Encore/ZIF G4 1 Ghz Upgrade, by Sonnet Tech
Posted: 14-Nov-2004

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Sonnet Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Rick Davis Class: HARDWARE

Overview
For many Mac owners like myself, it's difficult to get rid of any Macintosh, either because it's not financially feasible to buy a new computer, or you've simply grown attached to your current machine (or, as in my case, both). On the other hand, it's also painful to want to run the latest applications when you know your old Mac doesn't have the horsepower. The Encore/ZIF G4 1 Ghz Processor Upgrade card is a great way to breathe life back into old faithful. I wasn't ready to give up on my 300 Mhz Blue & White G3 (not to mention that I did not have $1500+ for a new Mac). This was a good opportunity for me to take a look at the Encore/ZIF G4 1 ghz Processor upgrade card.

The Encore/ZIF G4 1 ghz upgrade is compatible with the following models:

  • Power Macintosh G3 All-in-one
  • Power Macintosh G3 Blue & White
  • Power Macintosh G3 Desktop
  • Power Macintosh G3 Minitower
  • Power Macintosh Server G3
  • Power Mac G4 (PCI Graphics)
  • Macintosh Server G4 (PCI Graphics)

The Encore/ZIF G4 is designed with 1MB backside cache and is compatible with your existing hardware. Encore takes full advantage of the latest features of Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. With the Encore/ZIF G4, even greater performance improvements are possible with AltiVec-enhanced applications. The Encore/ZIF G4 1.0 GHz model supports from Mac OS 8.6 through Mac OS X Version 10.2.8 in Beige G3 systems, and from OS 9.2 through 10.3.x in G3 Blue & White and G4 PCI Graphics systems. This review is of the Encore/ZIF G4 1 ghz Processor Upgrade card for a 300 Mhz Blue & White G3.

Installation
The first hurdle was almost a show stopper. The installation requires an OS 9 bootable system. My machine has been OS 9 free for over a year now, so I had to take the time to transfer 40 GB of data to another drive, then repartition the drive to install OS 9. I came very close to closing the Sonnet box up and sending it back. But three hours later, I was ready to start again. I booted into OS 9 and got through the firmware update without a hitch.

The next step was the physical installation. Following the instructions was a breeze and everything went smoothly. However, after a restart into OS 9, you are instructed to use their Startup Disk X control panel to switch to OS X. This was another "Uh Oh". My OS X drives don't have OS 9 drivers installed; hence, the installed Startup Disk didn't see my OS X drive and I was unable to select my OS X for startup. I finally got around that by booting to an OS X Installer CD and selecting my OS X drive.

After all of that, the installation on the OS X drive had problems. Everything was running noticeably sluggish and Apple System Profiler did not show any memory cache. After contacting Sonnet Tech support, they directed me to download a new beta installer to correct the L2 Cache problem present in the shipped installer. With the new installer, things got rolling, and my experience was then much closer to what I expected.

Let the fun begin!

In Use
On a regular basis, I use my machine for email, web design, managing my iPod music library and using iPhoto to share pictures of my beautiful wife and children with friends and family. My review notes are based upon my judgement with regards to how the upgrade felt.

I didn't see a noticeable difference using Mail. BBEdit is my main choice when designing web pages, and I noticed some minor improvement there when opening multiple pages to edit, but not enough to really impress me.

Next up, I grabbed a couple of my wife's CDs and fired up iTunes (I had already ripped all of my own collection). Prior to this upgrade, just ripping a CD would take a long time. I would insert a CD and start the import process before heading for bed. Now I barely have time to run to the kitchen for more pizza and Coke. The couple of times I had sat at my computer in the past while ripping CDs, I judged it to take about the same amount of time to import all the tracks as it would to listen to them. My first import after the upgrade took all of six minutes and forty-five seconds to import one hour and fourteen minutes of music. An iPod update took less than sixty seconds. These are *big* improvements.

The next challenge was iPhoto. First I had to get some willing participants for the photo gathering process.

"Geez dad, not another photo session", cried my son.

"But think about how thrilled grandma will be to get another e-mail with links to your web site", I said.

"She'll still write back begging for *real* pictures", exclaimed my wife.


After an hour of props and posing, trying out a few ideas of what grandma would like to see, I got a new batch of photos ready for import. Normally the import takes long enough to warrant using the AC adapter on my digital camera, but after the iTunes experience I was pretty sure I could do without the power cord and rely on the battery. In the past, I had time to watch the latest episode of CSI during the import. Now I barely have time for the commercials. Seventy photos imported in just three minutes and twenty-three seconds. Wow.

My next test was putting a few of the imported digital photos together in a web page for grandma. When working with photos, I use GraphicConverter (less then 1/10th the price of Photoshop). Once again the time difference was dramatic. I usually save this kind of activity for Saturday afternoon and move the portable TV into the computer room to follow the college football scene while I edit, crop and upload the photos. I then send an e-mail apologizing, because I didn't have time to add any captions (I'm sure my daughter will use the second child syndrome excuse in a few years, since her older brother's pictures all have cute captions). On the upgraded G3, the process is not only dramatically faster, now I can use the extra time to add captions to the photos. Maybe I'll have time to go back and add captions to my daughter's photos and avoid years of therapy. I never thought about how this new processor would improve my status with mom, but boy is she happy to see more photos of her grandkids, even if they aren't *real* photos.

Benchmarks
I did not measure pre-upgrade performance with any benchmark tools, so I do not have benchmark tests to compare. However, benchmark tests are available on the
Sonnet web site. One graphic from those results shows that iTunes runs over 3 times faster with the 1.0 Ghz upgrade, and this matches my real world experience.


Sonnet benchmarks on iTunes performance matches review experience


Summary
The Encore/ZIF G4 1.0 Ghz upgrade is an alternate solution for improving the performance of your G3 or G4 Mac without the cost of buying a new Mac. Did this upgrade card make a difference in performance? Absolutely! I think I'll get a few more years out of my G3 Blue & White (formerly known as the 300 Mhz G3, now the 1.0 Ghz G3). I no longer have to leave the room when importing photos into iPhoto or music into iTunes. This upgrade provides dramatic improvement to these and other commonly performed tasks. The initial installation was a little more work than I expected, but nothing that your average Mac user cannot handle. I highly recommend it to anybody with a G3 or older G4 on a tight budget.

Pros

  • Dramatically improved performance
  • Fraction of the cost of a new machine
  • OS 9 and OS X compatible

Cons

  • Requires OS 9 bootable partition for installation
  • CD installer had L2 cache problems (fix available from Sonnet web site)


Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 Mice