An Incremental Step in the Right Direction

SAN FRANCISCO (05/30/2000) - Remember when production difficulties at Motorola Inc. led Apple Computer Inc. to knock 50MHz off every G4 system? Well, Apple has restored that 50MHz to the latest G4s, including the long-awaited 500MHz Power Macintosh G4. The jump in processor speed from last year's models, the 400MHz and 450MHz G4s, may be incremental, but it makes this G4 Apple's top-of-the-line system. If the speed boost is worth $3,499 to you, you won't be disappointed with the G4/500.

Outside, and Inside, the Box

Of course, there are other characteristics besides processor speed that differentiate the G4/500 from its slower siblings. Like Apple's other high-end models, it offers a DVD-RAM drive instead of a DVD-ROM. It also ships with 256MB of RAM standard-fine for most users, but perhaps not enough for the professionals likely to buy a $3,499 system. Although the G4/500 is AirPort capable, it doesn't ship with an AirPort card (or even a modem, though you can add either one). Cosmetically, the G4/500 sticks with its predecessors' graphite case, the only two exceptions being more-visible (white) front buttons and a more deftly concealed AirPort antenna.

Inside, the G4/500 remains the same as slower G4 Macs with the Sawtooth motherboard. It offers two USB ports, each with 12 Mbps of throughput; three FireWire ports, two external and one internal; a fast, 27MB UltraATA66 hard disk; and a Zip drive. Like all other current desktop Macs, the G4/500 unfortunately sports only three PCI slots. The ATI Rage 128 Pro graphics card filling the AGP slot offers strong graphics performance and features a digital video out for flat-panel displays.

The only problem with the G4/500's design is that the system comes with the same hockey-puck mouse that users have been complaining about since it was introduced. A machine intended for professional users should include an input device that offers more in the way of precision, comfort, and ergonomics.

Sweet Performance

When a new system offers only minor cosmetic changes, the processor had better shine. Fortunately, the G4/500 delivered superior performance in every test Macworld Lab threw at it . While it shaves only about a second off each of the G4/450's times in Photoshop tests, this Mac is intended for power users who will notice those saved seconds over the course of a day's work. It's also the fastest Mac available for encoding MP3s and playing a relaxing game of Quake III.

In terms of raw power, the G4/500 is the fastest Mac for any processor-intensive application, especially Photoshop, SoundJam, and other programs optimized for the G4.

Macworld's Buying Advice

The Power Macintosh G4/500 offers only an incremental speed boost over the 450MHz G4 released last year, but it's still Apple's fastest system. Its only problem, besides the nonergonomic mouse, is the wallet-busting price. Only power users who absolutely need the faster performance this model provides are likely to consider paying an extra $1,000 over the 450MHz G4's price.

Nevertheless, the G4/500 remains Apple's dream system-at least until the next release.

RATING: 4.0 mice

PROS: Exceptional performance; DVD-RAM drive.

CONS: Expensive; too little memory for high-end users.

COMPANY: Apple Computer (800/692-7753, http://www.apple .com).

LIST PRICE: $3,499.

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