How to cheer up a sulky Mac

Anthony Ginn outlines the paths to a bigger, fresher Apple
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Indy Lifestyle Online
You wake up one morning to discover that your Mac disk is stuffed, like a python round a cow, and your RAM is sulking, refusing to run Quark and Freehand simultaneously and communicating only in cryptic messages.

All is not lost. In the best Mac tradition, software utilities can help patch the problem. RAM Doubler, a pounds 50 utility from Connectix, replaces the Mac's own virtual memory control panel tool, but performs the same trick faster and less intrusively. A shareware add-on called MAX-RAM claims to increase memory six-fold, but slows everything in the process. Similar disk- compression software can expand your hard disk. Disk Doubler, at about pounds 50, doubles what you started with.

Eventually the day comes when software substitutes no longer suffice and you need the real thing. RAM runs out much faster than hard disk space; 8Mb is uncomfortably small on a Mac nowadays. On the PowerMac, it is useless, and high-resolution graphics demand even more. A photographer using Adobe Photoshop on a PowerMac told me his 74Mb was not enough; at about pounds 25 a megabyte, his extra memory cost more than the original computer.

Choosing which type of memory to use is not easy: there are more Mac models than there are shoes in Imelda Marcos's wardrobe, and each has its own RAM specifications. To discover your requirements, consult the Guru, or GUide to Ram Upgrades. This is a piece of free software from Newer Technology that gives options for upgrading most models. Fortunately for owners of older Macs, the second-hand market for standard Simm (Single Inline Memory Modules) will increase as new PowerMac owners move to the newer Dimm chips.

Apple made a smart move when it adopted the SCSI (pronounced "scuzzy") interface for connecting peripherals. It is an elegant solution, widely used in workstations. The Mac's SCSI socket can connect a row of hardware, including an external hard disk, into the same socket. You can add a one- gigabyte hard drive to your SCSI chain for around pounds 230. The budget-conscious could install an internal hard drive and save about pounds 50. Some Macs have the necessary room in the box, and some need an extra bracket fitting, but with other models, you will have to dispose of your old drive first.

The ultimate in upgrade luxury is to buy a bigger and brighter box to look at. Bigger monitors are expensive in cash and memory. They need more video RAM (Vram) to cope with the 24-bit "True Colour" at a higher resolution. Older Macs have less Vram, and simply will not be able to match the upgrade. Before buying a new monitor, check how much Vram you have. Again, Guru can advise.

A huge monitor with True Colour will cost pounds 3,000. A 17in monitor with graphics card will cost pounds 1,000. The graphics card is included. Alternatively, you could make do with your existing 14in monitor and take your partner to Paris for a weekend. For some of us, size is not important.