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Vimage's Vpower PF G3/240 Install Review
for the 5400/6400

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Click here to read my Vimage 320/325 install review


Vimage G3 card

I remember about a year or 2 ago when the Apple G3 came out and everyone with 604e daughter card systems were just waiting for a G3 upgrade for their Mac. I thought to myself that it sure would be great if I could upgrade my system but reality set in because the 6400 has a soldered on CPU and no Processor Direct Slot (PDS). Time goes by and now 2 companies release updates for old 601 CPU's. OK so now recent systems and the old original PPC systems can upgrade but what about us? I had heard one company made a G3 upgade that fit in the PCI slot (which was the only logical slot I could think of to upgrade a 6400) but it was only for 604e systems. By this time it seemed hopeless, but then out of nowhere comes an announcment from Vimage, a new comer to the CPU upgrade business, about a G3 upgrade for the 4400. Now get this, it fits in the L2 cache slot. Yes the L2 cache slot! I imidiatly thought to myself "Hey, the 6400 has a L2 cache slot!" and started conversing with them. Well, about a month later they made an announcment for a G3/240Mhz that worked on the 6400 and I ordered mine the day they were released to the public on Oct. 10th 1998.

The initial release price was $599 and has since dropped to $499 which is very resonable for a G3 upgrade card on any Mac. The box includes the G3 card, an additional heatsink with a fan for compatible Apple clones, software on a floppy, manual, and a disposable ground strap. It turns out that the clones based on Apples mother board used in the 6400 are not sufficiently cooled so Vimage had to ad the extra heatsink with a fan or the G3 would overheat. The manual is easy to read and understand which makes installation a breeze!

Stuff that comes with G3 card

ABOUT THE CARD

The Vpower PF G3 is a 240Mhz G3 with 512k backside cache running at 120Mhz. The size is about exactly the same as a traditional L2 cache but just a bit wider do to the CPU's heat sink. Don't worry about it interfering with any PCI card or Ram chip as it's small enough to not get in the way. This is particulary good news as the older 601 CPU systems had to remove their high performance video cards from the PDS slot to allow the G3 upgrade and only recently have the card vendors released the needed adaptor to allow the video card to reside in the space of one of the NUBUS slots. Loosing one NUBUS slot is the price those owners have to pay for G3 speed but not us! Those crafty engineers have outdone themselves on this design. Who would have thought the L2 cache slot could be used for a CPU upgrade!

INSTALLATION

Installation is very simple. Just a step more from adding a traditional L2 cache. First you install the software from the floppy disk. This includes the Vpower extension, Vpower Control panel and Vpower folder that contains the Vpower Info app. Then you powerdown the Mac and the rest is just like adding a L2 cache. You will need a Phillips screw driver, the G3 card, ground strap, and a magazine. Before removing the power cord, touch the metal covers for the PCI slots to ground yourself and try not to move after this point (computer electronics don't like static electricity!) The manual says to use the ground strap and to attach it to the power supply or other metal parts to keep you and the computer at the same electrical potential (this helps reduce the risk of static electricity). I stuck it to the PCI slot covers.

Rear of 6400

Now remove the 2 screws that hold the motherboard in then carefully pull out the board. Place it on the magazine so you don't damage the components on the back. If you have a L2 card already installed, it will be neccessary to remove it before inserting the G3. I found it easy to remove the L2 cache by using a small flathead screw driver (like a jewlers screw driver). I put it under the very end of the cache card and used it to help pry it out. These cards are in very tight so you will have to use some force but please be careful! Now insert your new G3 card and heres the crucial point, you MUST press the motherboard reset button found right next to the Ram slots. If you do not do this then your G3 may not be recognized or worse your computer might crash. This is not limited to the G3 card and you should press this button when installing or removing any card from the 6400. Now just put your mother board back in and your done. Your now ready to experiance G3 speed!

Vimage in L2 cache slot
1 - stock 603e
2 - Vimage G3/240 in L2 cache slot
3 - mother board reset button

HERE WE GO!

I booted my 6400 and when it got to the Vpower extension, which is set to load first, it soft rebooted again? I thought that something was wrong but it turns out that this is how it works. Your computer starts with the 603e CPU then when the Vpower extension is reached it softreboots with the G3 taking over. I asked Vimage why it couldn't just continue from where it left off without rebooting and they're contacting the engineers for an answer. This does add a few seconds to the boot time but it's a small price to pay for lightning CPU speed :) On my 6400 with the Geo and no video card it shows no signs of compatibility issues but on my other 6400 with the ATI Xclaim VR card, it has a 1" white square in the upper left corner of the screen until the Desktop Pattern is displayed. This is mentioned in the manual and does not display during use after boot. There are other incompatibilities with some PCI graphics cards and I'll get to that later. The manual says to run the Vpower Info app just to make sure the card is running OK. It tells you CPU type and speed, L2 cache size and speed, and bus speed. All reported correctly.

Vpower Info window

BENCHMARKS

Now was the time to have some fun! I ran a series of tests just to see how fast my new 6400 was. Most of the apps I tested are not the latest and greatest but they'll give you a good idea of the speed difference. My times were taken using the second hand on a watch so there is a +/- 1s error. First a bit of info on the test systems.

MacBench 4.0 Scores

MacBench 4.0 scores

As you can see the G3 makes about a 3X to 4X improvement in CPU and FPU scores from the stock 6400/180! The Disk score also increased about 2X to get a better overall system perforance boost. As I mentioned earier the boot time was not increased but did take a few seconds longer due to the switching time of the CPU's. One thing that did puzzle me was that the 6400/220 with the G3 had a larger difference in boot time than the 6400/180 and I can only assume that its because the ATI card had to recalibrate on the soft restart where the 6400/180 did not. Again a few seconds waiting on boot time is not going to be a nuscience.
Application Launch Times
6400 / 180 6400 / 220
before after before after
boot speed 1m 29s 1m 35s 1m 15s 1m 35s
Photoshop 4.0 23s 10s 10s 7s
Corel 6 11s 8s 11s 7s
MS Word 6.0.1 12s 8s 9s 7s
AOL 4.0 preview II 19s 14s 17s 13s
Netscape 3.0.1 9s 6s 6s 5s
RealPC 1.0.3 N/A N/A 1m 25s 54s
Speedometer 16bit graphics test 1.488 3.188 4.031 4.873
The 6400/180 had the biggest improvment because it was the slowest before. Remember, once the G3 is installed both computers no matter what the differences in CPU speed and L2 cache size were before became essentially the same except for the HD and graphics card. The G3 will really benefit people that never added anything before. Another thing I found odd was that the 6400/220 with the G3 did not launch apps much faster than the 6400/180 even thought the Maxtor HD scored much higher in access time. I believe it is due to the system bus and that even though the HD is much faster, there must be other devices in the system bus that are keeping the 2 setups relativly the same. If you notice the launch times are only a second or 2 faster with the Maxtor drive from the stock drive. But if you compare the pre tests on the Maxtor setup with the post tests on the other computer you'll see that a 6400/220 512k cache and maxtor HD does just about as good as the stock 6400/180 with a G3. This again strengthens the need for the G3 for people that haven't invested a lot of money yet into their 6400. Don't get me wrong, If you have some money invested already like I do, its still a great buy! Even thought the times don't show it, my tricked out 6400/220 does fell much snappier with the G3 in it. Surfing the web feels much faster. Pages seem to jump on the screen and I don't have to wait for a progress bar like I used to when editing my web site. Some of my pages are getting very large and it takes GoLive a while to rendor it in WYSIWYG mode but not with the G3. In fact The G3 makes it possible to play Unreal on the 6400/180! The stock graphics were boosted from a score of 1.488 to 3.188 which is very close to the 4.031 score of my ATI card as reported by Speedometer. Of course Unreal was in software mode and not hardware acceleration mode but it does scroll rather fluent. I tried Unreal with out the G3 and it became completely unplayable. I know the box says that it will run on a 603e 180Mhz but don't believe it unless you have a Rage PRO or Voodoo card! And for you emulated Windows fans, the G3 makes it feel, well, like a PC! I haven't ran any tests in RealPC but it does open windows and run the few apps I have much faster. I tried the Hover demo on the Win95 install CD and it actual plays! Before it seemd like it ran at 0.5 FPS. I have installed a few little programs too and the install wizard actually runs smooth. Before I could see windows getting redrawn and things blinking around that you shouldn't normally see with an actual PC.

One thing I'd like to mention is that the Geo modem really zaps the processing power of the G3. Even though its still faster and more snappy than with out the G3, the Geo modem cuts the CPU speed nearly in half according to MacBench 4.0. It went from the 700% score down to 388% when online. This is just anoter example on why Apple should do something about this modem! I bet this is one reason why the iMac was lucky enough to not recieve this splendid piece of electronic CPU speed governer!

PASSING TIME

Now that all the benchmark testing was done it was time to just try things out. I noticed that Speed Doublers extenion loaded just before the Vpower extension and I though I could save a second or 2 if I renamed one or the other to get the Vpower to be the very first. With either renamed to make the Vpower first made no noticible difference in boot time so I just left them alone. I also ran PowerLogix Speedmeter to find out how hot the CPU was and it reported 75C just after boot and 79C afer an hour of use on my 6400/180. the 6400/220 reported 71C at boot and only 75C after an hour. I don't know why there is that difference especially since the 6400/220 has way more cards added inside compared to the other 6400? In either case according to Accelerate Your Mac, these readings are in par with other G3 cards.

Before G3 readingsAfter G3 readings
Before / After

I also tried PowerLogix G3 cache utility and it locked up the computer when the Finder loaded. I asked Vimage about this and they said that their backside cache speed is not adjustable. Oh Well :) The Finder locked up on me once when I was switching color depths from thousands to 256 colors but I couldn't reproduce the crash. I can't blame the G3 for this but I never had this happen before and I thought I'd mention it. I also tried switching the Vpower Control panel from the Faster setting to More Compatible and didn't notice any difference? Speedmeter and the Vpower Info app both reported that the CPU and cache were running at the speed they were before I made the change, so then what did change? I asked Vimage what this control panel changes and they told me that More Compatible makes the CPU send its data to the system RAM and L2 backside cache at the same time (in parallel) and in Faster Mode it goes thru the cache then to system RAM (in serial). Makeing the CPU access the system Ram directly does slow it down while not making it show in any CPU speed reporting utility and MacBench does show a drop from 700% to 664% but I don't see how this makes it more compatible? I asked Vimage and they will be getting back to me with an answer.

COMPATIBILITY

It seems that they have a few compatibility issues after all. The manual lists several including some PCI graphics cards. They have a web site that lists more compatibility issues. Here is what's listed in the manual:

  1. Geoport modem: you must have Mac OS 8.1 and Apple Telecom software 3.x installed to use this modem
  2. Virtual Memory with OS 7.x.x: You must disable VM or the Vpower G3 will not take over and your original CPU will come on
  3. Avid Cinema doesn't record: In some cases, it's possible that an error message will appear and recording will be impossible. If, before you record, you play the sample movie that came with Avid Cinema, this problem will go away.
  4. Avid Cinema doesn't play back properly: Select "More Compatible" mode in the Vpower control panel.
  5. My PCI card won't work: Xclaim GA, and Twin turbo are incompatible. for more information please visit http://www.vimagestore.com/compatibility54.html or call tech support at (877) 559-0074
  6. My screen doesn't look right when I use an Xclaim series card: There may be cases in which an Xclaim card produces strange screen effects when it is activated. This problem only occurs at the time of activation, however, and will not affect normal usage.

These are some pretty hefty compatibility issues. I would say that most people still have their internal Geo modems and many still use OS 7.x.x. The manual does state that OS 8.1 is recommended for optimum performance and Vimage just announced compatibility wth OS 8.5. I can safely say that the Geo modem does work with at least OS 8.1 and 8.5. I have the Xclaim VR card and the "strange screen effects" must be the 1" white square I have during startup. I think these issues may deter some people from buying the G3 or maybe it will just push them in to upgrading their OS?

SUMMARY

Basically my response is WOW! Vimage really out did themselves with this upgrade. It's great to see our aging 6400's get a new lease on life :) For all of you running stock 6400/180's or 200's the choice is simple, get the Vimage G3. For those of you that played the upgrade game and maxed out your 6400, its a matter of asking your self "is $499 worth saving a few seconds in every operation you do with your computer?" To me every second counts and It was definitly worth the money, and I even payed more:) Like I said the scores don't show a huge difference if you already have a fast HD and a 512k or 1M cache with a 200Mhz 603e CPU but it is faster and does feel faster and this is what its all about! But hey don't just take my word for it, check out my Vimage Info page and read all the letters I got from other users about how their 6400's got turbo charged!

Vimage Corporation
970 W. 190th Street, Suite 480
Torrance, CA 90502

(877) 4-VIMAGE, or (877) 484-6243


Check out my Vimage Info page for more information


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This page last updated 11/7/2002