reviewed Apple’s Quicksilver Power Mac G4/867 Power Mac on Sept. 25. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure to take the dual processor Quicksilver for a spin. When it comes to simple ROI (return on investment) I have to recommend the 867 system for most Mac users — at least for now.
Both systems come with the following:
Five slots, including four 64-bit 33MHz PCI slots and an 4x AGP slot;
The SuperDrive combination CD-RW/DVD-R drive;
Two 400Mbps FireWire ports and two 12Mbps USB ports;
10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet built-in on the motherboard;
Three 3.5-inch hard disk drive expansion bays with one pre-installed Ultra ATA hard drive (60GB in the 867, 80GB in the dual processor system).
The difference in the two comes down to sheer power. The US$2,499, 867MHz Power Mac G4 includes a 256K on-chip level 2 backside cache and 2MB of level 3 cache; 128MB of PC133 SDRAM memory; and an NVIDIA GeForce 2 MX graphics card with 32MB video SDRAM in 4x AGP slot.
The $3,499 dual 800MHz Power Mac G4 includes 256K on-chip level 2 backside cache and 2MB of level 3 cache per processor; 256MB of PC133 SDRAM memory; and an NVIDIA GeForce2 MX with TwinView graphics card and 64MB video SDRAM in 4x AGP slot.
When the rubber hits the road, it comes down to one question: is the dual processor system one thousand bucks faster than the single processor 867 machine? For most of us, most of the time, no, not right now.
In fact, Running Mac OS 9.2 on both systems, I found no appreciable difference in the performance of applications such as iTunes, Microsoft Office, AppleWorks, various e-mail programs, and Web browsers.
For some software, however, the dual processors do provide a slight edge. In an overall Photoshop test using nine actions and filters, the dual processor QuickSilver usually jumped through the hoops about 26 percent faster than the 867 machine. This was only true with files bigger than 60MB. Files smaller than this went through their paces at about the same pace on both systems.
A Final Cut Pro test which utilized a suite of six actions consisting of transitions, text over video, frame blending, Gaussian blur, color balance and scaling ran about 36 percent faster. And in various experiments with iDVD, the dual processor Mac bested its 867 sibling at an average of 12 percent.
Where I did notice a speed difference, if not an earthshaking one, is in running Mac OS X. The dual processor machine is made for Mac OS X as the operating system offers the benefit of symmetric multiprocessing. In the past, apps had to be optimized to take advantage of multiple processors.
No more. With Mac OS X’s full symmetric multiprocessing capabilities, the Power Mac automatically takes advantage of the higher performance that dual processors offer without requiring extra effort by developers or end users. Mac OS X automatically assigns tasks to both processors simultaneously.
For example, iTunes for Mac OS X was appreciably faster at burning a CD on the dual processor system than on the 867. In burning an extra copy of Elton John’s new album, “Songs From the West Coast,” to take on the road to cover the Germantown store opening, the dual 800 accomplished it 13 times faster than real-time, while the 867 did it 11 times faster than real-time. Also, while I didn’t notice any difference in windows resizing and apps opening on the dual processor system, it restarted several seconds faster than the 867 machine when rebooting into Mac OS X.
Of course, if developers build multithreaded apps to take advantage of dual processor systems by “splitting” a single processor intensive task between processors, the G4/800-Mac OS X combo will offer even more benefits. Much of Mac OS X is multithreaded, so software that uses sound, graphics, and networking, for instance, benefit from the additional processor by utilizing Mac OS X’s built-in system facilities.
Also, the Nvidia Geforce2 MX TwinView that comes with the dual processor is really nice. It lets you attach an Apple ADC monitor and a CRT monitor and use both at once. If you’d like a dual-monitor setup, this could be a deciding factor. As for me, I’d rather stick with one monitor and a GeForce 3 graphics card.
What’s more, and this applies to both Quicksilver systems, I’ve previously said that up to three additional drives can be added in a number of different configurations. The ATA bus on which the default hard drive is hosted has capacity for one additional drive and with the addition of a SCSI card, up to three SCSI hard drives can be added internally, I’ve reported.
However, according to some MacCentral readers, although there’s still the same room inside as the previous G4s, there are only power connectors to support a maximum of three drives total. Apparently, adding a fourth drive using a Y power connector cable will invalidate the warranty, because it’s potentially more than the power supply can handle. Keep this in mind.
Also, some Mac users (such as myself) have complained about the lack of an eject button on the new Quicksilvers. However, if you hold the mouse button down on startup, you can open the DVD-CD drawer.
To sum it up, if you’re a heavy duty Photoshop or Final Cut Pro user (which means you’re probably still using Mac OS 9.x), the dual processor system is probably the way to go. Ditto if you’re planning on buying a system and plan on running the Mac OS X native version of these apps — and others such as DVD Studio Pro — when they finally arrive.
For the rest of us, the 867MHz system is plenty quick. And we can take that extra thousand bucks, fill ‘er up with RAM, and still have change left over for the latest games and goodies.