The OutsidesAlthough the G5 doesn’t photograph that well (how many cheese grater remarks have you seen in print), fresh out of the box, the new desktop case is a sight to behold. Gone are the previous desktop model’s curved shapes and cool, plastic exterior; in its place is a tall, slim, PowerBook-inspired brushed aluminum box. Placed side-by-side, the new desktops tower over their older, squatter cousins; a taller, lankier, seemingly skinnier case compared to the older design – picture Geoff Goldblum and Danny DeVito standing next to each other. Okay, the comparison is a little exaggerated – the G5 is only about 3.1 inches taller, 0.8 inches thinner, and 0.3 inches deeper than the previous case design, however the new desktop is much heavier – there’s almost a ten pound difference between the dual G5 and the first generation G4 desktops, according to Apple’s spec sheets. Lifting the case out of its black shipping box for the first time was a bit of a surprise. The new case’s handles – thinner and sharper edged than in previous models – look great, but, combined with the unit’s increased weight, make carrying the computer a bit of a pain.
The case’s front and back panels are quite stylish, despite being made of “35% air”, as Apple claims. Depending on the lighting in the room, you can actually see through the front of the case and see the spinning CPU cooling fans spinning away. Although this, of itself, isn’t such a big deal, the large number of air holes, combined with the unit’s nine fans (eight fans in the single processor computers) concern me greatly - pet hair from our shedding German Shepard and tabby cat might easily get sucked into the guts of the box and wreak havoc with its delicate circuit boards. Anyone with pets will want to keep the box high off the ground, and send Fido away when he comes sniffing.
The unit’s power button rests below and to the left of the centre of the front side, sitting above the conveniently located headphone, USB & Firewire 400 ports. The front ports are fantastic – perfect for plugging in peripherals, hard drives and headphones without having to reach around the case and fumble blindly like a virgin on his first night of passion. The black plastic Superdrive tray slides out from behind an attractive, downwards-sliding silver panel, nestled neatly within the case near the top of the unit. The back side of the case, also composed mainly of vent holes, sports an impressive collection of ports lined up vertically on the right side of the panel, with the power plug built in to the bottom of the case.
On the top left hand side of the back is a lockable latch that opens up the side panel of the unit. In order to deal with the large amount of heat produced by IBM’s new processors, Apple re-designed the desktop’s case and divided the computer’s innards into four separate thermal zones. As a result, in order to access the insides of the computer, users must first remove the stainless steel side panel of the outside box, and then also remove a clear plastic thermal cover, called an air deflector. The heat separation between the unit’s cooling zones is so crucial that Apple incorporated redundancy checks into the case – if the computer is run without the air deflector, the system runs at a reduced speed, reducing heat production. Readers will have to forgive me for not wanting to endanger my investment by testing out this safety measure.
The cooling system, run by nine fans in the dual G5 model and eight in the single processor models, compartmentalize the hardware’s greatest heat-producing components – the processor (and RAM), PCI and AGP expansion cards, optical and magnetic storage, and the power supply – into four, independently-controlled cooling zones. Apple claims that they engineered seven of the nine low-speed fans in order to reduce the acoustic impact of the intense cooling system, and, for the most part, it actually works. With two of the three graphics cards we tested in the unit, the cooling systems does in fact run much more quietly than the “wind tunnel” mirrored-drive G4s we have at the office, with the self-controlled fans kicking into a higher gear when necessary. However, once we popped the fan-cooled ATI Radeon 9800 Pro retail card into the computer, had all fans running at full speed and the DVD-drive spinning, the computer’s noise level increased to the point of being distracting.
One flaw we noticed with the new case design was accessibility to some of the computer’s components. While some of the grey fans are removable, facilitating RAM access, the new compartmentalization has seriously reduced maneuverability in the PCI and storage sections. Swapping video hardware and installing PCI cards will prove to be difficult for people like myself who are “blessed” with larger hands. And good luck trying to retrieve a PCI cover screw dropped into the guts of the back fans.
Speaking of expansion, the G5 comes Bluetooth- and Airport Extreme-ready. However, while the end user can easily add an Airport card at his or her convenience, the internal Bluetooth module cannot be installed by users at home, a major inconvenience in the eyes of this reviewer. Another flaw – due to the naturally poor reception of the unit’s building materials, external antennas made of hard plastic need to be attached to the back of the computer for any kind of wireless reception. Although this doesn’t sound like a bad idea, having extra knobs sticking out the back of the unit may inconvenience users with small desk spaces, and wreck the computer’s slick and minimal design.