The new mid-range Apple Power Mac offers few surprises in performance gains over the previous generation – although it does offer a few compelling reasons to upgrade from Apple’s ageing blue-&-white range of G3-based workstations. One of three new workstations launched in July 2001, the 867MHz Power Mac G4 sits in the middle of Apple’s revamped range, with the dual 800MHz taking the high ground, and the entry-level 733MHz G4 bringing up the rear.
While the 867MHz might not set pulses racing
with its 133MHz speed hike over the former Power Mac champion, a more rigorous examination reveals some smart moves by Apple. It’s the fastest chip that Apple has ever produced, and stomps Intel Pentium 4 processors in Adobe Photoshop tests conducted by Apple. Certainly, our in-house tests show that the 867MHz chip is fast, although other tests – such as 3D work – show that it is hampered by a lacklustre NVidia GeForce2 MX card. Most consumer Wintel machines ship with this card as standard, and although you can buy an optional GeForce3 card that’s screamingly fast for an onboard OEM solution, it would be good to see a more professional card
bolted in as standard.
The latest OS
This G4 has a healthy 60GB drive clocked at 7,200rpm – certainly fast enough for basic video editing – and 128MB of RAM. This is twice as much as the previous mid-range model, although it’s the bare minimum you’ll need to run Mac OS X comfortably. Incidentally, the machine ships with both Mac OS X and Mac OS 9.2 pre-installed, although it boots initially into Mac OS 9.2. Certainly the inclusion of OS X is a good move, although our tests showed that applications not yet rewritten for it run 25 per cent slower in Mac OS X’s Classic mode than they do in Mac OS 9.2. Expect many new applications, such as Alias|Wavefront Maya, as well as updates to the likes of Adobe Illustrator and InDesign, to ship for Mac OS X soon.
Perhaps the biggest addition is the SuperDrive DVD-R, which has the ability to create DVD discs that can be played back in a living room DVD player. It also burns CD-RW discs at 8X, and reads CDs at 32X. Even better – and due to the architecture of the G4 design – the SuperDrive can burn a DVD at 2x real-time. For example, it will take an hour to burn half an hour of video to the disc – a great leap over previous (and expensive) technology that took up to 25 times the length of your video to create the DVD.
Apple has also loaded the workstation with the consumer-friendly iDVD, a tool that will create basic DVDs with simple menu structures. A copy of iMovie 2 is also included, along with the iTunes MP3 player. Best bet is to upgrade to the excellent DVD Studio Pro, also from Apple, if you want to get serious about DVD creation.
Technically, this G4 is no slouch, either. It sports two FireWire (IEEE 1394) ports, and two USB ports for connecting nearly every peripheral you’ll ever need, plus four full-length 64-bit, 133MHz PCI slots. Gigabit ethernet (10/100/1000BASET) is fitted as standard, as is a slot for Apple’s wireless networking solution, which uses the increasingly supported IEEE 802.11 technology. A speedy 2MB L3 backside cache running at 217MHz features, as do three drive bays – two of which are accessible from the front.
Apple has tweaked the casing of the 867MHz machine, with a minimal front-end and ice-grey shell that smacks of the iBook’s new casing. Gone are any media-eject buttons, which are now controlled by the keyboard, and a more powerful speaker has been added into the front. The pinstripe lines on the case
are replaced with a continuous tone of ice-grey. It wouldn’t look out of place as a state-of-the-art stereo system.
Performance tests yielded few surprises – it was much faster than previous-generation machines. It steamed through the Adobe Photoshop test, clocking up a speedy 237 seconds to crunch 20 complex actions, compared to 385 seconds on a 400MHz G4, and a lacklustre 775 seconds using a 450MHz G3 Power Mac. If you still have that kind of machine, it’s time to upgrade.