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Apple Power Mac G5 Quad and 30" Display
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Apple Quad G5 and 30" display

Apple Power Mac G5 Quad and 30" Display
(image courtesy of Apple)

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I've spent the past two years on my 12" 800 MHz G4 iBook laptop, which is all I need for photography. You can read about the newest ones here.

I just sold my unused dual G4 desktop system, and at the same time got bottlenecked trying to run numerous Lens Distortion Correction filters for my review of digital wide zooms. This PhotoShop filter takes a lot of processing power, and I wasn't just doing one shot and dropping in a value as I do for photography. I had dozens of shots and had to tweak each one to get the numbers for my upcoming review of digital wide zooms.

I decided with all the hours a day I spend adding to this site for all you folks, along with some of the generous help I've gotten, that I couldn't afford not to have gotten a more powerful machine. The more powerful machine helps me write more for all you folks faster.

I went whole-hog and got a Quad 2.5GHz PowerMac G5 and Apple's 30" screen. I love it!

I pay for all this myself. No one gives me anything.



Opening the boxes is always a pleasure. Apple thinks about everything.

I read the manuals before setup. It was trivial. Just plug it in.

The only trick was Apple's suggestion to install the software for the 30" display, which was on a CD. It seemed to work OK without it, but I did it anyway.

The wildest thing was how fast it was to transfer all my work. I usually take a couple of weeks to move into a new machine to move all my data, programs, plugins and preferences.

I simply clicked a button when I turned on the new Quad G5 and it sucked everything in from my laptop. It took an hour or two to transfer 40GB of data, during which I went out and shot some pictures. It did this all by itself!

I clicked Software Update on the new machine, and it got and installed all the latest software. You should remember to do this, since it's not automatic. If you forget (as I did) some things run funny. This is because everything just transferred from my laptop was expecting to see the latest operating system, and my new Mac shipped with a slightly older one. The Software Update function takes care of this immediately and for free. Click the blue Apple at the top left and select Software Update. Easy.

Apple must have created the disk image for these machines in October 2005 when they were introduced. It came with the 2005 iLife programs installed, and a disk with the 2006 versions. I did have to install the latest 2006 iLife '06 suite.

PhotoShop CS2 transferred over perfectly. I had to reauthorize it. I only had to do that because I swapped a hard drive in my laptop which made Adobe think I had already installed it twice before.

I had to reinstall Dreamweaver 8, which also has tightly controlled authorization. I didn't have to reenter my serial number and all my preferences and settings were all there. EASY!

That was last night at 5PM. It's 9AM the next day and I'm already writing about it.

Apple Quad G5

Apple Power Mac G5 Quad Modern Industrial Sculpture (image courtesy of Apple)


The inside of my Quad G5 amazes me. It's beautiful, even on the inside. Every other computer just looks like a computer on the inside.

This reminds me of a story I read in an Apple history book. Back in the 1970s there was a time when Steve Jobs, who's always been concerned with art, was disappointed that a circuit board for a new Apple computer looked so haphazard. Connectors and wires ran willy-nillly with no sense of order or beauty. He asked that the board's layout be cleaned up. The designers explained that the layout was done that way to equalize propagation times, but Steve still insisted they try one iteration with a clean looking layout. They tried, it didn't work, so they went back to the ugly way.

Someone asked Steve why he cared if no one would ever see inside the computer. Steve explained that when a skilled carpenter makes a chest of drawers he finishes the inside even though no one else ever sees it. The skilled craftsman does it because even though no one else ever sees it, the craftsman knows it's there.

When I saw the inside of the G5 I had this incredible revelation that Apple finally got the insides to look great, too, even though no one ever sees it. Coming from a background in design myself it really hit me just how much thought and effort goes into these machines.

Add some RAM and it becomes even more apparent. The outside cover slides off when you unlatch it. Unlike a Dell's crappy stampings, there are three precision machined levers that slide over to release the cover. Everything is done with great precision.

There's a diagram on the inside of the cover that shows you the next step. You take one finger and slide out the fan assembly. That's the gray box to the left of the CPUs with the big G5 on them. You pop the RAM into the slots on the left. Easy and elegant.

The PowerMac G5 is a work of functional sculpture. You can spend money at the MoMA store, or spend the same money and get something even more beautiful and functional. Apple products are on display at MoMA.

How Much RAM is Enough?

I ordered my Quad G5 with the base 512MB RAM. I then bought 8GB of more RAM from our local Chip Merchant. I've been buying my memory from them for 15 years. They still had the best price. Apple charges twice what third parties do. I wasn't sure how much I needed, and my time for a return trip to buy more costs me abotu what 4 GB cost, so I went all out for 8 GB. (The Quad can take 16 GB.)

Having blown over a grand on RAM I see in Activity Monitor that my Quad G5 almost never uses more than 2.2 GB. If I was doing this again I'd only add 2GB to the base 512MB. This will give 2.5 GB total and be more than I ever use, running PhotoShop, Dreamweaver, Text Edit, iTunes, Mail, iView and many windows of Safari all at once. My loss is your gain: now we know how much to buy.

Photoshop itself only can talk to up to 3 GB of RAM. Adobe has a page here which, about 3/4 of the way down, discusses how much memory PhotoShop can access on different operating systems. On Mac OS 10.3 and newer it can use up to 8 GB when it uses the amont over 3GB for scratch discs.

I can use all 8 GB of RAM if I open several huge images in PhotoShop and resample them to insanely large sizes. Activity monitor never shows PhotoShop as using more than 2.67GB of RAM. The rest of the RAM is used by Photoshop as a scratch disc before using the hard drive. This really speeds it up. Set PhotoShop's memory usage to 100% if you have 8GB RAM. It won't use more than 3GB for the program itself, but will allow it to use your excess RAM as a scratch disc.


I also got a huge 30" display, which is half the reason I got a new machine. See my 30" Apple Cinema Display page.


I only have 512MB RAM and it already runs very, very well. I'm on my way out to get a whole lot more so I can crank on all the programs I do at the same time.

I'm back with 8 GB. That's probably more than I need, but I didn't feel like making another trip. Photoshop maxes out at 3 - 4 GB and the rest will be shared by everything else. 4 GB would have been more than plenty. I got by with 1.12 GB on my iBook.

Like everything Apple, it just runs. My 12" laptop runs a lot of things at once and never misses a beat either. My iBook can import CDs for my wife's iPod at 4x real time, my Quad guzzles it down at 15x real time. This is a measure of how fast iTunes can compress the audio, not the speed of the reader.


My iBook laptop wakes from sleep faster than I can flip it open.

My Quad G5 takes about 12 seconds to awake from sleep.


When the MacBook laptop was announced I thought I'd get one of those and a 30" screen. That way I could work at home on a big screen and just head out the door to work in the field. The new MacBook seemed perfect, until I read that it won't run some of my software.

I recognized this as the same science-fair fiasco that OS X was when it first came out. It took a couple of years until all the software was available to run correctly in OS X.

I decided to get the top of the traditional Macs which runs all my software perfectly. Even if an Intel PowerMac comes out next week the software, even Apple's own, isn't written for it yet.

I'm going to ride this out with my Quad G5, and in a year or two if the software gets ironed out for the Intel processors I might consider a newer machine. I usually use my machines for a good many years. Have a quick look around the internet and I see that PhotoShop CS2 only runs half as fast on the Intel processors today, since it has to translate as it goes.

My last mac, a five + year old desktop, still runs magnificently and will give the person to whom I sold it a lot of great use. Unlike PCs, Macs just run and keep running.


I bought mine directly from The Apple Store. You also can get them from Amazon and Adorama.


I bought this to help me crank more on this website. It's a luxury for photography, but if you want to afford it it will help you get an awful lot done. See my next half of this review at my 30" display page.

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