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What the Muses Deign: What is and what will be

By Porruka ( June 29, 2003

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The G5 is finally here. It’s an ass-kicking machine in nearly all respects. Sure, there’s some controversy about the benchmarking, but would we as Mac users and press know how to react if there weren’t? And what about availability? There was a quick sigh at the keynote when we found out about the wait, but Jobs didn’t dwell long enough to let the news sink in and to be honest, it’s not really come up in discussions at the show. Many of us hoped Apple would pull that particular rabbit out of the hat, but after pulling two squirrels and ferret, it’s not like we didn’t have enough to look at.

The Performance

Even allowing that benchmarks really are just a subset of statistics, the PowerMac G5 is a screamer. Past history suggests that Apple would couple a fast chip with less capable parts to make a system that showed compromise. Perhaps in a move that really tells how frustrated Apple was with Motorola, this system doesn’t hold back on anything. Every major element of the motherboard has been updated to allow the G5 to start fast and grow from there.

The Pricing

Ever since the 970 chip was announced and the speculation started about the machines Apple would build to use them, there was the question about a “workstation class” Mac, complete with workstation pricing. A resounding “no” (or at least, “not now”) is the answer there. These machines are still safely within the price range of the primary target for most of the pro boxes. That Apple is able to do this while bringing in standard-but-not-common parts tells much about their relationship with IBM (who is not only providing the PPC970 but is also fabricating some of Apple’s custom chips on the motherboard). The pro towers typically are some of the company’s best machines in terms of profit margins; it’s not likely that profitability has been sacrificed given that demand will likely be high.

The Direction

When was the last time Steve Jobs actually said something in public about future products? 3Ghz in the next year? Between likely motherboard, memory, hard drive improvements, and the announcement of speed boosts to the CPU itself, the professional Mac line stands to really launch itself back into the limelight. Quibbles about benchmarking will certainly fall to the wayside (except for a few people who really have too much time on their hands) because, as always, the Mac is more about getting work done than having the fastest number on an arbitrary benchmark. Benchkmarks do help you get into the ballpark (are you comparing a C-64 to an iMac?) but once you have comparable machines, real world usage really should be the concern. From everything that’s been shown, the G5 is a winner.

The end of the story?

There’s quite a bit more to the G5’s performance gains than hardware. Once developers have a chance to really apply their skills to the platform and learn the tricks and tips of not only how to use the faster hardware but to take advantage of the performance optimizations in the OS itself (and there are many), applications stand to get a real boost as well. Some of these improvements will come for free in Panther and some will require application-side code changes. However, it’s clear that from the hardware to the software, the theme of this year’s conference is performance. Make sure you tell your favorite application vendor that you want them to pay attention.

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