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Review of the Newer Technology NuPowr Pismo G4/500MHz
Processor Upgrade for the PowerBook G3 2000 "Pismo"

By Harry Zink

OWC NOTE: Harry is a graphics and visual systems consultant for the entertainment industry. He loves proving 'it can't be done' statements wrong - so of it involves a Mac, Harry's your man. If it involves Windows, you're on your own. Harry lives with his dog, Vladi, in Los Angeles, CA. You can reach him at Harry received one of the very first NuPowr G4 Pismo upgrades and we thank him for his in depth review!

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 resoldering 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 a developed a cult-like following for good reason: They are infatigable workhourses, reliable tools, and most of all, with their nearly organic design, ergonomically 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 additional brings faster RAM access speed, AltiVec, and better memory management to the table. In addition, since the upgrade comes with 1 meg of Level-2 cache, Final Cut Pro's real time effects can actually be utilized.

But on to benchmarks:

SpeedRun 1.1.3 (Mac OS X 10.1.5)

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 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 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 (their internal testing has not uncovered this problem.

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. I hear that Jaguar/10.2 will reintroduce (about time) proper battery and power management, so I’ll be curious how that will perform and compare.

Temperature: Because the 7410 and similar CPUs can’t 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 (meaning, the bottom gets very warm, the keyboard slightly so).

In summary – if you have a Pismo, this is a must have upgrade to have. While there’s another vendor that offers a similar upgrade at this point, I went with Newer Technologies simply because I had good experiences with them in the past, and wanted to keep giving them my business (i.e. Help their rebirth).
(A buddy of mine ordered the other upgrade, and I’m sure he’ll contribute his impressions as soon as his upgrade returns.)

The only suggestions I would offer to Newer to make this upgrade even better – include neat sticker, on metallic foil, that users can place above the keyboard with a neat G4 and/or Newer logo on it, and 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 Technology enhanced Pismo – hey, if we have one of those, we want bragging rights!

Harry Zink