I have a customer - a small business where IT is a cost center, not a profit driver - with six high-end PowerPC machines (dual-CPU Power Mac G5, 2G RAM, the works...).

These machines will shortly be obsolete because Snow Leo won't support them:

Performance-wise, those boxen would be enough for them pretty much until heck freezes over[a] but since Apple seems to EOL everything older than the previous release even for security fixes, the machines will be obsolete within about 1.5y.

Few major upgrades for third-party software come out for old Mac OS releases, degrading their value even before that.

Age-wise, they are in the awkward spot where they're pretty much written off, but still in very good shape.

Austrian law for companies (not incorporated) applies to this, just in case that is important for your ideas.

So, finally, the question: What to do? I have thought of the following things:

  • Trying to go for a good buy-back offer and upgrade?
  • Same, but with leasing the new kit (the owner doesn't like leasing too much, but in this situation there might be an exception)?
  • For the versions above: ASAP, ALAP, something in between?
  • Giving them to a school (charitable institution, etc) right now and take a tax credit for the remaining value on the books?

What do you think of those? Other ideas are welcome, too, of course.

[a] One of those ethics cases where their previous IT contractor was also their hardware supplier...

5 Answers 5


I would say evaluate the 'business' value of keeping current, e.g.

  • Will they actually need the software upgrades (e.g. new features)

  • What is the real likelihood of malware infection in a PowerPC mac that can't be fixed by third-party antivirus systems?

  • Are they going to be purchasing more machines and having to run a mixed Intel/PowerPC shop (which will probably increase support costs a bit).

  • Are they too proud to buy secondhand or refurbished PowerMac kit off Ebay to maintain a homogeneous setup?

  • Do they care about their IT stagnating a bit for a few years?

  • Are the upgrade costs down the track likely to be significantly more than doing an upgrade now?

  • Are there any other items that would drive up the support costs for the older Power Macs?

If they have favourable answers to the questions, consider establishing a horizon of (say) 3 years and a policy of 'maintain the status quo' for that period. The chances are that the support costs for the transition from PowerPC to Intel would outweigh the hardware costs (particularly if they don't need high-end Mac Pro hardware).

The other thing to note is that the software vendors supported 68K macs quite well for many years after the PowerMac first came out. That was when the (then) new 6100/7100/8100 machines were several times faster than the Quadras they replaced and Pagemaker 5, Freehand 4 or Photoshop 3/4 went from being sluggish on a 650 to snappy on a 7100 (I used to use it on a Mac IIci!). The performance gain from an Intel mac is nothing like as dramatic as the move from the 68K to the PPC was. You might find that (from a third-party support view) the PPC macs don't go out of date anything like as quickly as Apple would prefer.

The hardware is a sunk cost and the resale value of PowerPC macs is negligible so you are unlikely to recoup significant costs by disposing of the hardware.

I think the question is whether it is better from a support perspective to upgrade the systems now or later. If it would be significantly more expensive to move to Intel later you should make the move now. If it would not be significantly more expensive (including support costs for either option over that period) then suggest that the business adopt a 'steady as she goes' policy for some fixed period and then plan the transition for later.

If you think that the PowerPC systems would cause support issues that may drive costs up or reflect badly on you then it may be in your interest to push for an early switch.

In short, you're probably better to stick with them until they start to become a pain in the arse. The problem is to forecast whether this will happen now or later.

  • 5
    Just to amplify this a little. These units will only be obsolete when they no longer perform the required business functions. Just because there is a new OS release does not automatically obsolete the hardware. It might devalue it in the marketplace, but does not instantly make it unsuitable for the business purposes. Only when they no longer accomplish the business tasks, or costs to maintain exceed the full costs of replacement should they be replaced (IMHO). Commented Jun 25, 2009 at 13:25
  • 1
    Thanks, looks like I wasn't too off-base. They have a Linux server for backups (I don't perfectly trust time machine - HFS+ is crap), and I may actually move the main service to the older Mac server and just mirror DNS and LDAP &c on Linux, then I could use the newer server (a Power Mac like the desktops) as spare desktop...that should keep them up a while. For security, I might just go for a mandatory proxy. Let's see how long I can keep this thing running. :)
    – Bernd Haug
    Commented Jun 25, 2009 at 13:37
  • You should also present it to them as a forward plan - 'We will keep this lot going for three years and then plan a transition to Intel.' Make sure that the business is aware of the pros and cons of this strategy and get their buy-in. Commented Jun 25, 2009 at 13:44
  • Loren - My concern was that hardware for which there are no more security-, and less importantly, other bug fixes, are not available any more. I understand that outdated hardware can be very useful if it serves the mission's needs. My mother still runs 10.3 on an old iBook G4, but that's firewalled off and locked down in a way that would make it useless for most businesses. ;)
    – Bernd Haug
    Commented Jun 25, 2009 at 14:33
  • Also, my grammar is good, also. ;)
    – Bernd Haug
    Commented Jun 25, 2009 at 14:34

We have/had 5 of these machines in use at my place of business.

I wanted to add to that the high-end PowerMac G5s, while still very powerful machines, had some pretty "complicated" hardware inside such as a closed-loop liquid cooling system to deal with the heat generated by the CPUs.

While I never had the cooling system fail outright and spew coolant everywhere, I have noticed a disturbing trend with these machines: something goes wrong at pretty close to 5 years after the time of purchase. In the five machines we use (purchased over the whole range of production- 2003-2006), something has gone wrong in every machine very near the 5 year mark for its lifetime. It's been a power supply in a couple of cases, logic board in another, graphics cards, etc... All of these things are reparable, but some of them are expensive, like a logic board replacement.

I'll reiterate what ConcernedOfTunbridgeW wrote: Stick with them for now until it becomes painful. In my experience, however, you may be closer to that pain than you realize.

  • 1
    Thanks for that - always good to know what's coming up; but these boxes are still all a bit away from the 5 year mark.
    – Bernd Haug
    Commented Jun 25, 2009 at 14:38
  • Good! I really do hope they last you a long time b/c they are powerful machines, if you don't run into the reliability issues. Commented Jun 25, 2009 at 15:04
  • 1
    Wow - very valuable observation. Commented Jun 25, 2009 at 17:25

Chuck a maintained *nix distro on them and keep using them?

(e.g. Gentoo, Ubuntu)

(I guess this is a non-starter for you if you have any irreplaceable LOB apps that are OS X-only)


Even the Ubuntu Community supported PPC stuff is limited- I know this because I looked at doing the same with my powerbook. It depends what you want to do. The last version of Mac OS (10.4? I think...) That was supporting PPC is still good- yes.

I personally have an interest in video editing and graphic design type stuff. IMovie is quite adequate - so if you can think of setting up something for school kids, or something along those lines, just a little lab that will allow them to edit video's. and the like. Still, it depends what you want to do :)


This question is a year and a half old, but just to address something in the previous post, PPC Macs are supported up through 10.5.8. I'm actually still using a 12" G4 PowerBook (1.25 GHz) as my primary computer, though I'm now looking to upgrade by the end of the year. I've found that old PPC machines make great iTunes/fileservers. Dual CPU G5's should have plenty of useful life left in them!

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