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We Test 3 new G5 iMacs and get their owners opinions, is the G5 iMac Really Hot?
April 4, 2005 Tech Lab Staff, written by Zack Bryce

   
There are no PCI slots (except the mini-PCI for the Airport Extreme and Bluetooth cards) and only two DDR SDRAM slots. Things like the video graphics, sound, modem and Ethernet are embedded chipsets on the Logic Board instead of upgradeable PCI slot cards as on a Power Mac mini-tower. You are forever locked into the stated specifications at the time of manufacture.

 
Your wife couldn't pack your bag for a trip better than this. The animation is nice above, here's the real open look.

Is there enough RAM and HDD? -
As noted earlier, there are only two DDR SDRAM slots available and in Apple’s historically cheap approach to solid state memory or hard drive size supplied as standard, it’s insufficient at only 256MB. I can’t remember when Apple hasn’t supplied less than half of what you should have to be capable of even modest tasks and I’m not talking about video or sound editing either, just word processing, spreadsheets or some casual iMovie and iPhoto creation. Isn’t that what Apple is supposed to be all about?

Any Mac service technician that will tell you that OS X alone (10.2.8 and 10.3.x) needs a minimum of 512MB of SDRAM. Despite what Apple says, OS X does not manage RAM that well and is a bit of a RAM hog. When you buy your G5 iMac, strongly consider a lot more RAM and if possible don’t buy it from Apple, because it’s very over priced. Buy the correct certified RAM from a known source and install it yourself, or buy the RAM ahead of time and tell the Apple dealer you’re buying your G5 iMac from to install it for free, or you’ll take your business to another store.

Some online Apple dealers offer extra RAM free as an incentive, but want to charge a ridiculous amount to install it. Don’t pay for the install, tell them install it for free or you’ll move on to the next online dealer.

The same situation exists with HDD (hard disk drive) size. Apple has always sold undersized HDD’s with there Macs, for what is considered “standard” in the computer industry. When Apple has been providing slower 5400 RPM 80GB HDD’s, companies like HP, Compaq, Dell and Gateway were supplying as standard 7200 RPM 160GB to 200GB HDD’s. You pay a “Mac Premium” and still get comparable market under spec’d components.

It is no surprise why Apple has always been tagged as over priced by PC users. Does this contribute to the reason that Apple has slipped to just 2% market share? As much as we love the platform, we're inclined to agree that Apple needs to think like Henry Ford instead of BMW. Volume, volume, volume and you’ll still make a very good product as a very good margin.

User Impressions –
Our sampled users who bought the G5 iMacs we tested, are pretty happy with their systems. They’ve all experienced some minor quirky moments; they all added considerable RAM after experiencing the failings of the inadequate original RAM at 256MB. “Spinning Beach Balls” are always putting you on hold even for simple routine tasks and launchings. Even with the 1.5GB of DDR SDRAM our 20-inch G5 iMac owner installed, the dreaded Spinning Beach Ball pops up a bit too often and that’s even with OS 10.3.x Panther.

The 17-inch and 20-inch TFT Displays that are in the G5 iMacs are just beautiful, something that Apple has always been noted for since the first color TFT’s showed up in Mac PowerBooks and desktops.

Contrast is very-very good as is brightness and color clarity. This is part of the “Mac Premium” that is worth the bucks. You won’t get

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headaches looking into the window of this Mac, unless you’re up all night into a 24-hour online gaming session.

The built-in speakers are good sounding, but two of the owners said that the bass is insufficient and at maximum volume they begin to distort terribly. External powered speakers are a better solution.

As mentioned at the beginning, one of the owners of a 20-inch iMac had theirs tip over twice on the desk when older kids were using it. They have clamped it down to the desktop, as have the other 20-inch and 17-inch owners in our review group. Tip over problems in SUVs and iMacs, one owner joked “who designed this, Jeep?”

Two of the owners remarked of hearing loud “humming and buzzing” on occasion, but said that they have gotten “used to it”. We could hear it coming from within the bowls of the iMac and couldn’t find its source. We also heard some “clicking” noises too, but let frequently. Later we’ve heard the humming is coming from the LCD displays power supply.

The Owner of the 17-inch iMac has had problems off and on with ejecting CD / DVD’s from the slot style drive. This is a problem that has also plagued PowerBook in recent years too. He said if it continues until 6 months of ownership, he will request Apple replace the Combo Drive, which will mean shipping the iMac back to Apple and a weeks down time without a computer.

It scares us that there always seems to be lots of “factory refurbished” G5 iMacs listed weekly “ on many of the online “buy sites” and Apple dealers. Here’s a weekly example from DealMac: “iMac G5/1.6GHz 17" back at $1,099. on 12/31/04 The factory-refurbished iMac G5/1.6GHz with 17-inch widescreen LCD, 256MB RAM, 80GB hard drive, and DVD/CD-RW combo drive is back at $1,099 at The Apple Store.”

Everyone complained that the I/O ports (USB, FireWire, Headphones, Mic jack) are poorly placed on the back instead of the side, bottom of front. They are just VERY inconvenient especially if you place your G5 iMac at the back of a deep desk.

Just how fast is this G5? -
With time at a premium for us and the owners, we decided to only benchmark the two G5 1.8GHz 20-inch iMacs using Cine Bench against other Macs and PC’s, using the best marks of the two.


                    Click on image to enlarge
As might be expected, the 1.8GHz G5 did better than a G4 1.5GHz PowerBook by 20.2% (173 vs. 138), which is not surprising since it has a 16.6% faster clock speed; however the fact that it is a G5 over a G4 should account for better numbers in that comparison. Where there is a surprise is that the G4 1.5GHz PowerBook scored far better in Open GL and graphics High and Low Shading ratios; which is a product of the graphics processors embedded in each Mac.

Despite all the Apple PR hub-bub about the superiority of the G5 over the best of “Wintel” PC processors, our “test” custom built AMD Athlon XP2400+ (1996 MHz) DV Workstation still bested the G5 1.8GHz iMac by 28.8% even though it is NOT a 64-bit processor and is only 9.8% clock speed faster. It’s rather older NVIDIA MX440 graphics card still out performed the current technology NVIDIA FX5200 Ultra in the G5 iMac!

Is the G5 iMacs a barn burning hot rod Mac? Compared to the eMac and Mac Mini, absolutely. But not against the stately and high priced G4 PowerBook or G5 Power Macs.

Never the less, our test owners like their G5 iMacs and all have said they would buy them again if given the “sliders” chance.

The Bottom Line –
Pros – Compact, good looking, excellent display, very acceptable prices for all models.
Cons – Poor graphics performance, terrible location of ports, the LCD doesn’t articulate like the old iMac, shorted by Apple in RAM and HDD OEM capacities, acceptable performance that should be better for a G5 and careful, it might fall over in certain situations.

Quality -
Performance –
User Interface –
Sound –
Price –
Overall –



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