Do you NEED a modern computer?


I LOVE technology. Yes, that is intentionally LOVE in uppercase. I am absolutely hooked. I am not quite at the level of Apple-addict that I queue for a product, but I’m firmly hooked in the early adopter camp.

Earlier this month I was lamenting that the fan on my £5,500 MacBook Pro seemed to always be on, and reminisced that it didnt used to be. I couldn’t figure out why there would be any need for it to be on. I was quickly and mercilessly berated by a colleague who pointed out that it was connected to 2 x 5K displays, and that surely the sheer volume of pixels rendered was cause for the fan to stay on. I claimed that I could work on even a 10-year old Mac, and in the blink of a rather foolish eye a wager was placed.

This G4 iMac is the result. A bargain at £103 from eBay that arrived 4 days later.

Apple iMac G4

So could I actually do my daily work on it in any practical way…..?

I not appreciate just how powerful modern computers are compared to ones from even a few years ago. This G4 has a 700MHz Processor, 256Mb of RAM, a 40Gb Hard Disk and a DVD Drive. For its time, it was a top-end model. Next to it on my desk is my current MacBook pro with a 2.4GHz i9 Processor, 32Gb of RAM, and 4Tb SSD, and so initially the G4 appears rather weak in comparison. Could it possibly compete?

Getting started every day, I like many others who have been sucked into the world of all things Apple, open my laptop screen and expect to start working within 2-3 seconds at most. I plug screens in and they just connect, instantly. The Apple bluetooth mouse and keyboard have connected before my laptop even makes it out of its case whilst still in sleep mode.

Shut-down? Does anyone do that any more?

On the G4, after pressing the power button, I can make a mug of coffee and drink most of it before it was in a usable state. How quickly we forget in the world of instant-on laptops,  iPads and phones that there was a time where the boot screen was actually visible, and you got to stare at it, for what now feels like an eternity!

Wifi technologies have changed a lot since this Mac was invented. It doesn’t work with 5GHz 802.11 AC wifi, so our office wifi connection was out of the question. A trip to the Dr Who themed store cupboard in the back of our office to look out a physical network cable was in order. After plugging that in, it’s online!

Getting applications on it was possible, yes, just about possible, but you definitely need a masters degree in Googling. Its running MacOs Snow Leopard, which feels and looks almost the same as modern Mac’s, but behind the scenes its running on a PowerPC processor, so lots of applications just don’t work. The majority of developer tools that I use now simply don’t have a version that old, so it took resorting to using a very basic text editor rather than PHP Storm, and using a very, very clunky version of MySQL Workbench instead of SqlPro.

Once the applications you need to use finally open, its not a bad experience all-in-all. It is possible to work in a limited way.

However…. ultimately the answer is Yes, you NEED a modern computer. Working on an old machine just cripples what is now considered normal productivity. In comparison to a normal working day I reckon that I was only able to produce 30% of my normal code volume.

Waiting for the screen to catch up with what I have already typed is VERY frustrating!

It turns out that typing at 100wpm or there abouts just isn’t practical when page sizes get above 1000 lines of code. The G4 just cannot handle the speed of typing that is expected of programmers with the overhead of the application software I wanted to use. I spent ages going through activity monitor to try to figure out if there was something using up all the CPU cycles without success, it just couldn’t cope with any kind of high-speed touch-typing.

I completely love the look of the old machine, the nostalgia of using it. I absolutely hate the clunky keyboard that makes your fingers ache as you have to move them so far just to get the key to press – there is no butterfly mechanism in sight near this mechanical thunder-rumble of a keyboard. There was no question if I was working, every time I was typing at any significant speed the whole office could hear the noisy mechanical keys.

Every key works, which is a slight improvement over my MacBook Pro keyboard in fairness, I fear that the inventor of the butterfly mechanism hadn’t tried eating HobNob biscuits near it to see how the keys stop working completely when a piece of oat gets stuck below one of them!

I lost the bet…..

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