Mac Musings

The New Power Mac G4

Daniel Knight - 2001.01.10 -

The graphite Power Mac G4 has reached its fourth incarnation - each sharing the same name. We started with Yikes! and Sawtooth, the Yikes! based on the G3 Yosemite motherboard, and the Sawtooth based on a new motherboard with AirPort and improved memory bandwidth. Last summer we got the third edition, which included 1 GHz ethernet and dual processors.

The fourth generation G4 replaces the older 100 MHz motherboard with a 133 MHz design that adds a fourth PCI expansion slot - all this without making the case any larger. CPU speeds jump from the 400-500 MHz range to 466-733 MHz, although the faster models won't be available for another month or so.

As always, Apple has an "entry level" model with a few less features or different features than the rest of the line. In this case, the G4/466 uses an ATI video card (the rest have an Nvidia GeForce 2) and a relatively small 30 GB hard drive. (Small? I can't imagine using that much space!)

The G4/533 ships with a 40 GB drive and the Nvidia video card. Both it and the G4/466 use the older G4 processor with a 1 MB backside cache. They also ship with 128 MB of memory, expandable to 1.5 GB.

The faster models, with 667 and 733 MHz processors, will be available in February with 256 MB of RAM and a 60 GB hard drive. These will use a new G4 processor with an integrated 256 KB level cache and a 1 MB level 3 backside cache.

Except for the G4/733, the new Power Macs include a CD-RW drive, making it easy to burn CDs. The G4/733 will ship with a SuperDrive, which adds burning DVD-R and watching DVDs to the capabilities of the other machines.

Prices are attractive. The G4/466 sells for US$1,699, just $100 more than the discontinued G4/400. You get 16% more speed, twice the memory, and the new CD-RW drive, making this an excellent value.

The G4/533 is available at $2,199. The extra $500 gives you a larger hard drive and a not-to-significant 14% faster CPU. The real attraction here is the Nvidia GeForce 2 video card. Unless you demand the video card, this is a less attractive value than the G4/466.

For $300 more, you can have Apple build a G4/533 with two processors. If you're a heavy Photoshop user or work extensively with digital video, this could be a real plus. Also, Mac OS X (coming in March) will fully support dual processors.

If you're patient or really need speed, the G4/667 and G4/733 will be available in February. The G4/667 retails at $2,799, a hefty $600 premium over the G4/533. For the difference you get an even larger hard drive and a G4 that runs at a 25% higher MHz rating. However, because of the integrated 256 KB level 2 cache, the true speed benefit may be even greater. Is it worth the extra money? That's a tough call until we know how well the new G4 performs in the real world, but this looks like a dynamite production machine for Photoshop and digital video.

At the top of the Power Mac line is the G4/733, which is only 10% faster than the G4/667. With a $3,499 price tag, the only reason to spend the extra money (not counting bragging rights) is the SuperDrive, which lets you watch and burn DVD disks. For basic production, we recommend looking at the 466 and 667 MHz models first. (We suspect the G4/533 will be popular with gamers.)

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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