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Review: The new Power Macintosh G5

By Chris Gulker on November 24, 2003 (8:00:00 AM)

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Apple's new 64-bit Power Macintosh G5 is aptly named: it has power to burn. Mac and *NIX users who can afford these machines will find them to be much faster than the Power Mac G4s they replace and at least as fast as any PC you can buy or build today.

I tested a single-processor model; Apple this week announced that the single-processor 1.8 MHz machine was being replaced by a dual processor configuration. After five days in a quiet home office, the 1.8 GHz G5 still amazes me not only with its speed but its quietness. Even with eight fans in its large, heavily drilled aluminum case, the G5, barely a foot from my chair, can't be heard over the relatively quiet iMac that sits in a corner farther away. When my AMD Linux machine is on, the noise of its five fans swamps even the iMac.

Quiet functioning is just one feature of what appears to be a classic Apple-at-its-best engineering job. The G5 machine is big: 20.1 inches high, 8.1 inches wide, and 18.7 inches deep -- three inches taller than the previous plastic G4 tower. At almost 40 pounds, it's heavy too, and you quickly become grateful for the massive aluminum handles on all four corners of the box.

G5 front view
Front view -- click to enlarge

Unlike most of the PC boxes around here, the fit and finish of this machine are superb. A smooth lever releases the G5's heavy aluminum side panel to reveal a clear plastic air management baffle that segregates the G5's interior into zones served by the G5's fan arrays. All of the pieces lift off easily and go back intuitively when time comes to button up. Access to PCI slots, RAM, and the spare hard drive bay is much easier than typical PC layouts.

Overclockers will drool when they see the G5's cooling setup, which includes onboard temperature sensors, control circuitry, and software for the fans. The aluminum chassis and mesh front keep the machine cool enough that the fans normally turn slowly and silently. Interestingly, when you remove the clear air baffle with the power on, a red light comes on in the G5's case and all of the fans throttle up to full -- and sound a lot more like an Intel or AMD machine.

For all its size, the interior of the G5 has fewer, if faster, expansion options than its predecessors. The G5 has three PCI slots, versus four in the G4 towers, two hard drive bays versus four in the G4, and room for only a single optical drive versus two in the G4. The G5's IBM PowerPC 970 heatsink, fans, and baffles use up the rest of the space.

The G5 offers 64-bit PCI-X slots on its two fastest models, with one running at 133MHz and the other two at 100MHz, while the entry-level 1.6GHz machine offers three slower 33MHz PCI slots. The G5 has two 150MHz serial ATA controllers, up from the 100MHz Ultra ATA controllers in the G4, and ships with one 80GB (1.6 GHz machine) or 160GB 7200RPM drive. While the serial ATA connectors are much smaller and easier to connect than the fat ribbon cables found in the older machines, the lack of a legacy ATA bus means older ATA drives can't be used in the G5 without adding a PCI card, and the G5's case layout would make that, at best, a tricky proposition.

The G5 also has an AGP 8X graphics card slot that comes filled with either a Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 (1.6 and 1.8 GHz machines) or ATI Radeon 9600 Pro (dual 2GHz). Both cards support dual displays up to 1920x1200 pixels in either mirror or contiguous mode. You can hang acres of screen space on the ADC and DVI connectors. A DVI to VGA adaptor allows use with CRT displays, though at somewhat lower maximum resolution.

The Mac G5 offers either four or eight slots for PC2700 (333MHz) or PC3200 (400MHz) RAM in the entry level and faster machines respectively and supports up to 4GB or 8GB of RAM versus the G4's 2GB. Unlike the G4, the G5's 128-bit data paths can take full advantage of the DDR RAM with up to 6.4Gbps throughput.

G5 side view
Side view -- click to enlarge

The G5 still trails Intel in raw clock speed at a current 2GHz max, but the combination of 64-bit data paths and fast front side buses -- the 800MHz, 900MHz, or 1GHz buses are as much as six times faster than the G4 -- will at least make the "who's fastest?" discussions a lot more interesting than they have been in recent years, when Mac performance badly trailed Intel and AMD-based machines.

Apple has advertised the G5 as the "the world's fastest PC," but current marketing verbiage refers to "one of the fastest PCs ever built." Apple claims that the G5 smokes Pentium 4 and Xeon processors in any number of benchmarks and application tests.

An interesting set of tests was conducted by PC World, which proclaimed several AMD Athlon 64 and Opteron chips worthy competitors, if not downright winners, against the G5. (If anyone wants to send a 1.8 GHz Athlon 64 or Opteron system here for a subjective user comparison, feel free.)

Speed is precisely the user's impression: very large image files rotate almost instantly in Photoshop, particularly with the G5 plug-in installed. Applications launch in one "bounce" of the dock. Amazingly, 32-bit apps run much faster on the G5 than the G4, no doubt due to the board's massive bandwidth: I can hardly wait to see what 64-bit apps will do.

Some user-oriented features, long ignored by Apple, are welcome additions to the G5. The box has front-mounted USB 2.0 and FireWire 400 ports and an earphone jack, which should end the spectacle of Mac users prone under their desks trying to attach peripherals or use headphones. Curiously, the headphone jack cuts out the internal speaker, but not speakers connected to the machine's back panel line out jack. Audio and video types will be pleased to note that the analog line in and line out jacks are augmented with optical digital in and out jacks.

The G5's back panel holds twin USB 2.0 ports, FireWire 400 and 800 ports, and a 10/100/Gigabit Ethernet jack (though many complain that Apple's Gigabit Ethernet drivers still won't go much over 400Mbps). Surprisingly, the newly redesigned Apple keyboard's built-in USB hub supports only the 1.1 standard.

While Mac power users will see vast improvements in their power-hungry apps, *NIX users will appreciate the power, too. Apple's OS X 10.3 Panther OS rides on top of the FreeBSD-based Darwin 7.0, which features a 64-bit kernel and system math libraries updated to take advantage of the G5. Mac OS X 10.3's GCC 3.3.3 compiler appeared to compile source much faster than the GCC 3.2.2 compiler on my 1 GHz AMD machine, but comparing a two-year-old 32-bit PC to a G5 isn't really fair.

Apple's version of X11 runs faster on the G5 than on my G4 (X11 is now an optional install in Mac OS X), as do Aqua and Quartz Extreme, Apple's windowing and graphics systems. Users who prefer Linux should note that both Gentoo Linux and Terra Soft Solutions, distributors of Yellow Dog Linux, have announced releases of their distros for the G5.

Final verdict: this is a very fast, well-engineered, and well-built machine. Mac and *NIX users who can pony up the minimum $1,799 price for a G5 won't be disappointed with the speed or craftsmanship of this fine machine. Apple, often the innovation leader, is now a performance leader as well.

Chris Gulker, a Silicon Valley-based freelance technology writer, has authored more than 130 articles and columns since 1998. He shares an office with 7 computers that mostly work, an Australian Shepherd, and a small gray cat with an attitude.

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on Review: The new Power Macintosh G5

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Not a bad review.

Posted by: ionrock on November 25, 2003 12:48 AM
I can only dream of getting a g5 at this point so I always appreciate reading about other's good fortune. I do think that the review spends a little too much time on the specs of the machine and other machines as opposed to how it was to work on it. I have noticed that every computer I have used tends to trail behind the speed I would like to work at. It would be good to know if a great machine like the g5 solves this kind of problem for coders/web developers like myself. thanks for the review.

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Re:Not a bad review.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 25, 2003 10:25 AM
i thought using a dvi to crt adapter gives you higher resolution than using it in dvi native mode 2046x1548 vs 1900x1200 in dvi. i apologize if wrong

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Yeah, right

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 25, 2003 02:15 AM
So it can replace my Opteron 151 running 64-bit linux???

Dream on. And have a nice dreams

p.s. Panther is 32-bit so I don't really see the point of 64-bit Apple

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Re:Yeah, right

Posted by: Graham Lee on November 25, 2003 02:30 AM
So it can replace my Opteron 151 running 64-bit linux???

Yes, as you can see from inspecting the Linux source code, the kernel has supported ppc64 since at least 2.4.20, possibly earlier. And if we look over at the Yellow Dog Linux site, we see that although they currently do not ship a distribution for the G5, all of the necessary hardware is supported under Linux. Should make for a fun afternoon, building that lot.


Panther is 32-bit

No it isn't; Panther includes support for 64-bit memory addressing which allows each process to have a much bigger virtual memory slice than has been possible under any 32-bit OS, including previous versions of OS X (excepting 10.2.9, which also including 64-bit pointer support). You may be getting confused with Panther not supporting the 64-bit arithmetic and logic unit; this will come with time.


I don't really see the point of 64-bit Apple

Leaving aside the fact that processes may access a lot more temporary store with the 64-bit memory addressing, you may have noticed that not only did the bus width of the Apple machines change with the G4->G5 move, but so did the processor speed, the RAM capacity, the bus speeds, the RAM speed and a few other tweaks that don't readily spring to mind. So a 64-bit Apple machine would not only give you a future-proofed 64-bit CPU that can execute instructions from its 32-bit brothers, so that when a fully 64-bit kernel is ready you can just load it on, but it also gets you a much faster machine all round. Apple used to claim that the G5 was the "world's first 64-bit personal computer", and us UNIX users cried bullshit. They also claim it's the "world's fastest personal computer", and having used one I'd tentatively agree, although I've yet to see any fair benchmarking.


BTW if there's still any confusion about the hardware of the G5, check out <A HREF="http://www.apple.com/powermac/video/" TITLE="apple.com">this video</a apple.com>, looking for the bits by Jon Rubinstein (chief hardware engineer at NeXT, and now VP hardware at Apple).


FWIW no, I don't work for Apple.

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Re:Yeah, right

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 25, 2003 08:16 AM
No it isn't; Panther includes support for 64-bit memory addressing which allows each process to have a much bigger virtual memory slice than has been possible under any 32-bit OS, including previous versions of OS X (excepting 10.2.9, which also including 64-bit pointer support). You may be getting confused with Panther not supporting the 64-bit arithmetic and logic unit; this will come with time

Yep and that's how far it gets with 64-bit, memory addressing and math functions support which kinda stinks on 32-bit emulation of doing that

FWIW no, I don't work for Apple

And neither am I Linus. Don't get me wrong there are people like me, who think that Apple sucks. And that's from a long time Mac user

Yellow Dog...

Yes I use Yellow dog on two G3, that got retired (nobody wanted to buy them not even for 250$), and that was the only purpose I saw in them for not throwing them in garbage. But buying G5 for Yellow Dog??? It's way cheaper with Opteron, for same price I could squeeze almost two, and for information Linux is Linux no matter if it runs on G5.

For some of us Linux is bussines

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Re:Yeah, right

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 25, 2003 09:24 AM
"For some of us Linux is bussines "

For the rest of us, we prefer being able to spell.

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alright super nerd!!!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 25, 2003 04:29 AM
Oh look at me I have an Opteron running linux, I think I am so cool, yeah I know so much more about computers than anyone else.

Well I think not the PPC970 is a superior architecture, and here is why. PPC ISA is very clean allows for reasonable design and no MicroOPs are necessary even though some simple ones are used. SIMD processing unit can do things like FFT so much faster than the x86 offerings. Very wide architecture, 64bits, grabs 8 instructions per fetch cycle, for up to 215 instructions inflight. This means that if you have the right kind of code optimized the right way 8 operations can be completed in a single cycle, withoud SIMD it is 6 but still very impressive. Many more registers and a very advanced interconnect system between processor and other components this thing is a bandwidth beast. Once you add the advantage of IBM's production abilities such greats as SOI or even better SSOI you will see that in everyway the PPC970 is a superior design to the opteron. Now don't get me wrong the opteron is a very fast and well designed proccessor but it is clear on paper which is faster and that is the IBM chip end of story.

So here is the lesson you charlatan as much as you think you know there are people who know more my guess is you are some 15 year old kid or really immature because most people are not this crazy about platform choices. Now obvious professionals in the computer industry must follow this kind of thing because IT/IS people buy hardware and must make decisions, computer architects also look at architecture because that is their business, computer scientists are interested in systems because it allows them to develop more advanced algorithms, graphics people and also scientists/mathematicians are interested in these developments because of the sheer amounts of calculations they do. But most people do care most peoples needs are satisfied by machines much slower the truth is all the pc platforms today are so fast. These people look at relevant benchmarks only. I know I am going to buy a G5 why because for my FFT code it runs it an order of magnitude faster.

So in conclusion you really need to grow up and learn that a computer is a tool not a toy and maybe you really think your computer is nifty and like the fact that quake is super fast on your machine but the rest of us understand why we use what we use and do not make it a point to make jabs at an article just trying to show some new technology.

                                                -e-non-e-mous engineer

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Re:alright super nerd!!!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 25, 2003 08:01 AM
bwaaahhh, no matter how much you write. IT'S STILL MAC.

I just got rid of two G4s and I'm happy

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Re:alright super nerd!!!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 25, 2003 08:01 AM
Ok, settle down now. The article is a good one, yes, and the guy who mentions opteron might be a little off base, but come on now. Did you learn what run-on sentences are in your CS classes ?

Here's an exercise. Please place some periods in the following bitter, OCD-ridden tirade:

"So in conclusion you really need to grow up and learn that a computer is a tool not a toy and maybe you really think your computer is nifty and like the fact that quake is super fast on your machine but the rest of us understand why we use what we use and do not make it a point to make jabs at an article just trying to show some new technology."

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Re:alright super nerd!!!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 25, 2003 08:36 AM
ho-hum, so the overall conclusion so far is that you have FFT that's 10 times faster than<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... what?

you're comparing apples (sic!) to oranges here which makes you a bigger troll than the grandparent poster's author. SIMD processing unit can do things like FFT so much faster than the x86 offerings. Very wide architecture, 64bits, grabs 8 instructions per fetch cycle, for up to 215 instructions inflight. -- this is plain fanboy ranting. AltiVec and SSE2 are different beasts, they look/behave differently, but 'so much faster' is a plain lie no matter how you put it. All you can argue is that AltiVec is more clean/efficient, but ymmv. Keep on looking at Apple's benchmarks and forget that the gcc they used has almost no optimizations for pentium4 (see gcc.gnu.org for details, basically intel doesn't provide enough info for a complete description of the execution units). And don't even compare that to opterons (vanilla gcc barely started to incorporate k8 optimisations). That will make you happy. As to the proc. details, 'very wide architecture' -- ??? -- '64 bits' -- yay momma! -- are bulls***; 'many more registers', we're back to the ISA argument (the only valid point - Power's ISA is cleaner, easier to optimize for and has more on-cpu stores; but the difference is not that great); hypertransport is hardly unique, AMD introduced that first (and yes, it's for a 64bit cpu too).

finally, opteron uses SOI too - AMD's cpu research unit works with IBM and share manufacturing to some extent, go figure! (East Fishkill, rings any bells?) so how is power970 superior in that?

the rest of the post is indeed about growing up - but you had the person confused. Try looking in the mirror before throwing a fit next time over someone's preferences. he's going to stick with his cpu of chioce. you stick with yours (and accidently, it's Power970, not ppc970, as it's a power4 core inside). benchmarks are fine, as long as they are meaningful for what you will actually be using the machine for. I, for one, am yet to see a benchmark telling me I should have bought a mac for my number-crunching. while apple's offering is impressive, it's nowhere near compelling - and the price/performance ratio is also part of the deal.

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Re:alright super nerd!!!

Posted by: dlevi on November 25, 2003 09:45 AM
god...will you both just shutup.

back to my pathetic 1800+!

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G5, yet another underutilized processor

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 25, 2003 10:45 AM
Yeah, my pathetic 1800+ usually gets its daily workout with several rounds of intensive Pysol. I fix other people's computers all day, and rarely want to even look at mine when I get home. **sigh**

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Re:Yeah, right

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 25, 2003 11:33 AM
Here's is a verbatim quote from Bill Joy:

"I just got a new Mac with two 2-gigahertz processors, 8 gigabytes of memory, and a half a terabyte of internal disk... Re-implementing what I designed in 1979 is not interesting to me personally. For kids who are 20 years younger than me, Linux is a great way to cut your teeth. It's a cultural phenomenon and a business phenomenon. Mac OS X is a rock-solid system that's beautifully designed. I much prefer it to Linux... I just want a system that works."

Full text at
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.12/billjoy.<nobr>h<wbr></nobr> tml

That's from the man who wrote Berkeley UNIX. So, unless YOU are more knowledgeable and distinguished than Bill Joy, or Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the Web), or James Gosling (inventor of Java), who all PREFER to use MacOS X, your asinine remark betrays the mind of an ignoramus with grand delusions of geekiness.

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Re:Yeah, right

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 25, 2003 03:29 PM
bill joy invented "vi"<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... need i say more?

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This isn't a review

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 26, 2003 12:33 AM
Going over the specs is NOT a review. Where are the benchmarks, comparisons, ANY number at all I can compare to another system? Next time you do a "review" please try to do more than referencing other people numbers and telling me what ports it has.

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Re:This isn't a review

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 28, 2003 02:37 AM
review is just a "another look at or consideration of something". It doesn't have to include comparisons. Read the dictionary from time to time...<nobr> <wbr></nobr>;)

This is a very nice review, imho

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