G3/250 upgrade for the PowerBook 1400 – Review

NuPowr G3/250 upgrade for the PowerBook 1400 series
Company: Newer Technology
Estimated Price: $979.00


Newer Technology has really come through with a great upgrade for PowerBook 1400 owners. Their NuPowr line is a user-friendly, easy-to-install, high performance G3 upgrade for the 1400 series which packs a good price/performance punch.

The NuPowr came packaged with ample padding, an anti-static strip to use while installing, and most importantly, a well-written and easy to understand manual. (Additionally, the manual had a great sense of humor! Some of the photographs in the manual featured ill-advised handling techniques, such as propping the 1400’s flip-up keyboard up against the LCD display, and the manual is quick to point out the mistake with some humorous comments.)

Installing the upgrade card was as easy as pie. I had already gotten inside my 1400’s guts once before to install a RAM upgrade, so the procedure was not foreign to me. However, someone without a lot of experience handling computer components could probably install the card, too. Both Apple’s engineers, who made the 1400’s innards incredibly user-friendly, and the manual writers at Newer, who gave a nicely detailed description of the steps involved, deserve a pat on the back for this fact. To put it simply, once you’re inside the 1400, installation requires nothing more than removing a few screws with a small Phillips screwdriver, popping out the existing 603e processor, replacing it with the G3 card, and putting all the screws back where you found them.


NuPowr Picture 2Once you have the upgrade in place and the control panel installed, you’re ready to fly. According to MacBench 4.0 from Ziff-Davis, my 1400c/133, running with 64 megs of RAM, a 2048K disk cache, and virtual memory off, scored a 135 on the processor test, a 169 on the floating point test, and a 139 on the disk test. The NuPowr G3/250’s default settings scored 842, 616, and 271 on those tests, respectively. Using the control panel, you can tweak a few settings (most notably the speed of the backside cache), and doing so varied the processor score from a low of 744 to a high of 874, while the other scores remained virtually unchanged. Running the tests with Virtual Memory on also had very little effect on the scores, as MacBench 4.0 reported a performance drop of only about 1%. A more detailed description of the scores can be found in the chart below, but the bottom line is that the NuPowr G3/250 boosts the 1400’s processing power by more than a factor of six, while more than tripling the floating point unit’s performance and doubling the disk access capability.


NuPowr Picture 3All those numbers may sound impressive, but the bottom line is, how does the thing actually perform in real-life use? The answer is, simply put, fast! Extremely fast. Booting the PowerBook takes less than half the time it used to, and Finder operations, such as copying files and emptying the trash, occur in the blink of an eye. I had to change my trackpad and mouse control panels to slower settings, because I would routinely fly past the menu command or folder that I wanted to select- that’s how much of a difference the upgrade makes! Other applications, such as Netscape and ClarisWorks, open much, much faster than before, too. (I forgot to time the launching process for these apps with the 133 processor installed, so I can’t make an accurate comparison, but rest assured the G3/250 takes only a fraction of the time.) Graphically heavy and RAM-hungry games, like the Marathon series and Riven, are incredibly responsive with the NuPowr card, too.

The only conflict that I have run across with the NuPowr upgrade concerns PC-formatted disks. Using an unlocked PC-formatted disk with a NuPowr-upgraded 1400 will cause the disk to be unreadable by most PCs. However, other Macintoshes will read the disk and see the PC files on the disk just fine. (I don’t know whether or not using VirtualPC, SoftWindows, or a DOS processor card in a Mac will allow you to use the PC files on the disk in a Windows environment.) Newer knows of this problem (in fact, I was informed of it by a notice that was including in the box by Newer themselves), and is working on a fix. It should be available from their website shortly.

Some users have recently complained about the NuPowr causing the PowerBook to run hotter and drain the battery more quickly than the original processor. These are valid concerns, but they also should have been expected, since a not-so-powerful processor is being replaced with a more powerful one, and a small L2 cache is being replaced by a very large one. So, if you’re in the market for a NuPowr upgrade, be aware of these issues — you don’t want to be unpleasantly surprised after you’ve made your purchase!

Personally, I don’t have much of a problem with either concern. For starters, my PowerBook functions primarily as a desktop machine. It normally sits on my desk, hooked up to the campus Ethernet network and plugged into an electrical outlet. So, heat from the bottom of the computer is not a problem for me, nor is the reduction in battery time. (However, I would recommend buying and attaching some small rubber feet to the bottom of the PowerBook to provide some space in between it and the desk; this will make it easier to dissipate some of the excess heat.) However, there are times when I do want to take my PowerBook with me, such as when I want to do research at the library, get some typing done on a road trip, or do some work at home when I visit my family. My solution to the heat/battery issue in those instances is simple: I disable the backside cache. Yes, this causes the performance to drop dramatically, but it is still significantly faster than a stock 1400/133. The cache draws a significant amount of power, and with it turned off, the notebook can rest comfortably on my lap without it feeling too hot. And I still get acceptable battery performance — roughly what I was used to with the 603e processor (in between 35-50 minutes, depending on what tasks I’m doing).

Some people may think that sounds more like a cheap workaround than a true solution, and they may be right. However, if you’re going to need top-notch G3 performance while you are mobile, and the heat and battery concerns are big problems for you, maybe the NuPowr G3/250 isn’t for you. In that case, I would suggest ditching your 1400 in favor of a brand new G3 PowerBook. Another option for the mobile professional is to go with Newer’s other model, the NuPowr G3/216. It featured a slightly slower processor and only 512 K of backside cache, but costs a couple hundred dollars less, uses less power, and runs a little cooler. It should be ideal if you consistently need G3-caliber performance on the road, but don’t want to get rid of your 1400.

On the other hand, if you don’t need to be on the road all the time, want blazing speed and top-of-the-line performance, and don’t mind a little heat, the NuPowr G3/250 is the right choice for you. It makes the PowerBook 1400 slightly faster than the 250 MHz models of Apple’s G3 series, and the cost is pretty reasonable. It suits my needs perfectly, and has assured me that my PowerBook 1400 will be a viable desktop replacement for at least the remainder of my college years. With easy installation, very few known conflicts, and great performance, it is an awesome way to revitalize your trusty 1400. I am one very impressed, satisfied customer.

MacMice Rating: 4.5

Mike Wallinga

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