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Apple has been selling dual-processor Power Macs for a while now. But multiprocessing as a technology has met limited acceptance among Mac users, finding a home mainly among graphics professionals wanting maximum performance from their workstations. Apple's latest dual-processor offering, the $3,499 Power Mac G4/800, has a very good mix of performance and features that will appeal to the traditional graphics customer. But it's also an excellent Mac OS X machine, showcasing the new operating system's symmetric multiprocessing capabilities.
Built for Speed
The G4/800 DP comes with two 800MHz PowerPC G4 processors, each with 2MB of Level 3 cache; 256MB of RAM (with room for 1.5GB total); a fast 80GB 7,200-rpm UltraATA/66 hard drive; a DVD-R/CD-RW SuperDrive, which can create both CDs and DVDs; and an Nvidia GeForce2 MX TwinView video card in a 4x AGP slot, which can drive both newer Apple displays (those with an Apple Display Connector) and a VGA monitor simultaneously. Apple has also outfitted the machine with its standard array of expansion slots: two USB ports, two FireWire ports, a 56K V.90 internal modem, an AirPort slot, and four internal PCI slots in addition to the 4x AGP slot.
Our unit shipped with Mac OS 9.2.1 and OS X 10.0.4, Apple's iMovie 2.0 and iDVD 1.0, and Smith Micro's Faxstf fax software. By the time you read this, the G4/800 DP should include iDVD 2.0 and Mac OS X 10.1, which will support CD-R and DVD-R burning. Early purchasers of the G4/800 DP will qualify for free upgrades to the new OS.
Although overall it's sprightly, as a basic Mac OS 9 machine the G4/800 DP isn't as fast as the top-of-the-line, single-processor Power Mac G4/867 (4.0 mice. ; Reviews, October 2001) on tasks or applications that don't take advantage of the dual processors (such as Microsoft Word, Intuit's Quicken Deluxe 2001, QuarkXPress, or the Mac OS's Finder). The G4/800 DP comes up a bit short in our Speedmark and Quake (OS 9 version) benchmark tests -- given the slower 800MHz chip and the fact that the applications aren't multiprocessor-aware.
You're not going to pay $1,000 more for a dual-processor machine if all you run are business applications, a Web browser, and an e-mail program; it's designed for software that's optimized to take advantage of the second G4. For Mac OS 9 this includes Apple's Final Cut Pro; Adobe Photoshop, Premiere, and After Effects; Maxon Computer's Cinema 4D XL; and Terran Interactive's Media Cleaner Pro. (See www.apple.com/powermac/multiprocessing.html for a list of multiprocessor-capable applications.)
In our tests, tasks in Cinema 4D and iTunes went faster with the additional G4 processor, although some programs are more optimized than others. For example, in the Cinema 4D complex-rendering test, the G4/800 DP lopped more than 40 percent off the G4/867's time; with the iTunes MP3 encoding task, it showed smaller but still appreciable margins.
Since not all Photoshop filters are multiprocessor-aware, performance with Adobe's imaging application was mixed. Filters like the Gaussian Blur and Unsharp Mask take advantage of the G4/800 DP's extra processor, so its times showed slight improvements compared with the G4/867. But the G4/867 was faster in the RGB-to-CMYK conversion test -- not surprising since this function is not optimized for multiple processors.
Zooming to the Future
If the G4/800 DP ran just Mac OS 9 and a few multiprocessor-friendly applications, it might be appropriate only for a narrow niche of creative professionals. For many general-purpose users, the single-processor 867MHz model would be a more cost-effective purchase.
The arrival of Mac OS X -- a fully threaded operating system that takes advantage of every processor you throw at it, for almost any task -- mixes things up considerably. With the new OS on a dual system, you'll see performance improve even if all you run are applications that aren't optimized for multiprocessing.
When we restarted our G4/800 DP in OS X, it became a whole different Mac. Everything was zippier -- applications launched faster, background processes didn't bog down the machine, the OS as a whole was more responsive, and even Classic mode felt as fast as OS 9 on a 733MHz Power Mac. Surprisingly, even Photoshop 6.0.1 running in Classic mode felt snappy; many filter operations on large files were only a second or two slower than in OS 9.2.1.
As a further test, we loaded a prerelease version of OS X 10.1 on our unit and noticed a further performance improvement over version 10.0.4. That bodes well not only for the OS, but for the practicality of multiprocessor Macs in general.
As we wrote in our review of the single-processor 867MHz Power Mac -- which uses the same quicksilver case as the G4/800 -- two aspects of the new G4 design are worth mentioning. One is the absence of a manual-eject button for the SuperDrive tray; to insert media, you need the Apple Pro Keyboard or a control-strip module to open the tray. The other common complaint is the lack of an audio-in port, though the increasing number of USB audio products makes this a minor issue.
Another item to note is that the G4/800 DP originally shipped with Mac OS X 10.0.4, which didn't support CD-R or DVD-R burning. That would be a problem if you wanted to use OS X as your everyday operating system (you could restart the Mac in OS 9, but that's not a great solution). The problem is solved in OS X 10.1, which adds those capabilities.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Like Apple's earlier dual-processor machines, the Power Mac G4/800 DP is a very good fit for any Mac user who works with Photoshop, Cinema 4D, Final Cut Pro, or other multiprocessor-aware applications. But it's also ideal for anyone looking to make the leap to Mac OS X: the G4/800 DP showcases nearly every aspect of the new operating system's multiprocessing capabilities, even to the point that Classic mode seems zippy. Graphics pros who want extra processing power in Mac OS 9 can buy the G4/800 DP now and rest comfortably in the knowledge that, when they're ready to move to OS X, their investment in multiprocessing will continue to pay off.Power Mac G4/800 DP