Best Video Card for a 68K Mac

Originally published 06 November 2000 as a Mac Daniel column for Low End Mac.
Rated "Best of Mac Daniel" (top 15 most-read columns) from six months after its publication until it was pulled from the site.

Q: What's the best video card for my 68K NuBus Mac?

A: As with any "What's the best" article, this really depends on how you'll use the Mac.

For the Mac II series, particularly the early Mac II series (II, IIx, and IIcx), you can get by without even putting an accelerated video card in the box. Unless you have a spare lying around, I recommend you don't put an accelerated video card in these three systems, because they're simply too slow to justify it in most cases.

For the rest of the Mac II series, a low-end (read: cheap) accelerated video card like the Apple 8•24GC or a Radius PrecisionColor 8-XJ might be just perfect. In the case of the Radius, it's reasonably compatible with nearly anything, and neither card should be more than $20 on eBay at the very most. The Radius is only an 8-bit card, but then again, who's doing hard-core 24-bit Photoshop work on their IIfx ten years after it was the king of the hill?

The IIfx and IIci are really the only two Mac II series machines for which I would recommend a really nice video card, especially if you're running multiple monitors. The IIci's onboard graphics will really benefit from the reduced load, and the IIfx is plenty fast enough to keep up with a really fast accelerated video card like the SuperMac Spectrum/24 Series IV. Having a IIfx system with this video card myself, I can testify to how cool it is to have a US$10,000 (original price) computer with a US$500 (original price) video card in it that cost you all of US$40. Besides that, the Spectrum/24 cards are just nice cards in general — not too expensive (US$20-30), quite fast, good resolution support, 24-bit colour.

For the Centris and Quadra-class machines, you can spend a little more on a video card. Get something accelerated — a Macintosh II Video Card or Mac II High-Res Card is just too slow, unless you're only using it for a palette monitor, and Apple claims there are compatibility issues anyway. The SuperMac Spectrum/24 line is good; the Radius PrecisionColor Pro line is even better. For the real best-of-the-bunch, go with a MacPicasso 320 card, which supports even more resolutions and monitors than the Radius 8-XJ does, and it does it in 24-bit colour (instead of 8-bit). It even has dual monitor outputs for use with either a Mac or VGA monitor (but not both at once).

Now for the special cases. If you're one of those people who insists on doing hard-core Photoshop work on a 68K Mac (please tell me you're doing this on at least a IIfx or Centris, not a Mac II), get a Radius Thunder IV GX-series card and downgrade your OS to System 7.5.5. Put the DSP accelerator software on your system and cruise! Of course, if you're one of those people, you probably already have that Thunder IV GX, don't you? If you can't find the Thunder IV GX, the SuperMac Thunder II GX cards will work too, as long as you have a 12" slot for them. Note that the DSP software is incompatible with Mac OS 7.6 and up, and these cards are really expensive — about US$100 expensive. Keep in mind that you can buy a low-end Power Mac for less than that in many cases. Whether it's worth it or not is entirely your decision, but I find it hard to believe anyone but collectors is using these Thunder II or IV GX cards any more.

Because I have a little bit of a soapbox here, I'm going to take advantage of it. Note that this article is particularly devoid of any mention of RasterOps cards. There's a reason for that: RasterOps is one of those money-grubbing companies (like the remnants of Daystar Digital were, until very recently) that insists on charging users for drivers for products that are long discontinued and obsolete. RasterOps wants US$70 of your hard-earned money for a copy of their video card drivers (more in some cases), which is far more than any of their used NuBus video card sells for these days, with about five exceptions. Even with something like a RasterOps Horizon 24 (one recently went on eBay for over US$200), it adds over one-third to the cost of the card unless you get drivers with the card when you buy it. On eBay, where most used video cards are available, this is by no means a certainty. If you think this practise is nearly as outrageous as I do, please take a few minutes to express your displeasure for RasterOps by writing them a polite email.

copyright ©2000-2004 by Chris Lawson