1.4 GHz G4 Upgrade, by FastMac
Posted: 20-Oct-2004

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: FastMac Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: HARDWARE

Overview
Do you have an early G4's that's starting to feel a bit slow? Are you having troubles running the latest CPU and graphics intensive software titles on your G4? With speeds as low as 400 and 500 Mhz, some of these old G4s just barely run Mac OS X. Even my 867 Mhz Quicksilver, top of the line in it's time, is now showing signs of age, as evident in playing graphics intensive games like No One Livers Forever 2. For those looking to beef up your older G4's, Fastmac has a variety of upgrades to give your G4 the boost you've been looking for.

Pricing
FastMac G4 upgrades are offered in the following price range:

Upgrades Price
G4 867 - 933 Mhz $229.95
G4 1.0 - 1.2 Ghz $309.95
G4 1.3 - 1.4 Ghz $399.95
G4 1.4 - 1.5 Ghz $499.95

With my G4 clocking faster than the lowend upgrades, I went for the fastest upgrade I could get my hands on. This review is for the 1.4 - 1.5 Ghz G4 upgrade (which actually clocks in on my G4 at 1.47 Ghz after installation).

Installation
Installation of the Fastmac upgrade requires removing the processor off of your mother board and replacing it with the Fastmac processor. One of the things I love about my Quicksilver is how easy it is to pop open the case and change out things like memory and disk drives. Changing out the processor, however, is not something I had ever done, and so I felt a little nervous about the task. What if I should short out my mother board? With my fear in check, I proceeded to partake on the adventure.

First things first: Download the
instruction manual from the Fastmac support page. This could prove difficult if you don't have an internet connection, but then again, those looking to perform this installation are most likely going to have an internet connection. If you're upgrading your Mac due to a bad processor (i.e., your Mac is currently not functioning), then you will need to find another way to download the instruction manual. The processor does not come with printed instructions (just a reference to where to download it from the web).

Given the sensitivity of this operation, I was very careful to not just read each step of the instructions, but to ensure a full understanding of each step along the way. I did not want to leave any doubts lingering. So when I came across the step which mentioned that I needed to upgrade my firmware, I became concerned. The instructions were titled for an AGP G4, which my Quicksilver G4 is not. Likewise, Apple's web site indicated that there is no firmware update available for my machine. Just to make sure, I contacted Fastmac support, and they confirmed that the firmware update is only required for AGP G4's, and that I didn't have to worry about it.

With that issue resolved, I proceeded to disassemble the old G4 processor. The process required a Phillips screwdriver, and consisted of removing the processor fan (2 screws and a connector), the heat sink (2 clips), and then the processor itself (4 screws). The instructions are specific to the AGP G4, so it only shows 3 screws, but my Quicksilver processor has a small extension that utilized a 4th screw. You have to be careful during these steps, such as being gentle when removing the heatsink (so that you don't bend the processor module beneath it) and lifting the processor out from a specific side (so as not to damage the computer and void Apple's warranty).


The Quicksilver removed components (Heatsink, Processor, Fan)

The Fastmac processor is preset for the AGP G4 which uses a 100 Mhz bus. The instructions provide a chart for jumper settings that include the 133 Mhz bus, as well as varying speeds. I set the jumper to match the highest speed in the chart, 1.467 Ghz.

Installing the new Fastmac processor was the next step (and much easier than removing the old processor). The Fastmac processor has the heatsink and fan integrated into it, so there is just one piece to install. It fits over 3 of the 4 holes left from the old processor. The instructions did not illustrate the 4th hole on my Quicksilver, but it was easy enough to figure out which 3 holes to use for the new processor. Again, care must be taken when installing the component, as you are warned against pressing on the rear of the processor card.

NOTE: If you are one of those kinds of people that likes to "browse" instructions (or completely ignore them) and just wing the project using "common sense", you may be tempted into disaster. Read the instructions! When dealing with a $2000 machine, I believe it is far better to be safe than sorry.


My Quicksilver motherboard with the shiny new Fastmac G4 upgrade processor

Finally, it was time to close up the case, and turn on the computer. I anxiously waited to hear the Mac startup chime, and was greatly pleased when it played. I quickly went to the About This Mac menu option, and was further pleased to see it read "1.47 Ghz PowerPC G4". The operation was a success.

NOTE: If you didn't already have Mac OS X Panther, no worries, because the Fastmac upgrade kit comes with Panther installation CDs.


My G4 running at 1.47 Ghz

Benchmarks
I performed two different kinds of benchmark tests: Traditional benchmarks, and functional benchmarks.

I ran some traditional benchmark tests using various freeware benchmark tools. The three benchmark tools I used were CocoaBench, Benchmark 1000, and XBench. Some of them provided more details than the others, but they all illustrated the same bottom line: The upgraded machine is faster. The benchmark scores are illustrated below, and the higher the number, the better the score. The last column shows the improvement of the upgrade over the original processor.

Benchmark G4 867 Mhz G4 1.47 Fastmac upgrade Comparison Rate
CocoaBench Score 9.34 20.02 214%
Benchmark 1000 Speed 116.4 Mbps 207.7 Mbps 178%
XBench      

CPU

60.50 136.00 225%

Threads

57.48 105.91 184%

Memory

70.32 102.35 146%

Quartz Graphics

65.76 129.55 197%

OpenGL Graphics

56.77 131.47 232%

User Interface

85.42 192.84 226%

On average, the 1.47 Ghz upgrade scored twice as good as the original processor. These were impressive results, but what about running the everyday tasks the I perform routinely? As an end user, we are less concerned about the numbers game as we are about having the tasks we perform regularly run faster. I picked a handful of common tasks that I run often, and timed these tasks on both processors. The results are illustrated below.

Test G4 867 Mhz G4 1.47 Fastmac upgrade
Computer boot and startup 1 min 39 secs 1 min 24 secs
Open Photoshop application 22 secs 13.5 secs
Guassian blur on 2.8MB file 1.5 secs 1.5 secs
Charcoal filter on 2.8MB file 10 secs 4 secs

Once again, the Fastmac processor ran things faster on average, although not twice as fast as the benchmark scores above might imply. It was just a few seconds faster on bootup, and no speed gain at all on the Gaussian Blue filter in Photoshop; however, there were significant speeds improvements on opening the Photoshop application and running the Charcoal filter.

Benchmarks aside, my G4 Quicksilver feels much zippier now, making it more desirable than it was with my old processor. Although my old processor felt fine at 867 Mhz for my every day tasks, once I stepped up to the Fastmac upgrade, it didn't feel fine when I went back. If you are happy with your machine, and strapped for cash, you may want to avoid experiencing a faster machine, as it will only make you drool for an upgrade.

Summary
The Fastmac G4 upgrades come in a variety of speeds for a variety of machines, sporting processors from 700 Mhz to 1.47 Ghz. Upgrading the processor requires some minor surgery on your G4, requiring you to remove your old processor card to replace it with the Fastmac upgrade. The installation process is pretty straightforward, but make sure you download the instruction manual before beginning, as the card does not come with a printed manual. Benchmark scores illustrate a dramatic improvement in processing power with the Fastmac upgrade, and functional tests confirm the results (although not every task is affected as dramatically as others). If you're looking to play the latest graphic intensive Mac games, want to improve the processing speed of iMovie when editing large movies, or are just looking for a zippier feel to your G4 Mac, the Fastmac 1.47 Ghz upgrade will certainly meet your needs.
The Fastmac upgrade will give your G4 a dramatic speed boost for much less than the cost of purchasing a whole new system, an excellent way to extend the longevity of your G4.

Pros

  • Significant speed gains
  • Streamlined integrated processor
  • True "plug and play" installation
  • Includes OS X

Cons:

  • Instruction manual must be downloaded*
  • Instructions may not be specific to your particular model*
  • Installation process may intimidate some
  • Price gets steep for the high end upgrades


Overall Rating:

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

*ADDED NOTE: FastMac has indicated that they will be including printed manuals specific to each G4 model in the future.