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Apple's new Power Mac Quad G5 is built for speed

Apple's new Power Mac Quad G5 is built for speed

I recently had an hour to work with Apple's new Power Mac Quad G5 and - for anyone in the broadcast, sciences, music, print or photographic industries - I have some advice: Place your orders now!

The latest Power Mac, unveiled last month and now shipping in limited quantities, offers substantial architecture improvements over its predecessor that deliver exponential performance increases - depending on the application being used or function performed.

In addition to the use of dual dual-core G5 processors, the underlying upgrades are numerous, so I'll just list them here and then offer some commentary.

The dual-core technology now used in the top-end Power Mac G5 puts two processors on one silicon wafer, with each processor allocated 1MB of L2 cache. The result is twice the computing power in the same space.

In a dual-processor, dual-core, machine you've got four processors, four 128-bit velocity engines and eight graphics processing units. The speed increase on any computing work that can be broken up into parallel processing is exponential.

Real-world performance throttles back a bit due to disk I/O, but the increase in speed is immediately noticeable. I witnessed Final Cut Pro effects applied in real-time to eight video streams, and performance was barely affected. It must have something to do with the total RAM throughput being 8.5Gbps. It's also worth noting that Mac OS X 10.4 and the G5 architecture can support up to 4TB of RAM. The machine isn't built to hold that much, since 99.9 per cent of the user base couldn't afford it, but if you fill the 533MHz Double Data Rate 2 RAM Error Correction Code slots with the full 16GB on memory the box can currently hold, you have still got quite a screamer.

PCI Express Bus

The Power Mac G5 now supports PCI Express. Each processor core has direct access to the front-side bus controller, and the new architecture supports 16, 250Mbps lanes for a total throughput of 4Gbps - almost twice as fast as a 133MHz PCI-X slot. There is 150 watts of power in the bus, enabling current and future high-end display cards to operate at peak performance.

In addition to the 16-lane graphics slot, the Power Mac G5 features three PCI Express expansion slots: two four-lane slots and one eight-lane slot. You can install a PCI-Express graphics card in any PCI Express slot, allowing a single Power Mac G5 to support four, six or even eight displays. There are PCI Express cards available for video from Blackmagic Design and Aja Video. National Instruments has cards for specialised scientific applications, and Digidesign announced that cards for its pro-tools systems are imminent.

On the graphics display, the Nvidia Quadro FX 4500 is amazingly fast, sporting 512MB of Synchronous Dynamic RAM just for the card, along with the requisite heat sinks and fan.

And the piping gives it a look reminiscent of a Harley. The stereoscopic viewing option for the card enables scientists to experience molecules and other complex objects in true 3-D. The 3-D system is also Maya-certified, and great for IMAX production work.

Other Improvements

Two independently configurable 10/100/1000BASE-T (Gigabit) Ethernet interfaces deliver tremendous networking bandwidth with no congestion between your network traffic and other I/O.

Each Gigabit Ethernet controller in the new Power Mac G5 supports jumbo frames. This also eliminates the need for Xsan users to give up a Peripheral Component Interconnect slot for a second Ethernet port.

The antenna for Bluetooth and 802.11 has been redesigned as a strip on the back of the computer, eliminating that pesky antenna nub that I've either lost or crushed against the wall more times than I'm willing to admit.

As I mentioned before, the improvements in speed in the new hardware are dramatic.

My After Effects projects ran more than 60 per cent faster compared with the Power Mac G5 with dual 2.5GHz processors, and Apple claims X-Code compiling is nearly 80 per cent faster than on earlier models. Final Cut Pro standard-definition rendering yielded results that were 50 per cent faster compared to the dual 2.5GHz machine.

Pricing

Is up from the previous dual-2.7GHz models, but it's a bargain when considering the additional processor cores - and the fact that a comparable Wintel configuration is almost double the cost.

There is no reason for any professional facility not to upgrade because the equipment cost will quickly be recouped in the form of higher productivity and the ability to serve more clients faster. And if that doesn't get you excited, just try Final Cut Pro, Aperture or rendering out a 3-D molecule on this machine. I guarantee you'll love it!

On an unrelated note, I have a quick follow-up to my last piece on Apple's Aperture software: I received many questions about the database that Aperture uses and whether the application can be connected to a SQL database to enable distributed workflow and field submissions.

Aperture stores all of the metadata in XML files that must be run as a local application. However, since the XML files are open and accessible, a plug-in/application could be written to transfer the RAW files to a SQL database as binary large objects (BLOB) and parse the XML files into the proper tables. I sense an opportunity for an enterprising developer.

Apple products are distributed by KH Distribution, Cellnet and Express Online.

RRP: $5299


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