Blue and White Power Mac G3: Good Enough for Pros?

1999 – “Now, time for an encore to keep Apple two steps ahead of Microsoft, Intel, and all those clone makers.”

Those were the words that closed last week’s pre-Macworld Expo article, 1998: Apple Sells the Sizzle. I guess Apple answered that question quite clearly on the iMac and Power Mac fronts (for more on the new iMacs, see Beyond Bondi).

Blue and White Power Mac G3

Blue and White Power Mac G3The new Blue and White Power Mac G3 has a stunning appearance, although some may say Apple has gone too far in using these colors on a professional computer. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t really come up with a new name, simply calling it the Power Mac G3.

Why is this a pro Mac?

First, because the tower configuration is designed for graphics professionals. The ATI Rage 128 video subsystem (with 16 MB of VRAM) smokes anything else on the market, and putting it in a 66 MHz PCI slot (instead of the typical 33 MHz) makes it even more responsive. Even with the ATI card installed, the Blue and White G3 still has three 64-bit PCI slots available for expansion.

The motherboard itself is faster than the one in the Beige G3, running at 100 MHz, just like a lot of the hot new Wintel boxes. That and up to 1 GB of PC100 memory will let it hold its own against any Celeron II, Pentium II, or Xeon box.

Apple has embraced three more industry standards with the Blue and White G3: FireWire (which Apple invented), PC100 memory, and the VGA monitor connector. No more need to buy Mac-specific monitors or third-party adapters so you can use standard VGA monitors.

Learning a lesson from the iMac, Apple retains the ADB port on the Blue and White G3, allowing use of dongles, color calibrators, and other hardware devices the graphics professional may already own. And, of course, a real extended keyboard and a decent mouse – to replace the iMac keyboard and mouse, which I cannot consider professional.

Although the Blue and White G3 matches the iMac in not offering SCSI as a standard feature, you can easily install a PCI SCSI card ($50 and up) to access older drives.

Gone is the built-in 56k modem, which is fine for home computers but makes little sense on an ethernet network. (Speaking of ethernet, the Blue and White G3 supports 10Base-T and the ten-times-as-fast 100Base-T.)

It already looks like the Blue and White G3 will take the same CPU upgrades as the Beige Power Mac G3, so as those upgrades pass the 400 MHz mark, owners will be able to speed the Blue and White further.

Evaluation

Beige Power Mac G3I work for a book publisher, where we have Macs ranging from the Mac IIsi through the 266 MHz Beige Power Mac G3. I’m looking forward to the Blue and White G3, as are several of the users I support.

The biggest reason, of course, is speed. Starting with a 300 MHz model at $1,599, the Blue and White G3 is faster than all but two of the computers we already own (a Power Mac 7300 and an 8500 upgraded with 300 MHz G3 cards). Add to that the 100 MHz motherboard, compared with 50 MHz in most of our older Macs, and the 128-bit ATI graphics card with 16 MB of video memory (our top machines at work have 4 MB, which limits 1280 x 1024 display to 16 bits), and even the entry level Blue and White G3 should be an absolute screamer.

The 300 MHz Blue and White G3 only has a 512 KB backside cache, making it about 7% slower than the 300 MHz Beige G3 it replaces, but that difference will vanish behind the faster video.

Taking the entry level Blue and White G3 with an extra 128 MB of memory and a SCSI card, this should make a very nice, under-US$2,000 replacement for the designers, whether they’re on 180 MHz 604e systems (mine), 233-266 MHz G3 systems, or upgraded systems with 250-300 MHz G3 daughter cards.

If it looks a bit gaudy, at least it’ll work with our Apple and MicroSpeed extended keyboards, our Logitech trackballs, our Kensington mice, our sketch tablet, our color calibrator, and whatever other ADB devices we may have. And the SCSI card will let us use those essential Zip drives, along with external Jaz drives, hard drives, and a scanner.

Apple took the best of the iMac, merged it with the best of the Power Mac, encased it in their best case yet, and created a forward looking model with great backward compatibility.

In my book, that makes it a guaranteed winner.

Further Reading

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