Dual 1.25 GHz Power Mac G4
An incremental improvement, but not perfect

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Mac Dual G4 1.25GHz Review by Charlie WhiteOnce again, Apple has raised the bar for its G4 line of workstations. Not only have its dual processors gotten a speed bump from 1GHz to 1.25GHz, but the system now supports faster DDR memory and comes pre-loaded with the newest version of OS X, called Jaguar (version 10.2). In this review, we take a look at this new machine, and then run some benchmarks using Adobe After Effects 5.5 and Photoshop 7, to see just how much faster this new box is compared to its predecessor, the dual 1GHz G4.

Apple Studio display 17-inchAs we have come to expect, the out-of-box experience with this Mac G4 was easy and trouble-free. This time, Apple sent us a 17" Apple Studio display ($999 -- pictured at right) to use along with the G4, and I can tell you that even though this smaller flat panel is not as gigantic and impressive as Apple's newest 23" Cinema Display, it's just wonderfully sharp. And, unlike the 23" Cinema Display, the 17" model fit quite nicely on our crowded test bench here at the Midwest Test Facility, a consideration that many space-challenged users will deem important.

Helping things in the crispness department are new features inherent in OS X 10.2, namely the new Quartz Extreme architecture (more on that later), which allows the Mac's graphics card to take charge of the composited interface, ballyhooed as one of the strong points of OS X. I can vouch for it, too. OS X looks clean. This new Quartz-ness makes the text look better, too. Making matters even snappier, Apple installed its highest-end graphics card for our testing, the NVidia GeForce 4 Ti (a $250 option with this 1.25GHz model, included in price quoted below), boasting 128 MB of DDR RAM. The combination of this card, the new OS X Quartz architecture and this tight 17" flat panel resulted in a display of the best graphics I've ever seen coming out of a computer, bar none. So, the G4 setup was off to a dazzling start, to say the least.
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Mac G4s old and newLooking at the machine itself, which as-configured sells for $3949 without a monitor, it has a slightly different appearance from the older G4s, with a shiny front panel where the DVD-R drive is, room for a second drive underneath it, and four portholes under that. Its internal speaker has been moved toward the top of the front, and a removable shipping cover has been placed on top of it so all those new PeeCee converts won't punch out the speaker thinking it's the on/off switch, for which it could be easily mistaken.

Click for enlargement -- the interior of the new Mac Dual G4 1.25GHz workstation
Click for enlargement -- The interior of the new Mac Dual G4 1.25GHz workstation. Notice the four open PCI slots in the foreground and the huge heat sink to keep those two processors cool. There's also room for three more disks in there.
When I opened the machine (which is as easy as opening a refrigerator) I noticed that those four portholes cut in the front of the box are actually functional, facilitating better ventilation inside the G4. It becomes evident that Apple has made a concerted effort to improve ventilation inside this unit. That made me think of something that struck me as odd. I remembered that Apple's "friend" Motorola lists a 1GHz G4 as its fastest processor, and these here are running at 1.25 GHz. Could Apple be overclocking these babies? Judging from the emphasis on cooling with these extra blow holes not only on the front, but all over the back of the case, and the four fans inside, it seems like something tricky is going on here. And, as a result of this cooling effort, the box is noticeably noisier to me than other G4s. Adding to the extra noise is an additional small fan atop the NVidia GeForce 4 Ti graphics card that adds another whiny note to the cacophonous chord. Even with its variable-speed fans only working hard when things get really hot, the box is way too noisy, even when it's just sitting there doing nothing with no cards in the PCI slots. The G4 was already too loud for my taste, and I have heard other content creators complaining about this, too. So maybe Apple can bring down the noise level a bit on its next iteration. The serene, absolute quiet of Apple's ill-fated but gorgeous Cube comes to mind. But that's another story altogether, with its own set of caveats.

Two 512MB DDR sticks, room for two more for up to 2GB of RAM.
The four RAM slots came populated with two 512MB DDR sticks, with room for two more for up to 2GB of RAM.
Looking inside the machine, I noticed four slots for RAM, with two filled, each stick a 512 MB PC2700 DDR SDRAM part (see picture at left). Well, glory be! Finally, Apple enters this century with RAM that's somewhat up-to-date. And if you wanted to, you could stoke this baby with 2 gigs of RAM, up from 1.5GB before. Not exactly state-of-the-art -- some AMD Athlon-compatible multiprocessor motherboards can hold 4GB of RAM -- but using more than 2GB of RAM for digital video editing is probably overkill, in my opinion. Maybe not for intensive After Effects work, though. Either way, the move to DDR is cause for celebration.

But don't pop the champagne corks just yet. It's disappointing the way these hopped-up Motorola G4 processors can't fully benefit from the speed of this newly-added DDR memory. Even though DDR can support a theoretical throughput of 2.672 gigabytes per second, it has to be limited to 1.3GBps on this machine because, guess what? Motorola's G4 chips don't support DDR. Don't be fooled by Apple's Web site copy stating, "DDR SRAM throughput between main memory and the system controller is up to 2.7GBps" That's misleading. What does that matter when data between the processors and the system controller are limited to 1.3GBps because the G4 processors can't handle that kind of speed? Thanks again, Motorola, the company that would rather manufacture cell phone chips than fly with the eagles. In my opinion, the company amounts to nothing more than an anvil that Apple insists on dragging around, for debatable reasons. Jeez. See my opinion column in the coming weeks for my take on the nuts and bolts of this conundrum in which Apple has found itself. [To read my editorial concerning this topic, click here.]

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