Review: Reader Review: Pismo G4/500

No upgrade was more eagerly awaited than a G4 Pismo (July 12th, 2002)

MacNN Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: NewerTech

Price: $299.99

The Good

  • Great speed boost, perfect price point, keeps Pismo lovers happy.

The Bad

  • Could have included some goodies.

While accelerator and upgrade makers have been able to breathe new life into legacy machines for years by providing, sometimes obvious, sometimes creative, means to bring legacy machines 'up to speed,' no upgrade was more eagerly awaited than placing a G4 processor into the venerable, and reliable PowerBook 'Pismo' form factor.

Needless to say, when the availability of the upgrade from the freshly reborn Newer Technology (available exclusively from the fine folks at OWC) was announced to me, it took less than 4 microseconds to decide - particularly that, at $299, the upgrade was priced 'just right' to be irresistible.

In a nutshell: After you place your order, you will receive a shipping box (in my case, within 2 days), that you place your Pismo into. Newer requests that you fully charge your battery, and only include one battery and DVD drive. Newer modifies your existing CPU board by re-soldering a G4 on it -- and performing some other magic, I'm sure -- and 7-10 days later (9 days, in my case) you receive the box back, with a freshly "G4'd" Pismo.

Is the difference noticeable? Definitely.

Was it worth it? You betcha.

While Apple certainly has designed some nice-looking portables with their Titanium series, in my humble opinion, those machines have some serious flaws and problems that I would not pay $3,000 for (paint flaking off, overheating, weak battery life, fragile design, etc...), not to mention the less-than-ergonomic design with their edgy style.

The Pismo PowerBook, on the other hand, has developed a cult-like following, and for a good reason: it's a infatigable workhourse, reliable tool, and most of all, sports a nearly-organic design. Ergonomically, the Pismo is a pleasure to use, which is why I certainly hung on to Pismo, hoping that some smart company would achieve what was claimed to be impossible -- making the Pismo's heart beat with a G4/500.

As it turns out, Newer Technology decided to ring in their rebirth with just that product, proving once again to be the applied engineering wizards that we have always known them to be.

My Pismo was of the 400MHz variety, so even just a normal upgrade to a G3/500 would have been a worthwhile improvement, but the G4 also brings faster RAM access speed, AltiVec and better memory management to the table. In addition, since the upgrade comes with 1 megabyte of Level-2 cache, Final Cut Pro's real time effects can be utilized.

Benchmarks

Graphics Hard Drive Processor RAM Overall
G4/Dual 800 PowerMac (Mac OS X 10.1.5)
295
330
187
375
297
G3/500 Pismo FireWire (Mac OS X 10.1.5) (BEFORE)
89
238
161
313
201
G3/500 Pismo FireWire (Mac OS X 10.1.5) (AFTER)
230 (+158%)
362 (+52%)
174 (+8%)
332 (+36%)
275 (+37%)

While the 'overall performance' number does not seem to be striking difference, as they say, it's all in the perception - and while I certainly don't want to wear out an OS X buzzword, but the machine suddenly feels a lot snappier, and a heck of a lot more responsive (even under OS X, which is saying a lot).

In fact, comparing the performance between the upgraded Pismo, and the first and second generation Titanium PowerBooks, the Pismo more than holds its own -- in fact, it even feels more responsive than the Titanium 667-VGA (the new DVI machines are a different story, as they do fly with better and larger caches, and much faster CPUs).

And, of course, the upgraded Pismo user has access to the usual amenities, like the multiple battery bays, the multi-media bay, and having a FAR sturdier and solidly designed form factor.

The only minor irk that I encountered, is that, under Mac OS 9, there seemed to be some problems with my particular DVD drive, as it would read disks and DVDs fine the first time after booting, but would fail during subsequent efforts. I managed to install OS X, and have encountered absolutely no problems since then. As far as I know, Newer is aware of the problem, and are investigating cause, and a possible solution.

Battery life

I have noticed no significant reduction in battery life. Because OS X has non-existent battery optimization, I get the usual dismal 4 hours out of two batteries. Under OS 9, I get the usual 10 hours out of two batteries. Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) will reportedly reintroduce (it's about time!) proper battery and power management.

Temperature

Because the 7410 and similar CPUs cannot properly display internal junction temperature, most temperature tools are useless. Nevertheless, on a perception level, while the fan does come on more often, I have not noticed any significant temperature difference in the Pismo's operating environment -- the bottom still gets very warm, the keyboard slightly so.

In summary

if you have a Pismo, this is a must have upgrade. While there's another vendor that offers a similar upgrade, I went with Newer Technologies simply because I had good experiences with them in the past, and wanted to keep giving them my business.

The suggestions I would offer to Newer to make this upgrade even better? Include a neat sticker, on metallic foil, that users can place above the keyboard with a G4 and/or Newer logo on it. Also, Newer should include a CD with various "G4-enhanced" desktop screens/patterns on it, as well as a patch that changes the startup screen to reflect a Newer-enhanced Pismo -- hey, if we have one of those, we want bragging rights!

by Harry Zink


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