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Bondi Blue G3 PowerMac

Apple Notes By Martin Russ
Published March 1999

A badge? Nope, the side of the newest G3 Macintoshes.A badge? Nope, the side of the newest G3 Macintoshes.

The times are colourful for Apple Macs. Martin Russ looks at the new Bondi Blue G3 PowerMac, and then does some serious Thonking.

At the annual San Francisco MacWorld Expo, Steve Jobs, Apple's 'Interim' Chief Executive Officer, revealed the Rainbow iMacs — full physical details and internal spec can be found in this month's News pages.

If you've read that item, you'll already be aware that the new Macs come in a range of colours (as the name 'Rainbow' would suggest), some of which will inevitably be less popular than others. Bearing in mind the £200 price drop for any Bondi Blue iMacs that are still around, it's not out of the question that another six months will see some bargain deals on less popular colours, which could be useful for anyone who wants a Mac to act as their Internet machine, and to use for other, non‑music‑related tasks. Of course, Apple may well provide colour‑change kits of just the coloured parts of the case to resellers...

New G3

Bondi Blue hasn't actually gone away, as the brand‑new Power Mac G3 computers (previously code‑named Yosemite) have lots of turquoise‑tinted polycarbonate fittings. Indeed, the first word that springs to many people's minds on seeing them is "weird". But the design is fiendishly clever, ridiculously symmetrical, and perhaps even bolder than the iMac. Visiting the Apple web site's opening page ( gives you some impression of just how startling the new G3 can be. On my first visit, the page showed what looked like a new badge for the G3: a blue apple with 'G3' showing through a translucent cover. When on the G3 page proper, you discover that what looks like a badge is the side view of the computer! The Bondi Blue Apple logo must be 10 centimeters across, and the 'G3' characters are huge!

The entire case is polycarbonate, and one side opens up via a handle which bears a strong family relationship to the iMac's door — it has the same soft blue rubber grommet, but instead of just revealing the ports, the whole of the side of the G3 hinges down, giving immediate access to all the internals. The opening panel is lockable, too.

The world increasingly runs at web speeds these days: soon after the Apple site had the new G3 details and I was thinking how radical the design was, an SOS reader emailed me to say that he had been "expecting something even more radical" from the new G3s. Personally, I wonder what the next Powerbooks are going to look like — the mix of the iMac, new G3s and the eMate should be very strange indeed, if Apple follow the same design path!

There are a few changes inside the new G3s, too. As mentioned in the News, there are three internal hard drive bays, and two front‑panel slots for CD, DVD, Zip, Jaz or other removable media. Processor speeds of up to 400MHz are available, with caches running at half the processor speed — up to 200MHz. Although benchmark tests don't tell the whole story, it's significant that, using independent figures, the new 400MHz G3 was almost twice as fast as a 450MHz Pentium PC. And the speed at which some software opened was impressive — Microsoft Word was ready to go in a couple of seconds from cold, for example. Although you can add up to a gigabyte of RAM in the 100MHz, 400Mbps memory slots, there are only four of them, which isn't so good for people who 'drib & drab' RAM, as I do — my 7300's eight slots are gradually filling as I find suitable RAM bargains — but is one more slot than previous G3s. For card users, there are three 33MHz PCI slots, and one 66MHz PCI slot, and the 100MHz internal buss means that there should be fewer data bottlenecks when using the PCI slots.

There are quite a few features which might cause excitement for other Mac users, but which have little effect on Mac musicians. State‑of‑the‑art 3D graphics acceleration is fine for games but less useful for audio editing or MIDI sequencing. Firewire is useful if you have a suitable video camera and want to do some digital editing (it may also be used for digital audio in the future). USB is still new, and although compatible MIDI interfaces have begun to appear, as well as the promise of Operating System enhancements intended to improve the real‑time performance of USB for applications like audio and MIDI, the possibilities are still very limited. And this matters, because the new G3s don't have any serial ports.

That's right. The iMac dumped the floppy, SCSI, the serial ports and the ADB, and the G3 does the same, although the ADB makes a brief re‑appearance to enable ColorSync calibration of monitors. Future G3s apparently won't have an ADB socket. SCSI you can get via a PCI card, but the serial port issue is more interesting — the USB‑to‑Serial adapters that I've found do not seem to support MIDI, though Griddin Technology are working on the gPort, a serial adapter specifically for the new G3 series. I spoke to Steve Ford of Apple UK about the serial ports and was impressed that, at an event intended primarily for 'ordinary' computer professionals, he was aware of the implications of the missing serial ports for musicians. He said that musicians were a "small but significant" set of users, and went on to say that Apple were actively working on the serial port and USB issues for musical users. I'm sure there's a simple solution to this somewhere, and it may well have emerged by the time you read this.

Normally, there's a financial catch with new, faster Macs. This time, however, the 300MHz G3s start at about 1200 quid, while even the 400MHz top‑of‑the‑range models are (at the moment) below the £2500 mark, They should also have been available since January 1999, which breaks the normal waiting‑list syndrome for new machines.

On The Net

Translucency is here!Translucency is here!

Perhaps one of the cleverest URLs I've seen so far — the Apple Store site has its US freephone number included! not there? Try these!

Check this site for a summary of how the iMac stacks up for music use.

Flat World!

You can make your own test tones, courtesy of AudioEase.You can make your own test tones, courtesy of AudioEase.

There's a huge heavy box in front of me as I type this. The only bit that does anything useful is the front, where the screen is. The rest of the monitor occupies space and generates heat. But the alternatives have always been inferior, and I've always been sceptical about the sharpness, viewing angle and brightness of LCD displays. So seeing the 'now even lower cost' Apple Studio Display for real was a revelation. The heaviest bit is the stand; the screen itself is flat, supports up to 1024 x 768 pixels on its 15‑inch diagonal screen, and has crisp, bright pictures with a wide viewing angle.

This is definitely the best active‑matrix TFT (Thin Film Transistor, before you ask) LCD I've ever seen. In a cramped studio it could be an essential rather than a toy. Oh, and it also lets you display video too — although the soft plastic door which allows access to the phono and S‑video connectors can only be described as odd. Overwhelmingly, though, it gets my vote as a truly viable alternative to a bulky monitor.

How It Works: Free Samples

Having a Thonking good time...Having a Thonking good time...

Usually, anything that is given away for free has a value strongly related to the purchase price, but sometimes you do find gems hidden away. While looking for audio editing and processing software on the Internet, I came across Barbabatch, the audio batch‑processing software on the AudioEase web site ( A future Apple Notes will look at batch audio processors, but what really caught my eye in this case were two bits of free software: Make‑a‑Test‑Tone, and Thonk. MaTT does exactly what it says in the name — generates sine waves of fixed frequencies, or sweeps through a range. Not quite 1001 studio uses, but a very useful thing to keep in the 'audio tools' folder on your hard disk.

Thonk is rather different. We've seen all manner of software synthesis tools recently, all bristling with sophisticated user interfaces, real‑time synthesis, huge modulation options and steep learning curves. In complete contrast, Thonk is a granular synthesis engine that requires you to input a mono 16‑bit AIFF audio file, set a radio button to either 'flowing' or 'hectic', and then sit back and wait. And that's it — apart from deciding how long you want to let it run for.

Basically, you seed the granular synthesis engine with the audio file, and wait as it permutates the audio grain parameters (frequency, length, whereabouts in the input audio file it grabs the grain from, transposition, and so on) and slogs away in the background (or foreground) creating a new stereo AIFF file. When you've had enough of waiting (half an hour or so whilst I was busy typing produced about 10 seconds of output), you examine the contents of the output AIFF and extract the bits you like. Granular synthesis is noted for evolving, shimmering textural sounds, and you get those, but, especially on the 'Hectic' setting, you also get some lively, distorted and even organic noise‑like sounds. The output character depends on the input file contents, but the mapping isn't very straightforward.

Making the most of the output file involves loading it into your favourite editor (I used D‑SoundPRO 3.5.1) and auditioning it. Consider this to be a session tape of a rather diverse recording bash that night just contain something wonderful — if you can find it. The output level varies quite a bit, and you may need to try normalising sections of the output, but if you start with the loudest portions and then work your way downwards in amplitude, you should find something interesting quite quickly. As with all samples, the secret is in making the most of the raw material, so be prepared to reverse, change the phase of one channel, fade in and out, filter and generally process things to see what happens. It didn't take me very long to discover a cracking sound reminiscent of a spaceship coming out of hyperspace, as well as something which sounds as though it may have escaped from an unreleased Nine Inch Nails album. For software which is essentially free, Thonk gets a very high coolness rating.

Feedback: Accessing CD‑ROMs

I got several very useful additional bits of information sent to me after I mentioned ways of accessing Akai CD‑ROMs from a Mac. Mark Ayres asked me to clarify the words "on the desktop" because, as he rightly points out, what I actually meant was "not eject them, and allow them to be accessed from an application". (Of course, even if they are mounted, all of the CD‑ROM access utilities mentioned only allow you to read CD‑ROMs; you need entirely different software to write to CDRs.) He also mentioned that the demo package for Gallery Software's Interpreter includes some useful utilities, so another visit to Gallery's site could be very worthwhile. Thanks Mark.

Guy Hatton asked about accessing Emu CD‑ROMs, and TransferStation allows you to do this. Ron Sures uses a utility from Astarte called CD‑Copy ($89 if you download), which allows you to access just about any format of CD. Ron uses CD‑Copy and Adaptec's Toast to grab CD disc 'images' and then open them. Thanks Ron. Adaptec's web‑site has a free 1.5Mb update to the latest Toast 3.5.5, which fixes an obscure bug.