A little more than a month after Apple shipped the low-end and midlevel systems in its latest Power Mac line — the 1GHz (
) and dual-1.25GHz (
), respectively (May 2003) — the company released its new top-of-the-line machine: the dual-1.42GHz Power Mac G4. Like its siblings, this Power Mac is a pleasing mix of performance and economy. The dual-1.42GHz model is significantly faster than the previous best-of-breed desktop machine — the dual-1.25GHz Power Mac G4 (mirrored drive door) — and at $2,699, it costs $600 less than last year’s fastest Power Mac. That makes it one powerful machine with a very attractive price.
More Than Speed
Given this Power Mac’s specs, you might be tempted to discount it as simply a sprightlier version of last year’s fastest Power Mac. And at first blush, it is. The old and new models include 512MB of DDR RAM (with a maximum capacity of 2GB), a 120GB hard drive, and 2MB of L3 cache per processor; they both fill the 4x AGP graphics slot with the ATI Radeon 9000 Pro graphics card, which can drive two dis-plays (a DVI-to-VGA adapter is included); and both Power Macs sport two USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, a 56K modem, four PCI slots, a headphone jack on the front panel, audio-input and -output ports, and a port for the optional $59 Apple Pro Speakers. And like the mirrored-drive-door models before it, this Power Mac provides space for a second optical drive below the SuperDrive. However, this generation has a FireWire 800 port and supports Bluetooth (regrettably, internal Bluetooth adapters are available only as a $50 build-to-order option) and AirPort Extreme, Apple’s version of the proposed 802.11g standard.
The dual-1.42GHz model also includes a new, faster SuperDrive — the Pioneer DVR-105, which Apple claims can write DVD-R discs at 4x, read DVDs at 8x, write CD-Rs at 16x, write CD-RWs at 8x, and read CDs at 32x. (The Pioneer DVR-104, found in the earlier dual-1.25GHz Power Mac, is slower — capable of reading and writing at half these speeds in most cases. See “FireWire DVD-R Drives,” Reviews, May 2003, for more information.) In addition, the dual-1.42GHz model is the only Power Mac that includes a SuperDrive in its standard configuration. (The 1GHz and current dual-1.25GHz models can be equipped with a SuperDrive for an additional $200.)
We expected the dual-1.42GHz model to modestly outperform the current dual-1.25GHz model, and we weren’t disappointed. In our Speedmark test suite, the dual-1.42GHz Power Mac was six percent faster than a dual-1.25GHz model equipped with 512MB of RAM. (The stock configuration of the dual-1.25GHz Power Mac G4 includes 256MB of RAM.)
The extra oomph in the dual-1.42GHz Power Mac also allowed it to best the new dual-1.25GHz machine by a few seconds in our iMovie-rendering, MP3-encoding, and Photoshop tests. More-dramatic results came in the Cinema 4D XL rendering test, where the dual-1.42GHz Power Mac sliced 21 seconds from the time it took the midlevel Mac to complete the job. The faster Mac was also able to churn out nearly five more frames per second in our Quake III frame-rate test.
The $1,200 Difference
These six percent and couple-of-seconds performance improvements over the current dual-1.25GHz Power Mac G4 don’t translate into an astonishingly superior computing experience. If you sat in front of the dual-1.25GHz and dual-1.42GHz Power Macs placed side by side, you’d likely find the pricier Power Mac a bit snappier when tackling certain tasks — particularly those that benefit from the extra megabyte of L3 cache per processor — but not so snappy that you’d break into a smile of frank admiration.
For that kind of reaction, you must compare the dual-1.42GHz machine with the $1,499 single-processor 1GHz Power Mac G4. In this case, the dual-1.42GHz Mac’s two processors, faster system bus, and quicker graphics card pay off in a big way.
In our Speedmark tests, the dual-1.42GHz Power Mac was an admirable 27 percent faster than the 1GHz model. In similar fashion, it steamrolled the single-processor machine in our iMovie, iTunes, Photoshop, and Cinema 4D XL tests — most dramatically rendering our Cinema 4D XL test project a full 4 minutes and 14 seconds faster than the 1GHz Power Mac. The more powerful ATI graphics card also helped the dual-processor Mac blast out an additional 57 frames per second in our Quake III test. Given these results, we suggest that graphics and video professionals seeking to replace their fleets of Power Macs aim for at least the midlevel model.
Trial by FireWire
In our review of Apple’s other new Power Mac models, we observed that the FireWire 800 ports on these new Macs, at least when connected via FireWire Target Disk Mode, failed to deliver the goods — moving data only a few seconds faster than the slower FireWire 400 ports also included on these machines. With the release of FireWire 800-compatible peripherals, we’re better able to gauge the usefulness of this port.
FireWire 800 offers the very tangible benefit of allowing you to run cables as long as 100 meters (versus FireWire 400’s maximum cable length of 4.5 meters) without a decrease in performance, but its speed benefits remain to be fully realized. We attached a 200GB LaCie d2 USB 2.0 & FireWire 800 hard drive to the dual-1.42GHz Power Mac G4 and found that it took a little more than 25 seconds to transfer a 1GB file from the Power Mac’s internal drive to the FireWire drive. A similar transfer via FireWire Target Disk Mode between a 1GHz and dual-1.25GHz Power Mac G4 took 1 minute and 27 seconds.
Yet even when attached to a compatible hard drive, FireWire 800 doesn’t have an opportunity to fully strut its stuff. We transferred our 1GB test file to the same LaCie drive using the Power Mac’s FireWire 400 port, and that transfer was 32 percent slower.
We expect greater things from FireWire 800 in the future — compatible RAID arrays, for example, that can take greater advantage of its bandwidth. Until such devices appear, don’t expect miracles from this port on your new Power Mac.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
The dual-1.42GHz Power Mac G4 is not a lot faster than the midlevel model — but for $700 more, it has some nice extras that make it a solid value. That said, if you’re on a tight budget and don’t need a SuperDrive, the dual-1.25GHz model is a better choice.