Apple Power Mac G4 And Operating System OS X
Is This The Ultimate Photographers Desktop Setup

A new desktop computer model, a new operating system, and a new monitor model all at once is a rare occasion for a product test and review. Besides putting me on my toes by requiring me to learn new ways of working, I used the release of two graphics applications for the OS X operating system, Corel Graphics Suite 10 and Deneba Canvas 8, as my means of experiencing what digital photography will be like with these new products. On the hardware side, the new G4 tower CPU boxes are in the familiar rounded tower shape, now with a silver finish, and are offered in three configurations: 733MHz, 867MHz, and Dual 800MHz, with the latter two including SuperDrive, a combined CD-RW/DVD-RW drive. And, just as I was finishing this report Apple announced upgraded G4s replacing the models just cited, beginning with an 800MHz, and then a 933MHz replacing the 867MHz, and at the top a Dual 1GHz model. The only other significant changes are upgrades to the graphics card, now with an ATI Radeon 7500 for the 800MHz, and NVIDIA GeForce4 MX cards for the two top models.

Apple has also abandoned offering CRT monitors, now providing the Apple Studio Display flat panel LCD in three sizes: 15", 17", and the 22" Cinema Display. For my test purposes Apple provided an 867MHz single processor G4 (with SuperDrive) and the 17" Studio Display.

The new Macintosh Operating System 10 includes many more support functions including a superb image file viewer. Run the mouse cursor over the file name in the image frame header bar and a "Sheet" drops down providing all of the data associated with the file in a semitransparent box.
Photos © 2001, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

OS 10.1
The new G4s come with both the Macintosh Operating System 10.1 and "Classic" OS 9.2 installed. The new Mac OS X is an evolutionary development of the vaunted Mac user interface married to a very well established workstation operating system foundation, Unix. On a functional basis Unix provides support for parallel multi-processing, pre-emptive multi-tasking as well as protected application memory space. The latter's advantage is that if an application misbehaves and crashes, it does not crash the operating system. Microsoft users will recognize that these primary OS capabilities have been available in one degree or another, culminating in Windows 2000. However, the Microsoft operating system core (kernel) is proprietary, while the new Mac OS X is Unix, an open system. In time this may encourage high-end Unix workstation application developers to make their products available for Mac OS X users, adding a new level of competition to the already 1400 applications available to run on OS X at the time this report was written.

I very specifically requested that Apple include one of the flat panel LCD Studio Displays with the system loaned for testing. Apple is moving to an all flat panel LCD selection. The Apple Studio Displays are of the same LCD generation as the LaCie Photon 18 Blue monitor, which I reported on in the October 2001 issue of Shutterbug. In size, the viewable screen area of the 17" Studio Display is very close to that of the 19" CRTs. And, the graphics card that comes with the new G4 has an output connector for both the LCD Studio Displays and a CRT monitor. So I was able to use both and switch back and forth to do various digital photography processing activities.

The new all in one Colorsync dialog window is directly accessible from System Preferences, which is accessed by clicking on a single icon in the Dock. The three tabs in the Colorsync dialog window offer Profile First Aid, a tab window for Devices, and access to all of the profile files logically organized in the system, and with full information identifying all of the attributes of each profile.

The Mac Experience
Getting everything out of the boxes and the system running takes just a few minutes. You plug in the power supply for the tower, connect the Studio Display to the graphics card connector, hook the USB keyboard to a socket on the back of the tower, and connect the new USB optical mouse to one of the two USB sockets in the keyboard. There are also a couple of USB outlet sockets on the back of the Studio Display, providing easy access to connect USB devices like printers, scanners, and a digital camera, as well as one remaining open on the back of the tower, precluding the immediate need to buy a USB hub for the system. I also installed an extra 512MB PC 133 RAM chip, which is an easy, quick procedure because the Mac G4 has a single latch that opens one side of the tower for direct access to the logic (mother) board and the memory slots. This brought the total internal memory to 768MB.

My first order of business was to set up the System Preferences to suit my "digital darkroom" use of a Mac. With OS X one of the first things you'll notice in the main screen interface is a block of designated space with a selection of large icons--it's called the Dock. It's where tools and applications you want to activate are accessed. One of these is an icon for System Preferences, which when clicked opens a window with four rows of icons representing personal, hardware, Internet, and networks, as well as the system functions.

The first that I opened and set was the Displays dialog. The fact that the 17" Studio Display was recorded already is a reflection of the fact the Mac is fully "plug-and-play" and recognizes automatically any device plugged into and used with the system. Relative to photo processing, a related preference adjustment that is advisable is to set the Desktop color scheme to provide a neutral gray workspace, which in OS X is now a standard option. If the workspace around a photo image displayed on screen is colored it will skew the visual perception of the colors contained in the photo, something to be avoided if you want to edit color for ideal output.

The new Mac OS X provides direct support for connecting and accessing photos stored by a digital camera. Just plug the camera in via USB or FireWire, up pops the camera's icon on the desktop, and the system has already made any color management adjustments for the camera if the camera's firmware contains a profile. Double click the camera icon and a window appears with all of the camera's stored files represented by thumbnails and file names for immediate access and use.

Also related critically to photographic color performance accuracy is Apple's color management system, Colorsync. Setting the profiles for use by Colorsync is now also immediately accessed through System Preferences. The dialog that pops up provides a three tab window, one of which has a new utility which inspects a suspect profile and will identify one that is corrupted and repair it. The tabs to set profiles and select the "engine" which runs the translation of color (CMM) is also selectable.

I would first set it to use the Colorsync engine rather than the default Automatic setting. Then the profile selection tab window provides the ability to select any profile you have available in the Colorsync profile folder for input, internal (monitor), and RGB composite printer as well as CMYK proof printer output. What is not apparent is that OS X includes a new full version upgrade to Colorsync 4.0, which is now also fully "plug-and-play." Anytime you connect a device like a USB digital camera the firmware in the device includes a profile Colorsync that will automatically associate the profile with the device and make it active as the input profile.

Calibrated Monitor Profiles
As those of you who read me regularly know, I stress the key to effective color management is a precisely calibrated monitor profile. Although the Displays System Preferences dialog provides a perceptual method of calibrating a monitor installed on your Mac, I have recommended using a sensor device and its software to do this objectively and more precisely. It just so happened that not long before receiving this new Mac G4 for testing I was at the Seybold trade show in San Francisco and saw an Apple Studio Display being calibrated with a new version of the ColorVision Spyder, modified to calibrate both LCDs and CRTs. ColorVision was able to supply me with one of the first production models of this newest Spyder and the Version 3.5 software for it. The Spyder sensor is essentially the same, but to use it with an LCD a special filter is added and the mounting is revised so it hangs pendulum-like in front of the LCD screen, since suction cups used with CRTs would damage an LCD screen. Switching to one of my Sony 19" monitors, I used the same Spyder and software to calibrate the Sony CRT to this new Mac G4, which provided a control for evaluating working with the LCD Studio Display to perform photographic image processing.

Software Installations
I installed both CorelDRAW 10 and Deneba Canvas in OS X, and a current version of Photoshop in Classic OS 9.2. I did this for comparison's sake and also to be able to use the Minolta Dimge Scan Multi PRO I was testing to scan some raw data files of photographic images to work with using Corel PHOTO-PAINT and Canvas. I also installed the Epson Stylus Photo 820 with drivers in both OS X and Classic OS 9.2. In addition, I installed Epson's software for their Photo PC 3100Z digital camera and their Film Factory software, which provides support for their Print Image Matching Technology, also in Classic OS 9.2.

Thus equipped, I was able to perform a typical range of photographic and digital darkroom tasks closely parallel to the work I was doing to evaluate the printer, scanner, and digital camera using my personal and familiar previous model G4. I also used some new versions of Corel and Deneba applications running under OS X.

Evaluation And Recommendation
My experience with this new Mac was unusual. I did not experience even one glitch in setting up, installing applications, and using the computer. At the risk of opening the usually volatile Mac vs. Windows debate, I believe overall clean and reliable operation of computers has improved generally in the last couple of years. But Apple has one distinct advantage--it is a closed system that involves a very tight integration of hardware and software. Windows, on the other hand, addresses a much more diverse market of users and it has to run on a wide variety of hardware configurations. For the photographer, the fact that the Apple Macintosh computers dominate in publishing, printing, graphics, and professional photography, and that Apple has continued to develop their color management system, Colorsync, adds to the advantages.

Now that there are even newer upgraded G4s, the one I tested would be indicative of superb digital darkroom performance from any three of the models now offered. Compared to my previous generation G4 these latest models provide quiet, smooth, reliable, and efficient operation. The only waiting involved was due to inputting high-resolution scans and making large, high-resolution prints, but both of these functions were done more rapidly compared to my personal and older G4. In addition, once I got the hang of OS X, its new interface provides many more direct and easy methods of working, particularly with the Dock providing a cleaner and more direct access to applications, files, and OS functions.

Working with the Corel PHOTO-PAINT and Deneba Canvas applications, which I had only used in the past on a Windows PC, I was pleasantly surprised to find both of these powerful graphics applications were much easier to learn and use than I had previously experienced. Deneba Canvas in previous Windows versions combines so many graphic, publishing, and photography tools and capabilities in a single interface that it was dauntingly complicated. But the OS X version is more streamlined and there is a greater level of functional logic and readier identification of the tools, making orientation and the work process go quite easily. Corel has also streamlined their OS X version of PHOTO-PAINT, which has made it more efficient, plus the interface design is easier to use. For example, the color management setup is laid out graphically with symbols for each of the devices. All the profiles for a printer or scanner that are on file are listed for immediate selection--neat!

Working with scanning and editing in Photoshop, and printing using the Classic OS 9.2 with this new G4, provided the most direct comparison between it and my previous generation G4. The new one is decidedly faster and more efficient. For photographic computing which involves usually rather large files, I believe much of the difference is due to the faster 133MHz bus and RAM chips of the new machine compared to the 100MHz bus and chips in the older version. So there may not be all that much of a performance boost between the 867MHz machine I tested and the just released 933MHz, which also has a 133MHz bus and RAM chip speed.

As I described earlier I used the new Apple 17" Studio Display for most of the testing of the G4 867 Power Mac, switching over to one of my 19" Sony displays for a short time for the sake of comparison. For most of my work I found the Apple LCD provides some distinct pluses, particularly in sharpness and crispness of detail, an obvious photographic advantage, particularly for retouching. However, I could not perform color correction, particularly setting up scans, as accurately and as predictably as with the CRT. So, my ideal would be to use both an Apple 17" LCD and 19" CRT side by side. That may seem a bit luxurious, but the total cost is no more than what the best 21" CRT costs, and you have even more total screen real estate.

My own actions, having been a died-in-the-wool PC Windows user for most of my computing life, may be the best kind of recommendation. As I write these last few words my last PC is exhibiting signs of morbidity, so today I ordered a new G4. I won't replace the PC, but to cover Windows applications will run Virtual PC and Windows 2000 on one of my Macs.

SPECIFICATIONS

Processor

  • 800- or 933-MHz PowerPC G4 processor or dual 1-GHz PowerPC G4 processors
  • Velocity Engine vector processing unit
  • Full 128-bit internal memory data paths
  • Powerful floating-point unit supporting single-cycle, double-precision calculations
  • Data stream prefetching operations supporting four simultaneous 32-bit data streams
  • 256K on-chip L2 cache running at processor speed
  • 2MB DDR SDRAM L3 cache per processor, with up to 4GB per second throughput (933-MHz and dual 1-GHz systems)
  • 133-MHz system bus supporting over 1-GBps data throughput

Memory

  • 256MB or 512MB of PC133 SDRAM
  • Three DIMM slots supporting up to 1.5GB of PC133 SDRAM using the following
-128MB or 256MB DIMMs (64-bit-wide, 128-Mbit)
-512MB DIMMs (64-bit-wide, 256-Mbit)

Storage

  • One of the following hard disk drives
-40GB 7200-rpm Ultra ATA
-60GB 7200-rpm Ultra ATA
-80GB 7200-rpm Ultra ATA
  • One of the following optical drives:
-CD-RW drive (writes CD-R discs at 24x speed, writes CD-RW discs at 10x speed, reads CDs at 32x speed)
-SuperDrive (combination DVD-R/CD-RW drive; writes DVD-R discs at 2x speed, reads DVDs at 6x speed, writes CD-R discs at 8x speed, writes CD-RW discs at 4x speed, reads CDs at 24x speed)
-DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo drive (build-to-order option; reads DVDs at 8x speed, writes CD-R discs at 12x speed, writes CD-RW discs at 8x speed, reads CDs at 32x speed)
  • Three 3.5-inch hard drive expansion bays
-One ATA drive preinstalled on standard configurations
-Support for up to two internal ATA drives
-Support for up to three internal SCSI drives
-Support for a combination of internal SCSI and ATA drives

Graphics support

  • One of the following graphics cards, installed in a dedicated AGP 4X graphics slot:
-ATI Radeon 7500 graphics card with 32MB of DDR SDRAM and ADC and VGA connectors; supports digital resolutions up to 1920 by 1200 pixels and analog resolutions up to 2048 by 1536 pixels
-NVIDIA GeForce4 MX graphics card with 64MB of DDR SDRAM and ADC and VGA connectors; supports digital and analog resolutions up to 1920 by 1200 pixels
  • Dual display support for extended desktop and video mirroring modes

Expansion

  • Four open full-length 64-bit, 33-MHz PCI slots
  • One AGP 4X slot with graphics card installed
  • Two 400-Mbps FireWire ports (15W total power)
  • Four USB ports (two on system, two on keyboard)

Communications

  • 10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet connector (RJ-45)
  • Built-in 56K V.90 modem
  • Ready for wireless networking: Built-in antennas and card slot for optional 11-Mbps AirPort Card; IEEE 802.11b compliant

Audio

  • Built-in speaker
  • Apple speaker minijack for connection to Apple Pro

Speakers

  • Optional Apple Pro Speakers
  • Headphone/line out minijack
  • Support for external third-party USB digital audio peripherals such as microphones and speakers

MIDI devices
Keyboard and mouse

  • Apple Pro Keyboard
  • Apple Pro Mouse

Size and weight

  • Height: 17.0 inches (43.2 cm)
  • Width: 8.9 inches (22.6 cm)
  • Depth: 18.4 inches (46.7 cm)
  • Weight: 30 pounds (13.6 kg)

Apple Prices: 800MHz $1599; 933MHz $2299; Dual 1GHz $2999; 17" LCD Studio Display $995. For more information go to your local Apple store, or visit their web site at: www.apple.com.
Corel Graphics Suite 10: Full price $549; upgrade $239. For more information call (800) 772-6735 or visit their web site at: www.corel.com.
Canvas 8 (Deneba Systems Inc.): Estimated street price $399; competitive product upgrade $249. For more information call (800) 622-6827 or visit their web site at www.deneba.com.
ColorVision Spyder: Spyder with PhotoCAL $288; $189 rebate on CRT only Spyder. For more information call (800) 554-8688 or visit their web site at www.colorcal.com.

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