The current Power Mac G5's industrial design -- a gleaming, silent, almost spooky tower of power -- will probably stand in museums long after Moore's Law sweeps away its components. Although we think Mac fans should give more consideration to Apple's tendency to overprice, underconfigure, and minimally support its desktops (including this top-of-the-line Apple Power Mac G5 dual 2.5GHz system) it's hard to argue that the company doesn't have a knack for melding form and function.
Based on the results of our new Photoshop and video encoding tests, the Power Mac G5 isn't the fastest PC we've tested, but we don't have any qualms about its performance. This powerful, dual-processor system can lay claim to being the most powerful Mac you can own, and it will well serve creative pros in terms of overall performance and presentation.
Flipping an elegant but sturdy latch opens the Power Mac G5's side panel, which slides off and on so smoothly, other case designers must envy it. The inside has an austere, extremely efficient layout that makes gaming PCs, with their flashing lights and glowing cables, seem as cheesy as Las Vegas' Caesar's Palace. There's nary a cable to be seen, brushed metal conceals the liquid coolant running through the heat sinks, fans spin silently, and the cavernous case has wide open spaces to enhance cooling and proper airflow.
As expected, the Power Mac G5 outperformed every other system in Apple's stable: it won first place on our iTunes and Quake III tests. It operated sufficiently fast while we worked with apps such as Final Cut Pro HD, Adobe Photoshop CS, and Sorenson Squeeze 4.0, as well as while performing routine tasks, such as calibrating the display with the ColorVision Spyder2Pro and burning discs. We did crash once while downloading video from a MiniDV tape and a few times with Squeeze, but the system recovered well, and it earns high marks for stability.
Apple's use of a last-generation memory bus and relatively low clock-speed chips, however, constrains its performance on these types of specialised apps. For instance, single-processor PCs with faster CPUs, such as the Velocity Micro ProMagix PCX and the Bully Computers Tyrant, handily outperformed the Power Mac dual 2.5GHz on our new Photoshop test, which is memory-bandwidth intensive: the Velocity Micro's 533MHz DDR SDRAM gives it a significant advantage over the Mac's 400MHz DDR SDRAM. The same holds true for our new, CPU-intensive video-encoding test, where a large gap in raw processing speed ultimately overwhelms the advantages of a second processor. The Power Mac G5 took 5.4 minutes to encode our test clip, 20 percent slower than the Velocity Micro ProMagix PCX's time of 4.5 minutes; the results don't look too bad, however, when you consider that the ProMagix's overclocked 3.7GHz CPU is 48 percent faster than the G5's 2.5GHz CPU.
Unfortunately, the Power Mac G5's design often opts for elegance over expedience. It has only a single bay suitable for an optical drive, which comes equipped with either a CD-RW/DVD-ROM or a DVD-R/CD-RW drive. We'd appreciate the option of having at least two optical drive bays, even if it meant losing some of the Power Mac G5's visual appeal. Though the system supports speedy Serial ATA hard drives, it can take only two internally, peaking at 500GB. So if you're a creative professional -- and especially if you work with video -- you'll probably have to add a lot of devices externally.
The scarcity of external expansion made sense when we had daisy-chainable SCSI for the job: one port could support up to 16 devices. But this system supplies only three USB 2.0 ports and three FireWire ports (one FW800 and two FW400). The good news is that Apple sprinkles these hubs liberally around the work space. Another two USB 2.0 ports are available on the Apple Cinema Display, should you choose to bundle it with your Mac (ours came with the 23-inch model) and two USB 1.1 ports on the wired keyboard. If you decide to opt for a wireless keyboard and mouse, which Apple really should include for the price to begin with, you're down two USB ports; if you go with a less expensive display option, you lose another two ports. Regardless of which peripherals you choose, you won't find an option for adding a media-card reader to the system, a feature increasingly found as a standard option on PCs of all varieties these days. The Power Mac G5 includes dedicated ports for Bluetooth and Airport Extreme antennas (modules optional), however, and built-in Gigabit Ethernet and 56Kbps modem.
Nor does the Power Mac G5 allow for more powerful preconfigured options as it should. The current maximum of 500GB (two 250GB drives) may seem like a lot of storage space, but you can use that up quickly working with media files. While it's great that Apple supplies optical audio in/out ports, we think that for the money it charges, Apple should supply the system with a decent 2- or 2.1-channel speaker system, not just the internal speaker, and that it should offer more than just 5.1-channel speaker options.
The Power Mac's motherboard supplies three PCI-X slots, two 133MHz and one 100MHz, but at least three of the four graphics cards that Apple offers, including the 256MB ATI Radeon 9800 XT in our test system, have heat sinks that block the adjacent slot. Our test system also came with 4GB of memory configured in eight 512MB modules that occupied all the Power Mac's DDR400 memory slots.