MacCentral week in review

Editorial: Doom 3, sure -- but a G5, too?
By Peter Cohen, pcohen@maccentral.com

I'm going to take a break from my usual ruminations on what's happening in the Apple world to stretch my legs as the guy who writes Macworld's Game Room column. Some readers have asked me to address a question posed following Aspyr Media Inc.'s news that they'll publish a Macintosh conversion of the hit first person shooter Doom 3. Why, you've asked, is it necessary to have a G5 to run the game?

Aspyr said they'll bring out Doom 3 in February, 2005. The game is already out for the PC, and has been a big success on its own, but the coolest is yet to come. Id Software, the game's developer, licenses its core game engine technology to many other game developers, who in turn use it to create their own titles. Doom 3's presence on the Mac will open the doors to potential development of other A-list titles for the Mac platform.

Game system requirements have been creeping up on the Mac for years as graphics, physics engines and artificial intelligence have increased in complexity, although it's become more noticeable in the past few years. That's because the clock speed of CPUs used in Windows-compatible PCs ha increased at a more dramatic pace than the clock speed of the PowerPC chips used in Macs, and the Windows market is where we get many of our games from. That sets the bar for system requirements, and Macs have to follow suit.

But what about the Megahertz Myth we've all heard about? Aren't Mac processors more efficient than equivalently clocked PCs? Sure, at least for some things -- but not for games. As Mac game developers are quick to point out, there's no substitute for cycles. And that means recent games demand comparatively newer Macs to play on.

Anyway, back to Doom 3: Aspyr has offered preliminary system requirements that call for a G5 1.5GHz or faster (astute observers may note that the slowest G5 Apple makes is a 1.6GHz model); 384MB RAM; 2.2GB free hard disk space, and ATI Radeon 8500 or Nvidia GeForce3 graphics with 32MB VRAM. These are the steepest system requirements I've ever seen for a Mac game, but they're also identical to the PC requirements: A Pentium 4 1.5GHz or Athlon X 1500 processor, 384MB RAM, 2.2GB hard disk space and an ATI Radeon 8500 or Nvidia GeForce 3 card or better.

Establishing that the Mac and PC system requirements are parallel, I asked Glenda Adams, Aspyr's Director of Mac and PC Development, about why her company has specified a G5. After all, high-end PowerBook G4s are already clocked at 1.5GHz and come with relatively beefy graphics processors too.

A lot of it comes down to bus speed, Adams said. Like the clock speed of their processors, the bus architecture used in PC motherboards has been creeping faster and faster in recent years -- a change we're only catching up with as we migrate to G5 system. That means that G5s can move data around faster, and that means better game performance.

When Apple rolled out the Power Mac G5 and iMac G5, they adopted a new motherboard design that uses a Front Side Bus (FSB) architecture clocked dramatically faster than the motherboards used on G4 machines. The last iMac G4 used a 167MHz system bus, for example, while the new low-end iMac G5 uses a 533MHz bus. That doesn't mean that an iMac G5 can run games three times as fast, but it is a big bottleneck reduction.

Adams also reiterated that Aspyr's system requirements are preliminary, and the company generally errs on the side of caution at this stage. "We'd rather lower them later than have to raise them," she said.

But the bottom line is that if you really want to play Doom 3 and future games based on this engine and you have an older machine, it may be a contributing factor to help compel your purchase of a new Power Mac G5 or even a new iMac.

If not, take heart in the fact that there are a multitude of great games that still run well on your system, and that for now, Doom 3 is the exception, not the rule. Heck, it wasn't that long ago that hardware-accelerated graphics were only an option, not standard equipment. As many PC gamers have proven over the years, chasing the latest and greatest games can often lead to a ruined wallet and a broken heart. And pretty sore fingers, too.

Apple News

A Closer Look at Apple's OS X 10.3.6 Update

Apple released Mac OS X 10.3.6 last week on a post-election Friday afternoon, with little fanfare and the typical useful-but-sparse release notes. The company documents 22 changes in Mac OS X 10.3.6, which come from nearly 1,200 changed files in nearly 1,000 different directories or folders, many of them in large bundles or packages. Here's a closer look at what Apple has told users about what's inside the OS X update.

Video board approves Apple-supported codecs

The Digital Video Broadcasting Steering Board (DVB) has approved a revision to its implementation guidelines for audio and video codecs over a broadcast Transport Stream. The revision includes two technologies supported by Apple Computer Inc., H.264 or Advanced Video Codec (AVC) and High Efficiency AAC (HE-AAC) audio codecs.

Apple releases Fibre Channel Utility Update

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Apple, Jobs snare two Billboard awards

Apple kicks off Dashboard Widget Contest

iPod Socks coming in Dec.

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Hardware News

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After weeks of rumors that hinted at a more colorful iPod, Apple turned conjecture into cold hard fact by unwrapping the iPod Photo -- the first of its portable music players to offer a color screen and the ability to display digital pictures and album art. Available in two configurations -- a $500 40GB model and a $600 60GB version -- these new iPods feature not only new graphic capabilities, but increased playtime and the power to project video to a television via a composite- or S-video cable.

Playlist Review: Bose SoundDock

As Apple's iPod has become a cultural phenomenon akin to Sony's Walkman, the market for iPod accessories has exploded -- some of the biggest names in computer and home audio have responded with systems specifically made for the iPod (and, just as significantly, incompatible with other portable players). Bose has recently joined the fray with its $300 SoundDock speaker system, which uses the now-familiar dock connector base for iPod connectivity. Featuring a glossy white body and large, full-face metal grill, the SoundDock is a good aesthetic match for full-size iPods (and even silver iPod minis) with an attractive but simple appearance that won't dominate your decor.

Sharp IT-23M1U combines TV, computer capabilities

FireWire Solo records guitar tracks directly to Mac

Mac-based supercomputer drops to 7th place on Top500

HyperTransport Consortium unveils HTX interface

Western Digital adds 40GB, 80GB pocket-sized drives

Keyspan Express Remote supports AirPort Express

Griffin offers Xpress Digital Audio Cable

Marathon RePorter extends USB, FireWire, more

Software News

Firefox 1.0 released

The Mozilla Organization has released Firefox 1.0, the full version of the Web browser previously available as a widely popular preview release that netted a total of more than eight million downloads. Firefox features popup blocking, tabbed browsing, privacy and security features, "Smart Keyword" searching, live bookmarks with RSS integration, a customizable interface and other features.

Delicious Library ships

4-Sight Fax v6 boasts 5x speed boost, more

form.Z 5.0: native Mac OS X support, new features

DataPilot extends cell phone Mac connection

FLAC audio codec updated

Eudora adds ScamWatch URL protection

Portfolio 7 update adds DNG support, more

Around the Web

Microsoft rolls out MSN Search beta

A beta version of the search engine Microsoft Corp. is developing went live Thursday, offering users an interface and a set of features that make the product begin to resemble established search engines from competitors Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Ask Jeeves Inc. and America Online Inc. (AOL).

Bluetooth group releases three-year road map

Amazon launches iPod Store

U2 is smart to bite into this Apple

The world on the next iPod: Flash

U2 talk iPod strategy

Apple's slim new iMac G5

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