OWC Mercury Extreme G4/1 GHz
Company: Other World Computing
Your basic processor upgrade review works like this: Long list of stats followed by a few personal use examples. This method is particularly useful if you run Xbench all day, but the average user probably has a little trouble converting benchmarking stats into real world differences. The other problem with using benchmarking figures in evaluating an upgrade lies in the end user of said upgrades, if you’re an uber geek administering a plethora of computers then benchmarks are king (after all you know the idiots using the computers mostly slack) but if you’re an average home user trying to maximize computing joy while minimizing wallet plundering you’ve got a different set of values. In any event: the obligatory stats (for what they’re worth)
Processor PowerPC G4 @ 1.00 GHz
Version 7455 (Apollo) v3.3
L1 Cache 32K (instruction), 32K (data)
L2 Cache 256K @ 500 MHz
L3 Cache 2048K @ 250 MHz
Bus Frequency 100 MHz
Video Card ATY,Rage128Pro
Drive Type WDC WD205AA-40BAA0
CPU Test 119.53
GCD Loop 114.08 4.46 Mops/sec
Floating Point Basic 119.47 432.06 Mflop/sec
AltiVec Basic 122.66 3.56 Gflop/sec
vecLib FFT 122.60 1.90 Gflop/sec
Floating Point Library 119.26 4.77 Mops/sec
Yer Average stock AGP G4 400 Scores:
Processor PowerPC G4 @ 400 MHz
Version 7400 (Max) v2.8
L1 Cache 32K (instruction), 32K (data)
L2 Cache 1024K @ 200 MHz
Bus Frequency 100 MHz
Video Card ATY,Rage128Pro (ATI Rage 128 Pro)
Drive Type WDC WD307AA
CPU Test 46.67
GCD Loop 39.41 1.54 Mops/sec
Floating Point Basic 59.77 216.16 Mflop/sec
AltiVec Basic 32.86 954.47 Mflop/sec
vecLib FFT 46.05 714.91 Mflop/sec
Floating Point Library 77.67 3.11 Mops/sec
What all that tells the average guy, I don’t know. Time to get down to real reviewing! Let’s approach this review from the prospective of a first time upgrade customer. Our subject (in this case me) has a G4 400 MHz AGP machine. It’s a nice computer, deft styling, easy access etc. Heck I like the thing but I was contemplating splurging on a new G5. Why? The computer lacked the muscle necessary to run some of the latest software and ran some recent software in a less than peppy manner. For example, if I wanted to use iChat AV in the maximum configuration allowed by my bandwidth I was boned, the best I could do was use standard quality. Bad karma, after all I’m paying for this bandwidth, I want to use it to it’s utmost. The problem was clear: The AGP G4 was holding me back. The G4 was also holding strangling me in the gaming area, case in point: Unreal Tourney was not an option because Unreal demands an 800 MHz processor at a minimum. The later iterations of iMovie were also getting painfully slow on the aged G4. In short: My computer was becoming a bottleneck and the world didn’t seem to care.
Two solutions exist to remedy this dilemma: New computer or upgrade the existing computer. Were I flush with cash I would have opted for the G5 every time, however, I’m not flush with cash. Hence, the idea of upgrade was appealing. Still, there was plenty of uncertainty, you hear folks opine that you won’t get your money out of an upgrade when you resell your machine. Added to that bit of fear you also have the nagging doubt that the performance will be hobbled by the other components of the machine. Worst of all, an upgrade might also be painfully difficult to install. All these factors add up to plenty of fear when considering an upgrade. On the other hand there’s no fear with a new computer, you just expect that thing to work. Are the doubts justified?
Let’s start with installation. The folded piece of paper (it’s a manual by definition I suppose) that contains the installation instructions is easily followed. There was one typo that threw me for a second but once I assured myself everything was kosher I was good to go. You pop the machine open, yank the heat sink off, remove three screws and pull the daughter card. Place the upgrade over the holes, seat said upgrade, replace screws, and restart the computer. A pretty simple process really, not quite as easy as I thought it would be but not challenging in the slightest. At this point I need to note that doing this kind of stuff doesn’t scare me, I’ve swapped processors on 50 PCs and know what a number two Phillips head is. If you’re a bit put off by poking around in the guts of your computer then take it slow and you’ll be fine. In any event, once the processor is in place and you hit the power button, there it is: 1 GHz of G4 computing goodness, I encountered no stability issues. The whole process was reminiscent of changing a very high hanging light bulb, you have to go through a bit of trouble but once you’re finished you just hit a switch and the bulb lights up.
Moving onto performance. As mentioned before benchmarks don’t impress me, real world stuff impresses me, the ability to run programs I couldn’t run before impresses me. That said I won’t bore you with how many seconds the upgrade shaved off start up time and minutiae of that ilk, instead I’ll focus on the user experience. The computer felt much faster running OS X, programs launched with comparatively short bounce times. Safari benefited from the upgrade, it now scrolled fast enough I could no longer read the text as it rolled out of the window. My experience is not limited to processor light apps. My main love is iMovie and here the upgrade really shined. Exporting to QuickTime fairly blazed when compared to the stock configuration of my PowerMac and deciding to apply an effect was no longer a major exercise in patience. In addition to the increase in speed I was able to run the aforementioned iChat AV using the maximum settings allowed by my bandwidth (take that Comcast!). If you’re into OS 9 (not that there’s anything wrong with that) I plead ignorance. I’ve always found OS9’s performance very acceptable on the AGP G4 and while I could feel a substantial speedup I don’t use the processor hungry OS9 apps that would really test the upgrade.
When considering value the question becomes a bit trickier. The OWC Mercury Extreme retails for $349.99, which is not an incidental amount of scratch. So we should consider the cost of a new G5. The low end G5 retails for a cool two grand but lacks the throughput enhancements of the higher-level machines. The top end will set you back 3,000 hard earned ducats but the computer should be hip for some time yet to come. Of course there are a few other bits of info to remember: the G5’s will steadily decrease in price and Panther (coming October 24th) is widely reported to speed everything up. If we include the fact that Panther is not 64 bit native we have some good reasons to wait. My bet is that by the time you actually need a G5 (and face facts, if you’re using an older G4 you don’t NEED a G5) and programs start demanding a G5 the price of the system will have slipped far enough to make the $350 outlay easily justifiable. While you might not get your cash outlay back reselling your computer I will venture that you’ll get it back in the dough you saved by not being on the bleeding edge.
The only thing left to do is put the whole picture together: Is the upgrade worth your time/money/effort. In my case it certainly is, for me it’s like getting a brand new computer in a small cardboard box. Of course I’m accustomed to using the old G4 400 MHz so the increase in performance is going to seem huge to me, if you’re trying a more incremental upgrade (say from 800 MHz to 1 GHz) the performance difference won’t be as noticeable and not worth the dough. In short, if you were making a big enough jump the OWC Mercury is certainly worth the cash outlay, if you were just trying to eke out a few more MHz you would be wise to save your money towards the purchase of a new G5.
MacMice Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros: If you’re used to slow, now you go!
Cons: No shiny new case to impress friends