Out of the AppleCart
from My Mac Magazine #40, August ’98

When it comes to computers, I agree with Small Dog Electronics http://www.smalldog.com, one of My Mac’s faithful sponsors. The trailing edge is where it’s at. Machines come and go so quickly that obsolescence can be merely a matter of weeks. Who can keep up? This is more true for the Wintel world, where reverse sticker shock leaps from Sunday circulars to boggle the mind. But with the first G3’s now disappearing from the Apple Store, the six slot PowerMacs all but gone and the last of the clones doing a swan song, the trailing edge has never been sweeter.

Especially if your needs run to T-Bone and your budget to tuna wiggle. Which is where we were at the end of May when my son suddenly found himself Macless with a fast approaching deadline. The 6100 had gone on to a new home and the PowerBase had simply gone blind. Oh, it sounded lively enough, but nothing would bring up the monitor–any monitor.

Apple’s promise of PowerBase support turns out to be more virtual pipe dream than honest reality. Chris found no help there, even though his computer is under warranty until fall. Neither Internet nor 1-800 was of any help. (Somewhere there is a lonely phone that rings and rings and rings. Apple’s PB support, run by the little man who wasn’t there.)

With deadlines looming, Chris began a frantic search for an affordable replacement. This is where I come in. As the only viable credit card in a family of Mac users, I spend a fair amount of time researching the state of the Mac via catalog and website–there being no longer any Macs for sale in the capital of Kansas.

I naturally assumed that a G3 would be his first choice. They were, after all, extremely fast, reasonably affordable, and on the cutting edge. But, unlike the rest of the family, Chris needed a machine that is not only fast, but expandable and able to handle the things he lives by, such as his miroMotion card, audio stuff, extra drive bays, various dongles, and whatever else it is that dedicated graphic users use. The G3, he found, was simply not designed with the graphics professional in mind.

At work, he uses a 9600/233 and has been impressed with the quality, the speed and the six slots stuffed full of Avid. He was equally impressed with the 8600/300. Faster than the office 9600, it has built-in audio and video (both in/out),10 RAM slots, a well planned interior and a snappy case that unrolls like a burrito. Better yet, it was a MacMall close-out at only $1899. Quite comparable to a G3 and a better fit for his needs.

But as I was zipping back and forth between websites and catalogs, I began to see Umax’ S900/200 SuperMacs finding their way onto the trailing edge at an unbelievable $999. We were doubtful at first, having been burned by last year’s $999 PowerBase. But Umax was a thriving concern, and unlike Power Computing’s clones, we would not depending on Apple for support.

Even adding the cost of the two clones together, it was far more machine than would have been possible last fall–and for a smaller investment. The more comparison shopping we did, the more it looked like a great fit at a great price.

By the end of the week, the S900 had a new home, and with an additional 64 megs of RAM installed, Chris started running benchmarks and some real world tests of his own. I listened patiently to detailed raves of everything from MacBench to Speedometer. He was delighted with the slots and bays, the construction, the Twin Turbo video card, the 4 megs of VRAM, and the fact that he might actually meet his deadline.

But his biggest pleasure was in checking the speed with his perennial test file, “texture.lws” currently on the LightWave 4.0 CD. What his Amiga 3000 managed in 28 minutes, the Pentium 90 in 5 min/23sec, the 6100 in 2min/15sec, the Pentium 133 in 2min/05sec, both the Pentium II /266 and the 9600/233 in 46sec, his ($999) S900/200 zipped through in 45 seconds! Only the 8600/300, also a close-out, was faster at a lickety-split 25 sec. Not bad for the trailing edge.

But, enough is never enough, it seems. The SuperMac S series comes with a second processor slot–temptingly empty at the moment. So, how fast could he render with a dual processor? Hmmm! No doubt about it, that empty slot was burning a hole in his pocket.

Actually, my pocket, as it turned out. Here I was, set for the summer with my school Macs farmed out to good homes–Mac fanatics love to share the joy of the Mac–when the teacher who was ‘babysitting’ my beloved 5215 called in tears. They’d gone away for the weekend. When they got back they found they’d been cleaned out down to the stuff in the kitchen cabinets.

We grieved over the enormity of the loss, but I assured her that the Performa should be the least of their worries. Some of her things, especially her beloved dog, were irreplaceable, but there were plenty of Macs in the sea. The 5215 was, after all, insured. The hitch being that I needed proof of replacement to collect. And I needed it now.

For two days, I dithered. The S900 was definitely overkill for my marginal ClarisWorks/ColorIt/HyperStudio needs. But the price was perfect. Just what the insurance company ordered, so to speak. And with a couple of matched clones in the family, we’d have our own ‘insurance’ in case of a breakdown in the future.

After watching various of the Mac Catalog websites for the past couple of weeks, no one knew better than I how fast these SuperMacs were being snapped up. A deep breath. A quick call to MacMall. The next morning I too was marveling at my benchmarks.

Which brings us back to my pocket–and the burning thereof. “Hey Mom!” says Son. “Maybe you could get one of those G3 upgrades from Newer, let me have your S900’s 604e card for my empty slot and we’d knock their socks off.” Clever kid. Let Mom do the upgrading. Sure. And me, already scrolling so fast I can hardly find my place.

But, even with Mom’s slots burning a hole in his pocket, Chris was experienced enough to realize that it might not be as simple as that. So, back to the Internet, though more from curiosity than from need. About the same time, the My Mac staff had a flurry of email between us on the subject of clones, close-outs, and secondary slots.

Wow! What do you know. Here was a discussion right up my alley. I might not know pixels from pantyhose, but I was certainly current on close-outs. I was still, however, thoroughly confused about slots.

Checking out the Umax site had helped some. I knew by now that nothing would be gained by a G3 upgrade. (What a relief!) It was certainly an option, but not one I had need of, and in any case, my S900’s original 604e wouldn’t work for the second processor slot. BTW, the Umax proprietary ASPD card will not work for other dual-processors such as the PowerMac 9600.

Although Umax makes it clear that a dual processor is useful for only a few programs (and may even slow down others), among those listed were most of Chris’ mainstays.

The Adobes: Photoshop, Premiere and AfterEffects. Fractal Design’s Painter. Metatools’ Studio Effects. Apple’s own QuickTime 2.5 and QuickDraw 3D. And his primary tool, the ingenious but time consuming, rendering-intensive LightWave 3D from NewTek. Yes, for Chris, a second processor might well be an advantage at some point, if only he had a clue what to get and where to get it. So, just before the 4th, I gave up guessing and called Umax.

What Chris needed, if he decided to upgrade, they said was an ASPD/200 P-Series Processor. Were they for sale through Umax? Well, no. The whole lot were to be shipped out next week. Could they give me a price? Not really. I would have to check with the reseller. Could they tell me how to reach the reseller, then? Sorry, but it was still under cloak and dagger. One dealer would probably be handling the lot, though.

The saleswoman was quite nice about it, however, taking my name, my email address and promising more information the following week. With Umax out of the Mac business at the end of July, it seemed like a good idea to get the answers pinned down fast.

If you are one of the many new,or maybe not so new, S900/200 users and are interested in multi-processing, good luck. The week has come and gone. Still no word as to where the ASPDs were sent or their probable cost. I have seen evidence on the Web of the 180 secondary (?) card and even the 233 604e primary card, but nothing on the /200 cards needed for that empty slot.

So, yes, there is a downside to the trailing edge. The thrill is gone as well as the incentive to serve. And, as we found with the PowerBase, support and service may turn out to be vaporware. Still support and service can be pretty problematic even on the cutting edge. You may wind up with all the excitement of beta testing a hot new product while paying through the nose for the privilege.

In the madcap world of technology, guess I’ll just camp out here on the trailing edge, cuddled up with a good mystery to while away the time. Unless, of course… that is to say… oh, heck! Sure would be more fun to curl up with a good iMac.


Note 1: Clicking on a SuperMac listing in Small Dog will take you to: http://www.supermac.com/products/feats-opts.html for product information, including uses of dual-processing and a list of forty some programs that benefit.

Note 2: Umax suggests that you will find more information on secondary processors under their S900 FAQs / ‘Multi-Processing’, but the entry itself seems to have disappeared. The content remains (7/10/98) at: http://www.online1.supermac.com/cgi-bin/faqdisplayrecord/S910KB00261

Note 3: According to Umax, the remaining secondary processor cards (180/200/233) have been sent to Small Dog Electonics. If you think you’ll be wanting to fill that empty slot in the future, you would be wise to check with them soon. Only a handful of the cards are apparently still available.http://www.smalldog.com

Susan Howerter

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