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Kick Your Older PowerBook Into High Gear A Review Of Sonnet's Crescendo WS G3/500 Upgrade Card

12-7-2001
by Don Engstrom

I'll admit that I was itching to review another upgrade card for my G3/266 PowerBook. More accurately, I have been itching to buy a new TiBook to replace my PowerBook, but with admission prices starting at about $2,200, this isn't in the cards at the moment. Would Sonnet's G3/500 upgrade breathe new life into my aging PowerBook?

Installation

Having installed PowerBook upgrade cards from PowerLogix and (the now defunct) Newer Technology, I was pretty comfortable going in to the installation. Before you start however, bear in mind that Apple's portables were not designed with ease of upgrades in mind. If you are not comfortable working in cramped quarters, you may want to have a professional do the installation for you.

The Crescendo card doesn't require any extensions or control panels to run, but you will need to copy the ROM file from your current processor card onto the new card. Sonnet provides a utility to copy the file. This is to avoid troubles with Apple's legal team and is the approach used by PowerLogix as well.

The application for copying the ROM gave me some problems initially, freezing repetedly. This was under the "OS 9.2 all" extension set. Switching to the base set and pulling a CardBus USB card allowed the application to run successfully. Sonnet includes a bent metal tool for pulling the processor card out which is a real time saver as it eliminates the need to pull the hard drive. The photocopied instructions won't win any design awards, but are clear and well written. The entire installation process, less troubleshooting time, was about 20 minutes.

Supported Models

Compatible with the following PowerBook models:

  • PowerBook G3 Series 233
  • PowerBook G3 Series 250
  • PowerBook G3 Series 266
  • PowerBook G3 Series 292
  • PowerBook G3 Series 300

Mac OS 8.1 to OS X supported

Performance

Within the first five minutes of using the card I was scheming of ways to make it a permanent addition to my PowerBook. Even without formal benchmarks, the speed gains were immediately obvious. Applications that creaked and groaned in protest under the G3/266, became young and frisky again. Searches in very large spreadsheets (something I do a lot of throughout the work day) sped up noticeably.

I spent most of my time with the card booted under OS 9.2, but I was pleasantly surprised at the performance of OS X with the G3/500 installed. Application launch times dropped and overall system responsiveness improved significantly as well. Windows dragged across the screen a little more smoothly but were still not completely free of jitters. No doubt the anemic ATI RAGE LT PRO graphics chip (with 4MB SGRAM) is at fault here.

Most of the benchmarks below were run under OS X, and the scores verified my initial observation that this is one fast card. In general terms, the Crescendo PowerBook ranged between 50% and 100% faster than the base setup. There were a few performance spikes in the test results, most noticeably in our tests involving iTunes, AppleWorks and Sherlock.

Conclusions

The Crescendo G3/500 spent a little over a month in the PowerBook and ran like a top. I didn't experience any problems beyond the installer glitches described above and regretted having to return the card at the end of the loan period. Not all of us can justify the cash layout for a brand new PowerBook. Sonnet's crescendo does an excellent job of extending the life of your older PowerBook.

Post your comments or questions about this article/upgrade card in our Sonnet discussion forum.

Product: Crescendo WS G3/500/250/1MB
Company: Sonnet Technoligies
Rating:  (out of a possible 5)

Hits: Great performance & stability, 3 year warranty.

Misses: Can't do much to help graphics performance.

"Real World" Tests

The tests below are from a transitional suite of real world application tests for OS X. These tests feature a diverse selection of applications commonly used by the Mac community. All applications were running under OS X except Photoshop 6 which was running in the Classic environment. All scores were timed with a stopwatch and then converted to a relative score with the base PowerBook G3/266 set to 100%. Higher scores are better.

QuickTime 5 Tests

Export file using sorenson 2x CD setting and convert file to DV stream. Very processor intensive.

 

iMovie 2 Test

The first test clocks the time to import a DV file into a new iMovie project. The second to apply a "ripple effect" to the entire movie. No significant gains on the fist test, but a respectable improvement on the second.

 

 

iTunes 2 Test

Time to convert 4 songs from CD to MP3 files. Here the faster processor really shines!

 

Photoshop 6 Test

Run under the Classic environment. A negligible difference in the scores. Not surprising, as the graphics subsystem is the determining factor.

 

AppleWorks 6.2 Test

Again, the Sonnet card really shines here! We searched a 500+ page document, replacing the letter 'e' with the letter 'a.' Not a common task, of course, but a real workout for the processor...

 

Sherlock Test

Here we used Sherlock to index a 245MB folder containing 4,435 items.

 

AltiVec Fractal Demo

Another processor intensive task. Performance more than doubles with the Sonnet card.

Let 1K Windows Bloom

A simple carbon application that opens and closes 1,000 windows and times the results.

Copy Tests

These tests are mostly disk intensive, but there is still a modest performance gain in both cases with the Sonnet card.

 

Stuffit 6.5 Decompression

Application Launch

Time to launch and quit AppleWorks 6.2, Sherlock and iTunes 2 xxx times. Again, a common task has been exaggerated to give the processor a thorough workout and yield a more accurate score.

Boot/Reboot Tests

Time to reboot OS X (no login screen) and launch the classic environment via system preference panel. I would assume that disk access is the limiting factor in both cases...

 

Multitasking Tests

Various combinations of the tests above, run simultaneously.

 

 




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