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Apple Power Mac G5

Huge improvement over G4, competitive price/performance By Charlie White

When Apple's Power Mac G5 computer ($4398 as tested) arrived at the Midwest Test Facility, we all stood around it, just staring at it like those apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey. One of us reached out and tentatively touched a small button on the front of the minimalist sculpture-like unit, and it sprang to life. Our 64-bit computing era on the Mac had begun. How much of an improvement over its predecessor would it show us? Would it be able to keep up with the screaming PC workstations that have graced our testing labs?

For our review, Apple sent us its top-of-the-line unit, sporting dual 2GHz IBM PPC 970 chips with 3GB of DDR400 SDRAM, a 160GB 7200rpm Serial ATA hard disk and the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card with 128 MB of DDR SDRAM on board. The computer is also available in a single 1.6GHz model for $1799 and a dual 1.8GHz for $2499. The standard dual 2GHz machine costs $2999, but the price of our test unit was higher because of its added 2.5GB of RAM and upgraded graphics card. Even with the RAM bumped up to 3GB and the fastest graphics card, the total $4398 cost of this unit is quite low for this class of machine, more than a thousand dollars cheaper than comparable PC workstations. That's quite an accomplishment, especially for Apple, whose products have been traditionally more expensive than comparable PCs. 

After we started up the G5 for its first test run, we couldn't resist the temptation to power it down and take a look inside (see graphic below). Opening the case, as it always is with any Mac, was as easy as opening your mouth when you're hungry. Pull one lever, and the thing welcomes you inside with no fuss. If only all computers were this easy to open. We were delighted to see that the interior is as well-designed, or even more so, than its exterior. My only complaints with the interior design are minor and perhaps won't even be a factor at all. First, the way the graphics card slot is arranged, unless you have fingers the size of a small child, it's an extraordinary feat just to take out the graphics card and install another one. It's nearly impossible to get the screw started in the tight confines available at the slot mount. If you're going to change your graphics card -- something that's not likely with many if not most Mac users -- this difficulty could be a negative factor. The second potential problem I saw is that you can only put two hard drives into this case. That may not be a concern either, because of all the FireWire drives and huge internal disks available. But still, I'd like to have that ability to expand to three or four disks if I wanted to, having them all inside the computer and out of the way.

Click for enlargement -- the G5 has nearly-perfect interior design

Also inside the box is an intricate arrangement of nine fans, keeping things cool using a zone system, which is about as sophisticated a cooling scheme as we've ever seen here. There's a plastic panel -- also easily removed and replaced -- that directs the air within the four zones inside. Also helping the air to flow freely is the perfect arrangement of all the wiring inside, keeping the area clear for unrestricted ventilation. Apple should also be commended for the quietude it's bestowed on this G5, a profound departure from the vacuum-cleaneresque G4, which is so noisy we keep it far away in a separate room so we won't have to live inside its obnoxious wind tunnel-like wall of sound all day long. The G5 is many orders of magnitude quieter, and its fans are smart, staying quiet when there's nothing going on, and gearing up slightly when the heavy lifting begins. Still, the cooling system isn't as quiet as the silence champion, a Dell Precision Workstation weve tested where you can't even tell whether it's running or not. And, the G5's fan noise has a high-pitched whine to it that will certainly show up if you try to record audio near it. So I think Apple still has a way to go in the quietness department.

(Click graphic for enlargement) Take a look at the back of the G5, where there are two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 800 port, a FireWire 400 port, and lots more.

Those niggling complaints aside, there's a delight that goes along with any product from Apple, and the G5 is no exception. Its brushed aluminum case is something that some adore and others don't, but I think it would qualify as a work of art. It's beautiful. Its simple design and grill-like front, its subtle Apple logo on the side and twin carrying handles, all suggest form following function. There are plenty of FireWire and USB 2 ports, including one of each along with a headphone jack on the front of the computer.  The whole thing just oozes ease-of-use, a hallmark of Apple design. You can tell that with every component, someone thought carefully about how it will feel to use it. It's evident with the new keyboard, which I like very much especially since it seems to be perfectly tilted for lap-typists like me, and even the new mouse -- as goofy as it is with its anachronistic single button and reminding me of a dumb blonde runway model -- is designed for your hands, feeling like an extension of your own.

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Related Keywords:Apple, Power Mac G5, 64-bit computing, improvement, PC workstations, testing, Charlie White, Mac vs. PC

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