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Apple Power Mac G5 Quad review: Apple Power Mac G5 Quad

Apple's new relationship with Intel looms heavily over the Apple Power Mac G5 Quad, but if you need an Apple-based content-creation platform right now, this system and its pair of dual-core CPUs will give you heretofore unseen levels of performance.

Daniel Drew Turner
7 min read
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.


Apple Power Mac G5 Quad

The Good

Powerful, workstation-class graphics card on a PCI Express bus; excellent performance on multithreaded applications; fast system bus.

The Bad

Wireless AirPort card not included in default configuration; external modem; poor AirPort reception; difficult to add second drive; no RAID option.

The Bottom Line

With two dual-core CPUs and workstation-level graphics, the Power Mac G5 Quad is the burliest, fastest Mac to date, but it may soon become obsolete because Apple's move to Intel CPUs is already underway.

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 some cases, 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 Power Mac G5 dual 2.7GHz. 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.

As for 3D performance, we recommend Power Mac G5 Quad only with the Nvidia Quadro FX 4500 card if you need professional-grade 3D processing power or if you need to operate two 30-inch Apple Cinema Displays simultaneously. We don't normally benchmark 3D workstations, and our tests are geared toward 3D gaming performance, which is a different animal than 3D graphics development. We're showing our Doom 3 results to demonstrate why you wouldn't want a Power Mac G5 Quad for gaming, since its 49 frames-per-second score on our 1,024x768 resolution test is only a mediocre result. If you require a high-powered 3D development system, chances are you know your specific needs and can spec out a system accordingly. Otherwise, you can get away with one of the more modest, single-slot Nvidia cards Apple offers on its Web site (and you won't have to stomach the Quadro card's $1,650 price tag).

Unfortunately for Apple, the 800-pound Blue Man in the room looms large if you're considering a Mac desktop. The iMac Core Duo systems debuted at Macworld 2006 in the beginning of January, not even a week after Intel announced its new notebook platform. This suggests to us that Apple has the capability to piggyback product releases on Intel's chip announcements. We know that Intel is releasing a new dual-core desktop CPU architecture in the third quarter of 2006, and we also heard Apple CEO Steve Jobs announce that Apple's entire desktop line would make the move to Intel CPUs before the end of the year. It might be fair to speculate, then, that we could see a new Power Mac with an Intel chip it in by July 2006. We recommend considering that possibility strongly before you purchase a $6,000 Power Mac G5 Quad.

If you do make the purchase, at least you'll be protected, for a little while anyway. Apple offers a standard one-year limited warranty that covers defects for a year and offers 90 days of free telephone support. We'd like to see a more robust plan for such an expensive product. The $249, three-year extension to the AppleCare Protection Plan is highly recommended, especially if you use the Mac to make a living. Pros and institutions also have the option of a $2,799 AppleCare Help Desk Support plan, which includes unlimited support, a library of tools, and technician training. In either plan, you get prepaid shipping and the option to take hardware to any Apple Store for diagnosis and shipping. There's also an extensive online knowledge base of articles and discussion boards. Using the phone support is relatively painless, especially compared to some companies'. The techs were knowledgeable, though their solution to poor AirPort reception involved buying an extra AirPort Base Station.

Doom 3 Custom Demo (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024x768, High Quality, with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
*CPU and graphics are overclocked

System configurations:
Alienware Aurora 7500
2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia Nforce 4 SLI chipset; 256MB 2 Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX PCIe; (2) Hitachi HDS728080PLA380, 80GB, 7,200rpm, Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0); Windows XP Professional SP2
Apple iMac G5 2.10GHz
PowerPC G5 2.10GHz; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon X600XT PCIe; 250GB Serial ATA hard drive; Macintosh OS 10.4
Apple Power Mac G5 dual 2.7GHz
Dual PowerPC G5 2.7GHz; 4,096MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra AGP; 250GB Maxtor Serial ATA hard drive; Macintosh OS 10.4
Apple Power Mac G5 Quad 2.5GHz
Two dual-core PowerPC G5 2.5GHz; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 512MB Nvidia Quadro FX 4500 PCIe; (2) 500GB Hitachi Serial ATA 7,200rpm hard drive; Macintosh OS 10.4.3
Velocity Micro ProMagix Dual Core
3.2GHz (overclocked to 4GHz) Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 840, 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; Intel 955X chipset; 256MB ATI Radeon X850XT PCIe; (2) WDC WD740GD-00FLX0, 74GB, Serial ATA, 10,000rpm; (1) Hitachi HDS724040KLSA80, 400GB, 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801GR/GH Serial ATA RAID Controller (RAID 0); Windows XP Professional SP2


Apple Power Mac G5 Quad

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 8Support 6