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Do You Have To Give Up Performance To Achieve Stability? - PowerLogix's PowerForce G4/450 ZIF Upgrade Card Benchmarked And Reviewed

7-23-2001
by David Engstrom

PowerLogix's upgrades lie somewhere between Sonnet and XLR8 in their degree of customization. With Sonnet you just install the driver software and the upgrade card and then forget about the whole deal - no switches to set, no control panel settings. XLR8 takes the opposite extreme allowing you to set both jumpers on the upgrade card itself and numerous additional settings via the control panel. PowerLogix falls somewhere in the middle, allowing you to set the processor speed on the card itself and a variety of settings on the control panel.

Below we review the PowerLogix PowerForce G4/466/233/1MB ZIF style upgrade card compatible with the following: all Power Mac G3 minitowers and desktops, G3 "All-in-One", and the Blue and White G3's. This is the only G4 ZIF card that PowerLogix manufacturers at present. In machines with a 66MHz system bus (the pathway between the RAM and the processor), the upgrade will run at 466MHz (all the Beige machines). In the Blue & White Power Macs, which have a 100MHz system bus, the card will run at 450MHz.

We ran a series of tests of the card over-clocked to 500MHz, but ran into some stability problems at that speed - applications suddenly quitting and problems during the boot process. At the rated speed of 466MHz (in our Beige G3/233) the card was very stable and ran through all our tests without incident. However this was with a function called "Write Through" turned on in the control panel. "Write Through" enhances the stability of the upgrade card but at the cost of performance. When "Write Through" was turned on, compared to other cards in its class, the PowerForce was slightly under-powered in a variety of tests, and in one of our tests, the PowerLogix card fell down on the job, producing only a little more than half the performance of the similarly clocked XLR8 card . "Write Through" is turned on by default. You can turn it off but doing so may cause stability problems. We tested both with and without "Write Through" turned on and definitely got better scores with it off, but also had several applications suddenly quit on us during the testing process.

Supported Models


Apple: Beige G3 Power Macs (versions are in the works for the Blue & White G3s

Mac OS 8.6 to OS 9.1 supported

Installation

Installing ZIF processor upgrades in the Macintoshes they are intended for, is a snap. The machines are exceptionally easy to get into and the exchange of processors can be done in a few seconds.

Before you can install the processor, however, you need to install some software drivers for the upgrade. On beige G3's the process is straight forward. You run an installer from the CD that comes with the upgrade card. This will place two items in the extension folder; a Profiler Extension which will enable the backside cache of the G4 upgrade, and also allow for other settings, and an AltiVec Enabler which will allow for certain applications, such as Photoshop, to take advantage of the speed enhancements of the G4 processor. In addition
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an application called G3/G4 Cache Profiler will be installed. This application, in conjunction with the Profiler Extension, allows you to tweak various settings of the upgrade card, such as the speed of the backside cache.

If you are installing this upgrade in a Blue & White machine, the software setup is a little more complicated. You do the same as you would above with beige machines, but first you must upgrade the firmware of your G3 machine so that it can work with a G4 processor. This requires you to download a firmware update from Apple's web site, and take some extra steps to install it on your machine. This is a bit of an annoyance but is relatively painless, and is explained well in the instructions that come with the PowerForce card.

To install the upgrade card itself you will need several items; a grounding strap and a small screw driver - which is used to remove the clip that holds the heatsink in place.Unfortunately neither of these items is provided by PowerLogix.

It is essential that you have some sort of grounding device, as very small amounts of static electricity built up in your body, can completely destroy your computer's components. We, ourselves, have fried one motherboard and one processor card because we cavalierly did not follow this advice.

As mentioned above it is very easy to get to the innards of both the Beige and Blue & White G3 Macintoshes. On the Beige Machines you slide off the cover and basically unfold the computer. On the Blue and Whites it is even easier. A latch on the case allows one full side of the computer to fold down, exposing all the nicely laid out components of the machine. Now is the time to attach that grounding strap. Also if you have a Beige machine you should plug the power cord back in - it needs to be removed to unfold the computer. The cord needs to be connected for proper grounding to occur. You can get grounding straps at most computer/electronic stores.

Once you have located the heatsink you use the small screwdriver to remove the clip holding it in place. With the processor exposed, lifting the lever to the left of the ZIF socket releases the G3 processor, and you simply pop the old processor out.

ZIF processor's are keyed and only fit into the socket one way. If you experience any resistance when you install the PowerForce upgrade, you have it lined up wrong. Do not use any excessive force to install the upgrade card. It should more or less fall in place, requiring at the most a gentle nudge to get it to seat.Returning the lever to the set position hugs the upgrade card to the contacts on the motherboard, and after replacing the heatsink, you are almost set to go.

Because this card runs in both the Beige Machines with their 66MHz bus and the Blue & White machines with their 100MHz bus you will need to make some adjustments to the card itself. The bus is the connector that runs between the main memory and the processor card. The ratio of speeds must be compatible for the processor to function properly. Each upgrade manufacturer deals with these issues differently. Sonnet's software sets the speed automatically on their cards. This makes things simple, but does not allow for tweaking to see if you can wring a little more speed out of your card. Both XLR8 and PowerLogix allow you to adjust the speed of the processor, on the card itself. XLR8's approach is a little clumsy, requiring you to fiddle with, hard to manage little jumpers. PowerLogix has a much more elegant and easy method, providing a rotating switch to set jumper settings.

The default setting for the Beige machines is 466MHz, for the Blue and Whites 450MHz. You can try over-clocking the card but stability will vary from card to card. Our card was somewhat unstable when we over-clocked it to 500MHz

Performance

In general, for processor intensive tasks and tasks that take advantage of the AltiVec instructions (Velocity Engine) of the G4, (Photoshop, CineBench 2000, QuickTime, iTunes, iMovie, Final Cut Pro and SoundJam, for example), the PowerForce G4/466 turned in solid performance over our stock Beige G3/266 and our reference machine, the Blue & White G3/350.

However, when compared to a similarly clocked XLR8 card, in some of our tests the PowerLogix card with "Write Through" off lagged slightly behind. With "Write Through" turned on the performance gap grew, and in our search and replace test, the PowerForce card turned in only a little over half the performance of the XLR8 card. This is the major reason for the PowerForce's relatively low ZoneBench Processor score. Again when "Write Through" was turned off we had significant stability problems.

Neither of these cards will give your aging machine the balanced performance of a brand new G4 Power Mac, which will easily trounce a processor upgraded machine in such areas as graphics, drive and gaming performance - areas that are not exclusively reliant on the processor for data interpretation. However an entry level G4 PowerMac these days is going to set you back about $1,700, the PowerForce card costs a little over a quarter of that. It won't give you the performance of the entry level G4 but will definitely be an improvement over your aging G3 - especially in applications that can utilize the acceleration that the G4 offers.

The PowerForce upgrade with "Write Through" was very stable and we encountered no problems with it at this setting.

Our ZoneBench Processor scores for the PowerForce card and the configurations we compared it to are as follows:
Beige G3/266/133/512K 76
Blue & White G3/350 100
PowerForce G4/466 with write through 131.5
PowerLogix PowerForce G4/466/233/1MB 146.2
XLR8 MAChSpeed ZIF G4/466/233/1MB 154.3
PowerMac G4/466 165

Conclusions

Although the PowerLogix card is a solid performer when compared to the machines it is intended to upgrade, it lags somewhat behind in performance when compared to the competition, and, with "Write Through" turned on, can be very far behind in certain functions.

In addition the PowerLogix card has a manufacturer's suggested price that is $50 higher than the XLR8 card. Also the XLR8 card can be used in conjunction with an adapter (available from XLR8) and another G4 ZIF card to form a dual processor configuration - should you like to upgrade your upgrade in the future.

PowerLogix should really be including a grounding strap and, if necessary, a small screwdriver with their upgrade cards. It would also be nice to see them turn their manual, which covers all the bases adequately, but is really more of a pamphlet, into a full fledged manual ... presentation does count for something.

A copy of LINUX is included on the install CD, so you can play with that if you are interested.

Post your comments on this article/upgrade card on our discussion board below.



Product: PowerForce G4/450-466//250-233/1MB
Company: PowerLogix
Rating:  (out of a possible 5)   Reader Reviews

Hits: Solid performance, excellent stability at default setting, easy installation

Misses: Price/Performance lags behind competition, no grounding strap, minimalist manual

SRP: $449 .... Check prices at: OtherWorldComputing ... Small Dog



"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 performance. Click here for detailed information on each test and our machine's configuration. 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.

ZoneBench 2000 Processor Score

 

Finder Tests

 

AppleWorks 6 Tests

 

Quake III Tests
Actual frame rates for all configurations listed below this section.

 

 

Photoshop 6 & Other Data Crunching Tests

 

 

 

 

 

Encoding/Decoding Tests

 

 




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