Power Macintosh G3's

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""New Desktop Systems Compared""

The new desktop Macs are as notable for what they lack as for what they include. For example, you'll find no floppy drives or serial ports on these machines. Thankfully, neither will you find the underpowered graphics chip sets included with earlier Macs. All four models include ATI's powerful Rage 128 2-D/3-D graphics card with 16MB of SDRAM, along with two FireWire ports, two USB ports, an ADB port, and a 10/100BaseT Ethernet port.

You'll notice no mention of SCSI. Apple has drawn a line in the sand with this series of computers–FireWire is in, SCSI is (mostly) out. If you want SCSI, you'll find it in the 400MHz model in the form of an Ultra II PCI SCSI card; if you want it in the less powerful Macs, you must purchase a SCSI card separately.

Initially, the most striking features of the new Power Mac G3's are the translucent-blue faceplate, backplate, and top; the ice-colored side panels revealing the ghostly G3 logo beneath; and four sturdy handles protruding from the corners of the case. The front panel sports a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive, an empty drive bay, a speaker port, a power switch, and programmer's and reset switches.

The keyboard and mouse–dead ringers for the iMac's–may disappoint some users. This keyboard feels cheap compared with the huge Apple keyboards of old, and some people may mourn the loss of three function keys, the end key, and the option and control keys on the right side of the keyboard. (Kudos to Apple, however, for including a USB extension cable for those who plan to store their new Mac under a desk.) And although the mouse looks great, many users will find it unacceptable: because of the round design, it's impossible to tell the top of the mouse from the bottom by touch.

You may forget your disappointment with the input devices of the G3's when you see their side door, which folds down to expose the inner workings. With the door open, you have ready access to every component you're likely to touch–the motherboard containing the G3 processor, four SDRAM slots, four PCI slots (three 33MHz, 64-bit slots and one 66MHz, 32-bit slot, occupied by the graphics card), modem connector, and internal battery is attached to the door and lies flat when the case is open. This is a brilliant design.

The layout for internal drives is just as remarkable. At the bottom of the Power Mac's case is a metal tray that holds the Ultra ATA drive and offers space for two additional internal storage devices. To mount a new device, simply remove a single screw, disconnect the data and power cables from the ATA drive, and slide out the metal tray. To place additional drives in any of the free, numbered spaces, fasten the drives, put the tray back, and plug in the drives. Note, however, that placing a 1.6-inch drive in the middle space makes it impossible to close the door. Two additional power connectors are included, although you must provide your own data cables.

It's swell that the internal workings of the new Macs are so easily accessible, but it's unfortunate that opening the door reveals so few PCI slots. With virtually no FireWire peripherals available at the moment, users who need fast external storage devices must rely on SCSI and therefore tie up one of the three open PCI slots with a SCSI adapter card.

It should come as no surprise that these machines turned in convincing MacBench scores (see the benchmark, " Blue Blazers: New G3's Shine "). As you might expect, the new 300MHz model, with its 512K backside cache, fared worse in the Processor test than our baseline system–the former top-of-the-line Power Mac G3/300, which has a 1MB backside cache. The Processor scores for the more powerful Macs, with their 1MB cache, fell just about where we expected–14 to 30 percent faster than that of the baseline system.

More surprising–and welcome–were the Graphics scores. With the ATI Rage 128, the entry-level Power Mac achieved a Graphics score nearly twice that of the baseline machine; in the more powerful new models, the card yielded more than double the graphics performance of the baseline Power Mac. Also impressive was 3-D-gaming performance: Running the RAVE version of Quake, none of the new Macs pulled fewer than 50 frames per second (fps) from the game. The baseline system, which uses a Rage Pro graphics chip set, achieved only 23 fps.

Adobe Photoshop tests revealed the benefits of having a SCSI drive for certain operations. The ATA drives in the 300MHz and 350MHz models were not as quick as the baseline system's SCSI drive at performing Gaussian Blur and image-resize operations (adding more RAM to the new Power Macs improved Photoshop performance). On the other hand, Photoshop scrolling was much sprightlier on the new Power Macs–approximately twice as fast on all configurations.

The beauty of these new Macs goes much deeper than their striking exteriors. They are clearly the fastest Macs to grace the market; they're also solidly built, easy to upgrade, and attractively priced. Although users with legacy SCSI and serial devices will have to add a SCSI PCI card as well as a serial adapter to use their old peripherals, these components are readily available and not prohibitively expensive. Less forgivable for professionals are the small allotment of PCI slots and the inclusion of input devices that emphasize form over function. But these inconveniences are mitigated by the fact that the new Macs introduce FireWire and USB to the desktop–technologies that are sure to be staples of computing in the twenty-first century.

April 1999 page: 32

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