- Large cache and fast hard drive are great for graphics professionals
- DVD-R/CD-RW SuperDrive
- Moderate 3D performance
- base configuration should have at least 256MB of RAM.
Apple's Power Macintosh G4s come in three flavours: the entry-level 733MHz model costs £1,199 (ex. VAT); a dual-processor 800MHz model currently sits in the high-end £2,499 (ex. VAT) slot. In the middle, you'll find the £1,799 (ex. VAT) 867MHz model, which we tested for this review.
All of the G4s ship with Nvidia's 32MB GeForce2 MX video card. Although nowhere near the top end of Nvidia's line, the GeForce2 MX is a solid performer on all graphics applications and motion/animation-intensive games. The dual processor model ships with a 64MB GeForce2 card with TwinView capability (which allows you to plug two monitors into a single card). Note, however, that one of those monitors will need to be an Apple display, because the card has one VGA connector and one Apple Display Connector (ADC). The only monitors that currently use the ADC are Apple's flat panels. Our test system came with Apple's 17in. Studio Display flat panel, a stunning screen costing £699 (ex. VAT).
As expected, the 867MHz G4 is faster than previous Power Macs. This model and the dual-processor system both ship with 2MB of Level 3 cache, which supplies a significant boost in performance for cache-intensive applications. Also, Apple now offers 7,200rpm UltraATA/100 hard drives for these systems. Furthermore, the systems use PC133 RAM chips rather than the PC100 chips of the previous generation. In our Photoshop tests, the 867MHz model ran neck and neck with last year's 500MHz model, but it took almost a minute longer than the 733MHz system. However, both the 500MHz and 733MHz systems had 256MB of RAM, in contrast to the 867MHz model's 128MB, and Photoshop performance is generally more sensitive to memory bottlenecks than CPU hurdles. Quake III performance hardly varies with the increase in CPU speed, and the G4-867 still can't compete with, say, a 900MHz Duron using the same graphics card.
Apple has replaced the external speakers with a built-in Harmon Kardon speaker -- the same one used in the spherical speakers that shipped with the G4 Cube. Although no substitute for a good set of external speakers with a subwoofer, the Power Mac's new speaker is a distinct improvement over the original and should be more than sufficient for people with basic sound needs.
As always, all models come with the standard complement of ports: gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, USB, and 56Kbit/s modem. The 733MHz model ships with Apple's standard CD-R/RW drive, but the 867MHz and dual processor systems ship with the SuperDrive, a combo DVD-R/CD-RW drive that, when combined with the included iDVD software, lets you create DVDs playable in commercial DVD players.
All of the Power Mac systems ship with MacOS 9.2 and Mac OS X 10.0.4 pre-installed on the hard drive. We suggest waiting for the forthcoming OS X 10.1 before spending any serious time in OS X. When running OS 9.2, the system feels incredibly responsive; under 10.0.4, it feels sluggish. If you're running a slow OS, it won't matter what machine you use.
The 733MHz Power Mac G4 is a good performer at a good price. But if you do any video editing, you'll probably want the SuperDrive for making DVDs, which requires buying the 867MHz model. The latter will answer pretty much any need you could pose, unless you live your life in Adobe Photoshop or some other dual-processor-aware application. Keep in mind that OS X supports dual processing at the OS level, so if you intend to use the forthcoming Adobe Photoshop for OS X, the dual processor model will give you the absolute maximum graphics performance. No matter which system you choose, these are the fastest machines Apple has ever built. You'll have a hard time going wrong with any of them.