I’ve done my share of trying to dispel the “myth of megahertz” (the often ignored truth that MHz is just one component of a computer’s true speed), but I have to admit: I like the ring of the phrase “1 GHz Mac.” Heck, if nothing else, that number looks good in promotional materials.
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Not that Apple’s new high-end Mac — which sports not one, but two gig G4 processors — isn’t a speed demon. Though not as revolutionary an overhaul of the Power Mac pro line as the luscious new iMac is on the consumer end of things, the dual gig machine offers the most powerful Mac ever at a lower price point than most people expected. Toss in the fact that it comes with the industry’s first NVIDIA GeForce4 graphics card (which has some issues of its own) and a beefed up software bundle, and the US$2,999 dual processor system raises the bar for Apple’s high-end machines.
However, it’s not just the fastest G4 processor ever (times two) that makes the dual gig machine hum along so quickly. It’s also because each processor has its own L3 cache. This means the efficiency gains from having a large cache memory and dedicated high-throughput bus are achieved for each processor. L3 cache also lets the two processors share data without slowing down to update the Mac’s main memory.
But let’s back up. What’s an L3 cache? It’s high-speed, Double Data SDRAM that beefs up processor functions by providing quick access to data and application code. The L3 cache is even more effective as it has a dedicated bus to the processor that provides a throughput of up to 4 GB per second with no bottlenecks caused by other data transfers.
The high speed of the L3 cache with its dedicated bus lets the processor receive data over five times faster than from the lower speed and shared bus of main memory. The low latency keeps the processor constantly fed with data, so it isn’t sitting idle waiting for the next task to arrive, according to Apple.
The L3 cache is a full 2 MB so it can store large portions of active application code and data. Run a program like Final Cut Pro and most of the active code for the program is in the L3 cache. The result: the info most required by the processor is close at hand and readily available.
Then there are factors such as reduced memory traffic, a direct PCI bus, etc. What it all means is that this is one wicked fast Mac. How fast? Delivering 15 gigaflops (15 billion floating point operations per second), the dual 1-GHz Power Mac G4 runs software such as Adobe Photoshop up to 72 percent faster and encodes DVD Video over 300 percent faster than a 2-GHz Pentium 4-based PC, according to Apple. The company says the dual gig system runs Final Cut Pro 3 seventy-eight percent faster than the next fastest Mac (a 933 Mhz system). It also runs FCP 3 approximately 106 percent faster than the new 800 Mhz iMac.
If you’re using Photoshop or Final Cut Pro daily, you’ll probably want one of these babies ASAP — and, unlike the new iMac, they’re easy to get, though they’re selling well. The dual processor machine is also great for those into heavy duty video encoding, processor-intensive scientific analysis, and graphics intensive tasks. It’s also the ultimate machine (for now) for running Mac OS X, which comes as the default operating system. OS X and the native apps for it run very fluidly indeed on this baby.
The dual 1-GHz Power Mac G4 specs include an Nvidia GeForce4 MX with 64MB DDR SDRAM; support for up to 1.5GB of PC133 SDRAM (it comes with 512 MB standard); 256K on-chip level 2 cache and 2MB of DDR (Double Data Rate) SDRAM L3 cache per processor; five slots, including four open high-performance 64 bit 33 MHz PCI slots and an 4x AGP slot for graphics; two 400-Mbps FireWire ports and four 12-Mbps USB ports; 10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet built-in; three 3.5-inch hard disk drive expansion bays with one pre-installed 80GB drive; and a SuperDrive combination CD-RW/DVD-R optical drive.
Bundled software includes Ambrosia Software’s Snapz Pro X, Caffeine Software’s PixelNhance 1.5, Code Line Communications’ Art Directors Toolkit for X, Lemke Software GraphicConverter 4.1, Omni Group’s OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner, James Thompson’s PCalc, FileMaker Pro Trial 5.5, Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0, Earthlink 2.5, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 5.1 and Smith Micro FAXstf X Preview, as well as Apple Developer Tools X.
The only speed benchmarks I’ve used in test driving the dual gig system at my home office is a stopwatch and a new iMac. The dual giger is approximately twice as fast as the iMac/800 in most processor intensive tasks. The dual 1-GHz “ripped” my new Alan Jackson “Drive” CD into iTune files for transferring to my iPod in just under three minutes. And it encoded a two-minute iMovie of my kids playing on their respective basketball teams in just slightly over two minutes.
Of course, not all software solutions will generate this much of a speed boost as most applications that don’t take advantage of multiprocessors. If you mainly do word processing, e-mail, Internet browsing, spreadsheets, databases, etc., the Power Mac G4 dual system may be overkill for you.
However, if you’re a pro or prosumer who needs expandability, the ability to add a second hard drive, access to dual monitors or a screen bigger than 15 inches, you’ll want to check out either the dual gig machine, its 933 Mhz cousin, or, if you don’t need a SuperDrive, the “low end” G4 tower that has a single 800 Mhz processor.
High end gamers will probably also want the dual gig machine on their wish list. In the always popular Quake III Arena test, the out-of-the-box system cooks up 115 frames per second. Throw in a GeForce 4 Titanium graphics processor (when they’re available) and that rate rises to 143 frames per second, according to Apple.
The design of the new systems is the same as those of their “Quicksilver” predecessors. While some folks were expecting a stylistic overhaul (and I was expecting a “snow” enclosure), the design is really very practical and attractive as it is. Upgrading RAM, adding a hard drive, or installing an AirPort card is a breeze.
There are some caveats to the new system, however. There are posts in Apple’s forums from GeForce4 MX owners with 2002 Quicksilver Macs noting display problems (flashes/corrupted screens). Most seem to be using Apple’s ADC displays. I’ve experienced “flashes” twice. Both times it was very brief and happened during the opening sequence of Aspyr’s game, American McGee’s Alice.
It doesn’t bother me, but I have heard some folks complain — as with the new iMac — about the inconvenience of having all the connectors in the back of the system. Others have lamented the lack of an eject button for the Superdrive, as well as a power key on the keyboard for quick no-menu restarts and shutdowns.
And be warned: if you’ve used the new iMac, then go to any of the G4 towers, they sound LOUD. After getting used to the near-silence of the consumer model, the “buzz” of the G4 tower’s fan was distracting while listening to music and watching movies.
Finally, with all the products in the sweet suite of applications that’s included, why doesn’t Apple also throw in AppleWorks, its productivity suite as it does with the iMac and iBook? C’mon, Apple, it’s a nice productivity package and many pros would appreciate it.
Despite these glitches, Apple’s fastest Mac yet, the dual 1-GHz G4 packs plenty of features and performance at a very reasonable price. They should tide power users over for the next few months. But, Apple, come July, let’s see some high-end Macs with DDR SDRAM for the main system RAM, even bigger system buses, and “Gigawire,” the 800-1600 Mbps version of FireWire.