Should you upgrade your Mac or buy a new one?

Running an old Mac as a music server, for example, you can get away with a slower processor but it would benefit from bigger drives and a wireless or Ethernet card to hook it into your network.

Faster chips

Upgrading the processor is the most fundamental change you can make to a computer, and there's still a surprisingly robust selection of upgrade cards available for G3- and G4-based Macs and even earlier models.

The upgrade phenomenon skipped G5s, but if you're a confident techie or can get someone to fit it for you, an upgrade card can breathe new life into a G3 or G4. There are several advantages to upgrading the processor in an older Mac. You can generally get a dual processor upgrade card, which combined with the faster clock speed will bring a big speed bump over a single processor machine, especially given the multi-processing abilities of recent versions of Mac OS X.

A faster CPU will often mean you are able to install a later version of OS X on a machine previously unable to pass the installation requirements. The only thing to watch is compatibility between a card and the specific version of OS X you want to install, as occasionally there can be issues.

Simple solution

Finally, there is a simple way to upgrade any Mac – just add external peripherals. The most obvious example is a FireWire or USB 2.0 hard drive, onto which you can dump iTunes or iPhoto libraries, iMovie projects and more, greatly increasing the space available to you.

If your Mac can't house an AirPort card due to its age, try a USB WiFi dongle to get it onto your network. If your wireless network reception is poor, try a booster antenna to improve it. Plug in a Mighty Mouse or another mouse with a scroll wheel and programmable buttons and you'll have better control over your Mac.

If you don't have an iSight camera built in, you may be able to use a digital camera or third-party webcam instead with enabling software such as Macam (on the disc). Even the most technophobic Mac user can upgrade certain things without having to get their hands dirty!

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First published in MacFormat, Issue 203

Now read 12 essential apps for tweaking your Mac

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Graham Barlow
Senior Editor, AI

Graham is the Senior Editor for AI at TechRadar. With over 25 years of experience in both online and print journalism, Graham has worked for various market-leading tech brands including Computeractive, PC Pro, iMore, MacFormat, Mac|Life, Maximum PC, and more. He specializes in reporting on everything to do with AI and has appeared on BBC TV shows like BBC One Breakfast and on Radio 4 commenting on the latest trends in tech. Graham has an honors degree in Computer Science and spends his spare time podcasting and blogging.