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Ten years in the shadow of the Power Mac G5

Benj Edwards | June 25, 2013
The Power Mac G5 is a workstation with a design that lasted in the Apple's product line for over a decade.

Ten years ago, Apple introduced the Power Macintosh G5, the first of a new generation of Macs based on IBM's PowerPC G5 architecture. Unveiled by Steve Jobs during the 2003 World Wide Developer's Conference, the G5 replaced the aging Power Mac G4 and carried the banner for the ultra high-end Mac market until Apple released the Intel-based Mac Pro in 2006.

At the time of its debut, Apple claimed the G5 was the "world's fastest personal computer," a controversial statement that held up with mixed success in lab tests at the time of its release. But it was fast, no doubt, and capable: The high-end model shipped with dual 2GHz CPUs, and as Apple's first 64-bit computer, the Power Mac G5 could utilize up to 8GB of RAM. To add extra oomph, each of the three introductory G5 models featured a front-side bus clocked at half the CPU clock rate, including an astoundingly speedy 1GHz FSB for the 2GHz model.

Aside from its 64-bit CPU, the Power Macintosh G5 debuted a few other firsts for the Mac platform. It was the first Mac to integrate Serial ATA hard drives, which provided a significant speed advantage over its parallel cousins (it did retain a Parallel ATA interface for its DVD-burning SuperDrive). It was also Apple's first computer to include USB 2.0 ports, which had already become standard in the Windows world.

From design perspective, the Power Mac G5 was Apple's first computer to ship in an aluminum enclosure. The anodized chassis sported a sleek, monolithic design that carried with it a significant footprint: At 20 by 8.1 by 18.7 inches in dimension, the Power Macintosh G5 remains one of the tallest and largest Macs Apple has ever produced. The 39-pound beast was also one of the heaviest sans-CRT Macs ever made.

Keep it cool

For such an excess of volume, you'd think the G5 would contains an excess of expansion potential, but in fact, most of the case was dedicated to heat dissipation.

Apple spent a large portion of the Power Mac G5's 2003 introductory keynote explaining how it engineered around the PowerPC G5 CPU's hotplate nature with four separate "thermal zones" and no less than nine internal cooling fans that, if run together, sounded not dissimilar to a jet taking off when things got a bit too toasty. (In general, the machine stayed relatively quiet considering the amount of thermal energy piping through its innards.)

That Apple's engineers had to bend over backwards and upside down to accommodate the thermal profile of IBM's G5 CPU must have been powerful evidence for Apple's executive staff that the company had to change direction in CPU architecture--as it did three years later with the switch to Intel CPUs.


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