Apple Power Mac G5 Quad
Thanks to its two dual-core 2.5GHz PowerPC G5 CPUs and 4GB of 533MHz SDRAM, the Power Mac G5 Quad is the fastest Mac we've ever tested. Though our $5,949 review unit (with no monitor) included a professional-grade Nvidia Quadro video card, we expect great performance from lesser Power Mac G5 Quad setups as well. Our review unit adds nearly $3,000 to the baseline $3,299 Quad configuration and is probably overkill for the average user, but faster Power Macs loom in the not-so-distant future, given Apple's plans to move all of its desktops to Intel chips by the end of the year. If you need a serious content-creation system today, however, you'll find few machines better suited to the task than the Power Mac G5 Quad.
The Power Mac G5 Quad retains the striking case design of past Power Macs, down to the impeccable assembly and liquid cooling system. We especially love this latter part because the fan-free cooling keeps the processors temperate without the clank and clatter of spinning internal fan blades. The guts of the Power Mac G5 Quad are easy to access: just flip a lever on the back, open the exterior aluminum panel, and remove the clear plastic panel inside.
We've dinged the Power Mac in the past for its lack of expandability, and overall, that criticism remains. There's room for only two internal Serial ATA hard drives, and our test unit had two 500GB drives. The limited room for storage upgrades is bad news for home studio-based owners who might not have the resources for both a Power Mac and a large external storage source. And while we appreciate Apple's forward-thinking design by including two 4X and one 8X PCI Express expansion slots, the Nvidia Quadro FX 4500 is a two-slot card, which means that it takes up not only its own 16X slot, it also blocks the 4X slot adjacent to it.
We were also disappointed that for its near $6,000 price tag, the Power Mac G5 Quad doesn't come standard with an AirPort Express card for wireless networking, while it does come bundled with the much less expensive iMac Core Duo. Apple claims that most pro users will connect to a network via Ethernet, a statement we find ironic given that Apple has been one of the most vocal proponents of wireless networking technology. Worse, there's no option for an external wireless-networking antenna, as on past Power Mac G5 models. Instead, there's a rubberized strip down the back that acts as an antenna, but we found its reception poor.
If we're going to talk about the Power Mac G5 Quad, we have to look at the new architecture of its chip design. The system comes with two 2.5GHz dual-core PowerPC G5 chips, and each core gets its own 1MB of Level 2 (L2) cache; so even though its clock speeds are slower than the previous generation's 2.7GHz chips, the Power Mac G5 Quad is theoretically more efficient in accessing data, since the older dual-chip systems have two L2 caches per chip of only 512KB. In addition, Apple claims that a change to 533MHz DDR2 RAM from the predecessor's 400MHz memory mitigates the fact that each chip gets only one data bus for both cores. We haven't found that memory clock speed upgrades lend a performance boost to Windows-based PCs (in, higher memory speeds result in worse performance), and it's hard to compare specific specs between platforms because of the different operating systems and architectures. What we can say is that the Power Mac G5 Quad's performance didn't disappoint.
We ran the Power Mac G5 Quad through our battery of multimedia tests and saw a marked improvement over Apple's previous heavyweight, the. On our Adobe Photoshop CS test, the Power Mac G5 Quad beat its older incarnation by 15 percent. And on our iTunes test, the Power Mac G5 Quad was 52 percent faster encoding an MP3 file. We saw no improvement for the Power Mac G5 Quad on our Sorenson Squeeze video-encoding test over the older Power Mac dual 2.7GHz. On the Photoshop and Sorenson tests (the latter especially), the Power Mac G5 Quad was outpaced by a Velocity Micro ProMagix system using the Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 840 chip. Still, digital developers who want an Apple computer will be pleased to know that the Power Mac G5 Quad does improve performance as advertised.