Fire Your Mac Up! 9 Essential Mac Upgrades (Plus More Power Tips)

Zack Stern's picture

Fire Your Mac Up! 9 Essential Mac Upgrades (Plus More Power Tips)

We've always liked the iBook's sturdy, plastic construction, perhaps even more than that of the dent-prone PowerBook. But while its case leads to longevity, the iBook is the least upgradeable older Mac around. If you plan to install Leopard on an iBook, max out the RAM to help compensate for the processor and graphics chip. (Adding RAM won't directly affect the video performance, but we can tolerate slower video if the rest of the system gets a performance boost.) Hard drive upgrades can be done, but they're a lot of work on certain iBooks. (If your manual mentions a hard drive upgrade at all, you've got an easy-access machine.) Otherwise, the AirPort card slot is the only simple upgrade option.


Upgradeability: Medium
Built-in slot for AirPort card. Accessible RAM slot. Keyboard fairly easy to remove and replace.
Neither graphics chip nor processor can be upgraded. Most hard-drive upgrades difficult; third parties will install the upgrade. Built-in connections are all you get.



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BONUS TIP: Watch Those Fingers!
Computer parts are fragile - oil from your skin or mild static can damage them. Carefully handle PCI cards, RAM, and processors by their edges. Don't touch the contacts or their faces. When installing parts, it's a good idea to wear an antistatic wrist-strap with one end clipped to a grounded metal piece of the computer. If you don't have a wristband, touch a grounded metal part of your Mac (such as the power supply) to discharge any static electricity before handling sensitive parts. And before diving inside, shut down and give your Mac at least 10 minutes to cool down, especially before a processor or RAM upgrade.


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VIDEO CARD: Suddenly You Can See


A video card churns out a system's graphics and connects directly to your display(s). Power Macs and Mac Pros let you swap the card out for a performance boost. Leopard and earlier versions of Mac OS X take advantage of video cards (and the video chips in closed systems) to speed up mundane tasks like window movement and scrolling (via OS X's Quartz). This video technology also draws the glossy Mac interface tricks. Tiger currently requires 16MB of VRAM (video RAM), but Leopard may need more. Gamers and media makers will see a night-and-day impact from a new card because their games and media-production apps rely most on video hardware. But anyone can benefit from an upgrade.


If you plan to upgrade your display or if you want to add an additional monitor, the video card is also a significant factor. Every video card has a maximum screen resolution and refresh rate, so if you still have a stock card from five years ago, it may not push enough pixels to run a high-resolution Apple Cinema Display. Modern video cards include DVI ports that, along with VGA adapters, can connect to nearly any monitor.


TO INSTALL Choose a video card based on your specific Mac. An older Mac will likely need an AGP card, while a newer G5 or Intel machine will get a PCI Express card. Be sure to pick the right card for your machine, because AGP, PCI Express, PCI-X, and PCI are not interchangeable. When you go to install the video card, push it firmly and evenly into its slot. Many Macs, like the current Mac Pros, include a latch adjacent to the video-card slot that needs to be opened to remove the current card, so watch for those on your machine. And keep track of those pesky screws, especially on older Macs - you'll need to reuse the installed screw to attach a new card.


> WHO'S IT FOR? Gamers, iPhoto fiends, iMovie masters, and everyone else
> PRIORITY: Medium
> OPTIONS: ATI Radeon X800 XT Mac Edition AGP ($299), ATI Radeon X1900 G5 Mac Edition ($349)


Gamers and graphics junkies could benefit from a video card upgrade.






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