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Inside The PowerCenter Pro
Published: November 1997
= Review Summary =
PROS: Fastest Bus Speed of any 604E Mac.
Ultra SCSI Card Included (in non-base systems)
1 Meg L2 cache standard.
16X Cdrom standard.
Higher performance than other systems with faster CPU's.
CONS: Video Riser scheme requires removing bottom of case to add PCI cards.
2MB Video Riser not upgradable, 4MB Video Riser expensive ($199).
Rage II Video speed mediocre, especially in 3D/Rave.
Some Compatibility issues with upgrades.
MacBench 4.0 Scores | Compatibility issues | Related Links Introduction:
Power Computing's PowerCenter Pro was a instant success the minute it was released. Boasting an exclusive 60mhz bus, 1 Meg L2 cache and PCI Ultra SCSI card (in non-base systems) it outperformed models costing thousands more.
The PowerCenter Pro was also well received by the trade press and won many awards for its stellar performance and excellent bang for the buck. I was lucky enough to obtain a refurbished unit a few months ago and have been extremely pleased with it. In its day, the PowerCenter Pro was another example of how Power Computing was the technology leader in MacOS systems.
Built for Speed:
I was quite surprised to see stock PCP 180 deliver a MacBench 4.0 CPU score of 524. That's higher than some Apple 233mhz systems, and shows what a 1 Meg L2 cache and 60mhz bus speed can do for performance.
The PowerCenter Pro is based on a optimized version of the Catalyst (7200) motherboard, but containing a 1 Meg L2 cache and CPU card slot, along with selected ASIC's (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) for the faster bus speed. The Motherboard and stock L2 cache had some headroom as well, as it ran at a 63mhz bus speed when equipped with the PowerLogix PowerBoost Pro 233 card.
Shortly after buying the PCP 180, I was able to obtain a PCP 210mhz CPU card. MacBench scores are shown below for all these configurations, and with the PowerLogix Pro card set to 60mhz bus/240mhz CPU speed to mimic a PCP 240 system. The PowerLogix Pro CPU card scores are also shown at the highest bus speeds (63mhz) and highest CPU speed (261.6mhz) we could reliably obtain in the PowerCenter Pro.
My "as purchased" PowerCenter Pro contained:
- 180mhz CPU card with 60mhz bus
- 1 Meg L2 cache
- Adaptec 2930 PCI Ultra-SCSI controller
- IBM 5400 rpm Ultra-SCSI drive
- 16X Teac CDrom
- 32 Megs ram (1 dimm - 3 free slots)
- 2 Meg Vram Rage II Video Riser
- OS 7.6.1 CDrom w/software bundle
As mentioned previously, I've replaced the stock 60/180 card with a 60/210 card and added three 16 Meg Dimms to bring total memory to 80 Megs. I've also added the usual "essentials" like Speed Doubler.
Although the expansion capability of the PowerCenter Pro pales in comparison to the PowerTower Pro, it still exceeds many of the Apple models as far as drive bays at least. As delivered, there were two 5.25" bays and one internal 3.5" bay free.
The unit arrived with 32MB of ram, as one Dimm, with three free Dimm slots remaining. According to the manual, up to 64MB Dimms may be used to provide a maximum of 256MB of Ram. (Note: The Tech Manual for the PCP shows up to 512MB of ram is possible using 128MB dimms)
Two PCI slots were free, as the third was taken by the supplied Adaptec 2930 PCI SCSI card. Note that nowhere on Adaptec's web site can you find any information on the 2930. It appears to be similar to a 2940UW without the wide scsi capability and connectors. I am not sure if the 2940UW PowerDomain control panel can be used with the 2930.
Notes and First Impressions:
Although the system was a "refurbished" one, it appeared brand new and showed no signs of use or wear. I was very pleased with the appearance and condition.
Even with "only" the stock 180mhz CPU, the PowerCenter Pro was very responsive in the finder and applications. Although I did not notice it from actual use, I later discovered that the 2930 was not running in "Ultra-SCSI" mode, and enabling that mode in the Power Domain control panel nearly doubled the MacBench disk scores (the fact they were low initially led to my discovery of the Ultra-SCSI mode).
The software bundled included OS7.6.1, ClarisWorks 4.0, Nisus Writer (trial), FWB's CDrom ToolKit and Hard Disk Toolkit Personal Edition (upgradable for $29 to the full version), NetDoubler, Now Up-to-date and Contact, and the Netware Client v5.1 - all on one PowerComputing CDrom.
The supplied system manual was well illustrated, complete and easy to understand. Manuals for CDrom and Hard Disk Toolkit were also included.
All software was pre-installed on the hard disk except for ClarisWorks, Nisus Writer, Now Up-to-date and Contact, and the Netware Client. This could have been due to the fact this system was a refurbished one, but I suspect its due to licensing and/or to allow the end user to taylor the installion of each of these applications (or choose not to install them). I was very satisfied with the supplied software bundle but a little disappointed I did not receive the Clarisworks registration card - which has the serial number need to run the application. I'm attempting now to obtain this number now from Power Computing's tech support. (Note: A reader just informed me that a serial number is actually not required, as any number can be entered there.)
MacBench 4.0 Scores: PowerCenter Pro Reference Information:
- -The Power Computing web site is closed but see my Links page, PowerCC section for many Power Computing related links. (Note: Apple may change links to PowerComputing Info below in the future)
- -Apple's new PowerComputing Tech Info Pages (at the bottom of the page)
- -Apple's new Power Computing Updates page.
- -PowerWatch - the unofficial Power Computing web site (No longer on web)
- In general, G4 CPU Upgrades so far (as of 2001 - G4/7400 and 7410 chips) are not compatible with the Catalyst motherboard. There is reportedly a signal (pin) missing that is required for the G4/7400-7410.
- One reader with a 2940W (UW?) SCSI card noted flashing the card to v4.1 resulted in problems reading the hard drive. (I seem to remember other reports on problems with 4.x firmware in older macs, but can't remember the details now. The SCSI page has a B&W G3 owners tests/comments on v3.0 vs v4 firmware.)
- PowerForce G3 CPU cards: Problems with 7200 graphics accel. extension was noted in my PowerForce Tips page for more info.
- The PCI Timing Update helps with stuttering audio issues. (Noted in the Power3D 3Dfx card review and recommended by ATI as well). Note that many PCI SCSI card users report disabling UltraSCSI solves some audio/video playback issues as well (on some cards like the Initio Miles SCSI card, lowering the clock rate to 14Mhz [with their SmartSCSI utility] usually is a fix and may be faster than the 10Mhz non-UltraSCSI mode). See my Audio topic of the FAQ for more info including other tips like using a different disk driver or the onboard scsi port vs. a PCI SCSI card.
- Enabling Virtual Memory is said to help audio problems with some G3 CPU cards but see the previous tip as well.
- Some owners of Number Nine Imagine 128 and Imagine chip based Formac/MacTell video cards report the cards do not work in PowerCenter Pros (but did work in their other Macs). The July 30th, 1998 news page had a reader report on this.
- I could not get a Iomega JazJet PCI SCSI card to work in my PowerCenter Pro. No drives attached to it were detected. (Zapping the PRAM might help)
- The L2 Cache dimm is 3.3 Volt, not 5 Volt like most other models. This is important to remember if you buy an aftermarket cache to replace it. The manual mentions a possible motherboard jumper to change to a 5V model but I've not verified that exists.
Riser Card Note: One problem I saw early on but forgot to mention it. The PCPro uses a 'riser' card that has the Video chip, etc. that mates to the motherboard at a right angle (see the later pages of this review for more details). In my unit I noticed the riser was 'cocked' a bit and not seated squarely in the motherboard connector. This was due to the motherboard not being 'square' with the case. I loosened the motherboard screws and shifted the motherboard a bit to correct the problem, which took tension off the riser and allowed it to seat properly. In some cases this could be a cause of functional problems if the riser connector is not fully seated.
PowerCenter Pro Manuals: Here's some (1997) links I found to Service and User Manuals for the PowerCenter Pro. (These are direct download links of Adobe Acrobat PDF files)
- PowerCenter Pro 180/210 Minitower Service Manual (PCP240 only difference in CPU card)
- PowerCenter Pro Low-Profile case Service Manual
- PowerCenter Pro User Manual
These manuals include motherboard diagrams, etc. (See the later pages of this article linked below for photos inside the PowerCenter Pro MT case.)
For other PowerComputing model manuals see this Apple FTP site.
Where to buy:
At the date this was first published (1997), MacBase had some refurbished PowerCenter Pro systems for sale. If you want a PowerCenter Pro - I'd suggest snapping up the next one you see, for these will surely be the last available. You could also check the used market, at places like ebay.
I welcome comments about this review or product.
I do not have information on availability of units or other sales information.
Want to see what's inside the PowerCenter Pro?
Yes - Rip the cover off!
Index of PowerCenter Pro Pages
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