- Generous amounts of RAM
- Mac OS 9 doesn’t natively support second processor
Are two heads really better than one? In the case of Apple’s new multiprocessor Power Mac G4 systems, the answer is a definite maybe. Although some applications do currently use two processors, don’t expect these dual-processor computers to perform twice as fast as previous G4s.
These systems offer a new wrinkle with truly exciting potential: gigabit Ethernet–the Ethernet port on these new systems now supports 10BaseT, 100BaseT, and 1000BaseT over copper cable. However, at $700 a port, 1000BaseT switches are prohibitively expensive for most schools and offices and rarely perform at more than twice the speed of 100BaseT.
The new G4s and the G4 Cube are the first models to include the Apple Display Connector (ADC), Apple’s modified DVI (Digital Visual Interface) connector, which adds power and a USB signal to the monitor cable. But fear not–the G4’s built-in ATI Rage 128 card also has a standard VGA connector, so you won’t need to spring for a new monitor.
How Fast Is Fast? Until all of Mac OS supports multiprocessing, users won’t see a speed improvement when they run applications not specifically written for multiple processors. Mac OS 9 does not support this sort of multiprocessing (symmetrical), but Mac OS X will. Even when the operating system does offer proper multiprocessor support, not every action doubles in speed; your Mac’s hard drive, graphics card, and interface buses can still create bottlenecks.
When performing everyday activities such as booting the computer, encrypting a file, and performing an Excel calculation–parts of our new Speedmark test suite–the dual-processor systems performed the same as older, single-processor systems with the same clock speeds.
More surprisingly, we discovered a conflict between iMovie and the operating system’s multiprocessor software; Apple has released a 2.0.1 update, which is available at https://www.apple.com/imovie. (As a result of the problem with iMovie, we updated Speedmark to version 2.1, which features tests with iMovie 2.0.1.) What is clear from our tests is that multiprocessor-enabled applications such as Photoshop, SoundJam, and Cinema 4D XL are remarkably fast–although not quite twice as fast–when compared with the same apps running on single-processor Power Macs.
Polish the Apple Multiprocessing aside, the new Power Macs also include the recently refined optical Apple Pro Mouse ( ; Reviews, October 2000), iMovie 2 ( ; Reviews, October 2000), and new Apple Pro Keyboard ( ; Reviews, elsewhere in this issue).
With this new keyboard, Apple came up with a fix for a USB-related problem–namely, that a keyboard’s power button works only if plugged directly into the computer, and not connected via a USB hub. Apple’s peculiar solution: take the power button off the keyboard altogether. Now you’ll find the power button on the Apple ADC monitors–you can force a reboot by pushing command, control, and the monitor’s power button (or the power button on the front of the Mac). Pushing the power button alone simply puts these systems to sleep.
The Power Mac G4/500 comes standard with a DVD-RAM drive that can use the newest 4.7GB DVD-RAM media. This drive is also available as an add-on to the Power Mac G4/450 for an additional $300.
Final Verdict In shipping multiprocessor Macs before it has shipped an operating system that can truly utilize it, Apple has put the cart before the horse, but it’s a pretty nice cart. The new Power Macs are stable, fast computers, even if you can’t yet take full advantage of the second processor.
Luckily, Apple isn’t charging extra for these premature features–the new systems cost the same amount as the old ones. If you’ve been wanting to buy a high-end system with PC slots for expansion and room for additional drives, the Power Mac G4/450 Dual Processor is a good value that will offer dividends when Mac OS X arrives. The Power Mac G4/500 Dual Processor is a faster computer, but you’ll pay a hefty price for a relatively small improvement.