by David Engstrom
General Impressions: Fun, Fun, Fun, is how I would describe
slapping the Sonnet Crescendo G3/L2 500Mhz into our Twentieth
Anniversary Macintosh and watching it turn from a stately
aging Bentley, into a rip roaring Porsche fresh off the factory
floor. The performance of the Sonnet card is truly amazing,
the engineering tight and well done. Unfortunately the bug
that we have documented with previous Sonnet cards in the
L2 family, continues in this latest upgrade, marring what
would otherwise be a thing of near perfect performance pleasure!
[see update below regarding
| Supported Models
Apple: 20th Anniversary Macintosh, 5500s and 6500s
Mac OS 7.5.3 - 9.0 supported
Sonnets Crescendo G3/L2 400Mhz and 500Mhz cards will
only work in machines with a 50Mhz bus. Sonnet sells
lower speed cards that will work in other compatible
For those of you not familiar with the innovation of L2 cache
slot G3 upgrades a short explanation is in order. These cards
fit into the L2 cache slots of machines previously thought
to be non-upgradable because (in most cases) their original
processors were soldered to the motherboard. Clever upgrade
manufacturers have engineered a way for a G3 card placed in
the L2 cache slot to usurp control from the main processor
during the boot process. In the case of the Sonnet L2 card,
the machine initially boots off the original processor. When
the Sonnet software extension is loaded a G3 "environment"
is setup and processing power is handed over to the G3 upgrade.
This happens almost seemlessly in Sonnet's case - other cards
have a double boot process.
Intallation: Installation is straightforward and simple.
Sonnet's printed instructions are concise and adequate. If
you have ever installed RAM or a cache card you will have
no problem installing the Sonnet Card. First you install the
software - an extension that enables the card, the LibMotSh
extension - LibMotSh is an high performance shared math
library that is suppose to improve FPU performance - and Metronome
- a utility which, when you run it, will provide you with
stats on the installed card, including operating temperature.
(LibMotSh can be found as freeware on the Net and can be installed
on most machines whether they have a G3 upgrade or not.) After
the the software is installed, shut down the machine, and
gain access to the motherboard. (How you access the motherboard
will depend on the machine that you are working with - consult
your manual). Once you have the motherboard exposed touch
a metal part of the fan housing to ground yourself - static
electricity and your motherboards components don't like one
another! You will need to locate the L2 cache and remove it.
The manual goes into detail for each model type how to do
this and the cache slot should be marked on the motherboard.
You will find that the cache card likes being attached to
your computer. You will need to pull firmly and consistently
to get it to come out. If your cache card has hole on either
corner you can hook something in them to help you get the
card out. We used a paper clip gently (yet firmly) pulling
at one corner and then the other until it popped out. Remember
to pull straight up and not at an angle.
Installing the G3 card is easier than pulling the cache card
out. On the TAM the heatsink of the card faces the bottom
of the machine. Line the card up properly in the cache slot
and push firmly on the edge of the card and the upgrade should
pop right in. Replace the cover of your computer (if you are
using the thin cover on the back of your TAM you will have
to migrate to the "Fat" back), restart your machine,
use the Metronome software utility (now found in the Apple
menu) to make sure everything is working properly. Now head
for the fast lane!
Stability And Operation: We installed
the Crescendo G3/L2 500Mhz card in a Twentieth
Anniversary Macintosh (TAM) for 2 weeks and experienced
no stability issues with the upgrade once the machine had
booted. However we had problems with the same intermittent
startup freezes that we documented so well in a previous
review of earlier Sonnet L2 cards. The freezes are random
and intermittent and only occur every 6 restarts or so (even
that is hard to pin down). It is annoying more than anything,
but is usually fixed by a forced reboot.
[Update: Since this review we purchased a Crescendo G3/L2
500Mhz and have been running it in our TAM without incident
- it appears that Sonnet has been able to address the startup
freezing issue by updating the Crescendo extension. Be sure
to download the latest extension version from Sonnet's web
site if you are using one of these upgrades]
If you are using Apple's Geoport modem, it is not compatible
with this upgrade.
The temperature of the chip during operation ran consistently
at 63 degrees celsius - we also have a PCI Ethernet card in
our TAM that throws off some additional heat. The PowerPC
G3 chip is rated for a maximum recommended opertating temperature
of 102 degrees celsius.
One addtional thing about Sonnet processors is that there
are no adjustments to make, no dip switches to set, no control
panel settings, just stick the processor card in and go. I
personally like this simplicity but people that like to tinker
with settings to squeeze out every last facet of performance
may miss the ability to fiddle.
Performance: We experienced anywhere from a 50% to 500% speed
improvement over the base TAM performance, depending on the
task being undertaken (see
benchmarks below). If you are doing any type of heavy
lifting with your Mac the Crescendo G3/L2 500 will provide
significant performance improvements and rip though those
tasks many times faster than your base machine can. Our photoshop
tests showed a 3 to 4 times speed improvement as did our rendering
test. However even people that use their machines for simpler
tasks will find that a G3 upgrade will make their systems
much more responsive and agile as they go about their daily
chores. If you have a high-speed Internet connection you will
find that a faster machine really makes it come alive. You
will realize how much your current processor is choking on
all the data your Internet pipe is sending its way.
Some caveats on performance. While a G3 upgrade will rejuvenate
an older machine, it will not turn it into a new one. You
will still have that old slow hard drive and outdated graphics
card - unless you choose to upgrade them as well.
Conclusion: Unfortunately the Sonnet L2 cards are marred
by occasional startup freezes - at least in some machines.
Because of this problem they did not receive from us the top
marks that they otherwise would have gotten. You will have
to decide for yourself if top of the line performance is worth
this inconvenience. Price is another factor. The suggested
retail price for the Crescendo G3/L2 500Mhz card is about
$1000 - about the same price as a brand new low end 350Mhz
iMac (Since this article was posted Sonnet dropped the price
on the card to $799).
For TAM owners upgrading your machine is a no-brainer - the
TAM is not the kind of machine you turn in for a later model.
However for owners of 5500 and 6500 PowerMacs who are just
doing general computing you would be better off selling your
old machine and opting for one of the new iMacs. If on the
other hand you need tons of raw processing power the Sonnet
upgrade will provide what you are looking for and then some.
|Product: Crescendo G3/L2 500Mhz
Hits: Excellent performance, good stability once machine
has booted, easy installation
Misses: Occasional freezes during the boot process,
$1000 Sonnet has dropped the price on
this card to $799
MacBench 5.0 Results
"Real World" Tests
(Shorter bars are better)
Time to Scroll a 500 page AppleWorks document
from top to bottom.
Using the same document as above we did a
search/replace command to replace the word "the"
with the word" macbench"
Boy Render Times: Crescendo 87 seconds, Base TAM 343 seconds
PhotoShop 5.0.2 "Real World" Test
Crescendo Card Stats
Variable/Fixed Clock Rate
Crescendo G3/L2 500/250/1MB
L2 Cache Slot