capsule review

867MHz Power Mac G4

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When Steve Jobs failed to unveil a redesigned iMac at July's Macworld Conference & Expo, many people felt that Apple's summer offerings were little more than a rehash of its cur-rent product line. Although it's certainly true that the most recent Expo brought no revolutionary new designs from Apple, the company deserves credit for placing more power in the hands of its customers for a substantially reduced price.

The faster iMacs Jobs did introduce reinforced Apple's bigger-bang-for-fewer-bucks Expo message, but no new Mac model serves as a better example of that theme in action than the 867MHz Power Mac G4.

True Value

This Power Mac--the fastest single-processor computer that Apple has ever offered--falls in the middle of the current Power Mac G4 trio in terms of price. At $2,499, it costs $1,000 less than the dual-processor 800MHz Power Mac G4 (which should be available by the time you read this) and $800 more than the newly reconfigured 733MHz Power Mac G4.

Except for the absence of a second processor, the 867MHz G4's features closely match the dual-processor model's. Both offer a 133MHz system bus, a 2MB Level 3 cache (one for each processor on the dual system), four 33MHz PCI slots, a 4-AGP slot, three DIMM slots (supporting up to 1.5GB of RAM), and a SuperDrive--the DVD-R and CD-RW drive that lets you create DVDs for playback on most home DVD players. The 867MHz Power Mac includes a 60GB 7,200-rpm Ultra ATA/66 hard drive (compared with the 80GB drive in the dual-processor 800MHz machine). All three new G4 models ship with Mac OS 9.2, and all include Mac OS X 10.0.4.

The 867MHz Power Mac contains only 128MB of RAM--half the 256MB found in the dual-processor model. Given how memory-hungry Mac OS X (and its Classic mode) can be, Apple shouldn't have skimped. (In fact, we boosted the 867MHz G4's RAM to 256MB for our tests, in order to run Adobe Photoshop.)

Nod to Titanium Design

While the new look of this Mac reflects some design elements of the Titanium PowerBook G4, it's not strikingly different from that of previous Power Mac G4s. Other than the matte-gray plastic front panel, few exterior changes are in evidence. The Programmer's button is smaller, but the audio-input port is still conspicuously absent. Because there's no power pass-through port, users who don't have an Apple flat-panel display--which gets power from the Apple Display Connector--must plug their monitors into an external socket.

Though the speaker itself hasn't changed, Apple has removed the protective plastic speaker grille. Some may argue this makes the Mac more attractive, but it leaves the speaker more vulnerable to damage.

More significantly, the 867MHz G4's SuperDrive offers no way to eject a disc manually. Rather, you must rely on the keyboard's eject key, use the Eject application or control-strip module (found in the Eject Extras folder inside the Apple Extras folder), or hold down the mouse button at start-up. Since we can envision situations where manually ejecting a disc may be the only way to remove it from a crashed Mac, we hope Apple will offer a workaround.

Predictably Powerful

With 256MB of RAM, the Power Mac G4/867 performed just about as we expected. In our Speedmark tests, it bested the former top-of-the-line Mac, the 733MHz G4 in its original configuration, by about 17 percent overall (see "Up to Expectations"). (The 867MHz model's Speedmark score was nearly identical when we tested it without the extra RAM.) In our Photoshop tests, the 867MHz G4 shaved up to 20 percent off the 733MHz G4's times. It pulled further ahead in the Cinema 4D results, completing the rendering task 1 minute and 40 seconds faster than the 733MHz system did.

But when we put the 867MHz Power Mac up against the discontinued dual-processor 533MHz Power Mac, we were reminded that two processors are better than one in some cases. Although the 533MHz DP system couldn't keep up with the other two Power Macs in our Speedmark test, it beat the 867MHz G4 in every Photoshop test but RGB to CMYK (a task not optimized for multiprocessors); knocked a full 2 minutes off the 867MHz G4's Cinema 4D score; and finished encoding our MP3 file in iTunes 8 seconds ahead of the 867MHz G4. Seeing this kind of performance from Apple's old dual-processor Power Mac made us even more anxious to get our hands on the dual-processor 800MHz model.

The 867MHz G4's most dramatic results were in our Quake III test. The older Power Mac G4/733, with its Nvidia GeForce2 MX graphics card running under Mac OS 9.1, cranked out 78 frames per second (fps) at a resolution of 640 by 480. The 867MHz Power Mac, using the same video card under Mac OS 9.2, blasted out 107 fps. Can a G4 processor running just 134MHz faster really make such a startling difference in 3-D performance?

Well, no. Those extra megahertz do make a difference, but Quake III also benefits from the new Nvidia and OpenGL drivers included with Mac OS 9.2. These drivers--versions 2.2 and 1.2.2, respectively--also goosed Quake III's frame rate on our older Power Mac G4/733 when we installed OS 9.2. On that Mac, we saw frame rates rise from 78 fps to 83 fps--more than 6 percent. Speedmark scores with OS 9.2 on the older 733MHz Mac also improved, by almost 4 percent.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Considering that on July 17, 2001, you would have paid $1,000 more for a less powerful SuperDrive-bearing Macintosh than the 867MHz Power Mac G4 announced the next day, the new midrange G4 is a very attractive deal. We would welcome more RAM, a protected speaker, an audio-input port, and a manual eject mechanism on the optical drive. But given this Power Mac's outstanding price and performance, these are minor considerations for what is an otherwise solid product.�??�?� 

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