The Lowest-End Internet Mac

Originally published 25 April 2001 as a Mac Daniel column for Low End Mac.
Revised slightly 31 July 2003.

Q: What's the lowest-end Mac I can use and still have a decent Internet experience?

A: That really depends on what you call decent. Seriously, you can do any emailing you want on something as old as a Mac Plus. Even the 512 adn 512e can use an email program like Pine or Elm on a Unix host system.

If you want to add basic Web browsing (no Java, minimal JavaScript and plug-ins), you'd probably be best-served with something like a Mac IIci. I have a IIci as my backup Web machine, and it putters along quite nicely on a 28.8 modem with iCab and Eudora Light 3.1.3. Sure, it's slower, and iCab has problems with style sheet support (though version 3 should resolve these issues, and no other 68K browser even comes close to being viable now), but it's useful if you don't have many other options or are on a tight budget. At the very least, you want a colour-capable Mac for browsing the Web, because Web graphics look really strange in black and white.

If you absolutely insist on Java support, well, here's where I depart from the philosophy of Low End Mac. The absolute lowest Mac on which you can get a decent Java experience is a G3. Anything before a G3 is simply too slow. My 7200/90 will do Java, but it takes some three minutes to load up the Java engine when I stumble across a site that uses Java. For this reason, I leave Java turned off on my 7200. Three-minute load times don't qualify as acceptable in my book.

At the bare minimum, you need a Power Mac, but when your 60 MHz 6100 takes three or four minutes to load a single applet, I think you'll see why I say you should have a G3. Of course, if you absolutely have to have Java (people usually require this for things such as online banking) and can't afford a G3 or G3 upgrade, yeah, your Power Mac will do it.

If you're on a 68K and you need to use Java, you can do it, but the software necessary to do so seems to have disappeared completely from the Internet. (And knowing how slow even a PPC 601/90 is with Java, I shudder to think what a 68040/33 would be like.)

As long as you can live without Java and secure browsing, even something like a Mac IIci (now an under-$10 Mac) will fit the bill. If you need secure browsing, a IIci is just a tad too slow for Netscape 4.08 (although it works well with iCab), so get a low-end Quadra (preferably with a full 040) for about $10-20 more. If you need Java, G3 upgrades for your first-generation Power Mac are down under $200.

copyright ©2000-2004 by Chris Lawson