Power play

Introduction

Just where is Apple’s high ground these days? One would expect it, as usual, to be at the highest-rated Power Mac G4 (the 733MHz model), but intensive Macworld Lab tests suggest that many graphics professionals would be better-off buying the dual-processor 533MHz model. Apple surprised everyone when it cut its multiprocessing (MP) options from two-thirds of the previous Power Mac range (450MHz and 500MHz systems) to just one sixth (533MHz). Although a bit ahead of the game when it came to optimized applications, MP definitely looked like the way forward – due to the MP-friendly architecture of Mac OS X. So when Apple released just one MP system in January, jaws dropped faster than Cube sales. Macworld readers have implored us to determine which of these Power Macs is the fastest. First, let’s see what each system offers. SuperDrive or CD-RW
Apple has adjusted its high-end Power Mac G4 range by splitting the 733MHz system into SuperDrive and CD-RW models. This makes the fastest-ever Mac much more flexible: customers who don’t need to author DVD-R discs can save £400 (£470 inc. VAT) and still hit the high-end of megahertz speeds. If you want to burn DVD-R discs, you need the 733MHz model with its Pioneer-designed SuperDrive. This combo-drive can read, write and rewrite CDs – just like the other CD-RW drives that ship with the other Power Macs and two of the new iMacs – as well as reading and writing DVD-ROM discs and, most significantly, DVD-R discs. With Apple’s free iDVD software, the SuperDrive allows users to author DVD-R discs that will play in consumer-level DVD players. This is a perfect fit with Apple’s bundled iMovie 2 software. The ability to output and distribute your home movies on DVD puts the Mac at the forefront of today’s increasingly digital world. DVD players are outstripping VCRs as the medium for watching major movie rental and retail releases, so sending your home movies to friends and rellies via DVD is the next logical step. There is also a large potential market for creating commercial short-run projects on DVD rather than bulky old video tape. DVD options
iDVD is simple and all you need for consumer-level ventures. For more professional projects, Apple’s £705 DVD Studio Pro offers all the features you need (see opposite). Apple is selling its own branded (4.7GB) DVD-R discs for just £7 each. This is a lot cheaper than the usual whopping £30 fee. Most of the time, you’ll be burning standard CD-R discs, which you can buy in bulk for as little as 33p each. CD-RW discs cost about 90p each. The SuperDrive reads DVD at 6-speed (6x). As with the CD-RW drive, it reads CD at 24x, writes CD-R at 8x, and rewrites CD-RW at 4x For more on the SuperDrive, see page 51). The extra £400 for the SuperDrive is a real bargain. Apple dealer Compu-b (www.compub.net) is offering CD Cyclone’s FireWire-based external SuperDrive DVD recorder for £699 (ex. VAT). However, availability is not yet known, and it could be months away from the UK. If there’s even the slightest chance you might want to author DVD-R discs, it’s well worth paying the extra £400. If you’re sure there’s no chance you’ll want to create DVDs, then save the cash. Top specs
Apart from the SuperDrive and iDVD software, the 733MHz Power Mac G4 is exactly the same in both models. The standard configuration comes with: 256MB of RAM; fast 7,200rpm 60GB Ultra ATA/100 hard disk; 32MB Nvidia GeForce2 MX video card installed in the AGP 4x slot; two FireWire and USB ports; four PCI slots; 10/100/1000BaseT ethernet; built-in 56K V.90 modem; and iTunes and iMovie 2 software. The Power Mac G4 533 DP has half the RAM (128MB), and its hard drive is two-thirds the size (although the 40GB disk also runs at 7,200rpm). It does, however, boast all the other cards, ports and parts as the 733MHz model. Like all the new G4 Power Macs, both have a new 133MHz system bus, compared to the older, slower 100MHz bus. The 733MHz Power Mac, however, does have some advances that aren’t enjoyed by the 533MHz or 466MHz systems. Its G4 features more sophisticated caching (256K level-2 on-chip cache and 1MB level-3 backside cache), compared to the 1MB L2 cache on the 466MHz and 533MHz systems. The 667MHz Power Mac also includes this improved caching, but was unavailable for testing. Macworld Lab tests
Unsurprisingly, the 733MHz Power Mac G4 is the fastest Mac ever – 9 per cent faster overall than the single-processor 533MHz model we tested in our March issue. However, the £690-cheaper 533 DP system trails the 733 by only 4 per cent. Even if you don’t need the SuperDrive, the 733’s speed boost over the 533 DP will cost you £75 per performance percentage mark. And this is where the dual-processor system starts pulling ahead. Time constraints meant we couldn’t test this model with the final version of OS X (when the DP model should really fly), but over a suite of demanding Photoshop tasks, the 533 DP beat the 733 on all tests apart from the un-MP-optimized RGB-to-CMYK mode shift. See the table above for specific details. The 533 DP also trashed the 733 when tested with Cinema 4D XL, which is also optimized for more than one processor. Both models boast Nvidia’s 32MB GeForce2 MX video card that – alongside faster chips – ups performance over the entry-level 466MHz Power Mac, which ships with the 16MB ATI Rage 128 Pro. Overall, the 733 is 16 per cent faster than the 466; the 533 DP is 12 per cent faster than that £1,199 system, and 5 per cent faster than its single-chip equivalent.
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