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              Review: Apollo 4040 Accelerator Board from ACT
                            By:  Jason Compton 
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ACT has developed a reputation over the past couple of years, especially
since they were finally introduced to the North American market, for
putting out decent quality accelerators at reasonable prices.  The Apollo
4040 is the top of their line for 68040 accelerators, sporting a SCSI
controller, 4 SIMM slots, and a heatsink/fan-cooled 040 chip at 40mhz.

The card itself fits in the processor slot of a desktop or tower A4000.
(For A3000s, a slightly different card is available which will actually
fit, since it uses only 2 SIMM slots.)  Installation is fairly simple, and
careful A4000 desktop owners will find as we did that while you need to
take out your rear bay of hard drives, you may not have to remove the rest
of the drives but can weasel your existing processor card out and fit the
4040 in its place.  We couldn't get our card to fully mate with the plastic
standoff pins in the motherboard, but nevertheless it has been securely
planted in the 4000 for some time and hasn't come loose.

The four SIMM slots can be populated with a total up to 128 megs, 60ns RAM
recommended.  A special, faster type of SIMM called ED-RAM (not to be
confused with EDO) is supported, but the manual itself says that ED-RAM is
so expensive it's probably not worth your while.  Something the manual does
NOT mention but more than one Apollo dealer has told us is that the Apollo
cards function much better for FPU-style operations when a 4 meg SIMM is
still on the A4000's motherboard.  Confusing, but true.

Finally, the fan requires power from the main power supply through a
hard-drive style power connector, which branches off into another power
feed (so that you don't "lose" a connector.)  The fan seems adequate, we
did not run into any power problems.  Installation instructions will
outline all of this as well as is necessary.  Pay special attention to the
timing/clock jumpers they tell you about.

For regular operation, no software support is required, the standard 68040
library is supported.  The SCSI drivers are installed from a separate disk.

General operations
------------------

The 68040 is a full unit, meaning it comes with MMU and FPU.  Programs like
ImageFX and Cinema4D perform quite admirably, typically realizing at least
a 50% gain in speed over a stock 3640 setup.  AIBB tests rank the Apollo
4040 as typically anywhere from 30 to 300% faster.  Its performance on my
personal favorite benchmark, the Cinema4D Stairway raytrace, is shown as
underperforming the Apollo 1240 card by a significant margin but still
beating a stock 3640 setup by a great deal.

The breakdown of the render tests:

Blizzard 1260-- 1:26 [Running CyberPatcher]
Cyber 4060   -- 2:00 [Running CyberPatcher]
Apollo 1240  -- 2:31
Apollo 4040  -- 3:26
Draco 060/50 -- 5:05
Falcon 040/25-- 5:05
Stock 3640   -- 6:01

Curiously, for both the Apollo and Phase5 lines, the A1200 cards (Blizzard
1260 and Apollo 1240) outperformed their A4000 equivalents (CyberStorm 4060
and Apollo 4040).

The bottom line for this test is that our 4000 desktop gained over 2x
faster rendering speed.  Specific applications vary, of course.

While we did not encounter the same difficulties we did with the Apollo
1240 card that require FastExec as a cure, it is still not a bad idea.

Integrating the Apollo into your Amiga environment
--------------------------------------------------

Not really all that difficult, all things considered.  If you're currently
using an 030, you'll be realizing a whole new world of speed.  If you're
using a 3640, you're still going to see major gains because of the added
speed of the processor and the relocation of the memory to the processor
board.

A word about the memory is in order: Except in rather extreme
configurations (Matching 32 meg SIMMs up), your memory will not be mapped
as a single contiguous block.  This has minor impact on performance when
you're talking about very large pieces of data, but more importantly it
means that your available memory for things like Shapeshifter and PCx is
going to be limited by your largest SIMM.  The Phase5 boards map their
memory into one single block, regardless of the SIMM combinations, which is
a significant advantage if you're using RAM from various sources or are not
able to shell out for a 32 meg SIMM.

One glaring oddity in the Apollo's operation comes with Shapeshifter.  It
runs the latest version quite capably, although a few programs which work
just fine on a CyberStorm 060 crash the Amiga entirely when run on the
Apollo.  Despite inquiring with Apollo and Shapeshifter experts, we were
unable to track down the problem.

The SCSI controller solely has an internal connector (nothing external like
most newer Zorro SCSI cards or the A3000 or 4000T), and its performance is
not the world's fastest.  For driving a CD-ROM, however, it is more than
adequate.

Overall, we're quite pleased with the Apollo 4040's performance.  Setup is
easy, the speed gains are immediate and noticable.  Sure, it could be
better, but the performance is still quite admirable.

The pricing of Apollo cards has done little but go down over the past year
or so, and with a current price under US$550, the 4040 is an excellent way
to juice up your A3000 or A4000.  As our Apollo 3060 review in this issue
indicates, the Apollo cards are far better as 040 than as 060 models.  To
make the jump to a top-of-the line Phase5 CyberStorm 060 card would be an
extra $300, at least, and would not include the SCSI controller.  So, if
you're not ready to jump to an 060, give the Apollo 4040 some very serious
thought.  Paired with a graphics card running CyberGraphX or Picasso 96,
your Amiga will become a very powerful beast indeed, and now that graphic
cards are less than $400 new (and something like half that used, in many
cases!), if you've been holding off on a major upgrade for your Amiga, now
is a good time.


US$550

Provided for review by ACT's North American Distributor
Wonder Computers International
1315 Richmond Road
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada
K2B 8J7

613-721-1800 voice
613-721-1994 fax
http://www.wonder.ca

ACT is extremely difficult to reach directly.  We recommend that European
inquiries be directed to their Norwegian distributor:

Datakompaniet as
Teknostallen
7030 Trondheim
Norway

+ 7354 0375 voice
+ 7394 3861 fax
http://www.datakompaniet.no