I jumped for joy when my editor asked me if I wanted to review a fully maxed out version of the Apple Power Mac dual-2GHz G5 running Mac OS X v10.3 “Panther.” This new machine, built around the IBM PowerPC 970 processor, is quite possibly the closest thing to a perfect computer ever made. It is available in dual-2GHz, dual-1.8GHz and 1.6GHz models and features a newly designed case, revamped internal architecture and a list of cutting-edge technologies that embody Apple’s biggest makeover since the introduction of the G4 four years ago.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, project studio, broadcast, post production, sound reinforcement
Key Features: (as tested): Dual 2GHz processors; 160 GB serial ATA hard drive; 2GB RAM; PCI-X buss; OS X Panther; front panel USB 2.0 and FireWire ports; Ethernet; 23-inch Cinema Display LCD; SuperDrive DVD drive.
Price: starts at $1,799
Contact: Apple at 800-692-7753, Web Site.
The G5’s new 64-bit architecture won’t be completely beneficial until Apple releases a 64-bit operating system. But even running the 32-bit OS X, the system is lightning fast. At this point, the real advantage of the G5 is the higher memory ceiling. A 32-bit system (either Mac or PC) can address a maximum of 4 GB of RAM, and no single application can make use of more than 2GB. The 64-bit G5 supports 8 GB of RAM. As applications add 64-bit addressing support, the ability to run longer, more complex instructions will improve the performance of data-intensive tasks such as encoding and playback of higher sample rate audio.
Towering over older Macs, the new G5 is 20.1 inches high, 8.1 inches wide and 18.7 inches deep. Despite their size, the new G5 has less room for internal expansion than the older G4, allowing only one empty bay for an extra hard drive and three PCI (in the 1.6GHz model) or PCI-X (in the other two models) card slots. Later model G4s included three extra hard drive bays and four PCI slots. The G5 I reviewed (running OS X v 10.3) included a pair of 2.0GHz G5 CPUs, 2GB of PC3200 memory, a 160GB hard drive, a Radeon 9600 graphics card, and the 4X SuperDrive. All of the new G5 systems are equipped with AGP 8X Pro and Serial ATA.
The G5 is equipped with a 56 kbps modem and an Ethernet port that can handle speeds up to 1,000 Mbps. There are internal slots for the optional AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth wireless cards. The box also includes a FireWire 800 port, two FireWire 400 ports (one on the front panel and one on the rear), and three USB 2.0 ports (USB 2.0 runs up to 40-times faster than USB 1.1). The front panel mounted FireWire 400 port, USB 2.0 port and headphone jack are extremely handy. Why didn’t Apple think of this before? The G5 also includes analog line-in and line-out jacks, S/PDIF I/O via TOSlink cables for connecting to devices such as standalone converters, digital instruments or 5.1 surround sound speaker systems.
The G5’s case is a fantastic design. Adding or removing cards is a snap. When a rear panel catch is flipped, the entire side panel pops loose. Inside the box, the clear air deflector panel can be removed to give access to the card slots and drives. Replacing the original hard drive or adding an additional drive is simple. Four guide screws install on the side of the drive and then the drive simply slides into a cradle near the top of the machine. Next, a tab rotates to hold the drive firmly in place. Installing additional RAM is just as simple, the fan assembly slides out and then the RAM drops into the slots. This air deflector panel is worth mentioning as it allows air to be passed through the box to cool the processor but without disrupting the hard drives and DVD/CD drive. Every computer I’ve ever owned has had the problem of sucking airborne crud into the DVD/CD drive, eventually clogging it up and requiring extensive cleaning. Finally, with the G5, this potential problem has been completely eliminated.
While the G5 is not a silent computer, it is fairly quiet (especially considering the dual-processor model is equipped with nine fans). The computer is equipped with a network of temperature sensors and software that work together to operate the fans, ensuring that they operate only where and when necessary.
To take full advantage of the speed of the G5’s processor, Apple developed a high-speed system controller and front side bus that connects the controller to the processor. This bus runs at up to 1GHz which is six times faster than that of the latest G4s. The G5 has plenty of storage space boasting an 80GB hard drive in the low-end G5 and 160GB drives in the other two models. All of the drives operate at 7200 rpm and are supported by 8MB of cache memory.
While Apple’s move from PCI to PCI-X is a good move, it is also a move that has potential to cause complications. The PCI-X slots can have nearly eight times the throughput of standard PCI slots but they use a 3.3-volt signaling format that isn’t compatible with the PCI cards of some third-party manufacturers. Most manufacturers offer card upgrades to fix compatibility issues but it is important that the compatibility of existing PCI cards be checked with the manufacturer before assuming that they will work. The 1.6GHz G5 has three PCI slots operating at 32 or 64-bit/33MHz. The other two G5s feature three PCI-X slots, one operating at 64-bit/133MHz and two operating at 64-bit/100MHz. PCI cards that use 5V or 12V signaling won’t work in any of the G5s, even the 1.6GHz model that lacks the PCI-X slots.
The still relatively new Mac OS X was built ground up to be the ultimate platform for audio professionals. Mac OS X Core Audio integrates a range of audio functionality directly into the operating system in ways never before possible. The Core Audio HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer) provides ultralow latency communication between applications and I/O devices. The Core Audio HAL allows multiple applications to share the same device, a feature new to Mac OS X. This means that Channels 1 through 6 of an eight channel output device can be assigned to a DAW such as Logic Pro 6 while leaving a virtual instrument like Reason with channels 7 and 8. Mac OS X Core Audio offers a scalable platform supporting 32-bit high-resolution audio, a plug-in architecture called Audio Units for DSP and Virtual Instruments, and plug-and-play connectivity for modern and legacy audio gear. Mac OS X Core Audio enables developers to offer audio plug-ins in a more centralized manner (called Audio Units), simplifying system management. Apple includes several Audio Units plug-ins with Mac OS X, including a Velocity Engine-optimized reverb and a sample rate converter.
Previously, Mac OS required third party software to manage and control electronic musical instruments via MIDI and some archaic MIDI management program such as Free MIDI or the never great OMS. Mac OS X integrates MIDI Services directly into the operating system for increased stability and performance. Audio MIDI Setup allows you to easily manage your MIDI needs and define a system-wide MIDI configuration that is available to all of your applications. Mac OS X includes a Velocity Engine-optimized Virtual Instrument compatible with both the industry standard DownLoadable Sounds (DLS) format and SoundFonts. The Mac synthesizer provides applications with high quality, low latency sample playback as well as control for filters and envelopes.
The computer I reviewed included a 23-inch “Cinema” display that truly makes long hours in front of a monitor a pleasure. The screen looks fantastic and has amazing resolution.
The word that most effectively describes the performance of the G5 is smooth. The speed of the processor doesn’t always translate to the user simply as speed but rather as efficient, smooth and reliable operation. I initially put the G5 to work running Pro Tools to track a concert by the group Mercy Me and had wonderful results. During my tests several days before the concert, I had problems getting the system to record more than 40 continuous minutes. After some troubleshooting, I discovered that in the G5 Energy Saver control panel the processor speed defaulted to “automatic.” I changed the setting to “highest” and the problem was solved. I recorded the 90 minute concert to 46 tracks and had no problems at all. I also recorded a dress rehearsal to another 46 tracks, ending up with 92 tracks, each 90 minutes long. I mixed the show as one complete audio file and I wanted to have the dress rehearsal in the same session so I could have an optional performance if there were any mistakes. I discovered that with 92 tracks running 1.5 hours, the system performed better than my G4 running a 5 minute, 32-track session. One minor complaint I have with the G5 is its new keyboard layout. All of the function keys run together as opposed to my G4 keyboard which has a space between F4 and F5 and between F8 and F9. I constantly use function keys F1-F8 while working in Pro Tools and even after three weeks of work on the G5, I still can’t get comfortable with this new layout.
The G5 I reviewed included the latest version of Logic which I put to work on a Chris Mosher remix and was thoroughly pleased with the performance. I anticipate that Apple’s ownership of Emagic will improve the Mac’s ability to work with music applications and music applications (especially those released by Emagic) ability to work with the Macs. I used Logic with the built-in digital I/O and it worked wonderfully. The digital I/O is accessed through CoreAudio, so all audio applications (except for ProTools) can use it. When it was all said and done, I had successfully installed and run Pro Tools, MOTU DP4, Steinberg Nuendo 2.0 and Logic on the G5 without any complications at all. I also had perfect results using the TC Powercore with the G5.
One feature that I liked on my G4 that is missing in this G5 is the ability to turn the machine on from the keyboard. I keep my computers and tape machines in a machine room and love being able to turn the computer on by pressing a switch on the keyboard.
The dual 2GHz G5 is the best computer that I’ve ever used. The machine is lightning fast, it’s quiet and it has built in digital I/O making it the ultimate machine for audio professionals. OS X is designed for optimum performance with the G5 processor, providing a seamless transition to 64-bit power.