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SHOOTOUT:
Newer, Faster Graphics Cards
For the G4 Cube!

Originally posted July 18th, 2005, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
August 22nd, 2005 -- Added results for Radeon 8500 on test Cube
and removed most Power Mac G4 results to simplify graphs
(Special Power Mac G4 Graphics page will be added in a few days)

I've got Cube upgrade fever again. I had a relapse when I heard about the PC versions of the GeForceFX 5200 that were flashed with Mac firmware and that had a small form factor, making it easy to install in a standard Cube enclosure. This was significant since they come with 128MB of VRAM and support Tiger's Core Image.

Thanks to some Cube "mad scientists," I've been able to get my hands not only on the FX 5200, but a GeForce3 with 128MB of VRAM. Plus I finally got my Radeon 9800 Pro to work. This time I've added Doom 3 and iMaginator (Core Image) to the mix of real world 3D OpenGL apps.

LEGEND:
Cube = Dual G4/1.4+1.7GHz "mutant" Cube
iMac G4 = iMac G4/1.25GHz 20"
mini = G4/1.42GHz Mac mini
PM = G4/1.42GHz Power Mac
R9800 = ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB Mac Edition 2X/4X AGP
R9000 = ATI Radeon 9000 64MB
R8500 = ATI Radeon 8500 64MB
R9200 = built-in Mac mini graphics chip with 32MB VRAM
R9200* = Radeon 9200 AGP card (128MB VRAM) with Mac ROM revision 127
FX5200 = nVidia GeForceFX 5200 128MB 64 bit
FX5200* = nVidia GeForceFX 5200 256MB 128 bit
GeF3 = nVidia GeForce3 64MB
GeF3* = nVidia GeForce3 128MB
MX2 = nVidia GeForce2 MX (original card that came with our Cube)

The above graph is with Advanced Shaders and all parameters either ON or HIGHEST (no FSAA). Note that the Radeon 9000 only supports Vertex shaders and the GeForce2 MX supports NO shaders, so those results are misleading. Therefore, I've added another graph below showing the performance of the cards with Vertex shaders and things like refections, shadows, and specular turned OFF. Other parameters were set to MEDIUM or LOW.

Only two of the graphics cards are Motion 2 "rated," but I thought you would want to see how well they performed.

INSIGHTS and COMMENTS
The Radeon 9800 Pro is the clear winner, with the exception of iMaginator test where it froze up. You could also call it a "monster" in the world of Cube graphics cards. I used a standard Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB 2X/4X AGP Mac Edition, which doesn't fit inside the Cube -- too long. I had to remove the Cube enclosure, lay it on its side, lean the power button plate at 45 degrees, use the VRM extender cable, and feed power to the Radeon from an external power supply (the SuperDrive power feed of a G5). "It's alive!"

Though the 9800 Pro caused iMaginator to freeze up during the animation playback, I estimate that it should be at least twice as fast as the GeForce3, Radeon 9000 and GeForceFX 5200 based on the fact that my PowerBook G4/1.5GHz with Radeon 9700 Mobility completes the test in just over 42 seconds. It would be the unqualified "killer" Cube graphics card if iMaginator would stop freezing up. If any of you Cube "tuners" have a 9800 Pro or 9700 Pro running in your Cube, I'd like to see your iMaginator results. Email and ask for the iMaginator test file.

There exists a PC version of the Radeon 9800 Pro called "Black Sapphire" that's supposed to fit the Cube better and run off the Cube's internal power. NewEgg.com is selling it for $150 refurbished. The tricky part is flashing it with the Mac firmware. You should be able to use Graphiccelerator to do it but I understand if you don't get a card with the 128K ROM, you'll be limited in certain ways. Plus you must tape over leads 3 and 11 on the AGP connector so this 4X/8X card will run in the Cube's 2X slot. I purchased one from NewEgg and am going to hit with my best shot.

The original 64 bit GeForceFX 5200 (128MB) was a disappointment in terms of speed. But, as you can see, I've added the results for a 128 bit GeForceFX 5200 (256MB). It was as fast or faster than the GeForce3 cards in all but the Halo test. It supports Motion and Core Image (Dashboard Ripple effect), but I didn't see any speed advantage when I ran the Core Image aware iMaginator test.

The FX5200 had trouble running through the DVI port to my 23" Cinema LCD and 24" Dell LCD, both of which have a native resolution of 1920x1200. I've been told it's due to the way the PC version of the 5200 provides the DVI signal. I was able to get it to run at 1920x1200 using the VGA port and a VGA to DVI adapter, though the display quality suffered due to the non-digital signal. That was a "turn off" for me.

In response to multiple requests, we added the Radeon 9200 128MB AGP card for the Cube. Some readers were expecting it would do well against the FX5200. It beat it on two tests (UT2004 1024x768 Max and Halo Vertex 1024x768) but the FX5200 was equal or faster in the others. Plus the 9200 doesn't support Core Image.

By the way, the Radeon 9800 Pro, GeForceFX 5200, and GeForce3 require cooling fans that put out about 50 decibels at close range with the Cube enclosure off. The GeForce3's fan is high pitched which can annoy after a while.

CUBE VERSUS OTHER G4 MACS
We felt it would be instructive to see how the same cards we tested in the Cube would run in our G4/1.42GHz Power Mac with faster system bus, faster memory bus and faster AGP bus. As you can see it did make a difference.

I was surprised how well our 20" iMac G4/1.25 did against the upgraded Cube. We now have complete Mac mini G4/1.25GHz results. If any of you out there have access to a Mac mini G4/1.42GHz along with retail copies of Halo, Doom 3, and/or UT2004, email so I can give you instructions on the test runs we need.

PUSHING THE LIMITS
Look what happens when you run the Cube at extreme resolutions (1920x1200):

Now you know why I'm trying to find a Radeon 9800 that fits inside the Cube's case.

BIG THANKS TO MAD SCIENTISTS
Besides the help provided to me by various remote mad scientests including Dave Thomas and David Pirinelli, I want to mention those who made it possible cards like the GeForceFX 5200 128 bit and "Black Sapphire" Radeon 9800 Pro to work on a Cube:
Arti - ROM writer
NVflash - ROM co-writer
Tomejapan - ROM co-writer
Rubytuesday - cracked ROM speed code, opening up door for TSOP RAM re-timing
Madmacs - Author of NVFlash wrapper for Nvidia's ROM flasher, greatly eased testing
Italiano - Creator of StrangeDogs.com site which brought them together

DETAILS ON CUBE USED FOR TESTING
We had a "mutant" CPU upgrade in our G4 Cube this time around. It's a PowerLogix factory "second" 7447 Dual processor card with one processor running at 1.4GHz and the other at 1.7GHz. Uh huh.

The Mac OS X version was "Tiger" release 10.4.2.
Doom 3 was version 1.3.
Unreal Tournament 2004 was Retail build 3355
Halo was version 1.5.2
Quake 3 Arena was version 1.32
iMaginator was version 2.0, build 110
Motion was version 2.0

We had 1.5GB of PC133 CAS-2 memory and booted from a Maxtor DiamondMax 10 300GB 7200rpm internal PATA drive with 16MB cache.

PREVIOUS CUBE GRAPHICS TESTS
You might want to look at our previous 3D graphics test for the Cube, but you can't compare it to the results on this page since
a) we were using different CPUs,
b) we were running under Panther
c) we were running older versions of Halo and UT2004

CUBE RELATED LINKS
Cubeowner.com -- has very informative Cube upgrade forum, including instructions for flashing PC cards for use in your Cube (or G4 Power Mac). You can also buy used equipment listed on that site.

Strangedogs.com -- repository for ROM files needed for flashing various PC graphics cards to work on your Cube (or G4 Power Mac).

Patch to allow hard drives larger than 128GB from IntechUSA

Macintouch compares the Mini mac to the iMac G5, eMac, and iBook using xBench, Cinebench, iTunes, and other tests.

GigaDesigns CPU upgrade for Cube

Sonnet Technologies CPU upgrades for the Cube and G4 Power Macs

Daystar Technology's CPU upgrade for the Cube

WHERE TO BUY G4 CUBE UPGRADES
Other World Computing sells PowerLogix, Sonnet, and Mercury CPU upgrades for the G4 Cube. They have various models of the Radeon graphics cards plus the Power Cube, a larger enclosure for your Cube which includes the VRM mover kit. They also have memory and hard drives for your Cube.

Don't forget to ask OWC about the 8X SuperDrive upgrade for the Cube.

Small Dog Electronics for GigaDesigns and Sonnet CPU upgrades for the Cube.

TransIntl has processor, memory and hard drive upgrades for the Cube.

If you want to add a slot load 8X SuperDrive to your Cube, visit FastMacs.

For all kinds of original as well as custom parts, go to CubeParts.biz. They have been helpful to me providing missing screws, improved optical drive, USB speakers, etc. They are working on a custom end plate for the Radeon 7500 (and other graphics cards) that lets air circulate and eliminates cutting of your Cube's frame to make it fit.

Has Bare Feats helped you? How about helping Bare Feats?

2005 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster and mad scientist