This attribute only pertains to the 15-inch and 17-inch lines because the little old engine that could, the 12-inch model, isn't currently (to a majority of people's dismay) reflected in the Intel line-up.

Let's hope rumors of a MacBook Pro refresh and total redesign doesn't ruin this prospect!

So, what can you do to keep your aluminum-clad Mac notebook with PowerPC processor inside, a MacBook Pro clone of sorts and fool everyone into thinking it's a brand new Mac? All for under $600, the in-between amount you can receive (for sake of argument, the amount that a single tax filer would get with a certain income cap) from the feds this week?

How about we start with the most basic of upgrades. An overall system upgrade. The best way to boost your Mac's performance is to increase your memory well above the bare minimum required to run your machine, get a bigger hard drive (or faster, such as a 7200RPM 100GB one), and get a more current version of the Mac OS X operating system.

Depending on the configuration of your machine, and the type of RAM it takes, upgrading memory can cost anywhere from $20 to $120, or even $200. Dealers such as Crucial, OtherWorld Computing, or if you want, from the Apple Store themselves (you'll pay a huge premium there, but hey, you've got money to burn) can get you what you need.

A new hard drive will breathe new life into your machine, especially if the stock drive is filling up and causing a slowdown. Most PowerBook G4s have 80GB 5400RPM drives in it so an upgrade to 120GB, 160GB, or 250GB will work wonders. If you need speed, such as for video editing, your only option right now is a 7200RPM 100GB drive.

Depending on manufacturer and capacity/speed, as well as retailer you're buying the new drive from, a new hard drive will cost anywhere from $89.99 to $199.99 (or more). You can then choose to install it yourself, or pay for service to have it installed which would range from $100 to $200 for the service. (Getting the hard drive from a company that installs it too, is best).

Next, "Add a new Mac to your Mac," literally, by getting Leopard, the latest version of Mac OS X. Leopard works best with lots of RAM so max out your machine if you can. (You can, because you've got all this money now). Leopard costs $129, in some cases $99 from third party Authorized Resellers. Or, at least, get the previous version, Tiger. Also priced the same.

If you're still running Panther, or saints preserve us, Jaguar, you need to upgrade like, now!

One other thing you can do to breathe new life into your beloved piece of aluminum is get yourself a new battery! Some don't think of that as an upgrade, but contrary to popular belief, batteries don't last forever. Even ones that are charged and cycled correctly will eventually run out of juice. Besides, it's been close to three years since the last PowerBook G4 came out!

You'd be surprised at how much newer your PowerBook feels with a battery replacement. You won't have to always be afraid of being away from a power outlet and having to run back for a charge. A classic sign of old age associated with notebooks, but all it is is your battery!

Getting a standard battery from the Apple Store--you may have to go online for one--is a no brainer. Batteries for all three PowerBook G4 models run for $129 each. Or, if you prefer, you can get a extended run-time battery from third party resellers like NewerTech's "NuPower" batteries. These cost from $119.99 for 12 and 15-inch models, to $149.99 for the 17-inch.

(See reviews of these batteries by fellow columnist Charles W. Moore and PBCentral.com's reviews editor Noah Kravitz who also talks about a special device that charges your batteries without being connected to your PowerBook!).

After you've got that all squared away, the most basic of all upgrades and probably the most necessary, you might have a little left over. You could then use it to further enhance your machine with software like iLife '08 or iWork '08 from Apple which is $79, or the previous version, iLife '06 and iWork '06 for the same price, if not at a discount.

But, what if you're already set in those areas? You have Leopard, you've done those basic upgrades before (or had it special ordered like that from the Apple Store online). Then, it's time to really up the ante.

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