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Apple Power Mac G5 Quad

Apple's first quad-processor Mac is a performance demon By Dave Nagel
Summary: The Power Mac G5 Quad is, simply, the most powerful Mac workstation to date. Offering four 64-bit 2.5 GHz processors (in a dual dual-core configuration), this top of the line system also sports numerous other improvements in architecture and various components, such as dual independent gigabit Ethernet interfaces, PCI Express and support for the workstation-class Nvidia Quadro FX 4500 512 MB graphics card.
Manufacturer: Apple (
Platform: Mac OS X
Price: $3,299 for the base configuration. Add $1,650 for the Nvidia Quadro FX 4500 512 MB graphics card. ($5,249 as reviewed.)
Users: Creative professionals in video, animation, graphic design and audio (plus anyone else who happens to want to use the most powerful Mac in history).
Recommendation: See below 

It's a weird time to be considering a Mac hardware upgrade. The first Intel-based Macs are due out in about six months, and the pro-level Mactel lineup, presumably, will follow within a year of that initial rollout. So this latest top of the line system from Apple--the Power Mac G5 Quad--is, in a very real sense, the end of the line for PowerPC-based machines.

It's surely not the last PowerPC configuration Apple will offer; but any subsequent upgrades to the G5 lineup would likely be released while Intel-based Macs are on the market. And when that happens--at least for me--it would be inconceivable to spend money on dead-end hardware, especially since we're all facing the imminent arrival of crossgrade fees for all the software that's having to be ported over to the Intel platform in addition to the cost of new systems.

Now, virtually the same things can be said about this latest G5 offering from Apple. So why would you even consider buying it?

Well, there are several factors that make the G5 Quad a worthwhile purchase at this time. First, it's magnificently powerful, as we'll see in the benchmark results below. If you presently use something along the lines of a dual 2.0 GHz G5 (or slower), you will see performance improvements that could allow this machine to pay for itself in productivity enhancements over the next 18 months or so. That's the best argument the G5 Quad has going for it. It's so fast that it forces you to consider it seriously, even if you know for certain that it would be the last PowerPC-based computer you'd ever buy.

Second, we don't really know what Apple's plans are for its Intel hardware rollout. We know that June 2006 is the expected launch date for the consumer-level Intel machines (whatever that means), and June 2007 is the expected launch date for the "pro" machines. But, as professionals, we have work to do now, and it may not be the best idea to wait six months for a hardware bump, especially if it's only to discover that the Mactel machines have been delayed, that Apple's changed its mind about the whole thing, that the first generation of Mactel hardware isn't all that wonderful, etc. (Believe me: If the first Mactel machines are simple dual Xeon configurations without dual cores, you're looking at a speed dip, not a speed bump.)

And, third, when the new Intel-based Macs are released, it doesn't mean that your PowerPC-based hardware is automatically obsolete that very moment. The G5 Quad will continue to get the job done long after the Intel Macs ship, albeit with a dwindling supply of software and support from third-party developers.

But what it's going to come down to is your need for more power now versus your knowledge that a completely new (and potentially even faster) architecture is looming just ahead of us.

Now, I can't tell you how to respond to the upcoming switch in the Mac's architecture. That's something you'll have to deal with on your own. (Personally, I don't plan on any further PowerPC expenditures, even though this Quad is incredibly tempting. But I did lick this particular review unit in the hopes that Apple would have to let me keep it.) But what I can do is give you a taste of the performance of this quad-processor system (or dual dual-core system, if you prefer) to help give you an idea of what the top-end Mac is capable of. Here are the results from tests covering a variety of applications, from 3D to 2D to motion graphics and video encoding.

3D performance
I'd like to start off with what I consider to be the most impressive results in all of the benchmarks tests I've done on Macs over the years: performance in 3D applications. To begin, take a look at these results from Maxon's Cinebench 2003.

Maxon Cinebench 2003 Benchmarks
(Render in minutes:seconds, where lower results are better. All other results Use Cinebench relativistic values, where higher is better.)

Apple G5 Quad
(4 x 2.5 GHz G5)

Apple G5 Dual
(2 x 2.0 GHz G5)

Dell Precision Workstation 470
(2 x 3.6 GHz Xeon)

Alienware MJ-12 7550a Workstation
(4 x 2.21 GHz Opteron 275)

HP xw9300
(4 x 2.4 GHz Opteron 280)
Render Time
23.2 sec.
53.6 sec.
39.2 sec.
26.0 sec.
19.7 sec.
CPU Score
1049 CB-CPU
491 CB-CPU
672 CB-CPU
1014 CB-CPU
1335 CB-CPU
OpenGL Hardware
2532 CB-GFX
1534 CB-GFX
OpenGL Software
1139 CB-GFX
825 CB-GFX
C4D Shading
354 CB-GFX
278 CB-GFX

You'll note that with these benchmarks, we've included the results not only from our reference system--a dual 2.0 GHz G5--but also from several high-end WIndows systems. What's interesting to note is that the G5 Quad blows the doors off the Dell Precision Workstation 470, equipped with two Intel Xeon processors running at 3.6 GHz apiece. It also marginally beat out the Alienware MJ-12 7550a workstation, which is equipped with two dual-core AMD Opteron processors running at 2.21 GHz apiece. But it was also beaten by the HP xw9300, which has two dual-core AMD Opteron 280 chips running at 2.4 GHz each.

Comparing Apples to Apples, the G5 Quad soundly trounced the reference dual 2.0 GHz G5 in render speed, CPU score and anything having to do with graphics performance. The Quad G5 system tested for this was equipped with a PCI Express-based Nvidia Quadro FX 4500 512 MB workstation-class graphics card--designed for performance in 3D applications--so these results weren't unexpected. The dual 2.0 GHz G5 was equipped with an AGP 8x-based ATI X800XT with 256 MB of memory--a card that was, at one time, the best you could put into a Mac. (If you would like to compare your own system to these using Cinebench 2003, this benchmarking tool can be downloaded free from

I also ran some rendering tests in another 3D application that, like Maxon's software, has been historically fine-tuned to take advantage of the latest and greatest hardware that Apple can cram into a box: NewTek LightWave 3D (in this case version 8).

In my LightWave tests, the differences between the dual- and quad-processor systems were even more pronounced. Take a look at these numbers.

NewTek LightWave 8 Benchmarks
(Results in minutes:seconds. Lower results are better.)

Apple G5 Quad
(4 x 2.5 GHz G5)

Apple G5 Dual
(2 x 2.0 GHz G5)
Test 1
Test 2
Test 3
Test 4
Test 5

For each of these tests, I rendered one frame from five different scenes supplied with LightWave so that you'd be able to compare the render speeds with your own systems. They were, in order of the tests: Radiosity_BOX.lws, SunsetSample.lws, Teapot.lws, The_Matrix5.lws and Virus_DOF.lws.

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