by David Engstrom
Rating | Benchmarks | Comparison | Discussion |
The first thing that strikes you about Apple's the new Quicksilver Power Macs, is their sheer beauty. The highly polished bodies glistens like blown glass. The subtle tones of silvery grey combine with clear plastic to form an object of high industrial art, complete with sculpted handles at each corner - convenient for moving the machines around.
We have a Blue and White G3 which has the same form factor. I have to say though, that the B & W looks almost cartoonish next to the fit, finish and polish of the QuickSilvers
The attractiveness of the Quicksilvers, matches that of Apple's new operating system, OS X. Though the later is much more exuberant and the former, quietly distinguished. Both Mac OS X (OS 10.1 by the time you read this) and OS 9.2 come installed on the machines.
The Quicksilvers come in 3 flavors, and vary in clock speed, differing memory subsystems, the amount of installed RAM, type of optical drive, and in hard drive capacity. The models are as follows:
- $1,699 Power Mac G4/733/733/256K 128 MB of RAM with CD-RW drive
- $2,499 Power Mac G4/867/867/256K/217/2MB 128 MB of RAM with CD-RW/DVD-R combo drive
- $3,499 Power Mac G4/800/800/256K/200/2MB 256 MB of RAM with CD-RW/DVD-R combo drive
Quicksilver G4 Power Macs Facts at a Glance
Things that are different
Quicksilver Dual 800
- 2 X G4 (7450), 800 MHz
- L2 Cache: 256K, on-chip @ 800 MHz
- 2 MB L3 Cache @200 MHz
- Installed RAM: 256 (1.5 GB Max)
- Installed VRAM: 64 MB (Max 64 MB)
- Drive: 80 GB @ 7200 RPM, Ultra ATA/66
- Optical Drive: SuperDrive - Combo DVD-R/CD-RW - 2X 6X 4X 24X
- Initial Retail Price: $3,499
- G4 (7450), 867 MHz
- L2 Cache: 256K, on-chip @ 867 MHz
- 2 MB L3 Cache @217 MHz
- Installed RAM: 256 (1.5 GB Max)
- Installed VRAM: 32 MB (Max 32 MB)*
- Drive: 60 GB @ 7200 RPM, Ultra ATA/66
- Optical Drive: SuperDrive - Combo DVD-R/CD-RW - 2X 6X 4X 24X
- Initial Retail Price: $2,499
- Bus Speed: 133 MHz
- L2 Cache: 256K, on-chip @ 733 MHz
- Installed RAM: 256 (1.5 GB Max) Installed VRAM: 32 MB (Max 32 MB)*
- Drive: 40 GB @ 5200 RPM, Ultra ATA/66
- Optical Drive: SuperDrive - Combo CD-RW - 12X 10X 32X
- Initial Retail Price: $1,699
Things that are Common To All
- RAM Slots: 3,
- Min RAM Speed: 8ns PC133 SDRAM
- Networking: 10/100/1000Base-T, Airport
- Removable Drives: Optional 250 MB Zip
- Slots: Four PCI slots 64-bit 33MHz, One AGP 4X graphics slot (filled), Airport slot
- Drive Bays: 4 (3.5") - one external
- Additional Ports: 2 FireWire (400Mbps), 2 USB, Modem, headphones, Apple speaker Minijack)
- Supported Mac OS: 9.2 or later
- Introduced: 7/01
- Discontinued: -
- Current Prices
Power Mac Upgrade & Troubleshooting
Set Up, Documentation & Features:
Apple takes great care in both the packaging of their products and in the out-of-box experience for the consumer. When you first open up the carton you'll find that, not only has your new computer been swathed with enough curvaceous Styrofoam to survive the bumps and bruises of shipping, but that all the accessory items are individually wrapped, like little presents. The sturdy clear plastic wrapping is to prevent the burnished objects from becoming dull or scuffed during transit.
Once you have everything unpacked, and the floor is littered with wrappings et al, you just plug everything in - keyboard, mouse ... Ethernet cable, if you use it to access the a network or the Internet - and you are ready to power-up. For monitor connections, the Quicksilvers come with both Apple's proprietary ADC connector, which is a great technology but will only connect to Apple's line of displays, and an old fashioned VGA connector. The VGA connector allows you to hook up most of the other monitors currently for sale.. These two connectors reside on the fast NVIDIA GeForce2 MX graphics card that comes installed in the machines. The two low-end machines, the 733 and 867, come standard with the GeForce2 MX cards with 32 MB of graphics memory. The dual processor machine comes with an enhanced GeForce2 MX with 64 MB of memory. This card can power two monitors at once (one of the monitors has to have an ADC connection - ie it must be connected to a relatively new Apple branded monitor. For those heavily into gaming or 3D modeling, and that crave even more graphics power (a potential 800 billion operations a second, to be exact), the new GeForce3 MX card with 64MB of super fast DDR RAM, is a build-to-order option.
All the Quicksilvers come with 3 standard drive bays. One will be filled with an ATA/66 drive of either 80 GB (800 MHz machine), 60 GB (the 867 MHz one) or 40 GB (the 733 MHz one) capacity. Of course if you go the Build-to-Order route, you can have any drive in your Mac that you want including SCSI drives. The capacities listed above are the standard configurations. You can put over 200 GB of hard disk storage into one of these machines, if you opt for 3 SCSI drives and purchase a PCI SCSI card. If you stick with ATA drives you can only have up to 2 of these installed. One of the ATA drives will serve as the Master drive and the other as the Slave drive. The Quicksilvers come setup to support 2 ATA drives. The limit of two ATA drives is an unfortunate part of the protocols of the ATA standard. You can have both ATA drives and SCSI drives installed at the same time, though they will not be on the same drive chain. There is also an external drive bay that can house an optional Zip or other type of removable drive.
Apple had received a lot of complaints in the past for only providing 3 PCI slots in their Pro machines. Continuing from the trend set in the last 2 rounds of Power Mac revisions, the Quicksilvers have 4, 33 MHz PCI slots. There is also a dedicated 66 MHz 4x AGP slot that houses the graphics card.
For optical drives, the two high-end Tower models have the acclaimed SuperDrive which will read, write and re-write CDs, and will also read and write DVDs. So you can spend copious amounts of time creating your own multimedia presentations, that can be played, not only in your Mac, but also on third party CD or DVD players. The 733 MHz entry level Mac only has CD-RW functionality.
On the software side of things, all the Power Macs currently come with OS 9.2.1 and OS X pre-installed (probably by the time you read this OS 10.1, which is a great improvement over previous releases). The default boot OS is 9.2 but it is a simple matter using the Startup Disk control panel to select OS 10 as your default OS.
Additional software includes: iMovie 2 - Apple's excellent consumer level video editing software, iTunes - for downloading and playing MP3s and Internet radio stations, and for playing CD's, iDVD - which allows you to assemble and burn DVDs, Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, Netscape Communicator, Palm Desktop and FAXstf - fax software.
Performance: The performance of all the Quicksilver Power Macs is very good. However the top two models out class the 733 MHz. This is largely because of the absence of a L3 backside cache in the 733 MHz machine. Both the 867 MHz machine and the Dual Processor 800 MHz have 2 MB of L3 backside cache. The extra L3 cache will make itself felt when working with large documents or databases, doing such things as searches, sorts, replace commands etc.
Most of the results presented below are from applications that are not dual processor aware. Also we did the performance testing using Mac OS 9.2. As such, you will only see the dual processor machine pulling ahead of the other two Quicksilver Macs in a few of the tests. This does not show the whole story however. Under Mac OS X, applications can take full advantage of multitasking and multithreading. In this scenario the more processing power you have the better.The dual processor machine will run rings around the single processor machine when using multiple applications at once, or applications that have been designed to fully utilize dual processors.
This is the direction that applications are going as they become optimized to run under OS X,. We are still in the beginning stage of Mac OS X optimized applications. This year should see many more applications coming online, as developers rewrite or tweak their applications to take advantage of the power of OS X and the G4.
We have done some testing under OS X as well, so be sure to check the links below.
Problems: We didn't come across any significant problems with these machines, however there are a few annoyances. First is the length of the USB cord on the keyboard ... it is pathetically short! It is way too short to be plugged into the back of the Quicksilver's tower case, unless you have the computer right next to your monitor. The only reason I can see for such a short cord is that Apple wants you to plug it into a monitor ... one of their monitors, which come with USB connectors built-in. For the rest of us, that don't have a recent Apple monitor and want to put the tower off to one corner of the desk or on the floor, you'll need to get a USB extension cord.
One other problem we had occured when we were running our MP3 encode test using iTunes. For this test we encode a music file from a CD. When trying to convert the file, iTunes would crash. We solved the problem by burning the file onto a CD using a Quicksilver SuperDrive, which iTunes then had no problem encoding.
A minor quibble is the amount of noise that the Quicksilver's fan puts out. I have heard this compared to a jetliner taking off. This is of course an exaggeration, but the machines are noisy, especially if you put the back of the computer next to a solid surface, like a wall. The reason the fan is so noisy is that it is big. It has to be because if you completely fill the computer with 4 PCI cards and 5 drives, all of which can throw off significant heat, you will need that extra cooling capability. We solved the noise problem by putting the tower onto the floor, underneath the desk. In this roomy location the noise of the computer was not much greater than any other.
Though unique and gorgeous, the Pro optical mouse that ships with the machines, is really not adequate for Pro users. Pro Users need multiple buttons and a scroll wheel. The Apple Pro Mouse only offers the equivalent of one button operability.
Finally, joining the 'Me Too' crowd, we wish Apple would bring back the Power On/Off button to the keyboard. Not only would this be convenient, but would make it easy to shut down the machine when operating in headless mode ... without a monitor.
Conclusions: The Quicksilver Towers are fast, sleek and attractive. They are cleanly engineered, and the ease with which you can upgrade them is a delight.
The 733 MHz machine is somewhat hampered by the lack of a backside (L3) cache, but is certainly fast enough for those on a budget and who have more modest computing needs.
The 867 MHz machine gives you an enhanced processor subsystem , more hard drive space and the SuperDrive. It is also the fastest Mac you can buy, MHz for MHz. In some instances its performance will beat the dual 800 MHz machine. However it is a $800 price premium over the 733 and you'll have to ask yourself whether you are going to use the 18-20% performance improvement.
Who should purchase the Dual 800 MHz Quicksilver? If you are doing any kind of production type work where you need all the processing power you can get, and the applications you use are either dual processor aware under OS X or soon will be, the Dual Processor machine is for you. Even if your applications are not dual processor aware you can benefit from OS X's multitasking capabilities making maximum use of your machine by running more than one process at once from different applications. Both processors will be utilized under this scenario. This capability should be enough to justify the $1,000 premium you'll pay over the 867 MHz tower. Also there has been testing elsewhere, that indicates future computer games may be able to be written to take advantage of both dual processors and the advanced capabilities of the G4 processor.
Again you need to ask yourself if you need all this processing power. Having it may make you prepared for the times when you need it, and may be forward looking to when applications require more and more processing power. But the fact is that most of us only use a fraction of the processing potential of our machines.
These are, after all, Pro machines. They are supremely upgradable and powerful. But if you are only doing light-duty computer work, , an iMac or iBook may be a better choice for you.
"Real World" Tests
The tests below are from our suite of real world application tests. These tests feature a diverse selection of applications commonly used by the Mac community. The test suite was designed to render an accurate and well rounded picture of a machine's performance. All of the tests below (with the exception of the Quake III & Cinebench 2000 tests) were timed with a stopwatch. The times are then converted to percentages relative to our base Blue & White G3/350 machine which is set to 100%. For all scores, higher numbers are better. Absolute scores for most tests can be found below this section.
AppleWorks 6 Tests
Quake III Tests
These scores are relative. Actual frame rates for all machines below this section.
Photoshop 6 & Other Data Crunching Tests