Review: Apple Power Mac G5
September 15th, 2003
In mid-August 2003, Apple's Power Mac G5 began shipping. Billed as the world's first 64-bit desktop computer, the Power Mac G5 boasts features such as a standard SuperDrive (ability to burn CD-Rs and DVD-Rs) and integrated FireWire 400 and 800 ports, all in an aluminum alloy tower enclosure.
What it has
What it doesn't have
Configurations & availability
The Power Mac G5 is available in three basic configurations. The Computer Connection has specially-priced bundles (PennKey required for link access):
With the PowerPC 970, Apple and IBM have brought the world's first 64-bit processor to the mainstream desktop (barely beating AMD's Opteron to market). However, the Power Mac G5 is more than just a new 64-bit processor; its system architecture differs significantly from that of previous Macintoshes. The new high bandwidth architecture means the busses are faster, and data throughput is higher. With no conventional bottlenecks, data can travel to the processor faster, delivering significantly better performance than earlier G4 models.
The Power Mac G5's aluminum enclosure seems sturdy and is 9% larger than the previous G4 form factor. Though it feels heavier, it's really 3 pounds lighter than the previous enclosure. The chassis is divided into four cooling zones; with a total of nine fans that deliver precise cooling in the thermal zones that need it, the Power Mac G5 is actually quieter than the previous G4.
The PowerPC G5 processor is completely backward compatible with current 32-bit applications (with the single but notable exception of Virtual PC); they run natively on the PowerPC G5 with no extra emulation software required. Applications such as the Microsoft Office suite, Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, etc. simply work right out of the box with significant speed increases. As vendors release newer versions of software, they will likely optimize their applications for the PowerPC G5, affording even more of a performance boost.
Performance on the Power Mac G5 is very impressive. Real world application tests (Photoshop, DVD encoding, scientific visualization, and so forth) consistently show the Power Mac G5 to be anywhere from slightly faster, to 2x to 4x faster than the fastest Power PC G4s. This improvement in performance also makes the Power Mac G5 part of high-performance discussions in a multi-platform personal computing environment.
The Power Mac G5 is a welcome improvement and successor to the Power Mac G4. It is a logical choice for departments or individuals who need high-end desktop processing power, with very little worry about 32-bit application compatibility.
Technical issues & recommendations
Despite the new 64-bit architecture of the Power Mac G5, Information Systems & Computing (ISC) does not expect there to be significant hardware-related compatibility problems with the Power Mac G5. However, it will have the same software-related conflicts that any Mac OS 10.2.x-based workstation, including the previous generation Power Mac G4s, would have. The sole exception to this statement is the previously mentioned conflict between all versions of Virtual PC and the Power Mac G5.
ISC has tested the Power Mac G5 for compatibility with University-supported hardware and software. The Power Mac G5 is compatible with the PennConnect 2003 CD-ROM and Penn's supported network applications. Like other Power Macs released in 2003, the Power Mac G5 does not have the ability to boot into Mac OS 9.x. However, support exists for running Mac OS 9.x-based ("Classic") applications from within Mac OS X. Support providers should be aware of this limitation if they have any Mac OS 9.x-based applications that must run natively.
While the low-end, 1.6 GHz model and pricing might seem attractive, it is significantly decontented (uses slower RAM, PCI rather than PCI-X expansion, slowest bus) compared to the mid- or high-end models. ISC recommends that individuals or units avoid the low-end model and buy at least the mid-range 1.8 GHz model, if they can afford it.
In any of the three basic configurations available, the Power Mac G5 meets or exceeds ISC's Desktop Recommendations for 2003-2004. As always, support providers should be aware of the technical issues associated with any new workstation design.
--Vern Yoneyama and John Mulhern III, ISC Technology Support Services (September 15th, 2003)
Information Systems and Computing
University of Pennsylvania
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