December 14th, 2005 • 11:06 am
I had a pretty good year work-wise and my Power Macintosh G4 (MDD) is now three years old. When the G5 Quad was announced, I figured that now would be a good time to buy a new machine. The G5 is a mature architecture, the dual core processors are a nice performance boost, and this machine will be one of the last that are able to run Classic, which might still come in handy in the next few years in my Mac troubleshooting work.
I am also reasonably optimistic that most applications I use will be available in native PowerPC versions for years to come—whereas several of them will probably run in emulation mode on the new Intel-based Macs, at least in the beginning. My next machine (after the G5 Quad) will obviously be an Intel-based Mac. (It actually will probably be an Intel-based laptop for my wife, whose five-year-old PowerBook G4 Titanium is feeling rather slow these days.) But this approach, from my perspective, will give Apple time to complete the transition and have a mature Intel-based platform when I make the move.
Believe it or not, I had also been dreaming of having more screen space for my work. (Until yesterday, I was using a dual monitor setup with an Apple Cinema HD 23″ as the main display and an Apple Studio 17″ as the secondary display.) So I decided to really indulge and get a 30″ screen as well, especially since Apple had just cut the price again.
I also ordered 4 gigabytes of RAM from CanadaRAM.com (to add to the measly 512 MB that comes with the machine) and a second 500 GB hard drive from DirectDial (to add to the single 250 GB that comes with the machine).
The 30″ display, extra RAM, and hard drive arrived within a few days in mid-November, but the estimated ship date for the G5 was December 7. I got the e-mail notification that it was shipping on November 30 by Same-Day Courier, but when checking the Same-Day Courier tracking system, I discovered that “same day” actually meant… December 12. They should probably change their company’s name if they expect to do business with me in the future. (In all fairness, maybe part of the problem is with Apple itself, since the tracking only began on December 8 in Ottawa. But still…)
Anyway, I finally got the G5 on Monday evening. The weather is pretty cold and nasty these days in Nova Scotia and I decided to let the machine get to room temperature overnight. I installed it yesterday, and here are my first impressions.
It’s the kind of thing that might not be noticed in a large office environment, but here in my home office I usually notice it when I get a new machine: They smell. It’s not an unpleasant smell, and it goes away after a few days, but it’s definitely not “natural,” and I’d rather avoid getting exposed to chemicals whenever I can. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the smell of this new machine is very faint, and is actually already barely noticeable 24 hours later. I suspect it has to do with the fact that a good part of the machine’s materials are metal and not plastic.
One of my main concerns after the traumatizing experience with the G4 (MDD) was noise levels. When I visited my brother in France earlier this year, he had a one-year-old G5 and I was able to check the noise level in his home office environment. (He previously had a Quicksilver G4 and found it quite noisy too.) The noise level of his G5 was very reasonable, so I was rather optimistic. On the other hand, the machine now has 2 dual-core G5 processors clocked at 2.5 GHz. But it also has a liquid cooling system… Noise levels are a very subjective thing, and I knew that I would only know for sure once I got the machine up and running in my office. So, what’s the initial verdict? Well, this G5 is definitely much quieter than the G4 (MDD). It’s still not as quiet as I would like it to be—there is significantly less white noise than with the G4, but on the other hand that makes the low level “hum” of the machine more noticeable—but it’s much better, and I suspect that, in the long term, it will be a much more pleasant computing experience than the G4. When the G4 is on in the same room, I definitely can barely hear the G5 at all. On the other hand, the SuperDrive is very noisy—noisier than the ones I have in my G4, I think. Fortunately, it’s not a device that I will be using very frequently, so it’s not too big of a deal for me. As for the internal hard drive, it seems to be a bit noisier than the ones in my G4, but that could be because the noise of the machine itself doesn’t drown out the noise of the hard drive. It’s definitely not an issue for me. In my experience using the machine so far, the internal temperature as detected by Temperature Monitor has remained constant at 38 degrees Celsius—which is to be compared to the average temperature reported on the G4, which is around 55 degrees! Of course, it might not be a good comparison, as the temperature sensors might be in totally different locations. But it certainly is encouraging to see that the temperature remains relatively low. I can’t feel big waves of heat coming out of the back of the machine like I can with the G4!
One of the big surprises of the new 30″ display is how much brighter it is than my three-and-a-half-year-old 23″ display. I suppose that the brightness of the 23″ has decreased over time, but it still seemed pretty bright to me—until I installed the 30″ next to it! The built-in video card in the G5 Quad has no trouble driving both a 30″ and a 23″ at the same time, so I have them side-by-side in a dual monitor setup, and it’s pretty nice. But I actually have to turn the brightness down on the 30″, so that the contrast with the 23″ is not too great! I also have not noticed any dead pixels on the new 30″ (I have a single one on the 23″) and, well, having so much screen real estate is really nice. I will particularly enjoy it in GarageBand, where, even with the 23″, I still had to do a lot of horizontal scrolling.
This is my first experience with the infamous Mighty Mouse. I had a Kensington Mouse-In-A-Box Optical Wireless Rechargeable with the G4. With all the negative reviews that I had read about the Mighty Mouse, I expected worse. It’s actually not bad. I like the small scroll “pea” and the fact that scrolling with it requires so little effort with the index finger. I do miss the two side buttons on the Kensington mouse, however, which I use for Page Up and Page Down. And I definitely had to turn off the default behaviour of the scroll “pea” as a button (it brings up Dashboard), because I would trigger it accidentally far too often. The Kensington mouse’s behaviour is also easier to customize with the Kensington software. I am still undecided about whether I will keep the Mighty Mouse or switch back to the Kensington. We’ll see.
There’s one thing that I definitely do not like about the recent Apple keyboards (the white models): the fact that there is no separation between the function keys at the top. They are all in a row, whereas they were separated in groups of four in previous keyboards. But I might get used to it. The keyboard itself is definitely “smoother” and more responsive than my three-year-old G4 keyboard. And it’s free of cat hair, which is a big bonus. (The old G4 keyboard is in see-through plastic, and the accumulation of cat hair in unreachable places under the clear plastic is not a pretty sight.)
I haven’t spend much time examining the insides of the G5, but I had to open it up a few times to install the extra RAM and hard drive (more on that below). You do get the sense that it really is a mature design. The RAM slots are not as easy to reach as they could be (you have to remove a couple of fans), but it’s not really a big issue. I am not convinced about the hard drive bays, though. The fact that you can slide the hard drives in instead of having to secure them with screws (the G5 includes plastic screws with round heads that go where the screws would normally go, and the round heads slide into plastic guides in the drive bays) is nice, but I found it very difficult to get the hard drives out of their bays. Fortunately, it’s not something I will have to do on a regular basis (although I have already had to do it more than once: see below).
I was hoping to be able to use the FireWire Target Disk mode to transfer stuff from my G4 to the G5. Unfortunately, I have several internal hard drives in my G4 and when I put it in Target Disk mode, only one of the drives showed up on the G5. So I ended up having to use an external FireWire hard drive to transfer things just the same. It was a bit disappointing, but not a huge issue. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could transfer most of my third-party applications by simply copying them, instead of having to reinstall them from the original CDs. I already had most third-party applications on a separate partition on my G4, and I opted for the same approach on the G5. I divided the drive into three partitions: System, Applications, and Documents. And I copied most of my third-party applications from the G4 partition to the Applications partition on the G5. I took the necessary precautions, copying essential files on the startup volume (including all Microsoft preferences for Office and a number of files for Adobe applications), and it worked just fine for the most part. So I ended up only having to apply a number of system updates to the G5. (It came with Mac OS X 10.4.2, and was missing a number of other recent updates as well.)
- Hard Drive
I didn’t install the third-party stuff (RAM and hard drive) right away. I wanted to make sure that the G5 Quad was running fine with only its built-in stuff. It was. I then installed the RAM and the hard drive. There were no problems with the RAM. (I bought the cheaper non-ECC kind.) Unfortunately, the hard drive was a major problem. It turns out that the model I chose—a Seagate 7200.9 500 GB—has a major incompatibility with the G5. The G5 simply can’t see the drive. I phoned Seagate’s tech support, and discovered that it was a known issue. The tech support person offered to send a fix by e-mail. I was glad to hear it would be easy to fix. But it turns out that the fix is for Windows only, and involves creating two diskettes (!) and booting from the diskettes with a PC on which the Seagate drive is the only hard drive present. Argh! I was soon back on the phone with Seagate, and the second person I spoke too admitted that it wasn’t very nice of the first person to send me this “fix” knowing full well that I was using a Mac G5. It’s a compatibility problem with G5 computers, and the fix is Windows-only! Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like Seagate will be coming out with a Mac OS X-based fix any time soon, so I am stuck with a drive that I cannot use and cannot fix. The Seagate representative said that their engineers were aware of the issue and were going to provide Mac-compatible drives and that they would get back to me. I am hoping for a phone call today. Otherwise, I’ll be making a call myself, and they will get a real sense of my feelings about the whole thing. (There was no indication of such problems when I bought the drive, and I chose this one because of my previous positive experiences with Seagate drives and the fact that they come with a five-year warranty.)
So there we are. My work environment is now fully restored on this new machine, and everything is running well. The speed benefits will be experienced over time, as I go through the various tasks that I normally go through in my work and play. But for now I am pretty pleased with the purchase, and really enjoying all that extra screen real estate.