£150 Mac Challenge, Part II

..And there it was, swathed in bubblewrap, sitting in my hall. With its graceful lines and crisp whiteness, I could truly see this as the future of my computing career, enlightening TMSD HQ with it’s style.

First, however, I had to get it upstairs.

After flicking through various eMac fan sites for several days before, I was sure I would know all the gritty details of the system, inside and out. However, what these sites don’t tell you is the system has the mass of an average battleship.

After lugging the thing to the top floor of my house (All 50,000 tonnes of it), I placed it proudly on the specially prepared desk and wired it up, a procedure that was simplified by the all-in-one design of the system. The computer had been delivered with what I assume were its original peripherals, a power cord, the transparent Apple mouse and the old style keyboard with the plastic border. All of the second hand parts were in good condition, with some noticeable wear on the bottom of the mouse but nothing that would cause an actual problem.

The moment of truth arrived, and I reached around for the power button – which is on the back, for some reason – And gave it a jab. After the chime sounded, the machine booted without a hitch to OSX 10.4 and I had a play around. The system was fully functional, and in as good an order as a clean install of Tiger could be. Little did I know that I was about to be launched into a whole world of issues..

In order to stay within the £150 budget, I had bought a model without the internal AirPort card. “That’s nothing”, I thought to myself, “My existing USB wireless adapter will work without issue! Why, I have Belkin’s word on the matter!”

Well, not really. After a poke around, I found that Belkin themselves only distributed copies of the drivers for OSX 10.3. This turned out to be about as useful as a pancake. Having had this problem before when I first moved to Linux, I checked out RaLink, who make the chipset for my particular model. After (Finally) tracking down a compatible driver, I installed it and was greeted with a nice little utility for the setup of wireless networks. I found my network, entered the WEP key, clicked “connect” and was greeted by…

…A kernel panic.

Cue a day-long trip to the local town to find a Mac-compatible wireless-G adapter. By Mac-compatible, I mean that the drivers for 10.4 are included on a disk.

After seven hours, I concluded that these don’t actually exist.

Heartbroken and in dispair (Well, it makes for good reading) I endlessly tried getting my existing adapter to connect, to no avail. I had read online that this adapter was SURE to work, and that many people had managed to do it by downloading this driver from Ralink. Then it hit me: Maybe it was a glitch in the latest driver version! With a new air of hope I rushed over to a driver website and downloaded an old version onto a USB stick.

I installed it in the usual manner and VOILA! Praise the sweet lord of outmoded computers, it worked!

Now it’s all together, I must say, I’m quite impressed. It’s certainly usable as an everyday computer and the average person would have no problem with it being their only machine. And that’s damn good value for £125. As it isn’t my only machine, I use it mainly for the purpose of the TV it replaced – watching DVDs and, quite neatly, online on-demand services – and various other little things like word processing and occasional IRC. Although the Wifi was absolute hell to set up, it’s likely to be far easier now you know how I did it. And anyway, it was all worth it for the beautiful Apple design that no other company can seem to do quite right. The attention to detail is simply staggering, from the brushed metal screw heads on the sides and top of the machine to the power cord. Now, Apple could have saved themselves a lot of money here and used a generic kettle lead that is probably pumped out of Chinese factories by the millions. But no, they made their own lead which has a circular sheath around it so it fits visually with the curved body of the computer. This embodies the detail with which Apple design their products, and I simply haven’t seen that anywhere else.

Anyway, with what I sure as hell hope isn’t fanboyism out of the way, it’s time to wrap this up with a conclusion: It’s great, and if you’re an average user in the market for a cheap, stylish computer, you should give the eMac a good, hard look.. Which, knowing the consumer, you will do right up until the moment you buy a EEEtop.

-James