Review of the Mac G5
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 Review of the Mac G5

 

A Great Machine for Creative People

 

by Tweak
Reviewed:  Apple Powerbook G5 1.8GHZ Dual Processor

Pros

  • Clean and elegant design, few wires
  • Lots of power under the hood for audio, plugins, soft synths
  • Incredibly Quiet machine

Cons

  • Not as fast as the ads would have you believe
  • less-than-productive mouse and keyboard
Info

G5 Info at Apple.com

 

The Apple PowerMac 2.5 GHz Desktop Computer

"The Quad"

Hardware for the G5

 

Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) 828MKII Firewire 24/96 Audio Interface (Macintosh and Windows)

The 828mkII contains everything you need to turn your computer into a powerful 24-bit, 96kHz digital audio workstation. The 828mkII provides 10 channels of pristine 96kHz analog recording and playback, combined with 8 channels of ADAT digital I/O and stereo S/PDIF. Expand your system by connecting additional 828 or 896 FireWire audio interfaces.  Tweak: I am using this with good results on the G5

RME Fireface 800 Firewire Audio Interface  After more than 2 years of development, the time has come: RME presents the Fireface 800, the world's most powerful FireWire audio interface ever. Up to 56 channels record/playback, up to 192 kHz sample rate, and true FireWire 800 sum up to an unsurpassed high-end, high performance and high speed FireWire audio interface.  Tweak:  Used by audio professionals with the G5

 

Universal Audio UAD1 Ultra Pak DSP Card (Macintosh and Windows) The UAD-1 Ultra PAK is designed for the most demanding DAW professional who needs premium sonic quality for mixing and mastering applications and wants the largest and best-value UA plug collection in one convenient bundle. The Ultra PAK includes the award-winning UAD-1 DSP card plus a complete suite of 24 powered plug-ins including all the classic UA vintage emulations.  Tweak:  These are hardware assisted audio processors for critical sound development and mastering work.

MAudio Firewire 410 Mobile Recording Interface

FireWire 410 is a FireWire-compatible audio/MIDI interface that has it all—power, flexibility, compact size and low price. Its 4-in/10-out configuration with preamps is perfect for personal recording, routing discrete outputs to a mixer, or directly driving a surround sound system.

Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) MIDI Express 128 8x8 Bus Powered Interface  Built from the same technology found in MOTU’s flagship MIDI Timepiece, the MIDI Express 128 is a professional MIDI interface that provides plug-andplay connectivity to any USB-equipped Macintosh or Windows computer. The Express 128 provides 8 MIDI IN, 9 MIDI OUT, 128 MIDI channels and compatibility with all Macintosh and Windows software.

   

The amount of effort it takes to switch music platforms is immense, especially if one has been doing it for a while.  For me, I had 10 years under my belt on the PC platform using Logic Audio platinum as my sequencer for all of them.  When Apple bought out Emagic I had to move as well, despite expensive forays into Sonar 2 and 3 and Cubase SX.  But when the G5's hit the street, I knew my PC number was up and when Apple brought out the 1.8 GHz Dual processor G5's, I knew there was one with my name on it. For me, the purchase was an inevitable as the sun rising while composing music.  That was over 18 months ago.  I am happy to report I am even more enthusiastic now about Apple's computer line.

 

Out of the Box: 

 

When I opened the box to the G5 I was struck at how heavy it was and how it needs so few cables to set up.  Behind my PC is a living nightmare of thick beige cables.  The G5 has very few, just USB, Firewire, audio, Ethernet, video  and power.  The inside is even cleaner.  There are no internal cables to fight with when installing things, unless you count the one inch cables to the 160gb hard drive.  There's a slot already made for a second one.  Installing Ram was my next activity.  I found out the ram was under the fan and it had to be removed.  "Oh no, I thought"  But removing the fan required no tools, just open the hatch, take off the plastic liner, and gently pull the large fan out. It's a snap-in job. There were the ram chips and installing them was as easy as it ever was; the fan snapped back in, and I was done.

 

I turned on the machine and the fans revved up and then went silent.  Oh gosh. I though, I must have already broke the fans!  So i stuck my ear to the g5's industrial steel perforated front grill and realized they were blowing.  Whew!  They were just really, really quiet.    Ok, I'm sitting here typing right now.  The G5 is 1 foot away from my right leg.  I can't hear it because the PC, 50 feet away and in the next room, is drowning it out.  No kidding.  I am thrilled I don't have to move the G5 out there with it.  I can record in the room with it on.  My e5000 which also has to be in the room is at least twice as loud. 

So far, so good.  Now lets get to the issue of speed. 

 

The Fastest Computer?

 

I'm not going to candy-coat this review.  There are things about the G5 (and Mac Os X) that trouble me. I've been saving these up for you and here they are.  Is it the fastest computer in the world? Umm... I doubt it. Can it run rings around a typical windows PC in terms of how fast you can work?  Absolutely not.  On Panther, (OS 10.3) I was less than happy with how slow graphics were and how sluggish it is to resize windows with lots of screen objects.   However, graphics have improved considerably with the release of Tiger (10.4).  I am satisfied with the graphic performance at this point. 

 

Speaking of Mice and Men, the G5 comes with a cute, one button altogether "boutique" mouse.  Hey, Apple, we got work to do! Since most of the Mac programs do let you right click to access context menus, why they included such an obviously unproductive 1-button mouse is a real head-banger. Then there is the keyboard.  Its is a great size, no wasted space, nice for those tight studios that have to negotiate space with a MIDI keyboard.  But, unfortunately, it's mushy as all get out, like their are little pillows under each key. Take a close look at the keys. The top of each keycap is larger than a typical Microsoft keycap.  So what?  Well, just start counting up the number of mistakes you will make with these keys being so big 'n square.  I'd estimate 10% more errors for your average bad typist.  Another unnecessary slowdown.  Thankfully you can replace the mouse and keyboard but make sure you find a keyboard that will open/close the CD/DVD drive.  There is no other button anywhere that does this. 

 

Power under the hood.  Where the G5 does not disappoint is in its tremendous reserve of CPU power and the speed of it's busses.  This is the main reason I wanted a G5, to run soft synths and plugins, big and heavy ones. I have not been disappointed here. Latency is very good with a MOTU 828mk2.   My old PC, with a 1.4 GHz AMD processor, would always have a little trouble with Reaktor session and Atmosphere, and even Kontakt would get on the fence if i used too many of them.  Those days are gone now.  The G5 cuts through Atmosphere's biggest instruments with no sweat and i can stack 'em, rack 'em chain 'em as much as I want.  Logic doesn't even blink.  Thanks to the 2 processors, audio doesn't get stressed.  To get Logic's performance meter over 50% you have to really throw a lot of big stuff at it and push it hard.  I could not be more pleased.  If you like to tweak processors with your audio, you will love what the G5 can do for your music.

 

OS X:

 

The Mac G5 comes with the latest Mac OS--OS X 10.4 (Tiger) which you will upgrade to 10.4.2 (or whatever the latest is when you read this) right after you turn it on the first time. G5s come with the altogether fantastic i-life '05 software package, which is a suite of applications including iTunes, iPhoto, iDVD, iMovie and one that does not begin with a "i".  That's GarageBand.  For computer musicians beginning and advanced, GarageBand is a killer app.  One that makes buying the machine worthwhile, right out of the box, without buying anything else.  GarageBand is reviewed here. 

 

So how cool is Panther compared to Windows XP?  It's different, that is for sure.  Its much easier to find things in OS X than it is in Windows once one gets used to the way the windows work.  I've not had a single crash on my Mac since installing Tiger.  Windows XP only crashes on me once every 2 months if that.  Individual applications crash even more frequently.  Fortunately, there is a great "force quit" feature in OS X which is far more effective than the windows task manager when you have an application hang. 

 

When you buy into a computer platform, the compelling reason is software.  Apple does not disappoint the audio enthusiast here.  Just a look at my dock shows Logic Pro 7.1, Cubase SX3, Digital performer 4, Bias Peak, SoundTrack pro, Ableton live, Reason, Recycle, nearly everything Native Instruments has out, Autosampler and all the stuff you need for PC document compatibly, MS Office in particular.  You can even run Virtual PC on the G5s now and run a full fledged winXP or 2000 if you want.  You might not need to, as networking with PCs is easy.Moving to the Mac now is probably a little easier than when i did it.  Applications are fully conversant with OSX now and are at a mature state.  Plugins have made the changeover long ago. 

 

 

The Benefits

 

Despite my long history on PCs I am sold on the Mac platform.  Not for speed, but mainly for what it does not do that windows does.  1. Crash  2. Be susceptible to bizarre forms of malware, viruses, and spyware.  3. Require constant maintenance, tweaking and optimizing.  I rarely have to do anything to my G5, except get work done which there is no shortage of here at the lab. 

 

Audio interfaces  Mac OSX now allows you to use multiple audio interfaces by defining them as an "aggregate device".  This brings all you i/o of all your core audio devices into your applications, making it much easier to build a huge audio system with connections to all your outboard gear. 

 

Plenty of solid music software:  When you buy into a computer platform, the compelling reason is software.  Apple does not disappoint the audio enthusiast here.  Just a look at my dock shows Logic Pro 7.1, Cubase SX3, Digital performer 4, Bias Peak, SoundTrack pro, Ableton live, Reason, Recycle, nearly everything Native Instruments has out, Autosampler and all the stuff you need for PC document compatibly, MS Office in particular.  You can even run Virtual PC on the G5s now and run a full fledged winXP or 2000 if you want.  You might not need to, as networking with PCs is easy. Moving to the Mac now is probably a little easier than when i did it.  Applications are fully conversant with OSX now and are at a mature state.  Plugins have made the changeover long ago. 

 

Another benefit is Mac OS 10.4 (Tiger) itself.  The new search engine, called Spotlight, will make you windows file search utility look like it was made in the 90s.  (Ooops, it was!).  It is redefining the way i think about computer's organization.  Instead of thinking "Which partition is that song i saved on?"  You just type in a few letters of the name and there is is.  Rather than opening up windows to various parts of your hard drive, you just search one time for certain file types, like .wav, then save the search.  Now you have a directory of .wav files that is always there and updates itself automatically when you open it.  Sure, windows can do that if you have 5-20 minutes, depending on how many drives you have.  But why wait.  Plus the OS looks, feels and behaves in a friendly fashion. 

 

Concluding for now

 

The goal for many of us is to make art in some form with the aid of our computers.  We have high needs for speed and power, and ideally, want a machine that puts technical details where they belong, in the background.  When i write a song I want to think about the song, the scale, the key, which instruments to use, whether I should transpose the break up one semitone or down two.  I don't want to think about CPU/Ram utilization, latency, software buffer size or where the heck that great string sample went.  Can the G5 work as a DAW?  You bet!  The G5 is a machine made for people who want to create.  That's the company line, and I only repeat it here because I think it is true.

 

 

 

Want to Discuss the G5?  Visit the Studio central Mac Forum

 

More Hardware Reviews by Tweak

 

Using a Mac pro as Your DAW
Using a G5 as your DAW
Using an Apple TV as an Audio Archiver
Audio Interfaces For your Mac
Is it Time to go Mac Yet?
MOTU 896MK3 Review
MOTU 828mk2 Review
History of Logic
Logic Studio 9 Review
Logic (Mackie) Control
Review iLife and GarageBand
iLife 6
Using SoundTrack Pro

 

 


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