What to do with an adopted, button-cute indigo iMac G3?

Loathing the prospect of actually buying furniture to accessorize my new apartment, I just flung a moist wad of sock money at the last tenant, who is moving out in a couple of weeks. "Look, I'll just take everything," I more or less said. Now the inventory of all the junk I indiscriminately purchased is coming in. There's some nice furniture, and lots of useful but unspectacular stuff like extension cords, a vacuum cleaner and an old coffee grinder. But gloriously couching itself in the middle of a mountain of junk? An old iMac G3. A really old iMac G3. It's Indigo Blue, with a sad 384MB of RAM and a 500 MHz PowerPC processor. It's upgraded to some version of OS X, but that's it. It's a pitiful, useless, button-cute machine... and I want to do something with it. But what? I've considered using it as just a bedroom DVD player, but that's boring. Joel has suggested turning it into a fish tank or a condom caddy. And thats all possible... but I'm sort of wondering if I couldn't do something with it that wouldn't inherently ruin it as a computer. I'm even — gasp — trying to think of something useful that could be accomplished with it. Any ideas? It seems a shame to let mere obsolescence get in the way of adding another chirpy, colorful Mac to the household. But if someone can think of a cool enough reason to gut it, I'll certainly consider it. What to do?
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81 Responses to What to do with an adopted, button-cute indigo iMac G3?

  1. pewma says:

    With the conveniently place handle on top, you could use it for doing curls. Beef up those biceps.

    But yeah. More realistically I agree with the media center idea(s).
    And I dunno if you have an iPhone, but you could use the new remote app with iTunes. If not Salling Clicker works on most phones and is a very nice remote app.

    or maybe just run moodstream

    or neave TV

    I also really like the guestbook idea.

  2. mcsey says:


    Get 24 more and teach a class of seventh and eighth graders like I do.

  3. strider_mt2k says:

    There have to be some cool mods that can be applied to this to tweak it’s performance.

    Taking it to it’s extreme limits could be fun.

  4. SamF says:

    You don’t have to do anything to it to “inherently ruin it as a computer”. Apple already did that.


    Oh, and I was going to suggest the alarm clock idea, as well.

  5. idiot king says:

    Seconding the media server suggestion. I have a second-gen iMac in my basement with the largest hard drive I could stuff into it serving out music and movie files. One word of caution though: I’ve burned through about three of the later model (fanless) iMacs due to video problems and overheating, so beware. They’re cheap as hell these days though, so a $25 investment and fifteen minutes of surgery means you’re back up and running in notime.

  6. searconflex says:

    It would make a cool microwave… don’t ask me how to do that though. You’re a smart kid, you’ll figure it out.

  7. meerkat says:

    #10 – haha, that would be a pretty cool in-dash GPS – great conversation piece as well.

    I experimented a bit with creating a media server with an extra old computer and spare drives but it ended up being a huge mess of cables and noise/heat – so I bought one of them little HP MediaSmart Servers, which is better built for the task

    I like the idea of a big piece of ancient tech reduced to an piece of minimalist art – what about slapping one of these on there: http://abstractor.tv/02.What/intro.htm ?

  8. MadCarlotta says:

    #29 beat me to it:

    If you have the space, put it in the kitchen.

    Sadly, I don’t have the space, but when I do, that is where my old Mac will go.

  9. Alys says:

    I wish I hadn’t sold my Grape iMac G3 (400MHz, 512RAM) now. I miss it. And it would have come in handy as a media server. Now I want to find another older Mac to fill that role.

  10. TotalForge says:

    You need to undo 26 screws to get the hard drive out for upgrading. The disk controller probably cannot handle anything bigger than 160 GB, a limitation for the internal drive only.

    It can be a digital photo frame, while still doing other light tasks in the background.

    Chances are that the CRT will fail first. There is a second door nearer the back than the memory door, open it and you’ll find a well-hidden VGA connector. :-)

    If it really reaches its end, lining the shell with an old towel or blanket will make it into a cozy kitty bed.

  11. lifsos says:

    Using the Old Fella as a bedroom DVD player may be “boring” but I wouldn’t dismiss the idea.

    I recently re-purposed my old 15″ lampshade iMac this way and I’m quite happy with the results. (Tho this model has an LCD screen that swivels so I can watch practically nose-to-screen to simulate the big-ass-TV experience.)

    To further add to the faux home-theater experience, add some decent speakers. Or do what I do: Hook it up to the delightful Tivoli Audio PAL. Great sound and has FM/AM too. It’s mono, but seriously, really good mono is better for movies and music than the usual crappy pair of “compact” stereo speakers. The PAL is not a cheap date–around $US 220–but since it’s compact, portable, and can run off battery as well as AC juice, you can multitask it.


    Next, buy a Bluetooth dongle and download the Sailing Clicker application so you can ditch the keyboard and mouse and use your cell phone as a remote control.



    Voila . . . cheap ‘n’ cheerful DVD viewing system. (Provided you already have a pair of external speakers or are willing to put up with the built-in ones.)

  12. loganbouchard says:

    make it into a subwoofer cab.

    maybe install a speaker in the place of the handle and keep the computer running as an entertainment center.
    or just turn it into an all-in-one speaker cab, using the two mini built-in ones, and a subwoofer.

    i would turn it into a guitar amp or something like that, maybe some senseless LED’s plugged into the power supply to make it look a bit more badass.

  13. SimeonW says:

    I have another one just like it, same specs even, sitting in a box in my garage… I was going to send it in to Apple’s recycling program, but had some odd emotional block. Anyway, you can have it. Then, my suggestion is to place then on pedestals outside your door, like a pair of Fu Dogs.

  14. themindfantastic says:

    I have always thought if I could pick up a timex sinclair, I would program a small idiotic power waster program that simply took a variable, showed the variable on the screen, and then added one to that variable and showed that ad infinitum. But a Mac is a much more elegant machine. A mediua centre is my bet, a Mame set up while not particularly inspired, is fun. Personally I seriously would love to see a dedicated AI machine, nothing heavy mind you, even Eliza would be neat (though boring after a while) if the output could be ported through text to speech.

  15. things says:

    I used an imac much slower than this as a server at school all last year. Runs azureus and vine server for VNCing in just fine.

  16. Yep says:

    Carve it out, pumpkin like, and stick it on your head for your next Halloween costume.

  17. things says:

    I used an imac much slower than this as a server at school all last year. Runs azureus and vine server for VNCing in just fine.

  18. guy_jin says:

    Digital picture frame. you can even disconnect the keyboard and mouse.

  19. pork musket says:

    Cram an NES into it.

  20. Jimmy says:

    @29 & @37 – that’s exactly what I’ve done with mine. If it’s slot-loading, and I think it is, it will take a gig of RAM. It runs Tiger without much complaint and is great for iTunes (picking up any shared library on the network or internet radio), recipes, measurements, etc. A cheap .11b or .11g gaming bridge gives it the wonder of wi-fi. I saw someone mention it, but http://www.lowendmac.com is the place to go for info on giving these old beasts a new life.

  21. nic says:

    The indigo iMacs have a hatch underneath to access the ram and airport slots. Architecturally, it is very similar to an eMac, despite the specs saying that it will only take 512MB of ram, it will take 2x 512mb pc133 dimms.

    I have set my 92 year old grandfather with a slot loading iMac running 10.4, believe it or not. 10.3 and earlier are starting to have software and browser issues. It struggles a bit with you tube and flash, but has become a fantastic tool for him to communicate with the grandchildren.

    The elderly appreciate good design and the one box TV like configuration of the iMac as much as anybody. It now lives where the shelf holding his vinyl collection was. The vinyl has now merged with mine, a swap we were both happy with.

  22. santellana says:

    perhaps have it run a video loop; of that face of the guy from that movie 1984. that big brother guy.

  23. sisyphus says:

    Permanent BOINC box for SETI@Home et al.

    See how long before the poor thing implodes.

  24. santellana says:

    oh another idea, but its probably impractical and overly elaborate:

    case mod it a bit, such that its mostly filled with jelly beans. separate compartments for different jelly bean flavors. then build a dispenser that can output one or several jelly bean combinations. connect it to the internets and run an instant messenger program, but develop some RFC for a ‘flavor’ protocol so that when people are chatting with you on that machine, they can IM you jelly bean combinations and the computer will dispense them. it will suck having to constantly refill the jelly bean compartments, but until some hacker bangs together a denial of jelly bean attack it might be yummy fun. also, ya might can get a company what makes jelly beans to sponsor the casemod.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I got the iMac G3 400 MHz Indigo for free: http://www.everymac.com/systems/apple/imac/stats/imac_400_indigo.html

    I’ve tried to install the Tiger with on the original 10GB hard drive and it run pretty smoothl already with 2×256 memory. But now I’ve just bought the 2×512 MB of memory and a combo drive from eBay. Now I’ll have to find a bigger (120 or 160 GB) and faster (7200 rpm, 8MB buffer) hard drive.

    I will make it a media center and game machine for my kids. I’ll put all the kids’ music and videos there and the same thing with the great old Mac games for children. And we can stream the kids’ iTunes stuff to our living room big screen.


  26. cartufer says:

    i’ve found the best use for any mac is booting it up holding t starts it up as an oversized firewire drive

  27. dan winckler says:

    The troubling thing for me is the power usage. Can one do anything to reduce the iMac’s electricity while still having it as a useful media server? Would a small embedded server box (or a NAS) function just as well while using a fraction of the energy?

    I have a G4 tower that I do almost nothing with besides play music (my MBP is my true work/play machine). How many kW/h is it using? I don’t know — I don’t have a Kill A Watt.

  28. zuzu says:

    Low End Mac: Upgrading Your G3 iMac

    Permanent BOINC box for SETI@Home et al. See how long before the poor thing implodes.

    Indeed; my first thought was have it play tic-tac-toe until it becomes sentient.

    Perhaps something like an Ambient Device of information delivery, the way people were all excited for the Chumby (and perhaps of equivalent processing power). e.g. real-life weather, internet congestion via BGP reports, monitoring (visually) network intrusion detection on your router, etc. Anything that provides useful passive feedback that doesn’t burden the hardware with visual display (which I think rules out glTail log file visualization).

  29. Shauni says:

    I’ll also support the suggestion for use as a media server. My dad did something similar with one of his old boxes. Jack in your cable input to that thing and you have a free, no-subscription-required DVR

  30. ryan7107 says:

    I’ve got one of those at my mother-in-law’s house that I set up for my dearly departed wife. It was used as an e-mail/web browsing machine in a spare bedroom. It’s pretty slow even with XUbuntu and 512MB of RAM (there are two ram slots). If you do go the linux route be warned that it won’t sleep anymore, you won’t have (easy) access to monitor settings, and you won’t be able to install flash. You should gut it.

  31. jennfrank says:

    Yeah, media center, duh. Why not also install Linux on it and use it as a DVR? (Also, this blarticle says your iMac is a great gift for kids and old people!)

  32. teamshadowboat says:

    Citing many of the above:

    Is there not enough space in the back to make it a thin client / NES / Guestbook / Media Server / condom caddy / herb garden all-in-one?

  33. zuzu says:

    The troubling thing for me is the power usage. … How many kW/h is it using? I don’t know — I don’t have a Kill A Watt.

    Keeping perspective: phone charger vampire power about the same as one hot bath

    There’s a subculture of you people who are nutters about conserving a trifling few watthours. It’s just not significant enough to worry about. Install a wind generator instead to supplement your supply if you’re that worried about it. (e.g. SkyStream 3.7, Air-X, SunForce, etc.)


    This idea would require some fabrication, but I think it would make a great base for a glass topped coffee table. You’d probably end up gutting it and I don’t know how the removal of the CRT would affect the appearance. I like the idea of preserving its iconic design after it’s functionally obsolete.

    Other than that, did anyone say cat litter box yet?

  35. gilowyn says:

    I would:

    – build a sturdy shelf to take the weight and hide the cables
    – buy an old gold-edged frame
    – place at the the fron edge, so it frames the monitor while the sides are still visible
    – then load it with changing art/ graphics
    – hang it on the wall

    Even when off, it will still look artsy, and when on, you have a rotating gallery.

    Saying hi from Hamburg,

  36. Anonymous says:

    Hook it up to X10 and use it to control all the lights in your new place.

  37. Anonymous says:

    put it in the kitchen.

    let it run:

    e-mail, internet radio,
    recipe box, household calendar.

    that’s it.

  38. Bastiaan says:

    Hack a TFT and Mac mini into it!

  39. mcsey says:

    I still manage about 80 of these so here goes…

    RAM — two PC-100 SDRAM slots. Not soldered on RAM. These will take up to 1GB of RAM with 512 chips.

    DVD — Nope. CD-ROM or CD-RW drive only. External DVD via Firewire for the win.

    HD — 128GB max, but it will take a larger drive if you format the first partition as smaller than 128GB (the rest of the drive is unusable).

    Wireless — Airport Card (adapter which costs more than a used Airport Card required) or third party wireless. Will not take Airport Extreme!

    OS — Mine have 512MB or 768MB and they run Tiger like a charm (turn off Spotlight indexing). I have also used several as servers using Ubuntu. My email server and secondary DNS servers at work are both repurposed iMac 500s.

    And as other’s have said, lowendmac.com has multiple articles on repurposing all sorts of old Macs. Also retromaccast.com has a podcast devoted to all things old and Apple-y.

  40. ryan7107 says:

    There has to be plenty of room in there for an ITX motherboard. If you could interface the CRT and PSU with an Atom-based ITX board, it’d make a pretty sweet budget Hackintosh.

  41. padster123 says:

    The original post says something about using it to play DVDs. Are you sure it has a DVD drive? I’d guess it hasn’t, and it will be CD only.

    My local pub has an old iMac behind the bar, which they just use to run iTunes. They’ve spray painted it matt black (expect the screen) so it looks just a little bit tough and Mad Maxy.

    Only down side would be that I’d imagine the audio out quality isn’t exactly hi-fi. But then again, neither are mp3s.

  42. George Curious says:

    If anyone needs an alternative Mac browser (especially a more full featured one for older Mac OS’s) I can recomend iCab.


    and of course don’t forget,


  43. Neuron says:

    Run OS9 games like Descent 3, Deus Ex, Starcraft.

  44. sisyphus says:

    my first thought was have it play tic-tac-toe until it becomes sentient.

    To the contrary, Zuzu: in my experience, tic-tac-toe makes one less sentient.

    Has someone coded up a program mimicking the infine monkey theorem? That might make it eventually sentient. Or at least, perhaps, eloquent.


    @1 Thanks so much for mentioning Radio Paradise. I had never heard of it. Looking at the last 6 hours’ playlist, this broadcast is Total Win.
    I’ve been a consumer and supporter of SOMAFM for the last few years. I think I’m going to be mixing my listening up with Radio Paradise for a while.
    I like the idea of a standalone radio server. A while back I looked around for a single function internet radio device for my shop and found I could buy a decent 2ghz used Dell laptop for the same price. It has a bigger footprint than a wifi internet radio, but I can use it to look up obscure schematics and specs as a bonus.

  46. nic says:

    A surprising amount of the slot loading iMacs had DVD-ROM drives. Of course, CD burners were taking off big time around that time but dvd drives were the future

  47. softpieces says:

    With Pure Data you could have anything from a musical instrument to an interactive installation piece. :)

  48. Anonymous says:

    This one’s kinda cool, if you have any kind of experience with wood and a saw.

    -Use plywood to build a frame/case of an oldskool arcade game, stuck the ol’ Mac in there, set her up to run the classics like pacman and space invaders. Place a sheet of clear lexan a few inches above the monitor. Embedd a keyboard into the dash/controls thing. And there you have a ghetto arcade system.


    -Gut the ol bird, buy a cheap camping refrigerator, line the computer case with about an inch of insulating foam, rip out the fridge’s cooling element, stick it in the case, wire it to the PSU, place a piece of plastic or metal over the cooling element to keep it from coming in direct contact with whatever you put in there, and viola, you have a stylish miniature soda fridge to house and chill your Mountain Dews, Red Bulls, and Jolt Colas for those long-night dungeon raids.

    Depending on how big it is, you could set up a primitive gravity-based dispensing function.

  49. Anonymous says:

    one word: x-grid.

    i have old iMacs around, and have purposes for all: alarm clock, jukebox, back-up hard drive, secondary hard drive, and a daisy chain of 10 of them as my processor, all meeting up into a very overloaded eMac G4 800MHz.

    this G4 can decimate all

  50. Anonymous says:

    Get another two, load them with bright fractal software, suspend all three face-down over your high-gloss cocktail bar counter and presto: cool, trippy lighting.

  51. Anonymous says:

    I have 3 of these type iMacs and they are very useful to me.
    I use one as my everyday web surfing and blogging Mac. Infact it’s what I am on now!
    Another is a mini iTunes jukebox and basic media storage as well as web machhine. And another is a web server.
    Make sure it has a CDRW,20 gig of HD,and 512mb of RAM for a small music jukebox.
    And of course OS X Panther.
    Itunes can stream up the music stored on the system like a streaming server.
    I love that.
    Just put in a faster HD and RAM.
    It may be old but it’s as good as any Macbook or Duo Core iMac.
    Kids under age 12 also could govern from this system as could poor inner-city black kids.

  52. llamallama says:

    I have that exact Mac in my kitchen. It runs Ubuntu 8.04 with a desktop I built around Fluxbox. It’s very smooth and quite responsive.


  53. pantsravaganza says:

    Maybe incorporate it into a glass-top table and make it into a table-top pac man console. Maybe put it in the bathroom for a quick round of tetris. Or hang it from the ceiling above your bed/couch on a pulley for a retractable retro gaming or music system. You could call it the imac of Damocles.

  54. Anonymous says:

    Bittorrent terminal…….

  55. John Brownlee says:

    I’m assuming it has a DVD drive (I don’t have it in front of me right now, I still haven’t moved into the new place with the pile of junk), but the Wikipedia’s chart makes it a bit vague.

    I know the one I have was released in late 2000/2001. Bizarrely, though, that chart says that the iMac G3s LOST DVD compatibility in 2000. That’s got to be a mistake.

    Kitchen email / web browsing machine is pretty useless to me, I’m afraid. I write for a living… the last thing I like to do in my spare time is rattle off emails.

    Media server appeals to me, as lame as it is. But I also like the guest book idea, the idea of a dedicated “writing” machine (WriteRoom) and an emulation console perhaps built into a table or something.

  56. tp1024 says:

    Hook it up to a printer and print out the internet …

    Or, get it somewhere where lots of people who are inclined to do so can use it, maybe a club or your favorite pub or whatever. And, as you say you live in Berlin, I guess you can always ask your friendly hackers of the CCC what they would do.

  57. littleoracle says:

    i’ve got an old clamshell ibook (even more modest specs) and it’s running Ubuntu Feisty (7.04) with the XCFE interface. it’s a wee bit slower than the rest of my machines, but it works great.

    in other words: Ubuntu=happy G3

  58. nmcvaugh says:

    I’m a big fan of Radio Paradise, but in this case, any internet radio station you like will do. Simply hook up some speakers, get it network access, and use it as a dedicated music station. Throw on your music collection, and you’re set. Put it in a corner and enjoy.

    This also frees your regular computer(s) up for restarts, moving and upgrades without stopping the music.

  59. Anonymous says:

    Two words. Thin client.

  60. jamietie says:

    you could use it as an email terminal only, or you could hook up a few external drives and use it to serve up media files all around the apartment.

  61. nairobired says:

    having the exact same problem, bought one at a garage sale just because i couldnt stand to see the old girl just get tossed, and now she’s just stubbing my toe.

    its funny, i thought of the same fish tank thing. ive looked around online, seems like its a bit more trouble than its worth to replace the gawdzirra crt with a svelte lcd, especially with your model, but who knows, it might be a welcome reprieve from your usual weeknights of scraping lint out of the sides of your toes.

    im thinking of just making it strictly an old school game player. maybe even take it back to 9, but if you already have osx that would be an unforgivable sin. i’d say round up all the old old games you have, try and get bootcamp goin, and just use flash for the rest.

    i also found a guy who gives instructions on how to make your old macs into servers. dont know if youd need to, but here’s the guy:


    good luck (both of us)

  62. Blackhat says:

    Some great ideas here. I have an old Bondi Blue Rev.B sitting around that I can’t bear to part with (and an old eMac, but that one’s still pretty usable and will likely go to a relative). I like the idea of installing Ubuntu on it… BTW @#19 the iMac-head Halloween costume idea: my son did that a few years ago and reported that it looks cool but even gutted the shell still carries too much weight for more than a few minutes wearing it in (relative) comfort!

  63. mdhatter says:

    I run OS X10.2something, 0S9, and a sweet Apple ][ c/e emulator. MacMame is also pretty good, and in a pinch it’s a terribly heavy but portable (it’s got a handle on top) DVD player with a screen and speakers built in. Plus, it’s a spare computer for your friends to check e-mail on.

  64. sprockety says:

    I see one, of two, bondi blue breasts on a giant fembot that protects us from evil.

    The Breasts will shoot torpedos (duh!)

    I imagine you will want Dyson vacuums for the arms.

    Ikea will have the rest probably.

    She will run Copeland. (….too soon?)

  65. John Brownlee says:

    You know, dull-as-dishwater as it is, making it a home media server isn’t a bad idea. Ever since I moved to Berlin last year, my only computer has been a MacBook Pro… and all of my videos and music are stored on external hard drives. That’s fine, but a drag when I want to listen to MP3s when I’m sitting on the couch. Still, that’s probably better accomplished with an Airport Extreme.

  66. Simon Greenwood says:

    You should be able to upgrade it a bit: the processor can almost certainly be jacked up (costs money though, so maybe not), and you might even be able to get it up to 640Mb of RAM (I presume it’s 128Mb soldered in and 256Mb in the slot – and a 512Mb stick should cost about 50p). LAMP isn’t a bad idea though and it would make a nice music server with a decent sized disk – I would have thought it would take an 80Gb IDE drive happily.

  67. schönberger says:

    I actually want one for my kitchen. So if you don’t need it in the end, I’ll even come by and fetch it. Prenzlauer Berg, right?

  68. kyfho23 says:

    “I’m a big fan of Radio Paradise”

    A man of good taste :) .
    Seriously, I’d also like to point out that while Ubuntu has discontinued PowerPC support for it’s newer distros, there are plenty of older ones that will run fine.

    If naught else, the world’s coolest alarm clock.

  69. AverageJane says:

    I have one of the original Bondi blue iMacs and I’ve been wondering the same thing.

    I think the only thing it’s good for is to play my old “You Don’t Know Jack” CD-ROM games. I like the Internet radio idea, too, but we’d have to make it wireless first.

  70. SarahFenix says:

    throw it off a building, maybe it will fly

  71. Knock Twice says:

    I found an old Mac Classic outside one of my old apartments. Of course I grabbed it… and after reading through six years of middle school, high school and college papers / diary entries / emails, I set the box up in my living room to act as the digital guest book.

    Whenever someone visited I’d boot the lunchbox up and have them write a little something.

    It turned out to be a lot of fun.

  72. Anonymous says:

    Extremely large and colorful in-dash GPS? Or pick up a couple more and turn it into a colorful zenlike rock garden-esque landscapery.

  73. Anonymous says:

    Well, might sound not-so-cool, but: maybe You could give it to somebody (e.g. a local non-profit organization) who can actually *use* it as a computer? Two benefits: less clutter in Your room, more happy folks out there!

    If You won’t: please do the in-dash (even: on-dash) GPS thing!

  74. Anonymous says:

    I want to code a 8bit style “face” for mine and have it talk to me

  75. John Brownlee says:

    @9… oooh, I like that idea. If I set it up right near the door, it could interact with the DSL, serve media files to the rest of the apartment AND serve that function. Good one.

  76. jamied21 says:

    Gut it and you’ve got a unique, if impractical, briefcase.

  77. zuzu says:

    internet congestion via BGP reports

    I was just reminded that Akamai provides some visualizations as a side-effect of their distributed hosting business:

    * Visualizing the Internet
    * State of the Internet

  78. semiotix says:

    Point its browser at this page and have it be your dedicated “What can I do with this iMac” page viewer.

    (Warning: will probably choke when this page gets to about comment #50.)

  79. michaelportent says:

    I have one too, and it actually runs OSX pretty nicely. I just wish they would’ve kept making bigger RAM chips for it. Oh wells.

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