My PowerMac Quad G5 arrived less than a week ago. This review covers my experiences the past week that I have had the Quad. My installation checklist went as follows. As you will soon learn, this was not the way it should have been done.
- Open Box
- Install RAM
- Migrate Data
- Software Update
I was very excited for my first new Macintosh purchase in nearly three years, and I was very much looking forward to Apple’s well-crafted out-of-box experience. One of the best in the business in packaging and presenting their products, Apple is showing more and more people how it should be done due to the iPod halo effect.
Not all was smooth in the initial installation. The first thing that I did after removing the computer and display from their respective boxes was to install 4GB of third-party RAM. I have read that the PowerMac G5-series is very finicky when it comes to RAM. Perhaps that’s why Apple charges so much for RAM on its online store! The problems soon started appearing once I booted the computer up and began putting it through its paces.
One of the first things that I tried was playing a DVD on the Quad and the 30-inch Cinema Display. For home movies, this is an unbeatable combination. That said, I experienced strange video glitches shortly after inserting, and the DVD never got to its main menu screen. At first, I chalked this up to the fact that I was running Mac OS 10.4.2 and needed to update to later versions of the OS and QuickTime. I also installed iView Media Pro to run through a recent photoshoot of 2,400 images. I ran into errors with viewing my 1D Mark II RAW files over Gigabit Ethernet on my NAS box. Again, this never happened on the Quicksilver, and I thought an eventual Software Update would resolve these issues.
The process to transfer data from my Quicksilver PowerMac G4 to the Quad was a little more convoluted than I anticipated. Migration Assistant is a feature of Mac OS X that facilitates the transfer of user information, applications, and settings from one computer to another. My old PowerMac, an 867MHz Quicksilver, is equipped with 120GB and a 60GB internal hard drives. After connecting the computers via FireWire, I was surprised to see that Migration Assistant did not recognize the QuickSilver, saying there was no computer with Mac OS X installed!
The problem involved the jumper settings on the hard drives. When I first bought the computer, it came with a 60GB internal hard drive. Some years later, I installed a 120GB hard drive and made it the startup volume. What I neglected to do, however, was turn the 120GB drive into the Master volume and the 60GB drive into a Slave volume. Apparently, Migration Assistant looks for the Master volume only.
I suspect many PowerMac G4 owners will be upgrading to the Quad. If you are going to use Migration Assistant, make sure you check your drive jumper settings!
The migration time remaining fluctuated greatly during the process. Copying large files is a lot faster than copying a lot of small files. My Documents folder has accumulated tens of thousands of documents over the past few years, so the overall migration took several hours to complete.
Things took a turn for the worse after data migration was complete. I ran Software Update, and it choked on the Pages and Mac OS 10.4.3 updates. Thinking I would rerun Software Update after a restart, I was again surprised that the computer would not get past the “Starting Mac OS X” loading screen.
At this point, I should have realized that the RAM was the culprit. Having had good experiences with third-party RAM in the past, I didn’t think I could be one of those people with RAM issues. I concluded that the best course of action would be to reinstall the system and migrate the data manually.
So began a day and a half of constant installing and reinstalling the system. The installation of the core Mac OS X components on Install Disc 1 went smoothly enough, but there were many problems with Install Disc 2. This disc contains iLife, trial software, and third-party applications. During installation, it gave me errors when trying to install Pages, Keynote, or GarageBand. I figured that the disc was bad, so I started the reinstall process one last time, unchecking all third-party software to prevent Disc 2 from being used.
This was certainly not the out-of-box experience that I was looking for!
Friends Rush In To Save Me
Thankfully, my friends were here to save me from Groundhog Day. At the suggestion of Victor, I removed the four 1GB sticks from the computer before reinstalling the system for the last time. Surprise, surprise, there were no problems installing files on Disc 2. The Mac OS X installer makes use of all available RAM, so if there’s any problem with the sticks, there’s a good bet that the installer will choke and error out. The RAM is also the likely culprit for my DVD-playback issues and other assorted glitches I came across during the initial two days.
My new procedure for configuring a new computer is:
- Open Box
- Software Update
- Migrate Data Manually
- Install Third-Party Hardware
RMA the RAM
The next morning, I called up OWC to RMA the RAM. I had called the previous afternoon but was told to try running the computer with just the third-party RAM and with pairs of sticks installed. After reinstalling the system, I did in fact try putting pairs of sticks in to see if I could reproduce the problem. Victor noted that since I had already duplicated the bad RAM problem, it would just waste my time to identify which stick was bad. He was right, and I mentioned that to the OWC person on the phone the next day. He was quick to issue an RMA number, and I was quicker yet to mail the RAM back to Illinois.
I got the new RAM about a week later, and everything has been running smoothly ever since.
Migrating Data the Manual Way
Alex, recommended that I avoid using Migration Assistant and instead reinstall everything manually. Since I had come this far, I agreed with his suggestion and began the time-consuming process of installing my applications one at a time. Alex will be doing this as well when his Quad arrives in a few weeks. I would first run through the list of programs in your Applications folder. For those apps that you can get via the Web, check VersionTracker or the author’s website to ensure you have the latest version. For those applications that you are installing from CD, check to see if any updates have been released. I also wrote down in a text document everything that I installed or updated on the computer.
Programs like Creative Suite, Office, and Canon utilities had several important updates, and tracking all of these files was very time-consuming. Also tedious was locating the registration codes was very time-consuming.
I have yet to transfer all of my other documents and settings over to the computer. Mail is obviously the most important to transfer. Perhaps this is the time to make the permanent switch to using IMAP mail over POP?
I’m a .Mac user, and it certainly came in handy to transfer and keep synchronized data such as my Address Book, Transmit Favorites, Safari Bookmarks, and iCal calendars. I have not had much success transferring my Keychain from the Quicksilver to the Quad. Does this make .Mac worth $99 a year? I don’t know, but it was one less headache to worry about.
You’ve made it this far, congratulations! There’s just a few more comments I’d like to make before moving onto speed tests.
There are times when all of the system fans turn on, and the machine becomes very loud. I thought that my Quicksilver was loud, but this is easily twice as noisy! Fortunately, the computer isn’t running full blast all of the time. In typical day-to-day usage, the Quad is quieter than the Quicksilver. That said, the Quad is way louder than Dell towers that Eric has at his place.
If you want to hear how loud the box can get, boot up the machine in single-user mode by holding down Command-S at startup. I tested the RAM using memtester in this mode, and the computer matched the washing machine noise for noise!
Before I identified the RAM as the source of my problems, the Quad was showing that I had an extra 1024×768 monitor connected to the computer. Victor noted that the bad RAM could have been the source for this phantom monitor. After removing the RAM, all I see in Displays is the 30-inch Cinema Display. My 17-inch Studio Display looks tiny compared to this beast of a monitor!
Now that my Mac is running relatively smoothly, I can finally perform some speed tests. I am only running with 512MB of RAM, so these results may change once I get my new 4GB sticks. I used my cellphone’s stopwatch to time the tests.
Horse Radial Blur Test
On [H]ard Forum, there is a Photoshop test to see how fast your computer is. From the site:
- Download the test image from http://www.quicklance.com/test.jpg
- Open the file in Photoshop
- Filter / Blur / Radial Blur with the following settings:
- Amount = 100
- Blur Method = Spin
- Quality = Best
On my Quicksilver, it took about five and a half minutes to complete the radial blur. On the Quad G5, it was a shy under 20 seconds. That’s 16 times faster than the Quicksilver! Radial blur makes use of multiprocessors, so this is a good test for the Quad’s two dual-core G5 processors.
Check out the processing usage percentages on that test! There is a Processor System Preference that lets you enable or disable the processor cores on the Quad. When I have only one core running, it takes about 80 seconds to complete the radial blur. This coincides nicely with the 20 seconds it takes with 4 cores enabled. If more applications were multiprocessor aware, I think we would see dramatic speed increases with the Quad over the previous generation of PowerMacs.
xBench is a benchmarking application for Mac OS X. With 512MB of RAM, it gives the Quad with a speed rating of 122.42. 100 is the rating for a Dual 2GHz G5 PowerMac. The speed rating takes the average of CPU, Thread, Memory, Disk, Quartz Graphics, OpenGL, and User Interface tests.
I currently shoot with a Canon EOS-1D Mark II that creates 9MB RAW files. With CaptureOne, my Quicksilver takes on average 60 seconds to process one 16-bit TIFF image, with minimal sharpening and no noise reduction. On the Quad, the same file takes less than 7 seconds! If I turn on noise reduction or sharpening, the processing time increases to around 15 seconds. I’m hopeful that this time will go down further once I get my 4GB of RAM installed.
Photoshop CS takes even less time to process the same image, about 4 seconds. Though, I prefer CaptureOne or DPP’s RAW processing results to those from CS, I do use Camera RAW when I need to process a single file quickly. NoiseNinja reduces noise in a file in less than 8 seconds. I’m happy to see that my RAW conversion and processing times will be much faster than before. What used to be an overnight session can now be accomplished in just a few hours!
Update 11/27/2005: I recently completed processing 800 images using Capture One and NoiseNinja in three hours. Processing time alone on my Quicksilver would have taken over 24 hours at nearly two minutes per image!
Einstein Newton Emulator
On the Quad G5, NewtTest’s Loop Iterations test shows an average of nearly 7,000 iterations/sec. A MessagePad 2100 clocks in between 8,000-11,000 iterations/sec. Given that Paul has yet to do some major optimizations of the code, that’s pretty good. Playing around in Einstein, the emulated Newton certainly feels pretty quick.
Thanks for reading this far. The process of setting up the Quad G5 has taken longer than I originally anticipated. Things are running relatively smoothly now, and I will be happy to relegate the Quicksilver to secondary computer status. It has served me well for the past four and a half years, and will continue to function as a server in the future!
Here are some photos of the out-of-box experience with the Quad G5 and the 30-inch Cinema Display.