Although Mac users understand the megahertz myth–that a PowerPC G4 chip equipped with Velocity Engine can run rings around a PC powered by a Pentium processor at the same clock speed–we always want our Macs to be faster. And we definitely want Macs that break the gigahertz barrier–psychologically as well as for the increased performance they deliver. With Apple’s latest tweaks to its desktop lineup, Mac users can finally get there–twice over, no less–and at a breakthrough price. The surprise is that Apple’s other new Power Macs are just as impressive, in their own ways.
Meat and Potatoes
The composition of the new Power Mac G4 desktop line is fairly simple, with few changes–beyond processor-speed increases and new graphics cards–from last summer’s lineup:
An 800MHz model ($1,599) with 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a 24x10x40x CD-RW drive, and an ATI Radeon 7500 graphics card; A 933MHz model ($2,299) with 256MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive, a SuperDrive, an 8x4x24x CD-RW drive that can also burn DVD-R discs at 2x, and an Nvidia GeForce4 MX graphics card; and A dual-processor model ($2,999) with two 1GHz chips, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, a SuperDrive, and an Nvidia GeForce4 MX graphics card.
All the machines have a 133MHz system bus (the fastest on the platform), four PCI slots, three DIMM slots (that can support up to 1.5GB of RAM), a Gigabit Ethernet connector, two USB 1.1 ports, two FireWire ports, a 56K modem, a headphone jack, and a digital speaker jack. Out of the box, each new Power Mac can support two displays (one VGA and one ADC), although to use a second flat-panel display with the stock video card, you’ll need an adapter such as Dr. Bott’s $150 DVIator (877/611-2688, http://www.drbott.com).
Each model offers space for three additional 3.5-inch UltraATA hard drives; two drives can be added without any extra equipment, and you’ll need a PCI-based ATA card if you want to fully populate the system. (The current desktop architecture does not support an additional 5.25-inch removable drive, which means you cannot add a second CD-RW or DVD drive to your Power Mac.)
The faster system bus, speedier processors, and high-performance graphics cards should make the updated Power Macs outperform any other Mac available, and our testing bore this out. Even the entry-level desktop–which uses the same 800MHz G4 processor found in the new iMac–was between 5 and 10 percent faster than the equally equipped iMac in most operations, including Macworld Lab’s Speedmark benchmark, a measure of real-world performance.
The entry-level Power Mac offers decent performance for its price, but if you’re looking for real performance boosts, you’ll want to turn to the 933MHz and dual-processor 1GHz systems. In those models, Apple incorporated a fast 2MB L3 cache (in addition to the G4’s standard 256K L2 cache), which keeps the processor running at peak efficiency during data-intensive calculations.
Our benchmark tests show the value of that L3 cache. Despite the fact that the 933MHz G4 processor itself is roughly 17 percent faster in megahertz than the 800MHz G4 processor, the 933MHz machine actually ran 20 to 40 percent faster than the 800MHz desktop in our basic tests. The dual-processor model, with a base processor that’s 25 percent faster than the 800MHz chip, turned in times that ranged from 35 to 50 percent faster than the 800MHz G4 in the basic tests, and was a whopping 166 percent faster in the Quake test (where it was aided by the faster graphics card).
The dual-processor system is an awesome machine, especially when you consider that its predecessor, which sported two 800MHz processors, cost $500 more, with half the RAM, a smaller-capacity hard disk, and a lesser video card. And in day-to-day tasks under OS X, the 1GHz Power Mac felt like what it is, the fastest Mac on the planet–extremely responsive and very zippy.
These new Power Mac G4s are all solid performers. At this point, there’s little for us to complain about in the Power Mac line. Sure, it would be nice to have support for faster UltraATA drive specs and an additional 5.25-inch drive bay, for example, but those are minor quibbles.
Each of these new G4 towers will appeal to a different audience. The entry-level, 800MHz model is the least attractive of the bunch, given that you can get a similarly configured iMac, with a screen, a larger hard drive, and a SuperDrive, for $200 more. However, if you need the expansion capabilities, already have a display (or need dual-display support), or need the slight speed improvement the Power Mac offers over the iMac, the entry-level Power Mac is a decent, but not stellar, buy.
The 933MHz and the dual-1GHz desktops offer much more in terms of price and performance, especially when you factor in the extras: the SuperDrive, GeForce4 MX video card, L3 cache, and larger-capacity drives. At $2,299, the 933MHz Power Mac comes readily equipped to take on most tasks with gusto; it’s an excellent machine for its price and is the real sleeper in the current lineup.
The high-end model, the dual-processor 1GHz Power Mac, is a good value even at $2,999, easily outperforming the pricier dual-processor 800MHz Power Mac released last summer. Sure, you’ll pay a little more for Apple’s top-of-the-line system, but you’ll also get an incredibly powerful machine that does everything you need.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Let the iMac take center stage, with its all-in-one design and its flat-panel display; the real meat of Apple’s product line remains in the desktop towers–excellent expansion, performance, and flexibility are still the standards that professionals require of their Macs.