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REVIEW: 2001 PowerMac G4/533 w/Nvidia GeForce2MX
By David Linder
1/19/2001
(Part 2 appended 1/23/2001)

Introduction
Late in the day, 3 days ago, I got the phone call I have been waiting for (no not that a titainium G4 awaited me) but the G4/533 base system that I had ordered the afternoon of the MacWorld keynote on January 9th had arrived at my reseller. The next morning I was was there as they opened the store and took the machine home for testing over the next 2 days.

My impressions of the machine are based on having used a G4/450 MP since they were introduced, and I will make some comparisons to that system.

Out of the box, the new 2001 G4 desktops come with OS 9.1 preinstalled, along with its new layout of items within Macintosh HD to make way for us to all be able to have less of a mess running OS X when it ships in March. What you see now is only 3 folders, Applications (Mac OS 9), Documents and System Folder. It is interesting that you are not able to rename the Applications folder, but you can rename the 2 others.

Also of note was that the performance of my iDisk both in downloading and uploading appears much improved over OS 9.0.4. It now only takes about 5 seconds to load up my iDisk onto the desktop.

Machine Configuration
As shipped, the versions of relavent software included:

QuickTime 4.1.2 - the latest non-beta
OpenGL 1.2 - not OpenGL 1.2.1*
CarbonLib 1.1.1
NVIDIA 2D Acceleration 1.0.9
NVIDIA Driver Update 1.0.9
NVIDIA DVD Accelerator 1.0.9
NVIDIA Engine 1.0.9
NVIDIA OpenGL 1.0.9
NVIDIA Resource Manager 1.0.9
NVIDIA Video Accelerator 1.0.9
DVD Navigation Manager NV 2.5 - for DVD on NVIVIA card
Apple DVD Player 2.5

* - Apple TIL 25232 states under API support the NVIDIA supports "OpenGL 1.2 and lower". Is that a typo or is there some limitation with the current drivers. Regardless, as shipped with OpenGL 1.2, I ran in to no artifacts or performance problems with this card.

The software Update control panel found CarbonLib 1.2, Disk Burner 1.0 and Mac OS Runtime for Java 2.2.4, but no updates were applied all test being done as the system ships from Apple. After numerical testing was done, CarbonLib was updated to 1.2 with no noticable impact on performance.

The production information is:

    ROM revision: $77D.45F6
    Boot ROM version: $0004.11f1
    Mac OS ROM file version: 6.7.1
The machine was very "fresh" as the internal Maxtor 5T040H4 hard drive had a Manufactured Date of January 3, 2001 in Singapore, the machine was assembled in the US and then to a Canadian distributer and to my reseller in Vancouver Canada, Discount Mac on January 16th.


Internal HD
The box of the CPU shows a "40 Gig 5400rpm Ultra ATA/66 HD" as being installed, but thankfully this is in error, as the drive installed is a Maxtor Diamond Max Plus 60 series, 40 Gig, with an ATA/100 interface, 7200rpm, 2MB cache. And wow is it ever quiet, even when booting up the drive noise is almost completely masked buy the noise of the cooling fans. On power up, there is a sound similar to the memory test clicks on a PC, but after the drive is up to speed it is virtually silent. Of course even in the new 2001 G4's, the motherboard is still only ATA/66 but the drive performs very well despite this.


RAM
From Apple, the installed RAM was Samsung PC133-333 RAM, which Apple System Profiler stated as PC133 CL2 or CAS Latency 2. [Note: If the RAM was 333, ASP should have reported it as CAS3-Mike]
(David later wrote regarding my comment-Mike)

"Mike,
To clarify, what I mean is that the RAM module that came from Apple, which had a Samsung sticker on it that says "PC133-333". In Apple System Profiler, with only this one RAM module installed, it stated that the installed RAM was CL2 RAM.

When I put the 3rd party RAM in the machine, with the Apple RAM removed, Apple System Profiler said the RAM was CL3.

Interestingly enough, with both RAM modules installed, the Apple System Profiler says the RAM is CL2, when really one is CL3."

CAS Latency is defined as the number of clock cycles from the time the column address is provided until the DRAM outputs valid data. An additional 128MB of PC133 RAM, which Apple System Profiler stated as PC133 CL3 was also installed, with no Memory Performance differences shown in Guage Pro v1.1. Further testing is required to see if the new Apple motherboard will take any advantage of the CL2 SDRAM.


Internal CD-RW
We have all been wondering what CD-RW drive these new models would ship with, or if your lucky to have ordered a 733MHz, what DVD-R. Well the CD-RW is a SONY CRX140E, which is actually a 8x/4x/32x drive, not as Apple claims. Sony does however note that the drive has a variable read speed of 13x - 32x, so perhaps Apple was just being conservative. One thing about this drive is that while reading a disk, the spin down is very fast. So as you are looking though directories, the drive has spun down and needs get spun up again when you get to opening the next subfolder. The Apple DVD-ROM in the previous G4 MP series was less pronounced in this aspect.

The SONY drive also has what looks like a rubber o-ring seal on the drawer, although due to its location, may be more for letting the tray close with less of a clunky click. With the G4 case design, the tray front is already better protected from dust than most other CD-RW's anyway.

There are also certain implications to having a internal CD-RW that take getting used to. If you do place a CD-R or CD-RW that the machine is unable to read, it will ask if you want to format it, and if your disk does have data on it, it will let you erase it. That could be usefull, but people used to the past where when a CD could not be read in their CD-ROM would press Another issue is access to the front panel of the computer is required to be able to write CD's, whereas with a FireWire connected external CD-RW you can place the noisy CPU away from you.


Using Dual Monitors
And that brings us to the next quibble, no more on/off or startup/shutdown on the keyboard. I sorely miss that cabability, as again access is required to the front of the CPU just to turn on the computer. Some may point out that the Apple monitors with an ADC connector have a startup/sleep button, however in my situation I am using a dual monitor configuration, and at this time and likely forever at any reasonable cost there is no way to use 2 Apple ADC monitors, forcing the purchase of two 3rd party monitors. As a note, all of the tests of this machine were performed with only the NVIDIA video card installed, no PCI cards or non-Apple extensions were used.


CPU Type/Performance
Sad to say it, but the CPU in my system is still a G4 7400 Rev 2.9, same as the chip in the older G4/450MP machines. [Note: Another G4/533 owner reported GaugePro 1.1 reported his G4 was a 7410-Mike]

Running the Fractal PPC test, using AltiVec results were:

G4/533 = 7.3 sec, 1843.3 MFLOPS
G4/450MP = 8.7 sec, 1553.7 MFLOPS

Note that it likely matters, here are the MacBench 5.0 scores:

CPU = 1715
FPU = 2020


Memory Performance
Tested using Guage Pro 1.1 shows 303MB/sec moving memory (64 bit stream). The G4 450 Mp system ran as 237.6MB/sec moving memory (64 bit stream).


2D Performance
Performance in finder windows and using Internet Explorer was very snappy versus the Rage 128 Pro based G4/450MP system I am used to. Acual scroll tests etc will follow by Monday, but for now just now that 2D is very fast with the NVIDIA card.


3D Performance
I was able to run the Oni Demo, Quake 3 Arena 1.27g Demo and Quake 3 1.11 Demo, all with out any artifacts, and very smooth clean graphics.

The following are framerates from Quake 3 Demo 1.11 with 150MB assigned to Quake, 32Bit Color and 32Bit Textures, Geometric Detail High, Texture Quality Maximum -1, All Game Options on with exception of Marks on Walls, Audio settings Low and no config tweeks, and a minimal extensions set, running DEMO 001. The machine was restarted after each test.

I also perfored the same tests with the Rage 128 Pro using the 6.0.1 ATI driver installed into the G4/533's AGP 4x slot. I do not have access to a Radeon card, but if someone out there can run these same tests and configuartions, we will see who excells in 3D!

G4/533MHz
Quake3 DEMO v1.11 Tests
GeForce2MX
FPS
Rage128 PRO
FPS
Radeon**
FPS
640x480 80.554.964.4
800x600 73.6 37.561
1024x768 56.923.453.8
1600x1200 22.2N/AN/A

** Another reader's G4/533 system report from the FPS Database. 32Bit mode but not exact same Demo version or settings, or memory allocation. I've asked for a retest by that reader. I'd expect the DDR Radeon to be faster at 1024x768/32bit mode than the GeForce2MX. The Radeon BTO card is much faster at higher res 3D than the Rage128 Pro (faster Chip + DDR RAM). See my Radeon BTO vs Rage128 Pro review for test results-Mike

It is interesting to note that the Apple Audio Extension did make a significant change in the performance of the graphics, at lower screen reolutions. Without this extension, there is however no sound from the computer (except startup bong), but here are the frame rates without the Apple Audio Extension installed:

G4/533MHz
* No Apple Audio Extension *
Quake3 DEMO v1.11 Tests
GeForce2MX
FPS
% Boost
640x480 103.4+28%
800x600 86.9 +18%

[Note: at first I missed the comment on no sound at all, thinking it was just system sounds that were disabled. There's also boosts seen from disabling sound in Q3 alone, since audio seems to consume a lot of CPU time on the Mac.-Mike]

At 1024x768 and higher, the numbers were unchanged with or without the Apple Audio Extension installed.

To see how fast framerates could go, I also tested at 640x480 with all Game Options off and no Apple Audio Extension, but no other changes and this resulted in 116.9fps!

I hope that some Radeon owners out there with G4/533's can post their results too.

I also tested for Cinebench performance, and here are the results done at 1024x768 at 24 Bit color:

CineBench 2000 Tests GeForce2MX
G4/533
Rage128 PRO
G4/533
Rage128 PRO
G4/450MP
Rage128 PRO
G4/500
Shading Cinema 4D 6.066.064.985.30
Shading OpenGL 7.59 7.446.126.60
RayTracing 1 CPU 7.277.286.006.45
RayTracing 2 CPUs N/AN/A10.48N/A

It seems interesting that the gain in OpenGL is more significant from the older G4/MP series, rather than the video card type.

G4 TimeDemo was also strange, here are the results, Amazing. Millions of Colors:

G4/533MHz
G4 TimeDemo
FPS
GeForce2MX
FPS
G4/533
Rage128 PRO
FPS
G4/533
Rage128 PRO
FPS
G4/450MP
640x480 64.375.462.6

No that is not a typo, the Rage 128 Pro installed in the G4/533 was faster than the NVIVIA card! I would like to know why that should be... thoughts anyone?

And lastly, ThroughPut 1.4 results:

G4/533MHz
ThroughPut 1.4 Tests
GeForce2MXRage128 PRO
Using CPU 173.552.2
Using FPU 379.0 179.1
Using Altivec 547.0184.6
Using CopyBits 378.0 223.0

Again, a single extension wil make big difference in this test. With the NVIDIA 2D Accelerator installed, the copybits score with the NVIDIA card drops to 197.0 from 378.0! Any toughts on this one?

[Rene Trost, Author of ThroughPut 1.4 commented on the results-Mike]

"The high AltiVec result (547 MB/sec.) is impressive and clearly shows the advantage of the new 4xAGP port. On the other side - the CopyBits result shows that the GeForce driver isn't optimized yet. Looks like the current driver set doesn't support BurstCache or AltiVec transfers. Maybe future updates will do - with a performance boost up to 45% (at least in 2D graphics)!
Rene Trost.
"


HD Performance
Even with it's quiet noise levels, the Maxtor HD was indeed a strong performer. Using ATTO Bench 2.5, the following measurements were made:

Peak Read = 60.30MB/s
Sustained Read = 37.22MB/s
Peak Write = 51.56MB/s
Sustained Write = 37.23MB/s

It is interesing to note that the Sustained reads and writes are very well matched with this drive. I have included the chart for those who want a screen shot of the performance.

ATTO 8MB Benchmark results

I also tested MacBench disk scores as follows: Disk = 2640
Publishing Disk = 2150


Application Performance/Compatability
I will be doing some more applications tests this weeekend, and will post my findings before Monday. however at this time, of all the applications I have tested so far have run without any problems.

I would still like to test the DVD cabability, but I have yet to find an easy way to swap the DVD-ROM from my G4 450MP for testing. I will also be tested the RIP performance of iTunes with the internal CD-RW as well.

For those audio buffs out there, I am going to be configuring the system to use a Digi 001 audio card/controller along with a second video card (ATI Xclaim 3d Plus) for use in a small production room.

I have attached some photos of the NVIDIA GeForce2 MX card, as well as some shots of the motherboard. Note the new green lock on the AGP slot, it used the notch on the video card to hold the card very firmly in the slot.


Summary
I have yet to find any serious faults with this machine, and am very happy that so far there are no issues with the new video card or OS 9.1. Please note however that there is no longer any audio input on this generation of machines. You will require a USB/FireWire/PCI based method to input audio. There is still a regular headphone/line output.

Update to follow by Sunday.
-David Linder

Review Update (Part 2):

DVD Playback
I was able to swap in a DVD-ROM drive that came with a G4/450MP system, and I am happy to report that the DVD drivers for the Nvidia card did work. As the version of Mac OS 9.1 was preinstalled, the version of the Apple DVD Player used is 2.5. This version has a preference setting that allows you to open Video_TS folders from a local hard drive (but not from a network volume) and play back the DVD data. Presumable this feature is intended for those who are authoring DVD contest to write with their Apple SuperDrive and which to preview the content.

Playing back The Matrix and A Bugs Life DVD's, as long as you did not have the floating Apple DVD controller in the way, playback was smooth and the images were very clear. However as I am now used to from the G4/450MP system, playback still seems to hog the CPU as if you try to anything other than just watch the movie; the images freezes and you lose a lot of frames when accessing the menubar or the Apple DVD controller. For the first release of Nvidia DVD drivers, it is far better than the first iMac's with DVD playback, which hardly worked at all when shipped.

The image quality full screen was excellent, and there were no visible artifacts of the MPEG 2 decoding. If only the machine shipped with a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive, it would be more useful.


CD-RW Drive
Even Steve Jobs has to admit that it was embarrassing that Crapco PC's selling for rock bottom prices came with a CD-RW drive these days, but he has done them one better in this case, by making them easy to use.

Even without the Disc Burner software, which showed up in the Software Update control panel, the iTunes software will let you make an audio CD from any of your .mp3, .wav or .aiff files, and it handles the relevant conversions required to create the CD without you needing to know. iTunes still allows you to decide what bit rate and other relevant parameters to encode to .mp3 format, so you can take control.

Using a combination of .mp3 files and .aiff files, the iTunes software made me an audio CD that I can play in any CD player.

With the Disc Burner software, you can create hybrid HFS+/ISO-9660 discs (the default format, readable by Mac's and PC's). You insert the blank CD-R or CD-RW and let it "Prepare" the disk which only took a few seconds, and then you have a CD-R icon disk on your desktop. You then drag the files you wish to copy to the disk and wen you are done, you can either Control-click the disk and select Burn, or press the Eject key on your keyboard at which time the software will ask if you wish to write to the disk. If yes, a disk image file is created, the CD is written as a single session, and then the data is verified. CD burning has never been easier, and I was able to make a CD-R with 620MB of QuickTime movies in about 10 minutes plus the verify stage.

Ripping audio CD's to .mp3 files from the internal Sony CD-RW drive , ranged from 6.8 to 8.5 times real time, depending on the CD and track being read.


QuickTime Playback
I was able to run 3 concurrent 300kbit/s QuickTime Internet streams on my screen with no audio dropouts or stuttering and no dropped video frames. In another test I played back a 640x480 29.97fps video sequence that was running at a data rate of over 17.7MB/s, full screen (640x480) or in a window, it played without a dropped frame. However, with the older ATI Rage 128 Pro from the G4/450MP, I was able to play back the 17.7MB/s video at double size, with the monitor set to 1600x1200 at millions of colors, without dropped frames. On the Nvidia card with it's current drivers the only size it could play smoothly was the native 640x480 size.

MPEG 1 and other compressed files (Sorensen etc) played back smoothly, even those with higher data rates played smoothly.

It appears that the enhanced motherboard with its better performance will allow for more from a video card, it is just a matter of optimizing the Nvidia drivers further to take better advantage of this new architecture. It is somewhat disappointing to see the Rage 128 Pro outperform the Nvidia card, but even the ATI drivers needed a lot of work to get where they are today, so just think of it as your machine will get faster as it gets older.


Game Compatibility
I was able to play games like Quake 3 Demo, Team Arena, Oni Demo and Driver Demo without any problems, while the one game WaterRace Demo had some graphics problems when first run.
[Note: Game performance tests were noted in above in the original review.]

In the WaterRace Demo, the main menu screen was split and wrapped to the other side of the screen. After selecting the Options menu item by clicking blindly with the mouse, setting the preference for "Use Apple software engine in the interface", the menu screen was fine from then on. It appears that the current Nvidia card driver goes not support "render in a window", at least in the WaterRace Demo. Hopefully updated Nvidia drivers will be on the way soon.


Application Compatibility
Well, no problems for me there. All of the QD3D, DV (iMovie) and video programs I was able to try worked without incident. Older versions of software like Quark Xpress 3.32 also seemed fine, and at this time with the software that I own, I found no programs that were incompatible with the G4/533 systems. I do however appreciate simplicity, and I do not run my system with 200 extensions and gimmicky software that needs a new version with every OS dot upgrade etc. I just find it better to have a leaner system, and I have had less problems with any new system since making that a priority.


Conclusion
The people who are eager to get the latest new systems always have some growing pains, but with the 2001 G4's, there is a lot going for them too.

The new motherboard is the most intricate and clean in layout that I have seen in a computer, it looks like it belongs in some rare piece of hi-tech audiophile equipment. Compared to the motherboard in the G4/450MP which has extra parts added on top of each other, and the parts layout looks almost random, the 2001 G4's design on the other hand is very clean.

But beyond the visual aspect, the 2001 G4's have an AGP 4X slot with a lock to keep the card firmly in place, and an additional PCI slot and better PCI performance too. Many people will want these new systems just to be able to use up the additional PCI slot that has finally appeared.

The bus speed has moved up from 100MHz to 133MHz, and the memory used is now PC133 instead of PC100. There is however only 3 RAM slots now, so you will need to me more careful in planning how much RAM to fill it with and still have room for more down the road. With toadyıs RAM pricing as low as it is, most people can justify adding the amount they need at purchase time.

The new iTunes software I have found to be very user friendly, and a joy to use. I used to use SoundJam, and although similar in many ways, the iTunes doesn't have so many windows popping up on my screen, and I have to admit I do enjoy the visualization too.

Having a built in CD-RW drive is a big plus for new users, and I hope that Apple will be revamping the iMac lineup to support making your own CD's out of the box too.

If the "speed bump" in processor speed is not enough, these many other features should enough to convince a lot of people with aging systems to make their move. With these systems "qualified for OS X" as Steve Jobs said, they will only get better as new software comes out for them, starting with the release of OS X March 24th.
-David Linder

Photos

GeForce2MX Front
OEM GeForce2MX Graphics Card
(Click for Larger Photos)

(See the Video articles page for several GeForce2MX performance tests pages and comparisons to the ATI Radeon.)

Motherboard
New G4 Motherboard


(The following are some comments/info I added to the previous 2001 PowerMac G4 article-Mike)

About the new G4 CPUs: As many of you already noticed I'm sure, the 667MHz and 733MHz models appear to use Motorola's MPC 7450 as they have 256K of on-chio (full-speed) L2 cache and a 1MB L3 cache. (See this Moto. 7450 page for more info.)
As shown on Apple's G4 Specs page, the CDRW drive is a 8x/4x/32x model and the "SuperDrive" is 8x/4x/32x with 2x DVD-R write and 6x DVD ROM read speeds. Also note the $100 ZIP drive BTO option is now a 250MB drive. For more info on the GeForce2 MX graphics card - see our Nvidia GeForce2 MX FAQ & Pix page-Mike


photo by Michael Fortson


For more info on the new G4 Towers, see Apple's PowerMac G4 pages.


Other 2001 G4 System Reviews: On 2/26/2001 a reader sent a first impressions of a G4/733 Mhz System. The Systems and Video articles pages have other new System/Video card performance tests.


Developer Docs: new Power Mac G4 Developer Notes (PDF file). This document indicates the new G4s are still based on the "Core99" chipset, not the so-called (by rumor sites) "UMA-2". A nice feature is the "auto-sensing" of Ethernet connections which allows a std Ethernet cable to be used for peer/peer (computer to computer) connections without a crossover cable. (PB G4 has the same feature.)

Apple TILs and Tech Info on the new G4s:

  • PowerMac G4 Developer Notes
  • Power Mac G4: Clean Installation Disables Disc Burner 1.0
  • Power Mac G4 (Digital Audio): What's New and Different
  • Power Mac G4 (Digital Audio): Technical Specifications
  • CD-RW and SuperDrive: Specifications and Usage Information
  • Power Mac G4 (Digital Audio): NVIDIA Video Card Specifications [link not working 1/17/2001]
  • NVIDIA GeForce2 MX Graphics Card: Technical Specifications [added 1/17/2001]
  • Power Mac G4 (Digital Audio): Digital Sound System Information
  • Power Mac G4 (Digital Audio): Sound Output Ports
  • Power Mac G4 (Digital Audio): Differences Between Models
  • Power Mac G4: Display Compatibility
  • Power Mac G4 (Digital Audio): Disc Burner 1.0 Software Records Single Session Only
  • Power Mac G4 (Digital Audio): Requires PC-133 Memory


    Other MWSF 2001 Articles:


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