In the middle of researching my article on Apple’s x200 series of Power Macintosh and Performa computers something dawned on me: I never sold my old Performa 6300CD. I gave it to my mom. She used it to browse the web and exchange emails for a few years, and then it ended up in storage.
The next time I went for a visit I asked her about it. And I found it right where she said it was, sitting in a dusty box along with the keyboard, mouse, DB15 to VGA adapter, and a Supra 56k modem.
I grabbed it, brought it home, and carefully cleaned it inside and out. I didn’t think that it would start up. I figured either a component would be damaged by age or that the hard drive would be useless. But when I plugged it in it came right back to life, booting Mac OS 8 and starting up EarthLink dialer and Claris Emailer.
15+ years have passed since that Mac got tossed aside yet it started up like it was yesterday. If only everything was this reliable.
Restoring a Classic Macintosh
So what does a computer nerd think about when confronted with a digital antique?
First thing I did was replace the PRAM battery with a 4.5v AAA case made by eBayer polaroid_pict and sold at his 68K Mac Store. I highly recommend this case for Macs that used the Rayovac 4.5 volt battery. If you do buy one of these be sure to use lithium AAA batteries or low self discharge rechargeable batteries like those sold under the Eneloop brand. You don’t want alkaline batteries to leak like a faucet, especially if the Mac gets stored away again.
Second was installing a Farallon LC PDS Ethernet card. I got this from the 68K Mac Store as well. These Ethernet cards work great so long as you manually configure them. (The DHCP implementation is too old for modern routers.)
Third was upgrading the RAM. It already had 48MB (32MB+16MB) from a previous upgrade in the 90’s, but now it’s maxed out thanks to a second 32MB 72-pin SIMM from eBay. If you ever upgrade the RAM on one of these Macs see my note on installation below.
I also tried a 128MB SIMM just to see what would happen, but this particular model is limited to addressing 64MB of RAM no matter what you put in. In fact larger SIMMs will cause problems. The 6300 would boot with the 128MB SIMM but immediately experienced problems with screen redraws and soon crashed.
Finally I replaced the 1.2GB drive with a spare 40GB Maxtor drive. I partitioned it as follows:
- 1GB Macintosh HD 91 – HFS+ for running Mac OS 9.1.
- 2GB Macintosh HD 75 – HFS for running the original System 7.5 that came with this Performa. I gave this partition a little more space because System 7 cannot access HFS+ partitions.
- 1GB Macintosh HD 81 – HFS+ for running Mac OS 8.1.
- 1GB Macintosh HD 86 – HFS+ for running Mac OS 8.6.
- 35GB Mac Drive – HFS+ for storing everything that does not need to run on System 7.
You’ll note that all of the OS partitions are safely within the 8GB limit for the IDE controller on this generation of Mac. Also: I have not personally tested all of the disc images linked above. I actually still have old CDs with most of these versions of Mac OS.
None of the PDS video cards seem all that interesting for a Power Mac, so I doubt there will be any more upgrades unless I decide to grab an old TV card.
Getting The RAM To Fit
SIMMs with memory chips on both sides barely fit inside the 6300CD. I assume this would be true for the Performa 6320, any of the 6200 variants, and likely the 5200/5300 models as well. You have to remove the heat sink in order to install the 2nd SIMM. But the SIMM will clear the heat sink once installed.
Never run the computer without the heat sink, even just to test the new RAM. When you reinstall the heat sink you need to clean off the old thermal paste and replace it with a similar amount of paste. I generally use Arctic Silver. The original paste was in a nice circle in the center of the CPU. You don’t have to have a perfect circle, just a small amount of paste covering the same area. My 16MB module only had chips on one side so I didn’t run into this back in the day. But I’m not sure if there are any 32MB modules available like that now, or how rare and costly they might be.
6300CD Test Drive
So how does an old Power Mac compare to modern machines?
Surprisingly well if you ignore the web. The Mac OS 9 Finder feels a bit sluggish but is definitely usable. Mac OS 8.x feels fine and System 7.5 is actually rather fast. Messing around with old apps I was pleasantly surprised at just how responsive the 6300 felt on any of the four OS partitions. The OS and office type applications feel perfectly usable even by today’s standards.
As I said in my rebuttal to the Road Apple articles, I do not recall this being a bad or slow computer. My impression back then was that it was a bit quicker than a 6100/60 with the L2 cache card, and about the same as an 8100/80, two Power Macs I spent significant time on. Which is consistent with its MacBench scores. I was very pleased with this Mac during the time that I used it. Playing around with it today only reinforces my impression of where it stands in Apple history.
Of course any modern machine races ahead with demanding tasks. Editing a 1920×1080 image in Photoshop is slower than editing DSLR photos on a current Mac. Network transfers are severely limited by the 10 Mbps Ethernet. And multimedia CDs are laughably primitive by the standards of the modern web. The programs that do run comparably well are lacking features that today’s user takes for granted, such as sophisticated auto complete.
Yet I can’t help but be impressed with how well a lot of every day office type applications run, as well as some of the programming tools and compilers.
Surfing The Web
So what is the web like on a Mac this old? Better than on a Mac Plus even if getting the web running on a Plus is infinitely cooler.
Classilla will run on a 6300, just not very well. It takes forever to launch, respond to commands, and download/render pages. I get the feeling it’s just not made for this class of machine and may work better on G3 and higher Macs with a lot more RAM.
In all cases I gave the test browser as much RAM as I could.
To be clear the 6300 is not usable as a daily web browser. Browsing the web with a machine from this era is purely for the challenge. One of those things you do just to see if it can be done. 20 years have gone by since this Mac was released which is an eternity for Moore’s Law. It’s hard to overstate just how powerful our computers are today by comparison. The fact that a computer with 64 MB of RAM and a 100 MHz 603e can access and render any of today’s web is impressive.
Should You Get One?
If you’re interested in running classic Mac OS and old applications you could certainly do worse than a 6300. That said, you can also do better.
If you happen to have any of the early Power Macs, or run into one for next to nothing, don’t throw it away. At the very least clean it up, verify that it works, and sell it to someone who wants it. Even if it doesn’t work the parts can help keep another Power Mac running, so keep it away from the recycle center if possible.
But if you have a little cash to spend and are interested in classic Mac OS you can easily get a G4 PowerBook, iMac, or tower. (Note that G4 Macs later then these models cannot boot OS 9.) These often go for $100-$150 and, sometimes just $50. They can also dual boot into Mac OS X which gives you access to newer applications.
If you don’t care about running Mac OS 9 directly but do care about classic apps then a Power Mac G5 or iMac G5 may be a better bet. Mac OS 10.4.11 Tiger was the last release to support the classic layer. Compatibility in the classic layer is almost as good as running OS 9 directly, games being one notable exception, and a G5 is faster than any G4 Mac. Thanks to TenFourFox these machines are still usable on the modern web.
Of course nostalgia need not obey reason. If you have fond memories of this machine, or want to see what this era of Power Mac was like, by all means pick one up. You can still find them on eBay from time to time or on your local Craigslist.