Review: Sonnet Encore/ST 1.8 GHz processor upgrade

Upgrade your processor instead of downgrading your wallet (March 9th, 2006)

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Product Manufacturer: Sonnet Technologies, Inc.

Price: $399.95

The Good

  • Invest $400 for a vastly improved computer. Installation is relatively simple.

The Bad

  • Must have Mac OS 9.2 installed to install update patch. Needs a light touch, so you don\'t damage any equipment.

If you have an old Macintosh and are tired of your aging machine's performance, but are not ready to jump to the new Intel-based Macs, you may want to upgrade your computer's processor. Sonnet Technologies processor upgrades are actual hardware replacement units for the Mac's original processor. They include the maximum cache allowed on the machine and are compatible with your current RAM, software, and any attached peripherals. Different machines require different processor upgrades, but the one tested in this review is compatible with a number of PowerMac G4 computers.

Simple Installation

The installation process is a little bit intimidating, but not very difficult, yet it is quite rewarding. You need a screwdriver, plenty of time, and patience. The first step is to back up all your important files on the computer onto external media. Second, you should either install or update to OS 9.2 and make sure that at least Mac OS X 10.3.5is installed. Next, reboot your Mac into OS 9.2 and install the firmware update, which is supplied on disk. This step took several attempts, so here's where a bit of patience helps. Once the firmware has been updated, turn off your computer and remove the old processor with a screwdriver. Complete instructions, with pictures are included in the package and available online as a PDF.

You must line up the Encore/ST 1.8 GHz G4 processor upgrade card and gently press it into position being careful not to bend any pins. Screw it into position and reboot your computer. That's all there is to it. While you have your computer open, take the time to blow out the dust with canned air. This is also a convenient time to increase the RAM.

Revive Your Old Mac

Once I rebooted the previously sluggish 350MhZ computer, the difference was striking. The new 1.800 GHz Encore card made it almost as responsive as a dual gigabyte processor QuickSilver. Web pages downloaded instantly and the whole machine has a better feel. New applications that require at least a 1 GHz processor run flawlessly and photo and video editing is now possible. Sonnet's upgrade extends the life of the old Mac by a couple of years.

The card is not expensive when compared to a new Macintosh, but it does not add new features, such as gigabyte Ethernet or USB 2.0, nor do you have to adjust to a new computer and install everything again. Your workflow remains uninterrupted and you will enjoy working on a machine that is more capable of complex tasks and more efficient. Upgrading with Sonnet is a great way to preserve your software investment without breaking your wallet.

Sonnet Technologies has a long history of providing performance boots to aging Macs and they back their product with a 3 year limited warranty. Be sure to check their web page for a full description of the various upgrade paths available for your computer to be sure you order the correct model. To help you identify your aging PowerPC G4, use Apple's support page: Power Mac G4: How to Differentiate Between Models.

The Sonnet Encore/ST 1.8 GHz G4 Upgrade Specifications:
  • Processor speed: 1.8 GHz
  • L2 Cache: 512KB
  • Auto-configures to host system
  • Hardware Requirements - G4 Power Mac, AGP Graphics, Gigabit Ethernet, Digital Audio, QuickSilver 2001 & 2002, G4 Server. Separate module available for G4 Cube.
  • Software Requirements - Mac® OS 9.2 (not Classic) must be installed and bootable as the firmware must be upgraded prior to installation of new processor. The 1800 MHz card requires Mac OS 10.3.5 or greater.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by P.A.M. Borys


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