Price: £1,599 plus VAT
Apple’s Power Mac G4 533 is the first of the company’s new machines to make it onto the reviewers’ block. Announced at the 2001 Macworld Expo in San Francisco, this machine and its brethren caused a bit of a stir. Much of the hoopla was about the Apple wonders such as DVD Studio, the SuperDisk (CD/RW and DVD-R in a single drive) and G4 chips going up to 733MHz – but you’re going to have to wait a few months at least for these. The first machine we see after Macworld Expo is in fact as exciting as a RAID controller. It’s like the G4 500 we reviewed last May – just a bit faster. This is as disappointing as finding out that Apple’s new DVD authoring studio is just Astarte’s DVD Director with a new name and interface (minus the hardware). It’s still worthy, but you want to shout ‘show me something new’ On the outside, things look remarkably similar to the G4 500 – including 1MB of backside cache, 128MB of RAM expandable up to 1.5GB and most of the options. The hard drive has gone up from 27GB to 40GB and from 33MHz to 66MHz in speed, but that’s nothing special in nine months. The main differences between this and last year’s top-spec machine are the option of a new graphics card (the NVidia GeForce2 MX); an AGP 4x graphics slot; the inclusion of the a 133MHz system bus; the addition of an extra PCI slot, gigabit ethernet and a new digital audio system. Let’s take each one in turn. The NVidia card is an excellent choice. But then so is the ATI Radeon also on offer. And the third option of an ATI Rage 128 Pro is good for those who don’t need such powerful graphics. But that’s it. While it’s good to have some choice, when I see the huge range of video cards that can work with the Mac, and just how easy it is to buy a Windows PC with any card you like, it doesn’t impress me. The graphics card runs through an AGP 4x slot and provides a speed boost in screen redraw times – but not enough to shout about. In our Photoshop tests, the G4 533 completed our effects test a little faster than you’d expect by extrapolating the figures up from the 500, and this is largely due to the graphics card’s faster redrawing of the screen. However, the other promoted speed booster – the 133MHz system bus (up from 100MHz) – doesn’t really do much for this machine. It might sound impressive but a single 533MHz chip isn’t going to tax a 100MHz bus – let alone a 133MHz one. It’s only the dual-processor configuration of this machine that will benefit from this – and you can’t upgrade as the motherboard in the single-processor G4 533 can hold only that one chip. An extra PCI slot is a welcome addition, but two would have been better. The average Mac user may be impressed after having to live with three for far too long, but the average Windows workstation has seven. Four still seems a bit paltry. Gigabit ethernet is another Wintel catch-up that will make a big difference to your network – if you upgrade all of your hubs and have some other machines with gigabit ethernet in the studio. The digital audio system is a useful boost, including a built-in amplifier that lets you plug in a pair of Apple’s own speakers – a snip at only £40. These give pretty decent sound quality, although if you want professional-quality audio you’re going to need to invest in a full-spec card as always. The G4 533 also ships with Mac OS 9.1. This update adds largely cosmetic changes to the OS, such as the Bill-tastic Window menu, and this is indicative of the G4 533 in general. With so much cool stuff and real power on the way, it’s a shame that the best the Power Mac G4 533 can be described as is ordinary.