Apple dual-1.25GHz PowerMac test

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Apple dual-1.25GHz PowerMac

Apple has now boosted the speed of processors in its G4 PowerMacs, and switched exclusively to twin-processors. We check out the dual-1.25GHz model with 512MByte RAM and a SuperDrive DVD writer.

In the summer, we looked at Apple's G4 Power Mac, fitted with two 1GHz G4 processors, and tested it against a Windows dual-Athlon XP2000 PC.

The Mac scored well in design and features, but proved to be relatively slow in a number of comparative tests. Apple has now introduced a pair of dual-1.25GHz Power Macs to top the range, and it's the cheaper of the two - still costing £200 more than the dual-1GHz - that we're looking at here.
All of Apple's current computers boot into OS 10.2 - or Jaguar, as it's also called - rather than the 10.1.4 version installed on the dual-1GHz model we tested previously. New Macs can also be booted in OS 9.2.2 for running programs that don't work under OS X 10.2 - such as Quark Xpress. OS X can also run a copy of OS 9 in a window within its interface, but this is wasteful of RAM and doesn't always deliver the same performance as a real OS 9 system.

Jaguar OS X 10.2 - which took just 25 seconds to boot up on the new Mac - is said to enhance the multi-tasking performance of processors, thanks to its use of QuickTime 6, and is also reckoned to offer improved 2D, 3D, text and video on-screen, courtesy of its Acrobat-based hardware-accelerated graphics compositing technology, Quartz Extreme.

As all new Macs bought after January 2003 will only be able to boot in OS X 10.2 - unless users do a complete manual install of OS 9 themselves - we were keen to see what effects (if any) the latest operating system, combined with the faster processors, had on dual-processor-optimised video editing.

Style power
The new-generation Power Macs - which also take in dual-processor 867MHz and 1GHz versions - are similar in design to the previous generation, but have a number of new features largely to improve cooling.
The front now has four vents at the bottom, and a central silver panel conceals the two 5.25in drive bays - one occupied by a DVD-R SuperDrive (Pioneer DVR-A04 burner), and the other free. The speaker now sits higher up, and is less likely to be obscured by desktop clutter.

The rear panel is almost completely taken up with small vent holes, and port positions are altered slightly due to the use of a new motherboard. The ports - two FireWire (IEEE 1394), two USB 1.1, Gigabit Ethernet, 56k modem, Apple speaker, and audio line in/out (16-bit stereo) - are now below the four 64-bit, 33MHz PCI slots (all free in this configuration) and AGP graphics card connector. Inside, the motherboard is dominated by an enormous heat sink mounted on the two processors.

Huff and puff
We were pleased to note that, when up and running in OS X, the dual-1.25GHz machine is only marginally noisier than older Power Macs. However, the noise from the two system fans (there are four in total) increases considerably when running OS 9. Worse still, after rebooting or waking up, this can suddenly turn into a deafening roar ñ the like of which weíve never heard on any modern computer. The fans are intended to change speed according to processor usage, but clearly there must be something wrong with the monitoring process. Noise can be a major problem when editing the audio side of a video production ñ and just plain irritating otherwise ñ so this is a serious matter and needs addressing.

We couldn't make many precise comparisons between the two dual-processor Macs, because system hardware and operating systems were different and the previous reviewer's content files weren't available. Nonetheless, our tests again show that processor speed is only one factor in the performance equation even though greater speed does improve workflow for the video editor.

One serious downside to the new 1.25GHz machine is the noise - this needs to be sorted out urgently. More worrying still was the tendency for the latest versions of Apple's own professional editing program Final Cut Pro 3.0.2 to quit without warning when running under OS 10.2. This is more than an annoyance - it undermines the credibility that Apple has worked so hard to achieve for FCP.

The company also needs to urgently address incompatibility issues between DVD Studio Pro and QuickTime Pro 6, so that users are not forced to downgrade to QT Pro 5 if they wish to create their projects on DVD under OS X 10.2.

What we did find encouraging was how successful a third-party software developer - Adobe - has been in creating an OS X-compatible version of its competing video editing program, Premiere.

We also have to say that we were hugely impressed by the on-screen image reproduction of the new Mac, which we have to credit to OS 10.2ís new Quartz Extreme technology.

In truth, though, there is little point in flashy pictures and faster processors if the Mac's default boot operating system isn't able to work in harmony with Apple's own applications, and if users can hardly hear themselves above the din made by the machine. This situation is certain to produce headaches for users, and likely for Apple, too.

Lisa Keddie

Read the full review in January 2003's Computer Video magazine.



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