Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Review: Power Mac G5 Quad

Review: Power Mac G5 Quad

Say goodbye to waiting, with the most powerful Mac in the known universe. Once you've tried it you won't want to use anything else

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Alfred Hitchcock once said that movies are like life but with the dull bits taken out. What if you could remove the dull bits from your life? Would your life be a movie? Now you can find out, thanks to the launch of the Power Mac G5 Quad, a machine so fast that the dull will disappear in an instant, leaving you with only interesting things to do and a script to sort out.

The Quad is a speed demon, through and through. Its name comes from the four 2.5GHz G5 processors stashed inside the now-familiar Power Mac enclosure. If you were stick those G5s in a standard iMac case, not only would it melt, but all the other parts of the iMac that still managed to fit in wouldn’t be able to keep up. So Apple’s ramped up just about everything else inside the Power Mac to let raw data flow around without hitting too many bottlenecks.

If you don’t fancy a Jennifer Aniston “science bit”, skip a paragraph while we explain what’s been done: suffice it to say, Apple have made some very nice improvements that make the Quad very, very fast indeed.

For those of you still with us, each processor has both 1MB of L2 cache as well as a dedicated 1.25GHz front side bus. To get data around the system, Apple’s replaced the AGP, PCI and PCI-X slots of previous models with a pure PCI-Express architecture capable of shunting data at 4GBps: there are three open slots in all, two four-lane and one eight-lane, a fourth slot being taken up by the Quad’s graphics card. The Quad also uses 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM for memory, rather than the older G5s’ 400MHz DDR. Naturally, the biggest bottleneck in the system is the hard drive, but Apple has at least ensured it’s a 7200rpm serial ATA drive.

Apart from four processors and a super-fast architecture, what else do you get for your money? Well, the enclosure is virtually identical to previous Power Mac G5s’, with a USB 2.0 port and a FireWire 400 port on the front; on the back are one FireWire 400, one FireWire 800 and three USB 2.0 ports.

A 16x double layer SuperDrive comes as standard, as does a USB keyboard and Apple’s imperfect Mighty Mouse. Analogue and optical audio ports are on the back, and a handy headphones jack is on the front for designers who like to listen to music while they work without disturbing their colleagues. All the audio ports are handy, in fact, since the Quad’s built-in speakers are atrocious. To describe them as ‘tinny’ would give the word a new, charitable meaning that it never previously had. If you value sound quality in any way, get some external speakers if you buy a Quad.

One of the few changes Apple has made to the external enclosure is to the previously flimsy and awkward aerial system used by Bluetooth and AirPort, making it sleeker and more discreet. Yet notably lacking from the base spec are Bluetooth and AirPort modules, both of which are optional extras. This hints at penny-pinching by Apple to get the Quad down to a nearly affordable price tag.

You can spot further corner-cutting in the base spec for the Quad, which features just 250GB of storage and 512MB of RAM. For the asking price and the intended audience – people with plenty of data who need to move it around and manipulate it quickly – the hard drive and RAM are way too low. To max out the storage and the memory at the Apple Store to 1TB and 16GB will take £600 and £8,330 respectively so consider upgrading your Quad yourself for far lower prices: the easy-access enclosure Apple has pioneered, together with the instructions in the Quad’s accompanying manual, make this a doddle.

The GeForce 6600 PCI Express graphics card is excellent, a great improvement over the old AGP-based ATI Radeon Apple has been using, and should meet almost everyone’s needs. Hard-core gamers, however, should consider upgrading to the NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GT, if they plan on running Halo, Doom 3 or other top-end programs, since the texturing capabilities of the 6600 aren’t quite enough for those games’ “best quality” settings. Or better still, there’s the Quadro FX 4500, which has 512MB of RAM, can power two Apple 30“ HD Cinema screens and has a socket for Stereo 3D goggles. It commands the princely sum of £1,100, so you’d really have to love games to buy it. As an aside, Final Cut Pro users need to be wary in all cases, since versions 4.5 and earlier expect an AGP graphics card and will quit if they don’t find one.

So just how stonkingly powerful is the Quad? Apple’s own figures suggest it’s up to 69% faster than a dual 2.7GHz G5 with After Effects, 43% faster with Photoshop and 40% faster with Final Cut Pro SD rendering. We couldn’t get quite that level of speed, mainly because the Quad was so fast, we couldn’t actually measure reliably how long it took to do things. When we started using poster-sized high-res documents, Photoshop at least slowed down a little but even heavy motion blurs took only 30 seconds or so. On the whole, we’d say Apple’s figures are reasonably accurate, with our figures trailing by only 10% or so.

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