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The most exciting development in desktop computing in a very long time is 64-bit processors. Notice we didn’t say "processing." As of this writing, 64-bit applications are still few and far between. Still, the new hardware is here today and, for the Mac, it takes the form of the new G5. While 64-bit may be the most exciting aspect of this machine, it may pragmatically be the least important feature in a box that is totally new.
The big marketing claim for Apple’s 64-bits is that it now allows you to use up to 8GB of RAM, whereas you could only use a paltry 2GB on a G4. We don’t think this makes any difference for video editors today and we’re pretty happy with a couple of gigs of RAM. Besides, 8GB of RAM is going to run nearly $5,000.
The G5 has totally new architecture, 64-bit or not, from the ground up, with new faster motherboards, new faster RAM and new faster busses: it’s new and faster, and that will make a difference in our everyday editing. There are peripheral, but important, changes as well, notably USB 2.0, which will open the Mac to more high-speed USB drives, external hard disks and DVD burners. Sure, we’ve always had FireWire, but we’ve found that USB 2.0 is friendlier with a broader range of devices. Other updates video fanatics will find useful include Serial ATA (for hard disks) and a 4x DVD-R/RW SuperDrive (OEM Sony). Our G5 had dual 2GHz processors, 1GB RAM, a 160GB hard disk drive and was loaded with Mac OS X v10.2.7. The design of the brushed-metal case was exceptional, with large cooling fans that ran at slow enough speeds so the entire machine was extremely quiet, and they smartly spun up during our rendering tests. There wasn’t a lot of room inside to install anything else, mostly because of the absolutely humungous heat sinks on the processors. The most important limitation for videographers is that there is only one small slot for a single additional hard disk drive.
The line between aggressive marketing and outright spin is a thin one. Apple’s claims to being the "world’s fastest personal computer" and statements like "For PC users, going from 32-bit to 64-bit computing requires migrating to a 64-bit operating system" make us anxious. Our 64-bit Mac was pretty darned fast, but there is only a very limited number of applications that run in 64-bits today (notably including FCP 4.1 and Compressor 1.1). The situation is exactly the same with the AMD 64-bit processors "For PC users." The particular version of OS X 10.2.7 running on our G5 test machine does have some small number of 64-bit features and the next OS from Apple will have still more.
As expected, the G5 is faster than our G4 (dual-1.25GHz, 1GB RAM). In summary, we found that MPEG-2 rendering for DVD (using a variety of applications, including iLife, Compressor and QuickTime) was anywhere from 54-65 percent faster. MPEG-4 rendering times were, on average 30 percent faster. Final Cut Pro renders were about 35 percent faster across a number of projects of varying complexity. Considering that this G5 is 56 percent more expensive, it seems that you get what you pay for.
We also ran a number of other applications to assess overall performance and ran into one surprise: LiveType, which is Apple’s extremely slick animated titling application, was no faster on the G5 and, indeed, was marginally slower at times. We are not going to speculate on why this was the case.
Mac vs. PC
We did fire up an HP xw4100 (single CPU 3.0GHz P4, 1GB RAM: reviewed September 2003) for some head-to-head Mac vs. PC action. Granted, the single CPU Windows machine is not the latest and greatest (released in mid-2003), but the two machines are roughly in the same class. We ran the dual-platform CINEBENCH 2003 (www.cinebench.com) 3D rendering benchmark, which showed the G5 to be faster overall, with a very significant performance gain (40%) when the bench took advantage of the dual processors. Again, this wasn’t a fair fight, since the PC only had a single CPU, but we think the numbers are interesting nonetheless.
Of course, 3D is not the same as video, so we also ran some tests using After Effects 6. We found that, in general, the G5 was consistently but only slightly faster (3-5%) on all basic multi-layer compositing tasks. Many effects, however, were significantly faster under Windows. For example, a Gaussian Blur was almost twice as fast on the Windows machine. We can’t generalize from these results, but speculate that AE6 is better optimized for the older 32-bit Windows platform. If Adobe spends the time to optimize the code for the 64-bit Mac, we should see significant improvements.
Apple or Windows
In general, applications optimized for 64-bit processing will be much faster on the G5, but most legacy 32-bit apps will also be faster, simply because the machine as a whole is faster. The machine is quicker than the fastest G4 and it will go toe-to-toe with the fastest PCs we’ve seen. While we are not prepared to crown it "World’s Fastest," 64-bit computing is the future and your next Mac will be a 64-bit machine. Dropping that into conversation may not get you any phone numbers at your next cocktail party, but it will impress the geeks.
[Sidebar: G5 Optimized Video Software]
As this article was closing, Apple released G5-optimized video software, including Final Cut Pro 4.1 and Compressor 1.1. We barely had time to include this note, much less re-run all of our benchmarks with the new software. Our "un-optimized" numbers were quite speedy, however, so we suspect that the new software won’t disappoint.
OS: Mac OS X v10.2.7
CPU: dual 2.0GHz PowerPC G5
RAM: 2GB (1GB per processor/PC3200)
Hard Drive: 160GB System (7,200 rpm, Serial ATA)
Sound card: integrated, digital output
Display card: ATI Radeon 9600 (64MB)
Disc Writer: SuperDrive 4x DVD-R/RW
Additional Hardware: 1x FireWire 800, 2x FireWire 400, 3x USB 2.0, 2x USB 1.0, 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11g wireless, keyboard/mouse
Editing Software: iLife suite
Apple Cinema 23-inch HD Display: $1,999
MPEG-2 Render (2-pass VBR): 17fps
The Mac is back with a killer G5, improved from the ground up.