September 22nd, 2000
by Michael Munger
The unit came with two 450 MHz PowerPC processors, 128 MB RAM, DVD-ROM, a 20 GB hard disk drive, an internal Zip drive, a SCSI adapter card, gigabit Ethernet, 16 MB ATI Rage 128 video card and Mac OS 9.0.4, without modem. It has 2 USB ports, 2 FireWire ports, Apple Display Connector, power, 15-pin monitor port and input/output audio jacks. Included also were: Apple Pro Keyboard and Pro Mouse; cables for all the available ports; SCSI 50-pin to 25-pin adapter (for the SCSI card); 3 CDs for software restoration, installation and hardware checks; iMovie CD; Basic documentation and stickers. The computer is AirPort ready.
Note: This is not a preconfigured model, but a build-to-order system from the Apple Store.
The first step was to take the computer out of the box and place it alongside the monitor to connect the cables and add the peripherals. The handles on the four corners of the tower made it easy to move. It is also easy to figure out which cable goes into what plug.
The first startup was rather funny. After the usual extensions parade, a Windows-type setup assistant took over the whole screen to prepare the Mac OS settings. After filling the fields and finishing the task, the assistant crashed, taking the machine down and forcing a restart. The second session was more fruitful: the assistant disappeared, and let let the machine go directly to the desktop for a real setup job.
Installing software and updating the settings was easy. The speedy performance of the machine lets installers do their job and wrap it up quickly.
Apple claims that its dual-processor machine is extremely fast. Before going any further, let's remember that the great speed of these machines depends on two things:
If software does not have AltiVec and dual processor support, then G4 speed is almost exactly the same as G3 speed. Fortunately, a reasonable number of programs are Altivec-enabled, and many more should soon be dual-processor enabled, now that Apple has taken the revolutionary step of offering a dual processor machine as standard equipment.
We found the gigabit Ethernet reliable enough, though the cable modem Internet access did not take advantage of the gigabit capabilities. The FireWire and USB ports performed quite well. The default (Maxtor) 20 GB hard disk's performance was decent but copying from volume to volume was much faster once we added a second hard disk.
Performance is greatly increased when using Velocity Engine-enabled applications such as Photoshop and SoundJam MP. With SoundJam's default high quality settings, SoundJam encoded a 58:54 full audio album into MP3 files in less than 13 minutes. The same album had taken, on a 233MHz G3, about 4 times as long.
Virtual PC - which is very demanding of processor performance, L2 cache and RAM - did more than well on the dual processor G4. The Windows 98 SE edition of Virtual PC ran smoothly and quickly. Every Windows 98 task executed painlessly. Menu drawing, which is one of the indicators of emulator performance, was very responsive; the delays for opening a window or launching an application were satisfyingly short. Even with the use of only one processor, Virtual PC and Windows 98 performed well on the G4.
Most software does not take advantage of the multiprocessing capabilities as well as the Velocity Engine for the moment but the G4 itself is still very quick when executing all kinds of tasks. Optimized software really shows what the two processors can do together.
The graphics acceleration card made it through very difficult display tasks without a single observed problem as yet.
We rented a DVD to play a movie (American Pie) to see how this machine would behave. The Apple DVD Player refused to play the movie at full screen and all we could manage to do was to use the "fill screen" option, which leaves the menu bar and the window frame surrounding the viewer. Other PowerMac G4 users have reported being able to play DVDs, including American Pie, at full screen mode, however.
The quality of the image was amazing, and we saw stuttering only once during the whole movie, even though virtual memory was active. This was when the DVD player was switching layers and this problem is common among almost all DVD drives.
We added a 20 GB Quantum hard disk drive and 128 MB of RAM to the tower, to test the computer's expansion possibilities. Opening the panel reveals the floor where the hard disk can reside, and the 4 RAM slots near the edge of the panel. Adding the RAM is simple and took less than 30 seconds: no need to reach deep inside the machine and between cables. Just seat the chip in and make sure it holds firmly.
The hard disk was a little more complicated to install, as it was harder to make sure it was firmly in place. Still, it was much easier than on most computers. A few minutes later, the master/slave jumpers were in place and the ATA power cables were plugged in. On startup, the computer saw the drive and offered formatting.
Mouse and keyboard
Unlike Apple's previous USB mouse and keyboard,the new ones offer improved ergonomics and functionality, not to mention classier looks.
The dual processor Power Macintosh G4 is a solid offering from Apple. Professionals and power users should consider it seriously as a main desktop machine. The investment will be worth it when Mac OS X's symmetric multiprocessing support and more Velocity Engine optimized applications kick in to increase its performance over time; a rare feat in modern computing.