G3 First Look

Week 1: Apple Computer announces–and releases–the new blue and white Power Macintosh G3 models at last week's Macworld Expo. Week 2: Macworld pulls them into the lab for testing. Here's what we've found so far:

All four models come with ATI's RAGE 128 2D/3D graphics card with 16MB SDRAM, 2 FireWire ports, 2 USB ports, 1 ADB port, and a 10-100BaseT Ethernet port. For complete configuration options, check out the table below:

Apple's Base Configurations at a Glance
Power Mac G3/300MHz Price L2 Cache RAM Hard Drive CD/DVD Drive Zip Drive
Power Mac G3/300MHz $1,599 512K 64MB 6GB Ultra Atapi 24x CD-ROM no*
Power Mac G3/350MHz $1,999 1MB 64MB 6GB Ultra Atapi 32x DVD player no*
Power Mac G3/350MHz $2,499 1MB 128MB 12GB Ultra Atapi 24x CD-ROM yes
Power Mac G3/400MHz $2,999 1MB 128MB 9GB Ultra II SCSI 24x CD-ROM no*
*available as an option

Although the new Power Mac G3s don't quite offer the iMac's famous three-step setup process, we found them extremely easy to bring to life–plug in the power and the USB keyboard and mouse, attach a monitor to the graphic card's port, and boot.

Once the boot process begins, however, you'll notice these new Power Macs take a fairly significant pause. That's because they employ the same "ROM on disk" strategy as the iMacs–where information formerly stored in chips on the Mac's motherboard is now stored on the Mac's hard drive. Once extensions and control panels begin to load, startup proceeds briskly. We noticed a slight pause before shut down and restart as well.

Obviously, the most striking element of the new Power Macs are the design–a blue and "ice" color scheme along with four sturdy and functional handles. The front panel sports a CD-ROM or DVD drive, an empty drive bay, speaker port, power switch, and Programmers and Reset switches laid atop a rich blue transparent panel. We were very pleased to see the return of these Programmer's and Reset switches to the front–reaching around the back to access these switches on previous Mac models was always trying.

We were less thrilled by the design of the CD-ROM/DVD drives. These devices are merely standard, beige drives hidden behind a spring-bearing, hinged blue plastic plate. When you eject a disk or press the front button to pop out the drawer, this plate folds down. This is all well and good, but regrettably the plate and the surrounding case blocks access to the drive's headphone jack and volume knob–a standard headphone won't fit into the front of the drive. Also, the front plate can't easily be opened when on those rare occasions you must use a paperclip to free a recalcitrant CD-ROM disc. You must pry open the cover plate with a lengthy fingernail or flat-head screwdriver. A small handle on the front of the plate might have marred the clean design, but it would have made the CD-ROM and DVD drives more functional.

The Power Mac G3s ship with the same keyboard and mouse design as the iMacs. Compared to the huge Apple keyboards of old, this keyboard feels cheap. However, to be fair, it is the first Mac desktop model to come with a bundled keyboard in a long, long time. We missed the three function keys (the keyboard offers only F1–F12) the End key, and the option and control keys on the right side of the keyboard. And the gamers among us commented that the Arrow keys are too small and close together for active use. Kudos to Apple, however, for including a USB extension cable for those who plan to store their new Mac under a desk. On the mouse we were in full agreement–it looks great but many professional users will find it unacceptable. Because of its round design it is impossible to discern by touch which is the top and bottom of the mouse. Users who take their mousing seriously will either wish to take advantage of the new Mac's ADB port and use an old-style mouse or buy a new USB mouse with a more traditional, oblong design.

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