My Turn

Easier. Why Not Faster?

Korin Hasegawa-John - 2002.02.20

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

Apple's "pro" systems are a joke.

Yes, they're fast, and, yes, they have excellent video cards. However, sound is a problem.

Yes, sound is a problem. 16-bit stereo is fine for CDs and the like, but for gaming? Come on, you need at least surround-sound capable right front-right rear, left front-left rear jacks. This is a relatively minor quibble, since for $80 you can get a SoundBlaster card. A problem - this remedy takes up a PCI slot.

Another problem is motherboard parity. I'm not so concerned about clock speed for CPUs, but think of what a 1 GHz Dual G4 could do coupled with a 200 MHz bus (or 266 MHz) and DDR* SDRAM? It would run faster.

* Double Data Rate offers faster memory access. Basically, DDR is similar to PC 133 SDRAM but cycles at 266 MHz due to different chip structure. It is reasonably inexpensive - much less than RDRAM - making it the fastest available memory.

You can get a relatively low-end system on the PC side with a 200 or 266 MHz bus and DDR SDRAM for about $1,500. That's roughly the price point of the G4, so Apple could do it.

Apple's motherboard currently looks like this:

  • 133 MHz RAM
  • 3 PC133 SDRAM slots
  • 1 AGP 4x slot
  • 4 PCI 64-bit 33 MHz
  • Ultra ATA 66

What if Apple did the following?

  • 266 MHz RAM
  • 4 DDR SDRAM slots
  • 1 AGP 4x slot
  • 4 PCI 64-bit 66 MHz
  • Ultra ATA 133 (or even 100, or Ultra2 160 SCSI)

It would be more costly, but it might cause more users to become interested. It would also give Apple something really big to brag about - Dual 1 GHz G4s, faster PCI, and Ultra2 160 SCSI as an interface choice on a really fast motherboard. After all, who doesn't want 160 MB/s throughput? EIDE is limited to 133 so far, and the next generation SCSI is 320 MB/s.

While we're at it, can't we ask Motorola to get its act together for real? Dual 1 GHz is okay, but we should have been here 8-10 months ago. Let's get some more L2 cache on the processors, too - L2 cache runs at the processor speed, (800, 933 or 1000 MHz). This makes it massively faster than motherboard RAM, even DDR or RDRAM. L3 cache runs at half the processor speed, so it's also fast, but not nearly as fast. Both caches have direct processor access without going to the motherboard's slower bus form memory access. The L3 on new Macs is like the backside L2 cache on the older G3 and G4s.

Of course, it would involve redesigning the die for the G4. An L3 cache (at least 1 MB) on the low-end G4 would be also very nice, making that unit substantially faster than the $1,799 iMac operating at the same clock speed.

And how about some of those cool 750fx CPU's that IBM was working on? I want to see those in some system. It would be even cooler if they added an AltiVec unit to the 750fx - that could slaughter any G4 while using less power.

What's this I hear about Apple and Nvidia getting in some sort of petty dispute? Why? We need Nvidia. ATI's cards are slow and old and showing it. Even their new cards don't compete with some of Nvidia's offerings. Apple should put the GeForce 2Go in the PowerBook and something - anything - in the iBook. Replace the Radeon in the low-end tower with a GeForce3 DDR (now a $100 extra cost option). Not as good as the GeForce 4, but it sure smacks the Radeon down.

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