Mac Daddy

Is the G5 a Must-Have for Apple Fans?

 Q: So I'm flipping through the channels the other day, and I catch this ad for the Mac G5. Got me pretty pumped, since I've been a devoted Apple customer from the days of the IIc. But the commercials are thin on meaningful info—price, power, etc. What's the scoop on the G5? A must-have for Macheads or something we can do without?

Let Mr. Roboto put it this way: If the G5 were a car, it'd be a souped-up Mustang with a tank of nitro in the back. Apple finally realized it was losing too many high-end customers—"power users" in industry parlance—to more muscular PCs. So it 'roided up the Mac with a new processor and created a machine that CEO Steve Jobs claims is "the fastest personal computer in the world." Techies will nitpick that claim for months to come, but from what Mr. Roboto's seen, the G5's performance is nothing short of gnarly. Whether it's worth the money, though, will depend on your line of work.

The G5, which starts shipping this month, uses a 64-bit IBM processor, a big improvement over the 32-bit chips that are currently ubiquitous in PCs. There are three flavors, ranging in speed from 1.6 to 2 gigahertz; suffice to say, all three are fast enough to dazzle, with the dual 2GHz version qualifying as a potential record breaker. Apple claims the G5's chip dusts the Intel Xeon, the current gold standard for consumer PCs. There's lots of he said/she said contention over this, but Mr. Roboto buys the boast. If the G5's not fastest on the desktop market, it's pretty darn close. Heck, anything with nine cooling fans (yes, nine) has got to cook like a volcano.

illustration: John Ueland

The question is, who really needs that much power, especially with the bottom-of-the-line model pricing out at close to $2,000? At the G5's coming-out party last month, it was made abundantly clear that Apple's dream users are "creative professionals," the folks who run Photoshop and Final Cut Pro in order to put food on the table. If that's your gig, this is definitely the machine for you—a bargain, in fact, considering that a comparably swift Dell will run you another $1,000. Video editors and graphic designers will covet this thing the way a seven-year-old coveted Teddy Ruxpin, circa 1985.

But creative pros may want to stall a few months before taking the pricey plunge. For one thing, the first G5s could be relative tortoises by next year. Apple has already stated it'll be making 3GHz versions within 12 months, so it may behoove you to play the waiting game. Bargain hunters might find the price of the lower-end machines coming down several hundred bucks once the higher-gig ones hit store shelves; cheapskate readers who held out on the 5-gigabyte iPod will get Mr. Roboto's drift.

There's also an operating-system issue. In September, Apple will debut Mac OS X 10.3, code-named Panther. Mr. Roboto checked out Panther at last month's Macworld and was impressed by its PDF reader, audiovisual chat, and drag-and-drop printing. If these features mean nothing to you, don't sweat it—you can live quite happily with the current version of OS X. But the true geeks who are softly cooing to themselves, "Mmmmm, drag-and-drop?" You guys'll definitely want Panther. Alas, it's not standard on the G5 yet, and the upgrade will cost another $129. There's no word yet on when Panther will be pre-installed on the G5, but the (admittedly wild) guess here is that it'll be in the first half of 2004.

What, you say? You're not a creative professional, but rather a regular bloke who merely wants to use iTunes, iPhoto, and whatnot? Then getting a G5 would be like a box wine lover buying an $800 Bordeaux—pure overkill. The good news is that Apple's got plans to phase out its other PowerMacs in favor of the G5, which means same clearance bargains could be forthcoming. Keep an eye peeled for tumbling prices on the G4, especially the scrumptious 1.25GHz SuperDrive model. As a very wise man named Jimmy once told a young Mr. Roboto, "Always buy one generation behind." Stick with that adage, as well as "No swimming for 30 minutes after eating," and you'll get very, very far in this here life.


Input questions at bkoerner@villagevoice.com.

 
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