PowerMac G5, a premiere test drive

by Roberto Lanzo and Giuliano Michelini. English version by Gabriele Caniglia.

1. Next Generation

«Finally here!»
Man: «But hey! It’s full of holes!»
Woman: «Definitely!»
Man: «Looks like a… grater!»
Woman: «What a minimalist and amazing design…»

That’s a brief excerpt from a casual conversation, by a pair of people, likely Apple users, in a big computer store in Rome, Musical Cherubini, where the new PowerMac G5 1.6 GHz has just born to life on the shelves, these days.

No doubt about it: Once again Apple found the way to be on our mouths, and many people came here with a couple of words ready for the new machines.

’nuff said about its design, maybe… Except for its size: Enormous, and it is hard to believe these machines can be so noiseless.

We’ve read a lot about the inner components, so far; Many websites and magazines have had their photographic reports and rumors. Actually, the G5 is beautiful inside, and I never happened to meet such a tidy and accurate engineering.

The PowerMac G5 we have tested

On the other hand, the second optical 5.1/4" slot is a missing, it being a big acheivement for the recent “mirrored drive” G4.

Keyboard and mouse have been re–vamped as well, and now sport a new semi–transparent white surface. If the new mouse is close to the previous model, the new keyboard is quite different from its latter incarnation, and a bit smaller; In any case, both devices have a true and unmistakable Apple design. However, my wish for a professional mouse from Apple, was disappointed once again: Contextual menus have a big deal with Mac OS X, and today most applications integrate a right click option to speed up many tasks; Quite annoying to go for third-party mice all of the times.

2. Internal Design

As far as internal innovations are concerned, about the where’s and why’s of the new architecture including the brand new PPC970, have a look at a couple of articles (in Italian) on our website:

Worth to say, there are major changes all around; On the other hand you won’t be able to:

  • Use old ATA hard drives, not even with Serial ATA adapters;
  • Recycle your old RAM modules, except for DDR 333 on the G5 1.6 MHz model;
  • Use PCI cards with a 5V power requirement.

To my humble opinion, the reasonings behind these decisions are quite satisfactory: You can’t cook an omelette without breaking any eggs.

Virtual PC, now Microsoft branded, doesn’t work anymore on G5’s (“little endian” mode is not available on the new architecture), and his main rival — Real PC — has been recently discontinued. Let’s hope for the best…

3. The System

Panther is around the corner, but not shipping yet. The G5 we tested run Mac OS X 10.2.7, a tweaked revision of the OS, specially made for the new machines. We tried to boot from a Mac OS X 10.2.6 external drive, but it didn’t work… :-P

Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem G5’s get their top with the bundled OS: Tests carried out with a Panther Developer Preview revealed a performance boost up to 40% in certain tasks. I certainly don’t expect such huge improvements with audio applications, but the scores here need to be revised and updated in a near future.

This is the reason why we, as the Musimac Staff, have decided not to include any kind of benchmarks; instead, we care to show you the CPU load scores in an audio applications usage environment.

I also take the chance to point out that Panther won’t be a 64–bit OS entirely, and, at a first stage, only few applications will benefit from the new CPU architecture.

4. On the road

I carried out the same tests I have used in the past to compare different Apple models, with small differences, though, mainly due to the most recent software and OS revisions. Emagic Logic Audio 5.5, infact, is not G5 savvy, and version 6.2 (now 6.2.1) is the first to be optimized for the new PowerMacs.

When launching Logic Audio a dialog appears, which suggests to disable processor cycling in the Energy Saver preference pane, and to choose the “Highest” performance preset.

Logic 6.2 warning

Worth to be noted, until 10.2.6, this option in the Energy Saver panel was only available when running Mac OS X on laptop computers, in order to save batteries duration.

Anyway, by setting the “Highest” performance preset, I could easily note an average CPU load saving of 5%, in each audio application used during the tests.

Quite odd… And interesting altogether: This demonstrates how system performance could be further improved: Panther, are you watching?

We didn’t use extenal hardware devices for our tests, but we couldn’t resist from plugging–in a couple of USB audio cards: Digidesign MBox and Terratec Phase 26 USB.

No way for the first one, and success for the latter. In any case I think these cards offer quite a humble gain to a computer which already features S–PDIF optical outputs.

5. Conclusions

We tested a PowerMac G5 1.6 GHz, 1280 MB RAM. The final scores speak for themselves; The low–end G5 model is the fastest Mac Musimac has ever tested, for music and audio at least.

CPU Load
  Cubase SX Logic 5/6 Live Reason
PowerMac G5 1.6 GHz 25% 20% 20% 30%
PowerMac G4 1.25 GHz MP 27% 27% 23% 35%
PowerMac G4 867 MHz 60% 50% 36% 45%
iBook 800 MHz 60% 80% 34% 75%
PowerBook G4 12" 60% 50% 36% 70%

We just said it’s too early to draw any conclusions from the performance of the newest PowerMacs, we’d better wait until Mac OS X 10.3 finally ships. More safely, let’s hope Apple will keep on the good work and its very promises.