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Once you plug in a G-3-AIO, the third thing you notice is: it is fast. Very fast. These machines allegedly come in two flavors: a budget G3-AIO with a 233 MHz PowerPC 750 processor and a slightly pricier version with a 266 MHz processor. Washington Apple Pi Labs worked only with the budget machines, and found they were: fast.
The fourth thing you notice is: they are beauty challenged. Comments on the looks of the machines ranged from a charitable "cute" to "butt ugly." The top and back of the machine have a single, curving piece of translucent plastic, with hundreds of holes in it. Everyone wanted to know why it was translucent, and everyone wanted to know what the holes were for. Nobody could think of a good explanation, silly or serious.
While unboxing and carting the machines around, the G3-AIO machines were conversation stoppers, and starters. "What is that?" "It's a computer." "It doesn't look like a computer." People you didn't know would start following you through the hallways, seeing where you were going and hoping for a chance to see if it was really a computer. This doesn't mean they thought the machines were pretty, but they do look funny.
Pi President Lorin Evans has dubbed the G3-AIO the "Molar Mac," which is a perfect name. From the front or back, they look exactly like giant molars. With hundreds of cavities.
But did we mention they are heavy? And fast?
Setup is absurdly simple: unbox them, plug them in. Since almost everything is built-in, all you have to do is plug in power, network, and keyboard and mouse. The system software is pre-installed, so unless you want to partition the drive, there isn't anything to do but install an application or three.
As shipped, the machines have 32 MB of RAM, which isn't enough for Mac OS 8.1, to be honest. It might work if you never went beyond ClarisWorks, but what is the point of having a fast, powerful machine and limiting yourself to ClarisWorks? Fortunately, adding another 32 MB is simple: unscrew four Phillips screws, pull out the logic board (conveniently mounted in a pull-out tray for just this sort of situation), and find a nimble-fingered midget to twist and turn their hand past all the cables to stick something in one of the two vacant DIMM slots.
Getting into the machine is surprisingly easy: remove four Phillips screws and slide the motherboard out. The tray even has a handhold built into the bottom, and rails on the side to support the tray. Once the tray is open, small elves with nimble fingers should have no trouble snaking their fingers through the cables to install memory; regular-sized adults might have to work at this a bit. One thing you won't see: the hard drive and floppy drive do not slide out; exactly how you are supposed to get them out (or install something in the space for the Zip) isn't clear, and seemed more trouble than mere curiosity could justify.
In fact, once set up, the most remarkable thing about the G3-AIO is that, aside from the speed (did we mention they are fast?), they aren't remarkable. When you are looking at the screen, you don't notice the funny shape. When you aren't hauling them around, you don't notice the weight. The dearth of cable clutter is one thing you do notice, by its lack. It acts like a Mac, it runs like a Mac, it has no obvious limitations for its intended environment.
How does it compare with the iMac (which doesn't exist quite yet, at time of writing?) Well, the G3-AIO has several things the iMac lacks: a SCSI port, two serial ports, a video port, a floppy disk drive, three PCI slots, and an option for a Zip disk and AV circuitry. Plus it looks like a giant beige tooth.
The iMac, on the other hand, looks like a 1960s vacuum cleaner, has a Universal Serial Bus mouse and keyboard, an infrared port, and comes bundled with lots of software. It allegedly will have better speakers, and a much faster Ethernet port, plus one person, without fear of serious injury, can transport it.
Should you get a Molar Mac or a Vacuum Cleaner? If you are a school, the Molar Mac is probably a good choice: it is ruggedly built, it works with existing LocalTalk peripherals, and several features (such as the twin headphone jacks on the front) are obviously designed with schools in mind. The weight isn't an issue, since you probably don't want the rugrats carting the machines around, anyway.
If you are a student at a school, the choice of Molar Mac or Vacuum Cleaner becomes more interesting. An iMac will take up less space in the dorm, and fit better in the back seat of your 1998 Volkswagen Bug. It won't work with old LocalTalk peripherals, but you probably don't have any, and it will work just fine with Ethernet peripherals, including the Internet link the university so unwisely stuck in your dorm room.
Did we mention that both machines are fast?
The distinct molar profile is clearly visible from the side, as is the translucent plastic piece, which curves over the top and back. The Apple logo on the side is also translucent; we wanted to see if an Apple decal would fit over the space, but got sidetracked by the speed of the machine and forgot. For all we know, the gill-like openings near the top front might be for gills.
Revised Saturday, August 1, 1998 Lawrence I.
Washington Apple Pi