New G5 a mighty leap forward

Apple: For graphics or video tasks, the new Power Mac G5 works with seemingly super powers.

October 23, 2003|By Jon Fortt | Jon Fortt,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Having Apple Computer's new Power Mac G5 around the office is like having a superhero assistant.

If you've got lots of graphics or video heavy lifting to do all at once, it's amazing. If you're just moving documents around, there are less muscle-bound machines that are probably more in your price range.

Apple sent me a juiced-up dual-processor 2-gigahertz G5 with AirPort and Bluetooth ($4,500 without monitor) last month. Yes, that machine is better than your average G5. But if you're going to get one, you might as well get one that screams.

First, I solicited opinions from the San Jose Mercury News graphics department, where they do illustrations, 3-D rendering and the occasional movie for internal use. The consensus was that the G5 is an impressive machine, so much so that I had to wait in line a couple of times before I could run my tests.

Particularly in tests of a G5-optimized version of Adobe Systems' Photoshop 7, I found the G5 outpaced a 1-GHz 17-inch PowerBook laptop most convincingly when it was either working with huge files or handling several computation-heavy tasks at once. The G5 managed to resize a 122-megabyte file up to 1.68 gigabytes in three minutes, while also smoothly playing a full-screen movie and compressing an edited DV movie to Quicktime format.

The PowerBook took three times as long just to resize the image, without the other tasks running in the background.

Generally speaking, the G5 was about six times faster than the PowerBook doing heavy-duty resizing, and more than twice as fast applying lighting effects and several other filters.

Apple says this machine will change the way people work. I'd have to agree. I sometimes had trouble thinking of realistic tasks trying to slow it down. The same scenario played out again and again in different situations with different programs. Having the G5 was like having three of Apple's most powerful G4 machines in one. The feats that the G5 pulled off were the computing equivalent of leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

So, yes, Apple's G5 delivers the performance leap the company promised. It not only smoked the 1-GHz PowerBook G4 in image and video-editing tests, it just embarrassed my trusty 667-MHz Power Mac G4. And the truth is, Apple's Power Mac sales have been so sluggish lately that a lot more people are probably thinking about upgrading from 667-MHz boxes than 1-GHz ones.

The dual 2-GHz models are just becoming widely available. The G5 that I wouldn't recommend is the low-end 1.6-GHz G5 (starting at $2,000), which uses slower memory, a slower bus and outdated PCI expansion instead of the faster PCI-X. You're better off paying an extra $400 for the 1.8-GHz machine. Once you consider that the 1.8-GHz G5 has twice the hard-drive space, you realize the low-end machine saves only about $275.

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