Price: £2,199 plus VAT
This stunner of a machine includes the two fastest Motorola G4 chips available – and sits at a price £300 lower than its dual-800MHz predecessor. Previous generations of Power Mac G4s have always featured a single-processor machine with a speedier chip than in the dual configuration. This made sense, as the faster a chip is the more likely it is to fail in the factory. This pushes up the price and drops availability. The substantial price drop was necessary, for at £2,500, the dual-800MHz G4 was nudging the workstation space where, as we showed in last month’s group test, it was soundly beaten by a range of Wintel machines. At £2,199, it’s priced as it should be: a top-spec desktop that’s well set-up for editing in Web, graphic and DV environments. This isn’t to say that Apple hasn’t boosted the internal design – the company has added Level 3 cache to speed up your work. This has separate access to the processor from everything else, and keeps recently stored data and application code for quick access. The cache comprises 2MB of 266MHz DDR SDRAM. This is twice as fast as the G4’s 512MB of PC133 (133MHz) SDRAM (though the doubling of the G4’s standard RAM for this set-up is a welcome boost). It isn’t every day that you see people getting excited about cache – but it’s hardly surprising, as the great rival, Intel’s Pentium 4, has no Level 3 cache. It won’t turn the Mac into a competitor for SGI’s low-end market, and it isn’t as important as if Apple had made its RAM out of the same 266MHz DDR RAM (or even 800MHz RDRAM from Rambus). It’s still impressive, though, and helps this G4 to run faster than you’d expect from just the processor speed increase – especially under dual-processor-intensive applications such as Adobe Photoshop. As this G4 isn’t a workstation in the conventional sense, it makes you wonder about the necessity of a dual processor. With Mac OS X, a dual-chip desktop makes sense – especially with the platform’s excellent multi-threaded balancing system. And, as many creative people use more than one tool at once (QuarkXPress and Photoshop, or Macromedia Dreamweaver and Fireworks, for example), those outside the traditional area of 3D graphics can benefit from this setup. The graphics card is disappointment. While NVidia’s GeForce4 MX is an impressive card that delivers excellent 2D and 3D graphics, for a machine that costs £2,199 you’d expect its big brother, the GeForce 4 Titanium – which is a truly stunning piece of equipment. Although this card is available for an extra £190 plus VAT, the lack of support for workstation-class graphics cards will put some users off. The rest of the machine is pretty much the same as the last top-spec G4 reviewed – a sleek design surrounding beautifully laid-out guts with lots of space for more RAM and PCI cards. USB, FireWire and Gigabit Ethernet are all built into the motherboard. This is great for speedy connections, but unlike PCI-based solutions, you can’t replace them if they fail. The machine also sports the headline-grabbing DVD-R/CD-RW SuperDrive, which is great for backing up large amounts of data – or for discarding in Apple’s build-to-order store to further reduce the price. The dual-1GHz Power Mac G4 is an excellent value-for-money machine that will fulfil almost all of your design needs.