64-bit Apple G5 Released
Ironic that IBM, who invented the first “PC”—the computer architecture that has always dominated the marketplace and left Apple as a “niche” competitor—is now manufacturing the most important component in the latest offering from Apple. Recall also that Microsoft owns a substantial portion of Apple’s shares, and this industry keeps getting more interesting!
In fact, it was the G5’s 64-bit processing that first grabbed my attention about this product. Apple’s claim, boldly presented on their site: “The world’s first 64-bit personal computer”.
But wait, I thought. Intel and AMD are both manufacturing 64-bit processors for the PC platform. Then I remembered that these are being marketed for high-end servers (not “personal” computers), and so Apple’s claim is valid.
What is a 64-bit processor anyway? Well, thanks for asking.
A long, long time ago, computers ran on 16-bits. That meant that applications would send 16 bits of information to the processor as a single element. That was in the days of DOS (think black and white text on the screen). By the early 1990’s, computer hardware was being sold with a 32-bit data bus: processing 4 bytes (32 bits) in a single gulp. Windows 95 and subsequent versions support both 16 and 32 bit applications (32-bit apps tend to run faster and with more stability than 16-bit).
As mentioned, Intel and AMD are currently only marketing their 64-bit processors for high-end servers and workstations. Microsoft has developed 64-bit editions of their XP and Advanced Server operating systems, but they are developed as totally seperate product streams than the common versions of those operating systems. For example, there is no upgrade possible from XP Professional to XP 64-bit Edition.
So what is Apple up to? Are they just trying to pull a fast one, by playing a numbers game? Or are they planning on creating some seriously innovative software enhancements that will realize the potential of 64-bit computing?
It is now up to software developers to take advantage of the possibilities that this hardware affords, and to entice us into thinking that we “need” 64-bit capability. If all you do is send email and surf the web, well, you’re laughing! It will be high-end applications, like mad video games and video rendering/ AutoCad-type software that will likely be the innovators in this department.
Also, I am curious as to whether or not the G5 is a 64-bit “clean” system? In other words, does the operating system (OS X version 10.3), the file support system, and do all of the devices themselves truly support 64-bit? A little trip down memory lane reveals that after Apple released its first computer with a 32-bit processor (the Mac IIci), the company had a history of producing 32-bit “not clean” systems.
Apple has managed once again, however, to put themselves in a position that they love: they can claim another first! And why not? They are the most innovative company in the industry. With this announcement, Apple has also squelched the nay sayers who have been pointing out that the company has been lagging behind the incredible speed gains that PC’s have been enjoying.
Here is the break-down of the new G5 entry-level system:
1.6GHz CPU/ 800MHz frontside bus/ 512 L2 cache/ 256MB DDR333 128-bit SDRAM/ 80GB Serial ATA hard drive/ 3 PCI Slots/ NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 Ultra/ 64MB DDR video memory/ 56K internal modem.
If you can read this kind of stuff, you’ll probably agree: a nice system. Where Apple gets me though, is in the pocket book. At $1999 USD ($2,700 CAD), they need a lot more than 64-bit processing to get me to pull out my wallet! Think of the dream PC you could build for that kind of dough! And this price does not include a monitor or any of the other peripherals that you’ll be needing!
The major problem that Apple is going to be facing in the future, in my estimation, is the fact that computers are evolving so quickly. Apple has always catered to a small cult market of—I’ll say it—zealots who unquestionly love Apple products. These people are more than happy to pay twice as much for an Apple computer over a PC, as they perceive they are purchasing a quality product. How long can this trend continue, however, while PC’s are constantly getting faster and less expensive?
I often explain to people the major difference between the design approaches employed by Apple and the various companies that manufacture “PC” components.
Apple uses a proprietary business model: they design each of their computers from the ground-up, using their own hardware and even designing most of the software used on their computers. But the PC is not so much a product as it is a collection of form factors, or standards, that are used by thousands of companies to manufacture components that are compatible and interchangeable. And then Microsoft’s role is to design operating systems that can run on thousands of such combinations of hardware. I have a PC here that is over 15 years old. I can go pull parts out of it (well, some parts, not others) and stick them in my new PC. That is the beauty of the PC. While last years iMac is certainly interesting to look at, can I salvage parts out of it and stick them in a G5? Not likely.
My explanation of Apple’s design methods turned into a “PC’s are better than Macs” rant, but there are also great reasons why Apple rocks. Here is an example from their site. They brag:
“The PC on the left shows that if you try hard enough you might cram everything into the average PC case. The Power Mac G5 was designed from the inside out so that the case and internal components were meant to go together.”
The first part of their boast is a bit of an exaggeration. There is actually lots of room in that PC for more drives, etc. Nothing is “crammed”. What looks unsightly is all the cabling, and if one was so inclined, the cables could be arranged better. But I will agree that the G5’s components are meant to go together. Their G5 is cleaner, more elegant, and has better airflow. If I could afford it, I would purchase one and leave the side panel off just to admire it. I’m into stuff like that.
I like the appearance of the inside of the G5 more than the outside of the case. I find the case rather boring, which is unlike Apple. I like the icy look of the previous G4 way more.
There you have it folks. Apple has released their latest offering, and proved that they are still very much in the game of making interesting computers. They may cater to a (monied) niche market that some say is 2.1% of computer users (and shrinking); but then they still clearly are great competitors and innovators. Now if I could just come up with a few extra thousand dollars and satisfy my secret Apple-envy!
Article suggested by J.P. Gregoire of Nelson, BC
UPDATE: This post generated a lot of feedback. I’ve gotten away with criticizing Apple for a while on this site, but they’ve finally caught up with me. I have to acknowledge, however, that the folk that left comments have made a lot of good points. I would like to make two adjustments to this post. Firstly, Apple does not just cater exclusively to zealots. Their traditional markets are schools, scientists, publishing houses, graphic designers, and all multimedia geeks including those in Hollywood. They have served those markets well. I think that the Apple G5, and especially the dual-processor version (if you require that kind of power), are not a bad value for the money.