The Basics

I had used Macs in the past, mostly at schools, and boy, did I ever hate the experience. I would always feel completely lost when using them and I would grow increasingly more frustrated as the machines were always slow, would crash often and for the life of me, I could never right click on anything. Going into this experiment, I knew that if I was going to give the platform a good chance, I needed to get the fastest system that Apple had to offer. At the time, this was a dual 2GHz G5 system configured as follows:

Dual 2GHz 0.13-micron G5 CPUs
512MB CAS3 DDR400 SDRAM
160GB SATA HDD
ATI Radeon 9600 (64MB)

The MSRP on the system when I bought it was $2999 ($2699 with a student discount). Since then, it has dropped to $2499 ($2299 with a student discount) with the dual 2.5GHz system taking its place at the $2999 pricepoint. Needless to say, at almost $3000, the G5 was one expensive system considering its specs. Many will attempt to justify the price of the G5 by comparing it to a workstation class PC, such as a dual Opteron or Xeon and then saying that the price differential isn't all that much - after all, it's not abnormal to spend $3000 on a workstation right? While that is true, generally speaking, a $3000 workstation will buy you much more than what Apple's top of the line G5 gives you from a hardware perspective.

The first thing I quickly realized was that justifying Apple's pricing wasn't something to do - just bite the bullet and try the experiment. It's all about supply and demand, Apple has around 2% of the computing market. Compare that to the rest of the pie that x86 makers get to share and you can quickly see why the economies of scale don't play in Apple's favor. If you look at the brief spec list above, however, you'll see that the memory, hard drive and video card are fairly mass produced components, but then you have to take into account that the chassis, processors, motherboard, power supplies and basically every other component in the system are not. Then, keep in mind that the video card has to be specially made for Apple and the memory is also the slowest DDR400 that you can find on the market today, so even the mass produced components aren't all that mass produced. The system is expensive; you can get much more PC for the same price, but the point of this experiment wasn't to discover what we already knew.

Ordering such an expensive system is a dangerously easy process through Apple's website (it's also dangerously easy to get a student discount. I was still in school when the order was placed, but it seems like Apple doesn't really require any proof one way or another). I ordered the system pretty much stock from Apple; I was going to do any and all upgrades on my own. Once your order is shipped, there's a 10% restocking fee if the box is opened should you decide to return it; it's not an unusual policy, but definitely not the most customer-friendly one.

Setup was a breeze, but so is any computer setup these days. There is a bit less cable clutter with a Mac, but it's nothing too significant, especially if you are using anything other than an iMac. Of course, all of the cables that come with the machine are white, which made using the millions of black power cables that I had laying around somehow "wrong". I had a setup of two Cinema Displays that I was going to be using with the G5, and since they were older displays, they both featured ADC connectors instead of the normal DVI connectors that I was used to. ADC is an interesting standard developed by Apple that basically allows power, USB and the video signal to be carried off of a single cable. The ADC interface cuts down significantly on cable clutter, since three cables are now merged into one; unfortunately, there is only a single ADC port on the video card, meaning that I had to use an ADC to DVI adaptor for the second display. The ADC to DVI adaptor is pretty expensive (around $150) as it has to provide an external power supply to power the monitor and USB ports. Apple has fixed this issue with the latest revision of their Cinema Displays, which are now all DVI. Unfortunately, you lose the cable clutter benefits with the new displays, since they abandon ADC.

The rest of the hardware is pretty simple, a stylish USB keyboard and the dreaded one-button mouse. Apple's mentality behind the one-button mouse is that it is less confusing to their users than two-button mice; rumor has it that John Carmack once asked Steve Jobs what would happen if they put more than one key on a keyboard in response to Apple's reasons for sticking with a single button mouse. Regardless of why they do it, for a power user, and especially for a Windows user, there was no way I was going to survive with a one-button mouse. Luckily, the mouse is USB and just about any PC compatible USB mouse will work on the platform. The same applies to the one-button Apple mouse, if you were wondering; it works just fine under Windows. I didn't bother hooking up Apple's mouse - I went straight for my optical Intellimouse. I had already met and hated the Apple mouse, so there was no reason to re-open old wounds if I was to remain as objective as possible.

The USB cables on the mouse and keyboard are purposefully short; they are meant to be plugged into your monitor - not the actual computer itself - in order to reduce cable clutter.

The system came with a recovery CD and some other manuals and booklets that I quickly cast aside; just because I'm using a Mac doesn't mean that I have to change my habits on reading manuals!

Unlike the older Macs that I remembered, you couldn't turn on the G5 using the keyboard - there was no keyboard power-on switch (which isn't a bad thing, as I remember turning friends' computers off all the time in the Mac labs). Touching the power button on either the Cinema Display or on the actual computer itself would turn on the system.

The classic Mac sound made its entrance as the system booted up. After filling out a couple of screens of information, I was dropped into Mac OS X - my new home away from home.

Index Finding my way around Finder
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  • vladik007 - Thursday, March 31, 2005 - link

    " highly paid Windows admin / Cisco Engineer "

    geeez ... new low bottom.
    Reply
  • MarshallG - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    I was thinking about getting a Mini Mac. But with a 1.25 GHz CPU, it's about 1/4 the machine that Anand tested.

    Will I be disapointed by its performance at the same kinds of tasks Anand mentioned? I realize that I'll have to upgrade to maybe 1 GB of RAM.
    Reply
  • BikeMike - Sunday, January 30, 2005 - link

    re: OSX dialogue keyboard shortcuts - like in Word, where 'd' means 'don't save' and 'return' & 'enter' apply to the highlighted button, many OSX apps do not require a modifier key, such as 'alt' or 'command'. The experience of discovery is guesswork, yes, but if you don't look for a modifier key, you get better at guessing. For example, in iTunes dialogues, 'y' means, you guessed it, 'yes'. Reply
  • pyramiddown - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    Ctrl-Tab to switch tabs in Firefox Reply
  • OmnisAudis - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Great article! very long winded, but awesome. I am a long time Mac user, with an XP machine at home and an iBook at work.

    I thought it was very interesting you found nothing snazzy about iCal. It is my FAV Apple app!! It is the most powerful, easy to use calendar I've come across. And it seems to be able to do things that XP Outlook can't. For one thing, I can publish a calendar so that other users can subsribe to it. When I make a change to that calendar, they see those changes.

    I can have TONS of calendars. In outlook, my boss can only have one (and view others). At my work place, we have 20 productions going on. It would be great if he could generate a calander that we could subscribe to for each show. As changes occur, we would get them without a memo going out, and everyone updating their calendars.

    Plus, I can subscribe to a season calendar of the Yankees! So as I publish calendars for visiting artists, and I subscribe to one for entertainment.

    I'll stop now. But I think you should revist iCal. Look at it from a multi-user point of view.

    Thanks for the objective article. I've learned a few things about OS-X!
    Reply
  • KingKuei - Sunday, January 16, 2005 - link

    Anand,

    Wait til you see Tiger...

    Updated Safari with significantly improved speed and capabilities.

    Add the Spotlight feature (comprehensive demo at MacWorld Expo --> don't miss the jab at Bill Gates when the Spotlight feature crashes... one word: backup)

    Dashboard (sorry to the company that made it, but the feature is coming free to Tiger and I can't wait!)

    And for the first time, fully takes advantage of the 64-bit processing core of the G5.

    Anand, I dare you to write a follow-up review on that dual-2Ghz of your's when Tiger ships ON SCHEDULE later this year!
    Reply
  • macgeek - Saturday, January 01, 2005 - link

    It is go glaringly obvious to any Mac user that you did understand half of what you were writing about. Just a few glaring omissions from your article:

    * Unix-based, and you have full control of Unix through the terminal.

    * No spyware or viruses - I don't even run anti-virus because there has NEVER been a virus for OS X. NOT ONE!!!

    * Why do you think Office 2004 sucks? Probably because it's made by Microsoft! Ever heard of OpenOffice?

    * Address Book - not only is it integrated into mail, but it's integrated into OS X.

    * Guess you didn't spend much time looking for it, because you could have had Trillian for Mac OS X as well.

    * Browsers - Yeah, Safari needs some work, but you've got quite a few to choose from. Oh, and Safari isn't the Lincoln Tunnel of security holes that IE is either. And if you so choose, you can simply drag Safari to the trash can and never use it again. Now try that with IE.

    * ipfw vs. Windows Firewall - Puuhhlleeeeasseee!! What does microsoft give you? A firewall that a third-grader could get through and that allows EVERYTHING OUT!!!!! I quite like having the ability to customize ipfw in terminal to have a firewall that is truly an industrial strength firewall.

    * Root authentication - whenever a program needs to install or modify system files, you have to authenticate as root. Too bad that when you're logged on as an Admin in Windows it's "anything goes" and you have no choice when that nasty website throws a dll file into the Windows directory.

    * No mention of any Apple Pro Apps like Final Cut HD. I've seen what happens to P4 systems when they try to render video in Adobe Premiere - they crash. You have to drop at least an extra $1000 for a Canopus or high-end Matrox capture card to have a chance of competing with a dual G5 system. My PowerBook G4 1.5 GHz renders video better than my P4 3.4 with 1GB of HyperX PC3500.

    * No mention of integrated Bluetooth, or how simple it is to configure networking, or of integrated Firewire 800.

    Shoddy research, and a poor attempt overall. It's easy to see that you liked the G5, but you didn't even scratch the surface before you wrote that article. And if you honestly think that OS X crashes as much as Windows, you REALLY must not have known what you were doing.

    And I qualify this as my day job is as a highly paid Windows admin / Cisco Engineer. I know Windows XP / 2k / 2k Server and Win2k3 inside and out, and they can't touch the possibilities of OS X. The only area that I'll give you is gaming. That's why I have a top-o-the-line AMD.
    Reply
  • hopejr - Monday, November 08, 2004 - link

    I'm quite impressed with this article. I'm a recent switcher (august 04) and can say that I much rather OS X to any other OS that I've used (every single released version of windows from 1.03 to Longhorn 4074, many Linux distros, and mac os from system 6 to OS X Panther).
    I didn't go for a beefed up PowerMac G5, but I did buy a 12" iBook G4 with student discount (April 04 model). I've found that these are the cheapest decent notebooks out (as I can't stand celerons :P), and for a 12" at just AU$1520, I think it was a bargain (most PC 12" laptops are twice that much with almost identical specs).
    I also like the fact that I have seemless networking with my Windows machines. Another thing I like is that I can do all the stuff I need to do on linux (for University) on my iBook because of its unix base.
    In regard to the point someone made (i can't remember which post) about this article testing multitasking on a dual processor environment, I find that my single processor G4 laptop is still much better at multitasking than the latest Windows PC with hyperthreading, or even an AMD64, that I've used. Maybe that's just me though :P.
    I've found that I'm more productive on OS X compared to windows, especially with all those keyboard shortcuts.
    BTW, post #207 is right about the choice mac users have to make, I make those choices now, and know exactly when I want a program to close, or when I just want to close a window. I also find command-H and command-option-H very useful with reducing screen clutter.
    I haven't always liked Macs. I hated them mainly because the classic OS was a pain to use in my opinion with little control over it (I am a DOS user, so I like being in control of my machine using a command prompt). When OS X came out (especially Panther), my hatred disappeared.
    Reply
  • macgruder - Saturday, November 06, 2004 - link

    Pretty good and fair review.

    I wish people would stop saying an App should quit when you close the last window. This is not useful in many situations. e.g. I'm in Photoshop, I have a window open, and I'm done with it, but am going to continue working. Close the windows, oops Photoshop quits.

    Mac users are used to making the following choice:
    a. I want to close a window (command-W)
    b. I want to quit the App. (command-Q)

    These are 2 distinct actions. To me closing a window is just that, and shouldn't be connected to the independent action of quitting an app. If I'm done and I have ten windows open, I just command-Q, and the windows(if not saved) close automatically anyway. As far as I can see Windows seems to be forcing you (correct me if I'm wrong) to do an unconnected action, when you may not want to.
    Reply
  • Humancodex - Friday, November 05, 2004 - link

    I make a link of the article to: http://www.macbidouille.com (french) in forum "switch", everybody like your "objectivité", and like you to push the Mac test trial more often! Reply

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