Although Apple claims to be innovating its way out of the current economic malaise, the company also clearly recognizes the benefits of good old-fashioned price-slashing. That’s how we account for the latest batch of Power Mac G4s — models that sport not only a handful of innovative features but also, in the case of the dual-1.25GHz Power Mac G4, a price that’s $1,300 less than last year’s similarly configured Power Mac’s.
We listened to and looked carefully at the 1GHz ($1,499) and dual-1.25GHz ($1,999) Power Mac G4s. These Power Macs are much quieter than their buzzing predecessors, they boast substantial innovations, and they are inexpensive enough to be great buys for professional users who have to have the sheer power and expandability that a Power Mac affords.
These are the first Power Macs to bear a FireWire 800 port — a port that Apple says can support data rates as high as 800 Mbps. In our limited tests, these ports provided little advantage over the two “old-style” FireWire 400 ports also found on these Power Macs.
Peripherals that take advantage of FireWire 800’s capabilities were not available when we tested, so we linked the Macs via their FireWire 800 ports, employing FireWire Target Disk Mode, and we transferred files from one Mac to the other. It took 1 minute and 26 seconds to copy a file of just over a gigabyte via the FireWire 800 connection. That same file took just 6 seconds longer to copy with a FireWire 400 link.
This line of Power Macs is also the first to include AirPort Extreme, which uses the not-yet-ratified 802.11g wireless-networking standard. Its usefulness was immediately clear. We established a computer-to-computer AirPort Extreme network to copy a 400MB file between the two new Power Macs. That task finished in 2 minutes and 46 seconds. The same file moved across an older, 802.11b AirPort network in 10 minutes and 18 seconds. However, you’ll only see this speed jump in local file transfers, not in Internet connections.
These Power Macs are Bluetooth ready — providing space on the motherboard for an internal Bluetooth wireless-networking module. Because our mostly stock systems (our dual-1.25GHz model was prebuilt with a SuperDrive rather than the DVD/CD-RW Combo drive — a $200 build-to-order upgrade) did not include this option, we were unable to test Bluetooth performance.
The Status Quo
Aside from these additions, the new Power Macs differ only slightly from the generation before them (see “Apple’s New Dual-G4 Macs,” November 2002). For example, they bear the same AGP 4x graphics slot. (The 1GHz model has an Nvidia GeForce4 MX, whereas the dual-1.25GHz Power Mac contains the ATI Radeon 9000 Pro.)
The 1GHz model holds a single PowerPC G4 processor rather than the two 867MHz G4 processors in the previous generation’s entry-level Power Mac, but it contains the same 133MHz system bus, 256MB of PC2100 (266MHz) DDR SDRAM, 60GB Ultra ATA hard drive, and Combo drive found in the dual-867MHz Power Mac G4.
The stock configuration of the dual-1.25GHz Power Mac G4 — which is now the middle of the line — strips away some of the features found in the former lineup’s dual-1.25GHz Power Mac G4 (mirrored drive door). The new model carries 1MB of L3 cache per chip, rather than the earlier model’s 2MB; 256MB of PC2700 (333MHz) DDR SDRAM, compared with 512MB; a Combo drive, instead of a SuperDrive; and an 80GB hard drive, instead of a 120GB drive. Both dual-1.25GHz Power Macs have the same 167MHz system bus.
Unlike their predecessors, neither of these Power Macs boots into Mac OS 9.
The Speedmark test suite showed the new dual-1.25GHz Power Mac to be 18 percent faster than the single-processor 1GHz model. The same dual-1.25GHz Power Mac was a little more than 10 percent faster than the older dual-1GHz model and, because it has only 1MB of L3 cache per chip, slightly less than 3 percent slower than the older dual-1.25GHz model.
When we tested the Macs with applications that take advantage of dual processors, the difference between these two new Power Macs became much clearer. Compared with the 1GHz model, the dual-1.25GHz model pumped out 50.5 more frames per second in Quake III, completed our Photoshop 7.0.1 test suite 38 percent faster, rendered a Cinema 4D XL scene in less than half the time, and encoded our iTunes 3 MP3 test file about 37 percent more briskly. We performed the same tests using the new and older dual-1.25GHz Power Mac G4s, and the results were virtually indistinguishable.
We performed one additional — and wholly subjective — test. Macworld editors who had experience with the first mirrored-drive-door Power Macs listened to these new computers. Although the new Power Macs produce a low-frequency hum, that hum is significantly quieter than the racket that earned the previous Power Macs unflattering sobriquets such as “hair dryer” and “wind tunnel.”
Macworld’s Buying Advice
These are both fine machines that perform very well and include innovative features. However, in an economic climate where price is paramount, we are even more impressed that these attributes come at such an attractive price.