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Series: G5's Alive!
Get the specs and the skinny on Apple's new 64-bit Power Mac G5 systems
Article 1 of 2 in series
by Geoff Duncan
Touting them as the "world's fastest personal computer," Apple today announced its Power Mac G5 line of desktop computers with 1.6 to 2 GHz processor speeds, high-performance internals, and a 64-bit processor architecture designed to give the Power Mac line a much-needed performance boost and provide a clear road map for future developmentShow full article
Touting them as the "world's fastest personal computer," Apple today announced its Power Mac G5 line of desktop computers with 1.6 to 2 GHz processor speeds, high-performance internals, and a 64-bit processor architecture designed to give the Power Mac line a much-needed performance boost and provide a clear road map for future development. Standard configurations of the new machines are priced from $2,000 to $3,000, and will be available starting in August of 2003.
Out of the Wind Tunnel, On to the Cheese Grater -- On the outside, the Power Mac G5 establishes yet another direction in Apple's industrial design, this time sporting an anodized aluminum case with squared-off handles and perforation on the front and back to permit airflow through the machine's four internal "thermal zones." (The new design has already been dubbed the "cheese grater," and the resemblance is remarkable.) The units have no less than nine internal fans, yet Apple says in normal operation they're substantially quieter than earlier Power Mac G4 (Mirrored Drive Door) systems that were not-so-affectionately nicknamed "Windtunnels." As you'd expect, the Power Mac G5 enclosures feature a full complement of ports on the back, but also offer USB, FireWire, and headphone jacks on the front, which may save some crawling around under desks.
The G5's Alive -- The real changes are inside the box. The Power Mac G5 systems are built around the 64-bit IBM 970 processor, which Apple has dubbed the PowerPC G5. The PowerPC G5 evolved from IBM's POWER4 architecture (used in the company's high-end eBusiness servers), rather than directly following from G3 and G4 processors developed by Motorola. However, if the PowerPC G5 isn't a direct descendent of the processors in current Macs, it's a cousin: the original PowerPC architecture was designed jointly by Apple, Motorola, and IBM, and was meant from the outset to be expanded to a 64-bit architecture. Eventually, IBM branched off with what became the POWER4 architecture when it decided it wanted to focus on processor clustering, servers, and embedded systems, and Motorola came up with the high-output AltiVec unit (aka Apple's Velocity Engine). The PowerPC G5 weds the two efforts, combining IBM's POWER4 architecture with an optimized Velocity Engine and a new 130-nanometer manufacturing process at IBM's new plant in Fishkill, New York.
Here are the main features of the PowerPC G5:
High clock speeds: PowerPC G5s start at 1.6 to 2 GHz , and Apple says 3 GHz G5s will be ready within a year.
A 64-bit architecture enables Macs to handle up to 8 GB of RAM initially, with a real-world RAM ceiling of 4 terabytes (TB).
Full compatibility with existing 32-bit PowerPC software - i.e., everything which runs right now under Mac OS X, including Classic applications and the Unix environment. Existing applications can run on the new processors with no penalty - no emulation or recompiling required - and current applications optimized for the Velocity Engine garner an instant speed bump. Programs recompiled specifically for the PowerPC G5 processor will see even greater performance enhancements.
But wait, there's more. One of the problems with modern personal computing architecture is that processors spend a surprising amount of time twiddling their thumbs waiting on other parts of the computer like RAM, the PCI or FireWire buses, or (horror of horrors!) a mere disk drive. Processors engage in branch prediction (er, idle speculation?) while they're waiting so they'll be ready to go when a computer's subsystems catch up, but basically, you want the processor waiting around as little as possible. To that end, Apple has put nearly every major subsystem in the Power Mac G5 on its own high-speed bus (avoiding traffic jams as data moves between components: RAM gets a 333 or 400 MHz bus, PCI-X cards get a 133 MHz bus, etc.) and - most significantly - a separate pair of 32-bit unidirectional buses for the G5 processor running at speeds from 800 MHz to 1 GHz. Combined, these are termed a frontside bus, and they represent a substantial leap forward from the 167 MHz system buses used in previous high-end Power Mac G4 systems, and - even better - dual processor G5 systems have a separate frontside bus for each processor, further enhancing performance on dual processor machines.
Apple's Top Models -- Apple will be shipping three configurations of the Power Mac G5 beginning in August. All configurations can handle Bluetooth and Airport Extreme wireless networking and feature 8x AGP Pro graphics slots, a Serial ATA hard drive, 512K of L2 processor cache per processor, 4x SuperDrives, one FireWire 800 port, two FireWire 400 ports (one on the front), three (new!) USB 2.0 ports (one on the front), two USB 1.1 ports (one on the keyboard), two internal hard drive bays (one empty), built-in Gigabit Ethernet, a 56 Kbps V.92 modem, analog and (new!) optical audio in and out, and a front headphone jack. These systems boot into Mac OS X, and cannot start up from Mac OS 9 (although, of course, the Classic environment is still available within Mac OS X).
The low-end $2,000 model features a 1.6 GHz PowerPC G5 processor with an 800 MHz frontside bus, 256 MB of PC2700 (333 MHz) RAM, an Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra video card with 64 MB of video RAM, an 80 GB hard drive, and three available full-length 33 MHz, 64-bit PCI slots. The mid-range $2,400 model has a 1.8 GHz PowerPC G5 processor with a 900 MHz frontside bus, 512 MB of PC3200 (400 MHz) RAM, an Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra video card with 64 MB of video RAM, a 160 GB hard drive, and three available full-length 64-bit PCI-X expansion slots (one at 133 MHz, the other two at 100 MHz). The $3,000 high-end system features dual 2 GHz PowerPC G5 processors with a 1 GHz frontside bus for each processor, 512 MB of PC3200 (400 MHz) RAM, an ATI Radeon 9600 Pro with 64 MB of video RAM, a 160 GB hard drive, and three full-size 64-bit PCI-X expansion slots (one at 133 MHz, the other two at 100 MHz).
Each of these configurations can be customized using build-to-order options through dealers, Apple Stores, or the online Apple Store.
Five and Dime -- There's no doubt that, when they finally become available in late summer, the Power Mac G5s will represent a substantial performance improvement for Apple's aging Power Macintosh line - no doubt many Macintosh proponents have already placed their orders for these machines. Significantly, the PowerPC G5 processor and the new system architecture give Apple room to grow: expect to see more multi-processor systems become available as the product line evolves, along with concomitant speed increases in processors, frontside caches, and other internal components.
It remains to be seen how transparent developers will be able to make the transition to the PowerPC G5. High-end media applications and action games will want to compile specifically for the PowerPC G5. Hopefully, programmers will find a way to make PowerPC G5 versions of their programs available without creating confusion amongst existing and future PowerPC G3 and G4 users, particularly since Apple's laptop line may be using G3 and G4 processors for some time to come.
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Article 2 of 2 in series
At Apple Expo in Paris last week, Apple announced the iMac G5, the latest generation of the company's all-in-one consumer level computer. Gone is the hemispherical base and articulated arm of the previous iMacShow full article
At Apple Expo in Paris last week, Apple announced the iMac G5, the latest generation of the company's all-in-one consumer level computer. Gone is the hemispherical base and articulated arm of the previous iMac. Instead, the iMac G5 looks like a slightly thicker version of the recent Apple Cinema Displays, a white slab suspended on a slim aluminum base. It also resembles one of the company's other products, a music player called the iPod. You may have heard of it.
The iMac G5 comes in two sizes and three configurations: a 17-inch screen model sporting a 1.6 GHz PowerPC G5 processor ($1,300); a 17-inch screen model with a 1.8 GHz G5 ($1,500); and a 20-inch screen model with a 1.8 GHz G5 ($1,900). The 17-inch versions are just 1.9 inches (48 mm) deep; the 20-inch version is 2.2 inches (56 mm) deep. The low-end model has a Combo Drive (CD-RW/DVD-ROM), while the others include SuperDrives (CD-RW/DVD-R); the slot-loading drives sit vertically on the right side of the computer. All configurations are AirPort Extreme-ready, with internal Bluetooth adapters available as build-to-order options.
They all come with 256 MB of PC3200 (400 MHz) DDR SDRAM memory (you'll want more RAM; the iMac supports a maximum of 2 GB); an Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra graphics card with 64 MB DDR SDRAM with AGP 8x support; two FireWire 400 ports; three USB 2.0 ports; two USB 1.1 ports on the keyboard (which looks to be wired, even though the pictures show off Apple's wireless Bluetooth keyboard and mouse). The iMac G5 also sports VGA output (supporting an external monitor in mirror mode only), S-video and composite video output, 10/100 Base-T Ethernet, and a 56K modem. The video-out options require adapters that fit into the same mini-VGA port found on previous iMacs and some iBook, PowerBook, and eMac models.
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Estimated shipping for each model is three to four weeks. Given Apple's difficulty in getting PowerPC G5 chips from IBM, and the now-standard delay in ramping up manufacturing for a major Mac model, it may be realistic to double those numbers as a time-frame for delivery. Although the company has missed the back-to-school buying period, you can bet it will be working hard to churn out new iMacs in volume by the time the holiday buying season begins in November.
The New Design -- The iMac G5's specifications are impressive (even though we think 256 MB of RAM is skimpy), but it's the new design that is sure to get the most attention. Despite the machine's 2-inch depth, the power supply is integrated into the unit, making it a true all-in-one computer (compare that to the tiny Power Mac G4 Cube, which was small in part because it had a large external power supply).
One of the best features of the iMac G4 was its adjustable display. With the iMac G5, the entire body tilts vertically between -5 and 25 degrees on its aluminum base (the negative tilt can be handy for children and users looking up at the computer), but the iMac G5 cannot be raised or lowered, and only pivots side to side by moving the entire base.
Then again, who wants to adjust it at all? You can add a VESA mount to the iMac and hang it from your wall like a picture. Combine a wall-mounted iMac G5 with Open Door's Envision and Apple's Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse and you've got one heck of a cool Mac that doubles as art when you're not using it. Apple will be selling an iMac G5 VESA Mount Adapter Kit starting in October; no price is yet available.
As you might expect, the PowerPC G5 processor requires clever heat dissipation within such a small area. Three variable-speed fans cool the processor, hard drive, and logic board, and are capable of running quietly: the machine runs as soft as 25 dB when idle (whispered speech is about 30 dB), but there's no telling yet how loud the fans are during normal use, and TidBITS readers who saw the new iMac at Apple Expo in Paris weren't able to judge the noise level on the loud show floor. Heat also rises upward through a slit on the back of the iMac; it will be interesting to see if all that heat coming out of the top is detrimental to a mounted iSight.
Other small touches abound, in typical Apple industrial design fashion. The front of the iMac G5 isn't cluttered with exposed speaker grilles; rather, the built-in speakers are directed down from the bottom of the case, so that the sound bounces off a desk or tabletop.
The iMac G5 is also extremely user-accessible - not just in terms of how you interact with it, but also how you get into its innards. The entire back shell comes off (using screws that won't fall out of their holes and get lost), exposing the components that Apple says can be user-replaceable: the AirPort Extreme card, memory, hard drive, optical drive, power supply, LCD display, modem card, and the logic board, power supply, and fans (which Apple calls the "mid-plane assembly"). Removing the back also reveals four diagnostic LEDs that can help you troubleshoot a problem, or relate to an Apple technician over the phone.
A Big iPod? As Adam wrote in "Macworld Expo SF 2004: Enter the Musical Trojan Horse," the iPod and the iTunes Music Store are Apple's secret weapon for convincing Windows users to switch to the Mac. After all, both the iPod and iTunes work in Windows, so it's not as though people are being forced to buy a Mac; they're buying Macs because they've seen what attention to design and detail means on an everyday basis. And if you don't believe that Apple is playing that connection for all it's worth, note the headline on the Apple Web site: "From the creators of the iPod. The new iMac G5." Buy one, buy the other. Make Steve happy.