PowerPC G4 upgrade cards

Introduction

The Apple range of G4 Power Macs is just making it to market, and, as usual, the upgrade manufacturers are just behind them. All the usual suspects – Newer Technology, Sonnet and XLR8 – are shipping G3 Power Mac upgrades. Modern upgrades come in two types: either a ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) upgrade – which is basically a processor on its own; or a daughter (or carrier) card – which holds the processor. All G3 models use a ZIF method of upgrading, while older models, such as the 7500, 8500 and 9500 series, use daughter cards. One company has found a novel solution to the problem of redundant upgrades. When you upgrade a G3/233 for example, you are usually left with the old ZIF card. XLR8 offers a daughter card (MACh Carrier,£149) that can be used to hold an old ZIF card, allowing it to be used in older PCI Macs. The carrier card means that when you upgrade one machine, you can also allow older machines to reap the benefits of redundant processors. This makes upgrading more cost-effective. The decision to upgrade is not straightforward. With G4 upgrades priced at more than £500, the cost is almost half that of a new machine. When you buy a new G4 Power Mac you don’t just get a faster processor: you also get USB and FireWire ports, at least a 10GB hard disk and an ATI Rage 128 graphics card. The performance is way above a beige G3/233 – but it’s down to more than just the processor. Simply upgrading the processor on an old machine is a cheap option, but adding other features – like an extra hard disk, graphics card and FireWire – will set you back more than another £500. Even with these add-ons, performance still won’t match a G4 machine, because the G4’s logic board is so much faster. Over the past year or two, the biggest speed improvements have been in graphics, rather than processors. Although processors have improved by 100 to 125 per cent, graphics speeds have improved by 350 per cent. If you want real G4 Power Mac, a graphics card is your best bet. That said, some applications – such as RIPs – need raw processing power, and the G4 upgrades certainly have that. Similarly, rendering video, or 3D ray-tracing, is very processor-intensive and could benefit from the G4 upgrade. Upgrading the blue-&-white G3 Power Macs should be a simple task, but Apple put a spanner in the works. Installing the ROM upgrade on your G3 – as Apple advises – it actually stopped it from being G4 upgradeable, at least for a while. This is widely rumoured on the Web to have been a ploy to stop G4-upgraded Macs appearing before the real G4 Macs hit the streets. However, a simple software fix undoes the damage. Much fuss has been made by Apple over the Velocity Engine – previously known as AltiVec. The Velocity Engine is a 128-bit super-fast vector processor, that has been added to the G4. In theory, the Velocity Engine will speed-up all kinds of things – such as Photoshop filters and rendering. In practice, however, even using a Power Macintosh G4, results have been patchy at best. An upgrade in its most basic form is just a processor, and is really no different from those found in real G4 machines. They all come from the same original source – Motorola – and go at the same speed. Making a decision is straightforward when buying ZIF upgrades – get the cheapest. Daughter-card models are more tricky to choose. All manufacturers have software to drive the cards, but Newer cards will work without the software. It has hardwired the information to tell the logicboard that an upgrade is present. Newer claims that this avoids corruption that can happen with other daughter cards during start-up. Other manufacturers rely on software to set the daughter card upgrade – but until the the software loads, the machine doesn’t realize an upgrade is present. I wouldn’t claim 100 per cent stability for any of the cards tested, but none were worse than the original processor.
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