Power Macintosh G5: More AirPort headaches?

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
September 29th, 2003 • 9:52 pm

Every computer design involves hard choices. Obviously when Apple designed the original PowerBook G4 (the so-called Titanium PowerBook), they chose to sacrifice the computer’s AirPort range. AirPort range problems have plagued every generation of the TiBook, and that’s a clear indication that the problems with the first generation were not an accident. The TiBook was simply designed in such a way that AirPort range would be sub-par, and no amount of tinkering with the design could fix the problem. Only a brand new design would finally solve the problem, and that’s (presumably) what happened when Apple announced the new aluminium-based PowerBook G4 15″ design earlier this month.

The new design for the 15″ model brings it in line with other current PowerBook G4 designs (the 12″ and the 17″ models), which, as far as I can tell, are not plagued by the same AirPort range problems as the original PowerBook G4.

Now it appears that Apple has done it again, this time with the desktop line of Power Macintosh models. Based on a reader report on the G5 at MacInTouch.com, AirPort reception on the G5 is abysmal when compared to the G4 towers or ibooks. Even with the external antenna installed, this reader gets 15 feet of coverage, compared to 30-100 feet with the Power Mac G4 and 100-150 feet with the iBook.

If other readers confirm this report, it’s going to be very bad news for AirPort users again. Just like the original PowerBook G4, the G5 is a brand new design, which means that, in all likelihood, Apple will stick with it for a while. And it sounds like the problem with the AirPort range is, once again, caused by the computer design itself. After all, let’s not forget that the Power Mac G4 doesn’t even require an external antenna. The case is made of plastic.

The G5 enclosure, on the other hand, is made of “anodized aluminum alloy“. In other words, it’s metallic. Yes, it looks slick and “professional” and everything — but it obviously blocks AirPort radio waves.

The specs for the G5 make no mention of the machine’s AirPort range. They just say that the AirPort Extreme Card slot is “based on the IEEE 802.11g specification” and “802.11b Wi-Fi certified”.

Granted, AirPort range for a desktop machine is less important than for a portable computer. But 15 feet? Such a range is ridiculously low, and entirely defeats the purpose of using AirPort in the first place.

If this news were to be confirmed, it would mean that, once again, Apple has failed to achieve the appropriate balance between functionality and design.

We had the problem with the AirPort range of the TiBook. Then we had the problem with the Power Mac G4 MDD and noise. Are we really in for yet another Apple hardware embarrassment? It seems highly ironic that, in each case, the affected hardware is a pro-level model. These are machines that cost thousands of dollars and that Mac users rightfully expect to perform better than their consumer-level counterparts — not worse!

PS: Another report on MacInTouch.com on September 30 seems to indicate that the problem might be specific to the original poster’s situation. This other user is using his G5 as a Software Base Station and gets a range of approximately 100 feet, which is certainly acceptable.

11 Responses to “Power Macintosh G5: More AirPort headaches?”

  1. Pierre Igot says:

    As the current situation with AirPort in Panther indicates, there might also be software issues involved. But the fact that the G5’s casing is metallic does beg the question… Does Apple really want us to use Power Mac towers exclusively with hard-wired Ethernet? If so, why include an AirPort card slot then?

    Did you try fiddling with the external antenna that comes with the G5?

  2. k. hirtes says:

    My experience with airport reception is jst as described by Pierre, terrible. 15 feet is about right. I just received my G5. The logic board has already been exchanged. Now that want to surf I find that my reception is 2 bars over 30 feet. Not what I expected. My old G4 has four bars = full reception. Has anyone found a solution?

  3. k. hirtes says:

    Yes I did. I had a more experienced Apple user at my house last nght for several hours trying a number of things, including checking if the wire of the antenna was attached to the card (it was). The reason why we did this is the fact that my brand new G5 out of the box had a problem that resulted in the replace ment of the logic board. Apple refused to replace the unit!!
    I admit that the location of the G5 is difficult for reception (my cell phone has poor reception as well), but the question remains: How come my G4 has excellent reception right next to the G5? Other than the casing, what else has changed. Apple better find a solution relatively fast and help current owners of G5 towers. Your question of why offer an airport card is quite valid. The reception issue is very annoying to say the least. Hard wiring is not an easy option in my situation.

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    I went through exactly the same thing with my TiBook. Would get much better reception in the same location with a PowerBook G3. The issue was never really solved in a satisfactory fashion. Very annoying, and very disappointing. I am afraid the only thing that I can recommend is that you use Ethernet instead. At least you are not trying to use your G5 on your lap in your living room! (I hope.)

    I seriously doubt that Apple will do anything about this. They didn’t do anything about the TiBook (except deny that there was any problem).

  5. H Shimizu says:

    I’ve recently purchased Airport Extreme Base station and the card for my G5, only to discover the range is only about 3mm from the external antenna!!!

    My G5 is out of warranty and the Apple tech support will not discuss any issues relating to my G5.

    Anybody got the solution to this out there?

  6. Pierre Igot says:

    Did you try the Base Station with another computer equipped with AirPort? And the card in another computer?

    Unfortunately, if the problem is with the G5 itself and it’s out of warranty, there’s not much Apple can do for you. But you need to rule out the Base Station and the card first as possible culprits first.

    Also, make sure your card is correctly connected to the G5’s built-in antenna. I am not familiar with the insides of a G5, but typically the card needs to be in its slot WITH a cable from inside the computer connected to its antenna port (small round jack on side of card).

  7. H Shimizu says:

    I thought it was the base station / Airport Extreme Card initially so I received replacement for both parts. The end result was the same and I came to my previous conclusions.

    The Extreme card did not come with the cable you’re talking about. I will check this out later when I get back home. Do you know if I can obtain the cable from Apple?


  8. Pierre Igot says:

    No, the antenna cable is built into your G5’s enclosure. It should be hanging inside your machine close to the AirPort card slot. Unless things are different in the G5 or with AirPort Extreme. I don’t know. I am not familiar with the more recent Apple hardware.

  9. H Shimizu says:

    Thanks Pierre Igot! I’ve got the Airport working properly. I am getting around 15 feet range too though…

  10. Pierre Igot says:

    Glad you got things working… Unfortunately, when it comes to the actual achievable range, I can’t help you much. 15 feet doesn’t sound like much. You should at least get 50 feet. But everyone’s situation is different: orientation, building materials, actual hardware used, etc.

    I have never been able to achieve more than 25-30 feet with my old Titanium PowerBook and a regular AirPort Base Station. But it is a limitation of the TiBook itself, because of its metallic enclosure… although Apple never did officially admit it.

  11. Ty Ford says:

    OK, here’s a fix that works for me. I wrapped a few inches of relatively fine copper wire around the antenna T (the flat top part) and raised the remaining 3-4 feet straight up and tied it off to a non-conductive piece of wood in the closet where the G5 is.

    Before I was getting marginal results, especially when I was at my desk because I was sitting between the T and the Airport some 30 feet away.

    Indicator would go down to 1-2. Now with the door closed and G5 and wire inside the closet, I’m getting a solid 4 at about 30 feet and through a wall.

    My airport is an original, not an extreme..

    Remember rabbit ears and tin foil? Cheaper than an extender cable or amp.


    Ty Ford

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