In among a flurry of new releases, including the latest version of OS X and new versions of its professional video applications, Apple has boosted its high-end Power Mac G5 line so that the top configuration now has dual 2.7GHz G5 processors. We tested this model and found other improvements -- double-layer DVD support and out-of-the-box support for a 30-inch Apple Cinema HD display -- that will please its target market of video and design professionals.
The same curious Apple shortcomings which hampered the previous 2.5GHz version remain, however, such as the lack of a second optical drive, a minimum of ports and no option for a flash card reader. We appreciate that the baseline price with the added features remains at £1,999, but Apple is really just keeping pace with the march of technology. The Power Mac G5 is still an excellent machine, but no more so than last year's system was at the time.
The Apple Power Mac G5's graceful yet industrial 'cheese grater' design hasn't changed with this iteration. It has the same sleek but solid shape and hefty size, at 206 by 511 by 475mm. As before, you can pull a latch on the back to release a side panel and access the internal slots -- the best accessibility we've seen in any system. A removable clear plastic panel inside the machine sections off different areas so the fans have to work less. Indeed, the Power Mac emits only a quiet hum while working.
The Power Mac has three free PCI-X slots (not to be confused with PCI-Express, a.k.a. PCIe, the wider-bandwidth expansion bus found in newer Windows-based PCs), but if you choose the build-to-order Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra DDL graphics card to populate the AGP slot (as in our test system), it will block the adjacent PCI-X slot. Our system also came with 4GB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM (up from the standard of 512MB) in four 1GB sticks, leaving four slots vacant. A free storage bay lets you add a second hard drive for a possible total of 800GB of storage (ours had the standard 250GB Serial ATA 7,200rpm drive). That's an improvement over the previous high-end Power Mac, which topped out at 500GB. Still, two hard drive bays is the bare minimum for a system in this class.
Apple is stubbornly keeping the number of USB and FireWire ports low, with one USB 2.0 port on the front and two on the back, one FireWire 400 port on the front and one on the back, and a FireWire 800 port on the back. Plug in a mouse and a keyboard, and you'll use up two of those USB ports. However, if you use the Apple keyboard and monitor, you'll gain two USB 2.0 and two FireWire ports on the back of the monitor and two USB 1.1 ports on the keyboard. High-end Windows PCs routinely offer more ports. Likewise, it's increasingly rare for a comparable Windows PC not to have a built-in card reader -- something no Mac has ever had -- or to offer only a single optical drive.
Although the Apple Power Mac G5 has only one optical drive, it's been improved to a 4X DVD+R double-layer drive (it also handles DVDA±RW and CD-RW discs). The double-layer support seems designed to coincide with the inclusion of the high-definition H.264 codec in OS 10.4, allowing you to burn an entire high-definition project on one disc.
The base configuration of this Power Mac costs £1,999, but the system we tested comes to £3,618 with memory and graphics upgrades plus Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and a 20-inch Cinema Display. That's steep, but in line with comparable Windows models, once you've added a monitor. Remember to budget extra for speakers (no, £1,999 doesn't get you a pair of speakers), a keyboard with dedicated media keys, and a two-button mouse with a scrollwheel. Why Apple continues to torment customers with a one-button mouse is a mystery to which only Steve Jobs knows the answer.
The target audience should love that the dual 2.7GHz Power Mac G5 can now drive a 30-inch Apple Cinema HD Display (£2,099) out of the box. Previously that required a graphics-card upgrade, but the high-end Power Mac comes with an ATI Radeon 9650 card that can handle the task. The middle two Power Macs can upgrade to the ATI Radeon 9650 for only £30. They normally ship with the ATI Radeon 9600, which can drive two 23-inch displays, while the dual 2.7GHz Power Mac's ATI Radeon 9650 can drive one 30-inch and one 23-inch display. To use two 30-inch displays, you'll need to upgrade to the Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra DDL, a £330 option found on our test system.
Our Power Mac G5 review unit held up well in our tests and showed itself a match for comparable Intel PCs running at faster clock speeds. In our Adobe Photoshop CS test, the Power Mac was bested only by the Velocity Micro ProMagix DCX, an overclocked 3.2GHz dual-core system. While that's impressive, the Power Mac's built-to-order 4GB of RAM was likely a big help. Compared to the older dual 2.5GHz Power Mac G5 (also with 4GB of memory) that we tested last year, the dual 2.7GHz G5 model took 48 fewer seconds to complete the Photoshop CS test.
On our new Apple iTunes MP3-encoding test, the dual 2.7GHz Power Mac G5 took top honours by a wide margin, likely due to iTunes running more efficiently on the hardware on which it originated. Finally, on our Sorenson Squeeze 4.0 video-encoding test, the Power Mac ran only slightly behind the ProMagix DCX and a white-box system with Intel's new 3.73GHz Extreme Edition chip -- an impressive feat for the PowerPC G5 chip, showing that it's up to the task of matching the latest from Intel.
In our usage tests, the Apple Power Mac G5 was a pleasure, consistently able to handle whatever we threw at it, including processor hogs such as high-definition QuickTime movies and multitrack GarageBand songs. Even when we ran several programs at the same time, the Power Mac performed smoothly, without any visual or audio glitches.