Apple Takes the Silver

Apple unveiled a silvery new case for its high-end Power Mac desktops. But the real story of the latest generation of Power Mac G4s rests inside: Apple has brought more power to the G4 without adding to the cost.

For example, the 733 MHz Power Mac G4, which used to be Apple's top-of-the-line processor, listed at a cool $3,499 a week ago. Now, a 733MHz G4 processor represents Apple's entry-level Power Mac; it costs a mere $1,699. That used to be the price of a 466MHz G4.

The latest mid-range Power Mac configuration costs $2,499 and comes with Apple's fastest processor yet -- an 867MHz G4 with 2MB of L3 backside cache (For more on megahertz and cache, see " Does Megahertz Matter? ").

On the high end, power users can now take advantage of two 800MHz processors -- each with 2MB of L3 cache -- for $3,499. Unlike the other two configurations -- which are shipping now -- the dual-processor model won't be available until August. The system bus on the dual-processor G4 -- which Apple CEO Steve Jobs hailed as "the ultimate machine to run OS X on" -- remains at 133MHz. That's good news in that you won't have to buy new, faster RAM. But it also means you won't gain any performance increase due to bus speed.

Thanks to their processing power, Apple's G4s have always been ideal tools for audio and video editing. That's truer than ever, as Apple considers DVD authoring and burning to be important parts of the company's current Mac-as-a-digital hub strategy.

To that end, Apple now includes an optical drive that writes to DVD-Rs at 2x, CD-Rs at 8x, and CD-RWs at 4x while reading CDs at 24x and DVDs at 4x on all G4s except the low-end model. Previously, Apple only included that drive -- which it calls the SuperDrive -- on its high-end Power Mac.

When Apple first unveiled the SuperDrive in January, there weren't enough of the Pioneer-built drives to meet the demand. But now that the SuperDrive supply has increased, Apple can include the drive in more models. (The same mechanism is incorporated into external FireWire DVD-R drives now being sold for around $1,000 by companies such as LaCie, EZQuest, and CD Cyclone.)

Instead of a SuperDrive, the $1,699 G4 comes with a built-in 12x10x32x CD-RW. It's faster than the drives included in either the iBook or iMac.

Graphics professionals and gamers alike will be happy with the Nvidia GeForce2 MX with 32MB of SDRAM that sits in the 4x AGP slot on the two single-processor G4s. On the dual-processor model, you'll get 64MB of SDRAM and TwinView, which supports both an Apple ADC monitor and a standard VGA monitor at the same time. That's particularly helpful for Mac users who rely on programs with multiple menus and windows, such as Photoshop and Final Cut Pro.

Outside the box, you won't save any floor or desktop space with the new generation of PowerMacs -- the case is the same size as the previous model. However, the new G4 towers have a matte silver face -- the only cosmetic feature in the new G4s that distinguish them from older models. In addition, the latest G4s -- aptly nicknamed QuickSilver -- have flushed drive bay doors ( sans buttons) and a recessed single speaker.

The three models come with 40GB, 60GB, and 80GB internal hard drives, respectively. The 733MHz model has a slower 5,400 revolutions-per-minute drive -- which might be an issue if you plan to capture DV video. With two additional hard drive bays, however, you can add a few hundred gigabytes -- and faster drives -- inside your tower.

The amount of installed memory remains low on the two single-processor models. Both come with 128MB of RAM -- the bare minimum for running OS X. Apple is a little more generous with the dual-processor configuration, giving users a base of 256MB of RAM. All three models can support up to 1.5GB of memory.

There are still two FireWire ports, two USB ports, four 133MHz PCI slots, and a Gigabit Ethernet port.

In what's become a standard at Macworld Expo keynotes, Apple pitted its 867MHz model against a Windows box running a 1.7GHz Pentium 4 processor. In shootouts featuring Cleaner 5 and Photoshop, the G4 dusted its Pentium rival.

A Year in the Life: Since the 2000 Macworld Expo in New York, Apple has made some changes to its G4 line.

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