Apple Power Mac G5: Neck-and-Neck with Intel PCs
By Troy Dreier September 19, 2003
Product: Apple Power Mac G5 Price: $4,349 direct
Specs: With dual 2.0-GHz PowerPC G5 processors, 2GB SDRAM, 160GB SATA hard drive, ATI Radeon 9800 Pro graphics
Company Info: Apple Computer Inc., 408-996-1010, http://www.apple.com/powermac
Editor Rating: ••••o
When Apple's Steve Jobs introduced the Apple Power Mac G5 this summer as the fastest personal computer any company had built to date, we took it with a grain of salt. After all, Apple had made that boast in the past, and those claims did not tend to hold up when independent third parties (such as ourselves) ran tests on current, real-world applications (not the synthetic benchmark tests Apple cited).
Well, we'll take that salt with a side of fries. After testing a loaded ($4,349 direct, after we opted for more RAM and upgraded graphics) dual 2.0-GHz Power Mac G5 on a range of high-end content creation applications and comparing the results with a similarly configured (and priced) Dell Precision 650 Workstation running dual 3.06-GHz Xeon processors, we see that indeed the G5 is generally as fast as the best Intel-based workstations currently available ( see performance table ).
The key improvement to the new line of Power Macs is the PowerPC G5 processor, developed jointly by Apple and IBM. The G5 architecture is much stronger in accessing memory and handling computing-intensive tasks without repeated, time-consuming trips to the hard drive.
The G5 also will bring 64-bit processing to the Mac platform, allowing an exponentially greater ability to handle integers than the previous 32-bit processors. As with the AMD Athlon 64, applications need to be optimized for 64-bit computing to take full advantage of the architecture. But the PowerPC G5 (like the Athlon 64) will continue to run 32-bit applications (like those in our test suite) natively instead of in emulation mode, as with Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor.
As of this writing, only a few programs have been updated for the G5; these include Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1, Emagic Logic 6.2.1, and PyMOL 0.91. Current users can download 64-bit plug-ins or upgraded versions of each. Apple expects many more programs optimized for the G5 to reach consumers by year-end. (To help that effort along, third-party programmers can download a free set of development tools from Apple's site, which analyze programs and offer tips on optimizing for the G5.)
The G5's improvements would be nothing without a radically improved underlying system architecture. Apple has matched the chip with a 1-GHz front-side bus per processor (up from 167 MHz with the G4), for a total FSB bandwidth of 8 GBps (up from 1.3 GBps). You can load a G5 with up to 8GB of 128-bit, 400-MHz DDR SDRAM (2GB of 64-bit SDRAM was the max on the G4), as well as new 160GB Serial ATA hard drives. Hence even nonoptimized 32-bit applications will see a significant performance increase compared with the way they run on a Power Mac G4.
On our cross-platform application tests, the G5 was the clear winner on tests using Adobe Acrobat and Sorenson Squeeze (a video compression tool). The Dell entry bested the G5 under Adobe Photoshop 7 and NewTek Lightwave 3D, a 3-D modeling application.
We also tested the G4 and G5 under Apple's Final Cut Pro, which isn't available for Windows. This test clearly shows the speed improvement of the G5 over the previous generation of Power Macs. The G5 pared more than half an hour from the total time it took to render our video file and output it to MPEG-2 format. If you make your money working with video on the Mac platform, replacing a G4 with a G5 could pay for itself in short order.
The physical appearance of the G5 is just as impressive as its performance numbers. With its 20-inch-tall anodized aluminum shell, the G5 is larger and heavier (39 pounds) than its predecessors. System ports have been upgraded, so the G5 has three USB 2.0 ports (one in the front), two FireWire 800 ports (one in the front), and an additional FireWire 400 port in the rear. The G5 also has dedicated AirPort antennas and Bluetooth dongle ports, so users won't need to sacrifice a USB port for Bluetooth.
The rear panel contains optical digital audio in and out ports and analog audio in and out jacks, while the front has a convenient headphone minijack. Unfortunately, the G5 also ships with the standard unremarkable keyboard and one-button mouse, which look and feel more out of date with each main system update.
The chassis features innovative improvements under the hood, as well. While previous Power Macs had a latch for easy access to the internal components, the G5 is lockable to prevent unwanted intrusion. Once the side panel is removed, there's a clear plastic screen in place, covering the components. It's called the air deflector, and it's part of the G5's revolutionary cooling system.
The inside is divided into four discrete cooling zones. Each has its own fan (or fans), and each is self-contained when the air deflector is in place. The G5 draws air in through the holes in the front panel and passes it over the components. When any section runs hot, only the fan for that area runs faster. The result—a surprisingly quiet machine—will come as a great relief to users who have suffered with noisy G4s.
New G5s ship with Mac OS X 10.2.7, an update that provides system tweaks for the 64-bit processor. Machines also come with the standard—and excellent—iLife bundle, which includes the latest builds of iDVD, iMovie, iPhoto, and iTunes (for individual reviews of these apps, see " Living the Digital iLife "). Other bundled software includes Intuit's QuickBooks (New User Edition), as well as Apple's Address Book, Art Directors Toolkit, iChat, Mail, and the Classic (OS 9) operating system for running older apps that haven't been upgraded to OS X.
The G5 is available in three configurations. A $1,999 model has a single 1.6-GHz PowerPC G5 processor, 256MB of SDRAM, and an 80GB Serial ATA hard drive. The $2,399 model has a single 1.8-GHz PowerPC G5 processor, 512MB of SDRAM, and 160GB of storage. The $2,999 model has dual 2.0-GHz PowerPC G5 processors, 512MB of SDRAM, and 160GB of storage. All models come with SuperDrive (Apple's DVD-RW writer). AirPort Extreme (802.11g Wi-Fi) cards and Bluetooth modules are among the possible options.
Apple has succeeded in boosting its Power Mac line, taking Apple users into high-performance computing. And by outperforming top-specked Windows machines on some tests, Apple has proved that megahertz isn't everything. The new flagship Mac will more than satisfy power-hungry graphics, video, and business users and may even win Apple some users from the Windows/Intel camp.
How We Tested
By Jan Ozer
We tested using a suite of digital-content-creation programs to compare the Power Mac G5 against both a Mac and, where cross-platform applications existed, a Windows PC. Our Windows system was a Dell Precision 650 workstation with dual 3.06-GHz Intel Xeon processors. In addition to the dual 2.0-GHz Power Mac G5 we also tested a dual 1.4-GHz Power Mac G4. We configured the computers with 2GB of DRAM and tested at 1280-by-960, the highest screen resolution shared by all the systems.
Here are the programs we ran and a brief description of our tests:
Adobe Acrobat. Acrobat is the preeminent tool for creating documents in the PDF format, which lets a document display and print identically regardless of hardware and OS. We produced a 258-page PDF document from within Microsoft Word and encoded nine TIF images, totaling 430 MB in size, into a compound PDF document from within Acrobat.
Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is a popular image editing program used extensively on both OSes. We tested using version 7.01, the latest available for both Windows and Macintosh, and we used Adobe's G5 Processor plug-in update for Mac OS X, which lets the program take advantage of the system's additional memory and special instructions. We started with a 59.5 MB test image, but many operations completed too quickly to time, so we quadrupled the size to 238MB.
At these larger image sizes, although the Wintel test times were quite good, both the G4 and G5 computers proved more adept at distort functions like wave and pinch. Moreover, on the Windows system, loading the controls often took a minute or more. If these times are added back to the actual test times, both Macintosh computers would have clearly outperformed the Windows-based computer.
Avid Xpress Pro. This is a feature-rich video editor we used to create a 6 minute 30 second project complete with chroma key, color correction, titling, and picture-in-picture effects, timing how long rendering of the resulting file to DV format took.
Apple's Final Cut Pro. We ran this high-end video-editing software on the G4 and G5 systems (Final Cut Pro is a Mac-only product) to process a project we put together for our recent video editing roundup . Note that this is a different file from the project created in Xpress DV, so the results aren't comparable. In the Final Cut Pro tests presented, we rendered first into DV format and then output into MPEG-2 format.
NewTek's LightWave 3D version 7.5. LightWave is a popular animation program used extensively in television and movie production. We tested here by selecting a range of sample scenes from the benchmark and other directories that highlight commonly used techniques and effects like ray tracing, particle and motion dynamics, volumetric rendering, and radiosity. For most tests, we timed how long rendering a single frame took. For the particle and motion dynamics tests we timed how long rendering the entire animation required.
Sorenson Squeeze. Squeeze is a popular program used for encoding video into streaming formats primarily for Web deployment. Here we encoded a one minute test file into both Sorenson Video 3 and MPEG-4 formats in batch mode (which allows you to queue multiple files for automatic processing), reporting total encoding time.
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