This is deja vu all over again. Picture the scene in 1997, when a hard-working (sic) student realizes his Performa 6214CD can't cut the mustard in OS 8 (and more importantly, Quake). A hero enters from stage right in the form of a shiny new Power Mac G3 233 desktop, swooping in to save the day. Menus pop to life instantly and applications open with barely a delay. No longer the slowest link in the local WarCraft II IPX battles, the student happily passes the Performa on to his parents (who probably should have stuck with the LCIII).
Flash-forward to today and that same beige G3 -- albeit upgraded with 512 MB of RAM, a PCI Radeon, and a 500 MHz G3 processor -- is barely able to keep pace with modern games. MacOS X feels just as sluggish as OS 8 did on his old 75 MHz 603 PPC, and it's time for a change. While this summer's Power Mac upgrade wasn't what some rumormongers were hoping for -- with everyone's attention focused on the very fastest machines -- some seem to have missed the fact that the slowest Power Mac you could now buy contained two beefy 867 MHz G4 processors in a beautiful mirrored shell. This speed-starved soul didn't, and visions of SMP Quake 3, Altivec-enhanced GUIs, and an AGP slot seemingly forced my hand toward the wallet.
"You can listen to Jimi, but you can't hear him..."
With the Power Mac Dual 867, I now know what OS X is supposed to feel like. My beige G3 is going to make a great OS X server, but the eye candy was just too much for its outdated architecture to handle. It's like I had a taste or OS X's potential, but I wasn't really experiencing its full glory until now.
Now applications usually open in one bounce, I can run iTunes while playing games on a 21" monitor, and I have yet to experience a hitch. While the review will focus mostly on game performance in a variety of scenarios, let me just say that there's nothing the 867DP shouldn't be able to handle in most non-gaming situations.
As far as appearances go, there is just no substitute for Apple's hardware. It looks stunning, and its mirrored door (which hides a second, full 5.25" optical drive bay) is a particularly great attention-getter. Even more importantly, the machine feels as sturdy as a rock. Dell may attempt to make a case that opens as easily as the G4, but it just ends up feeling cheap and flimsy.
I'd have to say I almost have more respect for Apple's internal designers than even the external designers who seem to get all of the publicity. Not only can I pull down the case door with ease to add new RAM or video cards, but also I added a second hard drive, Apple kindly provided four thumbscrews for me to use. Thumbscrews! It's the thoughtfulness and tiny touches like this that makes Apple hardware stand out from anything you'd find on the PC side.
After weeks of use, there are only two nits I could pick with the hardware. The first is a request for more USB ports on the tower itself. If you're like me and don't use Apple's provided keyboard, you're going to miss out on the extra USB port it provides. (Also make sure to bind a key to open the drive door!) A small USB hub was an immediate purchase to rectify this problem. The only other issue is the noise from the case's fans, which can be distracting if you want to keep this trophy machine on top of your desk. Moving it to the floor helped, but I can't help wonder if the 867's could get away with fewer (or quieter) fans.