400MHz G4 ZIF Upgrades Revisited

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There are three Mac types that can take advantage of ZIF upgrades: beige Power Mac G3 systems, the blue-and-white Power Mac G3s, and the PCI graphics version of the Power Mac G4. Installing the upgrades is a snap: remove the heat sink, lift the ZIF lever, remove the old processor, drop in the new one, clamp down the lever, and replace the heat sink. There is also usually a small software component involved with these upgrades that allows the new processor to use its cache properly.

An Apple ROM update to the blue-and-white Power Mac G3 made those computers refuse to boot if they were running a G4 processor (see the Macworld.com online exclusive, " G4 Upgrade Woes "). As a result, if you're upgrading a blue-and-white Power Mac G3, you'll need to update your ROMs before the machine will accept the G4 upgrade.

The baseline for our Macworld Lab tests was a beige Power Mac G3 running at 300MHz, to which we then added the various upgrades for comparison purposes. Because the beige G3 has a 66MHz bus, the upgrades performed slightly slower than they should if you're upgrading a blue-and-white G3 or a PCI graphics-based G4, both of which have 100MHz bus speeds.

All of the upgrades performed well, approaching the 400MHz Power Mac G4's in speed and clearly improving on the original beige G3's scores. Adobe Photoshop 5.5 and Casady & Greene's SoundJam MP 1.6, both applications that take advantage of the G4's AltiVec subprocessor (which Apple calls Velocity Engine), showed the strongest speed boosts.

None of the upgrades we tested were measurably faster than their competitors, which makes sense given that they're all based on the same G4 chip. Each upgrade has a 1MB backside cach that runs at half the speed of the processor. And none of the upgrades we tested were buggy or showed any reliability problems.

Only Sonnet's Encore G4 400 does not have jumpers or DIP switches to adjust the speed of the ZIF upgrade to the proper bus speed and processor speed for installation -- it handles the whole process seamlessly. All of the other G4 ZIF upgrades have jumpers or DIP switches that need to be set to your Mac's specific attributes when you install the upgrade.

These upgrades all perform well and are rock-solid stable. They really do bring G3 systems up to G4 speeds flawlessly. Our upgraded 300MHz beige Power Mac G3 performed comparably to a new, $1,600 Power Mac G4 running at 400MHz. However, our beige G3 still doesn't have USB, FireWire, or any other new additions to the base Mac hardware design.

Ultimately, these upgrades are pretty expensive in terms of the performance boost you'll receive. If you absolutely need the extra seconds that a G4 400 will give you, then these upgrades will serve you well. And if you're spending most of your time in AltiVec-enhanced programs, the boost may really be worth it -- the upgraded Mac more than doubled its original speed in several of our Photoshop tests. If you're essentially happy with your Power Mac G3's performance and are simply suffering from G4 envy, you may want to wait. -- DAVID READ

Newer Maxpowr G4 ZIF 400

3.5 mice
PROS: Strong performance boost, very stable, easy to install. CONS: Expensive. COMPANY: Newer Technology ( http://www.newertech.com, 800/824-6669). STREET PRICE: $669.

XLR8 Mach Speed G4z 400

3.5 mice
PROS: Strong performance boost, very stable, easy to install. CONS: Expensive. COMPANY: XLR8 ( http://www.xlr8.com, 888/957-8867). STREET PRICE: $679.

PowerLogix G4 PowerForce ZIF 400

3.0 mice
PROS: Strong performance boost, very stable, easy to install. CONS: Especially expensive. COMPANY: PowerLogix R&D ( http://www.powerlogix.com, 877/849-2504). STREET PRICE: $850.

Sonnet Encore G4 400

3.5 mice
PROS: Strong performance boost, very stable, easy to install, no jumpers or DIP switches. CONS: Expensive. COMPANY: Sonnet Technologies, Inc., http://www.sonnettech.com, 800-786-6260. STREET PRICE: $650.

Best results in red. Reference systems in italics. Photoshop results are in seconds. Bryce and SoundJam results are in minutes and seconds. Quake III results are in frames per second.

  Photoshop 5.5 Bryce 4.01 SoundJam 1.6 Quake III
Gaussian Blur 10 Unsharp Mask 2.3 RGB to CMYK Lighting Effects Reduce Image Size 80% Render Scene MP3 Encode 640x480
Newer Maxpowr G4 400MHz 6.8 10.3 16.1 5.6 10.3 23:03 2:57 29.1
Sonnet Encore G4 400MHz 5.9 10.1 16.2 5.6 10.4 24:27 3:07 28.9
Powerlogix G4 PowerForce 400MHz 6.1 9.0 16.9 5.2 9.7 23:43 3:05 29.7
XLR8 Mach Speed G4 400MHz 6.7 10.1 16.2 5.4 10.0 23:36 3:04 29.5
Apple Power Macintosh G4 400 6.1 6.8 15.9 5.2 6.4 22:25 2:54 31.3
Apple Power Macintosh G3 300 (Beige) 13.6 15.5 21.2 19.2 14.3 30:29 5:06 24.3

Smaller numbers are better. For Quake frame rates, larger numbers are better.

Behind Our Tests

We tested each upgrade card in a Power Macintosh G3/300 (Beige) with Mac OS 9, 128MB of RAM, a 2MB system disk cache, Virtual Memory disabled, and an ATI Rage Orion graphics accelerator. Displays were set to 1024 x 768 @ 24 bit color. For Photoshop testing, a 128K system disk cache was used and displays were set to 1152 x 870 @ 24 bit color. Photoshop's memory partition was set to 85MB, and Photoshop History was set to minumum. Photoshop tests were performed with a 30MB file. Bryce used a 85 MB memory partition and rendered a scene at 640x480. A 11:49 track from an audio CD was used for our MP3 encoding test. It was converted using default settings of 128kbps in SoundJam 1.6. Quake III frame rates were recorded at 640 x 480 @ 16 bit color. Graphics were set to normal. -Macworld Lab testing supervised by Ulyssis Bravo

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