A New Computer
by Steve Wood
November 22, 2004
Just a month ago, I published a column entitled Moving to a Blue & White. I'd been working on it from the day in August when I gave up hope on getting a new G5 tower and ordered the Blue & White. By the time I published the previous column, fortunes had changed and a dual 1.8 GHz G5 tower was on its way!
My last brand new computer came in 1998, so this one is pretty special to me. I made the old beige G3 last for six and a half years...until this fall. When I finally felt I had to replace it, I was "retired," a nice euphemism for someone my age who is unemployed but collecting a small pension. So I had to go with my "Plan B," a Blue & White that could use most of the upgrade parts from the old beige box.
Two things quickly changed that situation. The Indiana Teachers Retirement Fund finally finished final calculations on my pension and ended up owing me a tidy retroactive sum, and I took a job at a nearby college.
My first impression of the G5 was how much larger it is than my previous beige G3 minitower and Blue & White minitower. I thought the difference was just a few inches until I put the photo at right into this column. The new unit actually creates a bit of an unwanted shadow in my work area! When I fired it up, I was suprised at how much quieter the G5 runs, despite its nine internal cooling fans, than either of the previous Macs. The G5's fans do wind up and get a bit noisy occasionally, usually when I fire up an application that is processor intensive.
I would have loved to go "whole hog" and bought a dual 2.5 GHz G5 with one of the fantastic Apple wide screen displays, but my budget, software needs, and common sense dictated I go with the dual 1.8 GHz model. The motherboard on this model maxes out at 4 GB RAM and has the slower PCI slots. Since I'm currently going with a total of 2 GB RAM and have no PCI cards installed, that's not a problem.
Other than the RAM upgrade to 2 GB, which sounds like a lot until you think of it in terms of 1 GB per processor, the only other internal upgrades I made were to order the Bluetooth module, a 160 GB hard drive and add a second 160 GB purchased from Other World Computing. When I installed the second hard drive, I was surprised to find that Apple had equipped the machine with a Maxtor hard drive, rather than the Seagates they'd been using for OEM drives for some time.
I also went with the wireless Bluetooth keyboard and mouse option from Apple on this machine. I've not used the Bluetooth mouse Apple supplied as yet, as I ordered a Kensington two-button Bluetooth mouse. At first I wasn't sure I was going to be happy with the Kensington mouse, as it's a little tall and heavy for my tastes and goes through batteries quickly. With some use, I found that I really like it's grip and feel. I decided on a Kensington model on the strength of my satisfaction with their USB mouse-in-a-box model, which I've used on a variety of computers, both Mac and PC, over the last few years. I do like the absence of wires the wireless Bluetooth keyboard and mouse make possible, as my mouse cord always seemed in the way or caught on something. And the answer for the battery issue was easy.
The Apple Bluetooth keyboard is a joy to use. It has an excellent feel, is easy on batteries, and has "dimples" that I can feel for placing my hands when it's too dark to really see the keys. I should mention that the dimples are now under the "F" and "J" keys (first finger), rather than the "D" and "K" keys (middle finger) used by older Apple keyboards.
When I mentioned earlier that the G5 was big, I didn't mention its weight.
Yes, that's right: 44 pounds plus!
Now, let's just take a look at it.
Getting Firewire, USB, and headset ports on the front of the machine is a big plus. The whole front panel is actually a screen to allow better cooling. While it doesn't appear so, you can manually open the DVD drive cover by just putting a finger on it and pulling down (just in case you need to do the paper clip thing).
One thing I encountered in setup was that there was no picture of the Bluetooth antenna in the directions, and I was dense enough that it took a few minutes to figure out which was Airport and which was Bluetooth. The picture at right shows the Bluetooth antenna installed. I didn't get an Airport card, as we're not quite ready for a wireless home network yet.
While I wasn't willing to open up the area with the twin processors without a service manual to consult, I did pull the fans that partially cover the RAM slots. Since I went with the 1.8 GHz model, it has the motherboard with just four RAM slots.
Apple has a great, new utility for transferring files and settings from an older machine, but my Blue & White G3 was too old to use the setup utility, or possibly, its Firewire ports are just too messed up. I was able to transfer my files by installing a Sonnet ATA133 PCI card, pulling the DVD drive and using its power plug to power my old parallel ATA hard drives. The transfer was quick and easy, although my heart rate was up a bit thinking about doing anything out of the ordinary with my new machine.
Speaking of the Blue & White, I decided to keep it, rather than parting it out. It went to work, where it shares a 19" Dell flat-screen display with a Compaq Evo N800c laptop via a Dr. Bott Moniswitch. I was told when I asked for a PowerBook that the college tried to be a PC-only shop, but I noticed last week a Power Mac G5 sitting under the table in office next to mine (where the library's video editing goes on, I presume). The Blue & White still runs the Sonnet 1 GHz G4 upgrade and a full 1 GB of RAM, so I go to it when I'm doing any serious photo editing at work.
With the Blue & White going to work, I decided to keep my last G3 minitower for the upstairs computer workshop. Of course, it's not a G3 anymore. When the 533 MHz G3 upgrade chip I'd bought from Other World Computing began acting up, Larry O'Connor's fine outfit supplied a low-temp G4 533 MHz replacement. The minitower also carries the graphics card and the DVD drive from the Blue & White, along with my old Lite-On 52X32X52 CDRW.
Buying a new computer is a great excuse to invest in some new software. Hey, if you've got all that new power, why not add some software that takes advantage of it? When I bought the G3 minitower years ago, I bought Word 6 and Fontographer. While Word 6 was a dog, I still use Fontographer under the Classic OS.
I actually got started on new software a bit before I bought the G5. Having decided to continue producing the MATH DITTOS 2 series even though I'm no longer in the classroom, I picked up the Adobe Creative Suite from the Academic Superstore. I primarily needed Acrobat and InDesign for the MD2 series, but am making good use of the whole package. I resisted installing Photoshop Elements on the new G5 and am finally learning to make good use of the full Photoshop.
In web design, I upgraded from BBEdit 5 to 8 (a bit overdue) and went back to the Academic Superstore for Macromedia's Studio MX 2004. I'd had access to Studio MX through my previous job and found that I missed having Dreamweaver for some more complex web design tasks.
One of the advantages of working for a higher education institution is that many of them have made special deals with Microsoft. I rather quickly went for the $5 version of Office 2004 for Mac. While the trial version of Office 2004 that comes on new Macs was a bit sluggish, the full educational version is quite peppy.
You really don't notice the raw power of the G5 that much in the finder. It's quick, but it's when you open up applications that are dual processor aware, you feel the speed this kind of machine supplies. At this point, I'm perfectly happy with the twin 1.8 GHz processor model. The twin 2.5 GHz model would definitely have been overkill for my computing needs. The single 1.8 GHz model might have done for me, but I couldn't resist the dualie!
I certainly don't miss the clutter of the mouse and keyboard cables, the USB hub, and the USB modem that were all necessary with the Blue & White. I would have loved to have popped for one of Apple's wide-screen displays, but that made the whole deal just too many bucks. It's hard to justify such a display when my old 17" Sony Multiscan 200ES is still bright and crisp.
For those trying to decide between a G5 tower and a G5 iMac, I can't offer much help. I've not used or even been to the Apple Store to play with a G5 iMac. If you're looking to buy both a computer and flat-panel display, the iMac might just fit the ticket. They look very cool, and the price is definitely attractive for a computer plus an excellent flat-panel.
One of the things that held me back from considering the iMac was the difference in system bus speeds. While Apple uses a 2:1 ratio on its towers, giving it a 900 MHz system bus on the 1.8 GHz G5 models, the G5 iMac's system bus is set at a 3:1 ratio, or 600 MHz. Without actually trying both machines, it's hard to tell how much of a difference that might make. I guess that's what the Apple Stores are for!
Another determiner for me in not considering the iMac was its white color. I live in a rather dusty 90+ year-old house. A white iMac just wouldn't do. To do the keyboard shot above, I had to get out the Q-Tips and cleaner and thoroughly clean my rather new white wireless keyboard before taking the shot. Of course, we just shot the last of my "retirement bonus" on a new furnace, so hopefully, most of our dust problems are behind us.
Congratulations to Joe and Angie Taylor on the birth of their third daughter. From Joe's announcement email:
The G5 has been a relatively troublefree machine over the last few years. Periodic cleanings seem to help the fans stay quiet.
Until recently, there were no interior hardware upgrades needed. While I could never justify the cost, my lovely wife provided a gorgeous 23" Cinema Display
last Christmas. I've also added an airport card, a pair of 500 GB Seagate hard drives, and maxed the RAM at 4 gigs. It shares its monitor, keyboard, and mouse via a KVm box with an old G4 QuickSilver Mac and an HP Pavilion 7965.
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©2004 Steven L. Wood