Power Macintosh G4/450MHz

Introduction

All the excitement of the Power Mac G4’s introduction evaporated when Apple failed to deliver its promised goods (see News, December 1999). The lack of 500MHz processors meant that almost before it had shipped any G4s, Apple downgraded the specifications. Not the best PR exercise in Apple’s history – though sadly, not the worst. Orders for the 500MHz machines, and then all pre-orders, were cancelled, then un-cancelled and finally delivered with lower specs for the same price – excitement turned to anger and frustration. However, with a neat revamp of the line-up, Apple has made us smile again. The first thing you notice about the Power Mac G4 is the new colour – Graphite, a marketing way of saying grey, but still better than beige. The handles are now clear, allowing you to see the tiny built-in AirPort antennae. As we went to press, Apple revamped the whole line-up to include the new Rage 128 Pro graphics card, featuring “up to a 40 per cent increase in 3D graphics performance", according to Apple. The 350MHz model’s architecture has also been bought up to date with that of the 400MHz and 450MHz Power Mac G4s. Now all the G4s use Apple’s new Sawtooth logic board design. This includes a slot for an AirPort card, three times the memory bandwidth at 800Mbps, twice the PCI bus throughput, and a third internal FireWire slot. The units tested here did not include the new graphics card, and the 350MHz model we tested was based on an older non-Sawtooth logic board. As a result, you can expect even faster speeds than those recorded in the speed chart (right). Check with your supplier that you are purchasing the very latest versions – especially if you’re after the 350MHz model as you’ll want the faster Sawtooth version, with DVD. All the rage
ATI RAGE 128 graphics cards power the video capabilities of all the models. With 16MB of RAM it will power the biggest displays, in millions of colours, at resolutions up to 1,600-x-1,200 pixels. The card resides in an AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) 2x dedicated slot. AGP provides a high-speed connection to move large blocks of 3D texture data from the system memory to the graphics controller. The new logic boards retain USB and FireWire, but all older connectivity options have now gone. If you don’t like the diminutive iMac-style keyboard, you’ll have to splash out an extra £50 pounds on a full-size USB keyboard. More FireWire hardware is now coming on line, so fast and cheap storage expansion is available. Can’t start a FireWire
There are optical drives powered by FireWire, but as yet no Jaz or Zip FireWire drives. Fortunately, the 400MHz and 450MHz models have a Zip drive built-in. This makes it more flexible for removable storage, though a Jaz option would be helpful. The DVD-RAM format should see a boost now it’s included in the 450MHz Power Mac. The drive will read CDs, DVD-ROM, DVD-Video, DVD-RAM and just about any other CD format. With the high-end models, you should have the option to buy the Cinema Display. Again, Apple is a victim of its own success and all the Cinema Displays are sold out. The Cinema Display is a fantastic 22-inch LCD flat-panel monitor, and can be ordered only with a G4. Such a rare item of beauty has a price tag that is something of a heart stopper though. The combination of the 450MHz G4 and Cinema Display would, if you could get one, cost £5,198. The UK Web site allows you to register to be notified by email when more arrive. Storage and memory are well catered for. The 350MHz model comes with 64MB of RAM, and a 10GB hard drive. The 400MHz Power Mac G4 doubles up with 128MB of RAM, and a 20GB hard drive. The 450MHz model starts with 256MB of RAM, and a hulking 27GB of hard-disk space. If you are not satisfied with that kind of power, you can opt for as much as 108GB of storage – powered by a fast dual-channel SCSI card. Be prepared to spend an extra £3,300 on such luxury, though. There are four RAM slots available, and there is a theoretical upper limit of 1.5GB of RAM. But you’ll have to wait for 512MB RAM modules to be invented first. Apple optimistically expects this to happen before the end of 1999, but, in the meantime you can spend an extra £1,030 on a giant gigabyte of RAM. The new G4 Power Macs should ship with Mac OS 9. If your’s comes with OS 8.6, check with your supplier that it’s from the revamped line-up. All units shipped before early December, unfortunately, will be from the original range. AirPort cards aren’t yet shipping in the UK – we may have to wait until January for wireless networking on the Mac. Apple has also just released a software version of the AirPort Base Station (above), which lets you use any Mac with an AirPort Card as a hub. Lethal weapon G4
Of course, the main point of the new G4 models is the actual G4 processor. The much hyped supercomputer power has already caused problems for Apple in the shape of export laws. Any computer capable of a billion floating-point operations per second – is classed as a super computer and therefore a weapon, in the same way that advanced encryption software is. So how dangerous is the new G4 processor? It includes the Velocity Engine (VE), previously known as AltiVec, which is a 128bit vector processor. This means that it can process bigger chunks of information at once, the processor having a higher bandwidth than previously. It also adds 162 new instructions to speed video, voice, and graphics applications. Applications need to be re-written to take advantage of the extra power. At the moment there is limited options for VE-assisted processing. One application that should see an immediate advantage is Adobe Photoshop 5.5. There is a plug-in available to enable this capability, but in our tests it really didn’t perform anywhere near expectations. Only some of Photoshop’s functions take advantage of the VE. So the results of one test using a wide range of filters and actions was actually slowed by having the VE turned on. Individual tests of each plug-in separately measured some rather better results. The rotate-flip command gained the greatest increase, more than four times faster than on a 400MHz G3. Other filters such as despeckle, resample, lighting and gaussian blur all managed to at least double in speed over the G3 chip. The extra speed is, of course, also due to the faster chip, so in some tests we compared the same machine with the VE on and off. Lighting effects were still more than double the speed with VE turned on, but other filters had less dramatic speed increases. Although some actions were dramatically faster, many filters are not yet optimized. Unless you are currently spending a long time waiting for your images to rotate or flip, you may not even notice the speed increases. Before you cancel your G4 orders, bear in mind that it’s still early days for the Velocity Engine.
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