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With Add-Ons, the Speedy Power Macintosh G3 Is Sure to Satisfy

April 05, 1999|LAWRENCE J. MAGID

After a few years of uninspired products and laggard sales, Apple Computer is on a roll. Its VW Beetle of personal computers, the iMac, is a bit reminiscent of the early Macintosh that I fell in love with in 1984--only with a color screen, a choice of five colors of plastic and considerably more power.

But if what you want is a Mac with real power, then Apple's Power Macintosh G3 is sure to please you. Even PC magazine, which has never been known to sugarcoat reviews of Macintosh products, says that a 400-megahertz Mac G3 "beats a [500-MHz] Dell Pentium III on some tests and competes well on others."

Whether the new Mac will outperform a Pentium for your applications depends on the types of programs and data files you use. But rather than argue over nanoseconds, let's just say that this Mac is fast--really fast. You can buy it in a number of configurations with a 300-, 350- or 400-MHz CPU and either 64 megabytes or 128mb of memory, expandable to 1 gigabyte.

The basic configuration comes with a 6-, 9- or 12-gb hard drive, but you can add two drives. The unit I'm testing has an internal DVD drive, but some models come with an internal 24-speed CD-ROM drive.

Prices start at $1,599 for a Power Mac G3 with a 300-MHz CPU, 64mb of RAM and a 6-gigabyte hard drive, plus the cost of a monitor. The top-of-the-line system costs $4,978 and comes with a 400-MHz CPU, 256mb of RAM, a 9-gigabyte hard drive, a monitor and an internal modem. A 17-inch display costs $499, but if you want something really cool, you can fork over $1,099 for a 15-inch flat-panel display. All Macs come with built-in ethernet and either a CD-ROM or a DVD drive. Check the Apple Web site (http://www.apple.com) for details on other configurations.

Although Apple's core markets for this machine are graphics and digital video production and higher education, the company--for the first time--is also trying to win over what it calls "hard-core gamers." To impress gamers and others who depend on fast and stunning graphics, all machines are equipped with an ATI Rage 128 graphics accelerator card with 16mb of memory--one of the fastest graphics cards on the market.

Like the original iMac, the G3 comes in a translucent blue case, which some like and others hate. Whether you think it's cool or hideous, you have to admit it's innovative, which is a theme carried throughout the machine's design.

The merits of the box's aesthetics may be debatable, but it would be hard to argue with its functionality. Unlike almost any other PC on the market, this machine can be easily opened with one hand. Opening the case is like lowering a drawbridge, and when it's open you can easily get your hands on any component, so it's a snap to upgrade memory and pretty easy to swap out the hard drive or add an internal card. The Power Mac G3 has four PCI card slots, which are compatible with the slots on most PCs.

Although it's easy to open, you may never have to, because the Mac, like most of today's Windows machines, comes with two universal serial bus ports. Apple decided to jump on the USB bandwagon for peripherals such as keyboards, mice, scanners, printers, zip drives and backup systems for two reasons. First, it means that hardware developers don't have to create two versions of each machine. Second, USB is a sensible way to expand a computer, allowing you to "daisy chain" up to 127 devices to a single machine.

The G3 also has two 400-megabits-per-second FireWire ports. FireWire is like USB on steroids. While USB is fast enough for digital cameras and scanners, FireWire can accommodate streaming video and other high-bandwidth devices. It can also be used to connect disk drives, printers and other peripherals. Apple maintains a Web page (http://www.apple.com/firewire/firewireproducts.html) describing compatible FireWire devices. FireWire is also available on some (but not most) PCs and as an expansion option on many PCs and Macs.

Whenever I say anything critical about Apple products, I hear from Mac enthusiasts who seem to feel that it's a crime against humanity to say anything negative about their beloved machine. Well, there are a few things I don't like about the Power Mac G3, but fortunately, they can be fixed easily with add-on products.

Just as with the iMac, Apple equipped the machine with a rather puny keyboard and an overly fat mouse that doesn't feel right in my hand. Although the keys are properly spaced, the keyboard doesn't have the look or feel that one associates with a powerful office machine. The other bad news is that Apple left out a floppy disk drive as it did with the iMac.

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