XLR8 MACh Carrier G3 450MHz

By Jack Frost IV
jack@mac3d.com

     One of the more recently popular Macintosh hardware companies has been XLR8; the Macintosh-focused division of their parent company Interex. XLR8, along with Newer Technology and Sonnet, has been very vocal in its processor upgrades, and for good reason. Currently XLR8 offers an extensive line of upgrades ranging from 233MHz to 500MHz G3s, with support for PCI-based Power Macs, clones, and Apple's latest G3 systems. In particular is its 450MHz MACh Carrier G3, an upgrade where the price-to-performance ratio is nearly unparalleled.

     XLR8's MACh Carrier technology is an industry first developed exclusively at Interex. Essentially, it is a processor card for PCI-based Power Macs (pre-G3) that employs a ZIF socket on board. This allows the end user to upgrade only the ZIF card without having to buy an entirely new processor card, which reduces cost and can usually increase the trade-in value of the ZIF card being replaced. Additionally, XLR8 offers a processor trade-up program in which customers can trade-in their old ZIF cards for a significant amount off of a new one. The MACh Carrier card is also G4-compatible.

     Included with every MACh Carrier G3 card is XLR8's Performance Package, which includes the MACh Speed Control Panel, Power Control Software, and PowerFrax. The MACh Speed Control Panel is the heart of the upgrade, allowing the user to customize how the card operates as well as viewing dynamic information about your system. The settings panel, as shown below, presents you with the current settings for your system, which include System RAM, Processor Speed and Backside Cache.


MACh Speed Control Panel.

MACh Speed Advanced Settings.


     The Advanced Panel allows you to alter the information displayed in the Settings Panel. You have two basic options for your Backside Cache: Manual and Automatic. The "Automatic" setting allows the cache to run at the safest working speed, whereas the "Manual" setting allows users to pick the speed they desire. The default speed is 224.9MHz, however the control panel asked if I would like to try running at 299.9MHz. After I agreed, the Power Mac 9500 we tested this upgrade in promptly crashed. One nice feature about the XLR8 software is that it is intelligent enough to revert to your previous setting upon a crash due to altering the Backside Cache speed, preventing history from repeating itself.

     You can also choose to enable or disable Speculative Processing. Speculative Processing is just that; it speculates calculations as opposed to coming up with exact ones. Speculative Processing is disabled by default, and is recommended to stay that way to increase compatibility. We experienced enough problems with it enabled to outweigh the slight performance gain that was offered when it was enabled. Additionally, if your computer has a cache on the motherboard, you can choose to disable that, which allows the machine to perform better and run more reliably.

     The Power Control software offers a synopsis of your system, such as how much memory is installed and at which locations, which applications are running and how much CPU time they are using. The PowerFax software included is a program that can quickly generate visually stunning fractals, allowing you to fully interact with them by zooming in and out. It's more of a toy than a useful program, but we admit to spending a few late nights staring at it in awe.

     Unlike some upgrades, and all of Apple's systems, XLR8 fully supports and encourages users to overclock and alter the speed settings of their card. In fact, a good chunk of the manual included with the upgrade covers those aspects in depth, giving jumper diagrams as well as tips on choosing a Backside Cache speed. We recommend against altering these settings too much unless you know what you are doing and have sufficient cooling for the upgrade.

     The XLR8 MACh Carrier is a very impressive upgrade. It turned the aged 9500/120 we tested it in into a machine that scored up to 1200 in MacBench and could hold its own against Apple's latest G3 systems. Of course, a processor upgrade alone won't bring your machine up to par with Apple's current systems. The slower bus speed and hard drives in the 9500 kept it from keeping up with our resident Blue & White G3 450.

     For users looking to boost CPU-intensive tasks, such as some of the latest 3D games and graphic design applications, a processor upgrade is a must if you plan on preserving your current investment in hardware. We cannot recommend the XLR8 MACh Carrier upgrade highly enough, and since it is an "upgradeable upgrade," you're ready for the next generation of processors, including the G4. These upgrades aren't incredibly cheap, but when compared to a brand new computer, it's usually more practical to choose the upgrade.

(Used with permission from Jack Frost IV, the Editor-in-Chief of Mac3D.com, where this article appears.)