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The Performance Edge: PowerBook G4/800 vs iMac G4/800 - Does The PowerBook's Extra Cache And Different Graphics Card Make A Difference? - A Performance Report
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Monday, July 29, 2002

by David Engstrom

Statistically these two machines are fairly similar. Both have an 800 MHz G4 processor with 256K of L2 cache running at full processor speed. However the PowerBook also has a L3 cache which sits between the memory of the machine and the processor. This extra cache provides the processor fast access to frequently used data, and so provides more efficient processing overall.

The benefits of this cache and the fact that the PowerBook has a 133 MHz System Bus, has an impact on the scores you'll see below. The PowerBook, in most processing intensive tasks, turned in from 10 - 20% speed improvement over the cache-less iMac.

The PowerBook also appears to have the better graphics system, handily besting the iMac in both on-screen graphics and gameplay.

The iMac did come out ahead in some of the drive tests, including CD drive performance, but it wasn't a complete slam dunk here either. If you opt for a PowerBook, you'll pay about $1,300 more than you would pay for the iMac listed below. But let me tell you from experience .... dragging around the iMac can get old really quick!

Difference and similarities in processor, and memory & graphics systems of each machine

  PowerBook G4/800 iMac G4/800

Additional Resources

Processors G4/800 G4/800
L2 Cache 256k @ 800 MHz 256k @ 800 MHz
L3 Cache 1 MB DDR @ 200 MHz None
Bus Speed 133 MHz 100 MHz
Memory 768 MB PC 133 768 MB PC 133
Graphics Card 32 MB DDR ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 4x AGP NVIDIA GeForce2 MX with 32 MB of DDR RAM in a 2x AGP slot
Drive 60GB Ultra ATA/66 (5400 rpm) 60GB Ultra ATA
CD Drive 2x 8x 6x 24x 8x 8x 24x
Operating System 10.1.4 10.1.2
Price $3,199 $1,899

"Real World" Tests

The tests below are from our suite of real world application tests. These tests feature a diverse selection of applications commonly used by the Mac community. The test suite was designed to render an accurate and well rounded picture of a machine's performance. All of the tests below, except for the game tests, were timed with a stopwatch. The times were then converted to percentages, relative to the iMac G4/800, which is set to 100%. For all scores, higher numbers are better.

Desktop Tests


The iMac's faster drive pushes it ahead here ... slightly


The opposite is true here. It appears that more calculating power is required to boot classic. The PowerBook has somewhat better processing capability & memory subsystem, and so neutralizes the iMacs drive advantage


On the folder copy test above the iMac required 35% of its processing capability to get the job done. The PowerBook required only 20%. The single file copy test required much less of the processor's power, leaving the drive to come forward as a stronger determining performance factor.

The PowerBook burns CDs at 6x and the iMac at 8x

We think that the PowerBook is helped out in this test due to the addition of the L3 Cache and faster Bus speed. The test above creates and destroys 1,000 windows. See the Let1kWindowsBloom site for more info.

Large document is scrolled from one end to the other using Classic OS 9.2.2 when booted in OS 10. Test shows the performance of on-screen graphics

Large Document & Database Type Tests

A Macro (series of complex actions) was run in Microsoft's Word program, which is part of Office X

A Macro (series of complex actions) was run in Microsoft's Excel program, which is part of Office X

Stresses the processing & memory systems of the machine. This test takes place in a large AppleWorks document.

Large folder is indexed by Apple's search application

Number Crunching & Rendering Tests

A Ripple Effect is applied to an iMovie

The Fractal program has been highly tuned to take advantage of the G4 and is precisely the type of work that the G4 was made for. It will also gobble up whatever processing capability is present. This is a good test for assessing the fundamental processing power of each machine

Encoding/Decoding Tests

A Sorenson encode compresses a QuickTime movie for streaming on the Web

Converting QuickTime movies to DV allows you to import them into iMovie

We think the difference above is due to CD drive performance


An MP3 encode, Search & Replace in AppleWorks and Folder Copy are all carried out at the same time

A Sorenson encode and fractal render are performed at the same time

A QuickTime DV conversion and MP3 encode are carried out at the same time



Aside from the graphics card, Giants is also tuned to take advantage of the processor as well. Indeed, when run on a dual processor machine, you will see Giants fly ahead of the same game running on a single processor machine. Frame rates here are 14.7 for the iMac and 25.8 for the PowerBook.

To see the performance of these machines compared to many others click here

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