Product Watch: Adobe Makes AltiVec Plug-in for Photoshop Available But Makes No Promises to Upgrade Owners.


Steve Jobs wowed the Seybold audience last August with demos of the then new G4 machines running lightning fast Photoshop filter operations. Nothing spelled out the power of the G4 processor and AltiVec, oops... Velocity, instruction set better. The good news was that every G4 machine from Apple would ship with an AltiVec plugin for Photoshop 5.5. The plugin is what allows Photoshop to make use of the new AltiVec instruction set on the G4. The bad news was that, until recently, buying a new G4 machine was the only way to get the plugin If you bought a G4 upgrade you were left out in the cold. XLR8 developed their own Photoshop plugin which provides impressive results. Unfortunately, their plugin is limited to Photoshop versions 3.x and 4.x. Thankfully, Adobe made their plugin publicly available as of today, December 10th, 1999. Merry Christmas! Before today's release there was hope and speculation that Adobe's plugin would cover all versions of Photoshop 5. Unfortunately only 5.5 is supported and Adobe states that G4 upgrade cards cards are not officially supported.

"You must use Photoshop 5.5 or later to take advantage of these plug-ins. Earlier versions of Photoshop will not support these plug-ins. Also note that Adobe tested these plug-ins for compatibility only with Power Macintosh G4 computer s manufactured by Apple, and Adobe cannot make any guarantees regarding compatibility with third-party G4 upgrade cards."

- Adobe's AltiVec plugin download page.

Performance Gains

What kind of performance gains are we looking at? To give you an idea, we have included a few test results from our review of XLR8's MACh Carrier G4 card. Bear in mind that these scores are from Photoshop 4.0 but from what we have seen it is fair to assume these performance gains are on par with what you can expect in 5.5. These results are from "stopwatch" tests and are set relative to our stock 9500 which is assigned a score of 100%. Obviously, lower numbers and shorter bars are better. We ran our tests both with and without the plugin supplied by XLR8 and as you can see using the plugin makes a marked difference!


Areas Of Improvement

There are several areas besides the ones above where you should note significant improvements. Specific operations mentioned at the Adobe site:

  • The optimized lighting effects plugin provides faster rendering of 3D lighting effects.
  • Distortion plug-ins like polar coordinates, ripple, spherize, and twirl show dramatic speed increases.
  • Layer blend modes like normal, lighten, and hard light offer vastly improved responsiveness when painting or compositing.
  • Image transformations such as resize and rotate can now be done in half the time.
  • Widely used filters such as Gaussian blur and unsharp mask perform significantly faster.
  • Color correction functions like curves and levels also perform noticeably quicker.

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