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Apple Power Mac G5 review: Apple Power Mac G5

Apple Power Mac G5

Daniel Drew Turner
8 min read
Review summary
Editors' note: Apple recently updated its Power Mac G5 line, which now has three dual-processor configurations with speeds up to 2.5GHz. We hope to bring you updated performance results for the new 2.5GHz dual-processor model and news about the other technology and features improvements. Check back here soon. (6/11/04)
Although Mac and PC camps will probably never resolve their claims of having the "fastest personal computer," the Power Mac G5 is nonetheless an epochal leap for Apple, as it addresses G4 shortcomings such as lack of CPU speed, choked bus architecture, and tired case design. The 1.6GHz, single-processor base model starts at $1,999 and ramps up to $2,999 for a 2GHz dual-processor model with plenty of extras. We tested the dual-processor G5 with added memory totaling 2GB, upgraded graphics in the form of ATI's Radeon 9800 Pro card, and Apple's stunning 20-inch Cinema Display, which, among other extras, brings the total system price to a whopping $5,926. For the quality, the included software, and the flexibility of a Unix-based desktop that can do much of what a $20,000 Sun workstation can do, however, the Power Mac G5 is worth every penny for power users and creative professionals. And iMac fans looking for a jolt will find lots to like in the single-processor G5 models.
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The Power Mac G5 says good-bye to the G4's rounded, plastic styling.

As car design has moved from the jelly-bean Taurus to the sharp creases of the new Cadillacs, the Power Mac G5 changes from the molded plastic of the Power Mac G3 and G4 to the industrial and machined idioms of recent PowerBooks, with a squared-off, brushed-aluminum case. Some may not like its cold, serverlike appearance, but we appreciate its clean lines and functional design.


Apple Power Mac G5

The Good

Much faster than past Power Macs; quiet; can be used as a serious workstation for a fraction of the cost.

The Bad

Limited internal expansion capabilities; case is big and heavy; ships with outdated keyboard and mouse; not cheap.

The Bottom Line

Whether it's the world's fastest PC is up for debate, but the Power Mac G5 delivers top-notch performance for creative pros and power users.

The face of the G5 looks relatively nondescript, with only an optical-drive door, a power switch, and (finally) headphone, USB 2.0, and FireWire 400 jacks interrupting an expanse of perforated metal. Holes on the front and back maximize the cooling airflow, as the G5 processor (IBM's PowerPC 970) runs hotter than Motorola's G4. Inside, the OS monitors nine fans according to temperatures in four thermal zones, minimizing fan activity to keep the G5 one of the quietest Macs in recent memory.

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Above the G5's graphics card are PCI-X expansion slots, which offer faster speeds and better throughput than regular PCI slots.
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One drive does it all. Though the G5 can accommodate only one optical drive, Apple's SuperDrive offers fast 4X DVD-R and 32X CD-R write speeds.

A side panel pops off at the flip of a latch on the G5's back. Under a clear plastic panel, most of the G5's internals are easily accessible, making swapping RAM and the video card a snap. There's no place for a second optical drive, however, and there are limited options for a second hard drive, with only one open internal drive bay.

The rear hosts the output for the AGP slot and three PCI-X slots, which offer faster speeds of 133MHz (one slot) and 100MHz (two slots) when compared with PCI's top speed of 66MHz. In addition, you'll find ports for FireWire 800, FireWire 400, USB 2.0 (two), Ethernet, RJ-11, analog audio in and out, optical digital audio in and out, as well as jacks for external Bluetooth and AirPort antennae.

This isn't your old Power Mac. In addition to its new processors, the Power Mac G5 sports an entirely new infrastructure that does almost as much to boost system performance as the processors themselves.

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Hidden behind the massive heat sinks are the system's two 2GHz G5 processors.
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Our test system had 2GB of memory, and with eight memory slots, the G5 can support up to 8GB.

The G5's processors aren't chopped liver, make no mistake. Each 64-bit chip supports fully "--="" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">&siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ewebopedia%2Ecom%2FTERM%2FS%2FSMP%2Ehtml" target="_blank">symmetric multiprocessing and has two double-precision "--="" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">&siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ewebopedia%2Ecom%2FTERM%2FF%2FFPU%2Ehtml" target="_blank">floating-point units, although you won't see the benefits of 64-bit capability until software developers recompile applications. Even then, the major benefit will be the ability to address larger memory spaces, not speed. Like the AMD's Athlon 64 chip (and unlike Intel's 64-bit Itanium, which requires a 32-bit emulator mode), the G5 processor runs all existing 32-bit applications natively. As a result, the G5 is well suited for heavy scientific and database work, which can make real use of all 64 bits.

And where narrow memory and system buses hampered the G4, the Power Mac G5 features a dedicated frontside bus for each chip, running up to 1GHz, and a 400MHz, 128-bit memory bus. Apple also chose to use "--="" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">&siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ehypertransport%2Eorg%2Ftechnology%2Ehtml" target="_blank">HyperTransport to connect the input and output subsystems to the system controller. What this adds up to is a more efficient system with, Apple claims, a maximum bandwidth of 8GB per second.

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Monitor fit for a king, or a G5 owner: Apple's 20-inch Cinema Display.
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Creature comforts: JBL's stylish 2.1 Creature speaker set.

Our test system came equipped with 2GB of DDR400 128-bit SDRAM (up from the standard 512MB allotment), a roomy 160GB Serial ATA hard drive, and ATI's 128MB Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card. With only one 5.25-inch drive bay, Apple chose wisely by including its SuperDrive--Apple's designation for a combination DVD-R/CD-RW drive. Both the slimline Apple Pro Keyboard and the one-button Pro Mouse that came bundled with our test system worked well and had a solid and sure feel, though touch typists may not like the function keys' close proximity to the rest of the keyboard.

Our system also came with Apple's 20-inch Cinema Display, which is one of the best on the market and is priced accordingly. Thankfully, our G5 test system's nearly $6,000 price includes a speaker set. Although we expected to see a 5.1 set, the bundled 2.1 JBL Creature speakers offer surprisingly full sound for such a small set. It's worth noting that the G5's internal speaker, while no match for an external set, is an improvement over past models in terms of volume and sound quality. Lastly, our G5 test system came equipped with added-cost wireless options: the 802.11g AirPort Extreme card and a Bluetooth module for any and all devices you may have based on that wireless standard.

Though the Power Mac line doesn't ship with the same productivity software that comes with the consumer iMac (AppleWorks and others), it does include full versions of Apple's own iApps, including iTunes, iCal, iMovie, iDVD, iChat, and iPhoto. You'll also get a number of powerful, Unix-based tools for network administration and programming. Our test model came with Mac OS X 10.2.7; Apple couldn't point to a specific date but did tell us that the Power Mac G5 will ship with Mac OS X 10.3 Panther very soon. If you bought a G5 prior to Panther's launch, you can upgrade to Panther for $19.95.

Application performance
Like AMD with its Athlon 64, Apple has introduced a 64-bit processor into its next-generation desktops. In fact, Apple was first on the scene with the PowerPC G5 that it jointly developed with IBM. We tested the high-end Power Mac G5, which boasts dual 2GHz G5 processors, a 1GHz frontside bus, and onboard Serial ATA. As with the Athlon 64, the Power Mac G5 will not reach its full potential until Apple releases a 64-bit OS. With native support for today's 32-bit apps, however, and the new frontside bus architecture, plus support for 400MHz DDR SDRAM, the Power Mac G5 turned in excellent benchmark scores, offering the dramatic boost in performance that audio, video, and graphics professionals have been craving.

The Power Mac G5 offers a performance increase across all tests except for our iMovie test, which is not as dependent on the CPU as the others. Our Photoshop 7.0 benchmark yielded particularly good results: the Power Mac G5 turned in times that were less than half of those of the G4. Overall, the G5 performed extremely well, and the potential exists for even more improvement when we see a 64-bit OS.

CNET Labs used three different applications (iMovie, iTunes, and Photoshop 7.0) to test Apple's Power Mac G5's performance. Through the use of a number of timed tests, CNET Labs is able to roughly determine the performance of a given system.

Photoshop 7.0  (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time in seconds  
Power Mac G5 dual 2GHz (2048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Power Mac G4 dual 1.42GHz (512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
Power Mac G4 dual 1.25GHz (512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)

iMovie  (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time in minutes  
Power Mac G5 dual 2GHz (2048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Power Mac G4 dual 1.42GHz (512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
Power Mac G4 dual 1.25GHz (512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)

iTunes  (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time in minutes  
Power Mac G5 dual 2GHz (2048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Power Mac G4 dual 1.42GHz (512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
Power Mac G4 dual 1.25GHz (512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)

Quake III
With the introduction of the Power Mac G5, Apple has added ATI's Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card to the mix. As our Quake III tests illustrate, the Power Mac G5 performed well; its score of 283.3 frames per second is right up there with some of its PC counterparts. More and more games are being produced for the Macintosh platform, and the Radeon 9800 Pro is more than adequate for most games.

Quake III  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Frames per second  
Power Mac G5 dual 2GHz (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Power Mac G4 dual 1.42GHz (ATI Radeon 9000 Pro)
Power Mac G4 dual 1.25GHz (ATI Radeon 9000 Pro)

To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena for OS X. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool.

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.

System configurations:

Power Mac G4 dual 1.25GHz
Mac OS X 10.2; dual 1.25GHz PowerPC G4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 64MB; 120GB 7,200rpm Ultra ATA/100

Power Mac G4 dual 1.42GHz
Mac OS X 10.2.4; dual 1.42GHz PowerPC G4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 64MB; 120GB 7,200rpm Ultra ATA/100

Power Mac G5 dual 2.0GHz
Mac OS X 10.2.7; dual 2GHz PowerPC G5; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA

Though Apple's phone-support staff is friendly and relatively knowledgeable, toll-free phone support is available for only the first 90 days after purchasing a Power Mac G5--unless, that is, you sign up for the $249, three-year AppleCare warranty. And there's a hefty $49 fee for each call after your warranty expires, whether it's one year or three years. Phone-support hours are 6 a.m. through 6 p.m. PT, seven days a week. There is no onsite support offered through AppleCare, but local dealers might provide more options.

For those who want to do research and troubleshooting themselves, Apple provides a wealth of information online, from its knowledge-base archives and late-breaking news to user forums. Thankfully, the Power Mac G5 has moved from the one-sheet "Welcome" that came with earlier models to a thorough manual, which will not only help new users get up and running, but also will help power users install new drives and troubleshoot problems.


Apple Power Mac G5

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 9Support 6
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