Power Mac G5 Desktop: A lot of computer for a few hundred dollars

Mac Pro G5 Right Side

Figure 1

In 2008, I switched from a Windows driven PC to an Apple computer.  I bought an iMac with the 24″ screen.  I still have it and it has been a terrific machine.  The only thing I have done to it has been to max out the memory to 4 gigs, and keep the operating system current.  Sadly, after using the iMac for a while, I missed having two monitors like I used on my Windows computer;  I liked the convenience of the expanded desktop and it made working on projects much easier.  My iMac lacks a port for an additional monitor, and though the 24″ screen is big, it does not compare to the two monitor systems I was used to.  My work-around was to add another computer.  I knew I could run two computers from one keyboard and mouse by using software like Teleport, which would also allow me to cut and paste, and drag files between the computers seamlessly.  Adding to this is the extra bonus of having the power of the extra computer.  Problem solved, now all I had to do was figure out what I was going to use for my second computer.

I began my quest for the “new” computer.  I wanted to stay with Apple, but because of my limited budget for this project, a new or nearly new refurbished Apple computer would be out of the question.   The only thing left was used equipment.  After doing a few Google searches, I ran across some ads for Power Macs, and the more I studied them, the more I knew I wanted a Power Mac for myself.  From a design and engineering standpoint, even by today’s standards, these are amazing machines.   The Power Mac was released in June of 2003 and ended its run in August of 2006, when Apple switched to Intel processors.  The Power Macs were designed for an industrial/commercial customer:  labs, schools, photo/movie editing, graphic rendering, desktop publishing, engineering, etc.  The processors were made by IBM and during the production run they created single processors at 1.6 GHz and 1.8 GHz, and dual core processors ranging from 1.8 GHz to 2.7 GHz.  In 2005, there was a shift from dual processors to dual core processors, and a quad core 2.5 GHz processors was also introduced.  Some of the dual processor 2.5 GHz and all the dual 2.7 GHz processors were liquid cooled (the early Delphi produced cooling systems were buggy.  Later models were equipped with cooling systems made by Panasonic which were more reliable).  Here are the specifications for a 1.8 GHz dual processor Power Mac built in early 2004 (this data is directly from the “User’s Manual” Apple provided with the computer):

Processor and Memory Specifications

Processor

• Power PC processor with 512 kilobytes (KB) of on-chipL2 cache per processor

Random-access memory (RAM)

  • Double-Data-Rate(DDR)synchronous dynamic random-accessmemory(SDRAM)
  • All DDR SDRAM supplied in removable dual inline memory modules (DIMMs)
  • DIMMs installed in pairs of equal size
  • Four or eight DIMM slots available for 400 MHz, PC 3200 DDR SDRAM, depending onyour computer model
    256 MB DIMMs must have 128 or 256 megabit (Mbit) technology devices; 512 MB DIMMs must have 256 Mbit technology devices; and 1 GB DIMMs must have 512 Mbit technology devices.
  • 2.5 volt (V) unbuffered
  • 184-pin
  • Non-error-correcting(NECC)
  • NonparitySystem Profiler, located in Applications/Utilities, provides information about your computer, including the amount of memory.Graphics Controller

• AGP 8X Pro graphics card with an Apple Display Connector (ADC) and Digital Visual Interface (DVI) connector. AGP 3.0 or AGP Pro compliant.

SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW) Specifications• Disc diameters supported: 12 cm and 8 cmUSB Specifications
  • Support for Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0 and 1.1
  • Five external USB Type A ports
    • One USB 2.0 port on the front
    • Two USB 2.0 ports on the back
    • Two USB1.1 ports on the AppleKeyboard
  • Each rear port is on a separate 480 megabit-per-second(Mbps) USBchannel
  • 500 milliamperes (mA) at 5 V are available for each USB 2.0 port, for a total of1.5 amperesFireWire Specifications
  • Support for FireWire 400 and FireWire 800
  • Three external FireWire ports• One FireWir e400 port on the front• One FireWire 400 and one FireWire 800 port on the back
  • Data transfer speed:
    • FireWire 400: 100, 200, and 400 Mbps
    • FireWire 800: 100, 200, 400, and 800 MbpsPower

• Output voltage range: Approximately 13 to 25 V • Output power range:Upto15W

Ethernet Specifications

  • IEEE802.3compliant
  • Maximum cable length: 100 meters (m)
  • Protocols: Open Transport, AppleShare, AppleTalk, NetWare for Macintosh, TCP/IP
  • Connector:RJ-45for10Base-T,100Base-TX,and1000Base-T
  • Media, 10Base-T: Category 3 or higher UTP on 2 pairs up to 100 m
  • Media, 100Base-TX: Category 5 UTP on 2 pairs up to 100 m
  • Media, 1000Base-T: Category 5 and 6 UTP on 4 pairs up to 100 m
  • Channel speeds: IEEE Auto Negotiation of 10Base-T, 100Base-TX, and 1000Base-TModem Specifications
  • Data communications standard: K56Flex and V.92
  • Speed:53kilobitspersecond(Kbps)
  • Fax standard: ITU V.17Bluetooth Specifications (Optional)
  • Wireless data rate:Upto1Mbps
  • Range:Upto30feet(data rates may vary depending on environmental conditions)
  • Frequency band: 2.4 gigahertz (GHz)

AirPort Extreme Card (Optional) Specifications

  • Wireless data rate:Upto54Mbps
  • Range:Upto150feet(data rates may vary depending on environmental conditions)
  • Frequency band: 2.4 gigahertz (GHz)
  • Radio output power: 15 dBm (nominal)Compatibility
  • 802.11 Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS) 1 and 2 Mbps standard
  • 802.11b 11Mbps standard
  • 802.11g 54 Mbps standardOptical Digital Audio Specifications
  • Data format: Sony/Phillips Digital Interface (S/PDIF) protocol (IEC60958-3)
  • Connector type: Toslink optical (IEC60874-17)
  • Bits per sample: 16-bit or 24-bitOptical digital audio outBased on a typical situation with playback of a 1KHz, -1dBFS 24-bit sine wave, 44.1Khz output sample rate, unless otherwise specified below.
  • Output sample rate: 32 kHz, 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz
  • Signal-to-noise ratio: Greater than130 dB
  • Total harmonic distortion + noise: Less than -130 dB (0.00001 percent)Optical digital audio inBased on a typical situation with playback of a1KHz, -1dBFS 24-bit sine wave, unless otherwise specified below.
  • Fsi–input sample rate (external clock mode): 32 kHz, 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz
  • Fsi–input sample rate (interna lclockmode):16kHzto96kHz
  • Signal-to-noise ratio (external clock mode): Greater than130 dB
  • Signal-to-noise ratio (internal clock mode, 16 kHz < Fsi < 96 kHz): Less than -112 dB
  • Total harmonic distortion + noise (external clock mode): Less than -130 dB (0.00001%)
  • Total harmonic distortion + noise (internal clock mode, 16 kHz < Fsi < 96 kHz): Less than-112 dB (0.0003%)

Analog Audio Specifications

  • Sample rate: 32 kHz, 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz
  • Jacktype:1/8”mini
  • Bits per sample: 16-bit or 24-bit
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz to -20 kHz, +0.5 dB/-3 dBSound out using the headphone jack
  • Output voltage: 1.4 volts (root mean square) (Vrms) (+4 dbu)
  • Output impedance: 24ohms
  • Output power:20milliwatts(mW)
  • Signal-to-noise ratio: Greater than 90 dB
  • Total harmonic distortion: Less than -80 dB (0.01 percent)
  • Channel separation: Greater than 65 dBAnalog audio line-in
  • Maximum input voltage: 2 volts (root mean square) (Vrms) (+8 dbu)
  • Input impedance: Greater than 47 kilohms
  • Signal-to-noise ratio: Greater than 90 dB
  • Total harmonic distortion: Less than -85 dB (0.006 percent)
  • Channel separation: Greater than 75 dBAnalog audio line-out
  • Output voltage: 1.4 volts (root mean square) (Vrms) (+4 dbu)
  • Output impedance: 24ohms
  • Signal-to-noise ratio: Greater than 90 dB
  • Total harmonic distortion: Less than -80 dB (0.01 percent)
  • Channel separation: Greater than 65 dBPower SupplyAC line input
  • Voltage range: 100–240 V alternating current (AC)
  • Current: 7.5amperes (A) uni processor or9.5 amperes(A)dual processor
  • Frequency: 50–60 HzDC display output

• 4.0 A maximum at nominal 25 V DC from the Apple Display Connector

Power Requirements for Devices You Can Connect

Expansion cards

• Combined maximum power consumption by the AGP and PCI cards is 90 W. USB devices

• Each of the computer’s built-in USB ports is allotted 500mA. FireWire devices

• The computer can provide up to 15 W total to the FireWire ports.

System Clock and Battery

• CMOS custom circuitry with long-life lithium battery. You can replace the computer’s battery (see “Replacing the Battery” on page 67) with a new one purchased from an Apple Authorized Reseller.

Dimensions and Operating Environment

Dimensions

  • Weight:17.84kg(39.32lbs.)
    Weight depends on configuration. Weight above includes basic configuration: a uni processor, an optical drive and one hard disk drive. Weight may be greater if optional devices are installed.
  • Height: 511 mm (20.12 in.)
  • Width: 206 mm (8.11 in.)
  • Depth: 475 mm (18.70 in.)Operating environment
    • Operating temperature: 10° to 35° C (50° to 95° F)
    • Storage temperature: –40° to 47° C (–40° to 116° F)
    • Relative humidity:5%to95%(noncondensing)
    • Altitude: 0 to 3048 meters (0 to 10,000 feet)
Mac Pro G5 with access panel removed

Figure 2

Putting some of this data in perspective, here are some examples of features mentioned above that were cutting edge in 2004:  The processors used were 64 bit, just as “over the top” as having two processors on the mother board; a DVD Player that could read, write, and record (most PCs came with a CD RW player); Gigabyte Ethernet was a new technology;  Optical digital “in” and “out” ports still are not common place on PCs today; USB 2.0 and Firewire 800;  SATA hard drives, and digital video (DVI).

The case housing all the hardware was a marvel too.  Made out of aluminum, and fully loaded, it weighs slightly over 30 pounds.  The front and rear of the case have stamped aluminum grilles designed for air transfer.  There are no less than 6 thermostatically controlled fans located inside the case to keep air moving for cooling.  The left side (as you face the front of the case) is non-opening (Figure 1).  The right side does open, by means of lifting a lever on the back of the computer.  Immediately inside you see that the case is divided into 4 areas, and a clear acrylic cover is installed covering the lower two quadrants; this piece is molded to further promote air flow to warm (or hot) hardware (Figure 2).  Fans are located in each quadrant.  The other thing you notice is  the absence of cables anywhere to disrupt air flow.

Access to parts was clearly a consideration.  The acrylic shield lifts out.  All but the main rear fans slide out, giving access to mother board essentials like memory, and card slots.  There is space for two SATA hard drives, both drives can slide in and out.  No screws to fiddle with, – just quick access.  These were industrial machines and down time is lost revenue, so you can work inside pretty quickly.

The rear of the machine, shows a very simplified connection layout (Figure 3).  Every port is well marked an easy to get to as well.

Mac Pro G5 Rear View

Figure 3

A little over two years ago, I purchased the Power Mac seen in these pictures.  I bought it on Ebay, from a used technology vendor, in Chicago.  My machine was one of number of identical computers in their inventory.  Prior to the vendor, I don’t know much else about where it spent the first 6 years of its life.  My G5 came with a Gig of Ram (an original upgrade, 256 K was standard), an 80 Gig hard drive, and a DVD RW drive (also an option when it was purchased).  I paid a little less than two hundred dollars for it.  The machine came to me well packaged.  Already with me when I opened the shipping container was my can of compressed air and cleaning supplies.  I felt that the PC after being in a commercial setting for 6 years would likely be dirty on the outside and inside as well.  To my surprise, the Apple looked just like it appears in the pictures on this page, that is except for a few small scratches, brand new.  I dropped the access panel, ready to clean up the inside, and that area too was spotless.  The vendor had done a great job in preparing this machine for sale.  Wow!!! I couldn’t wait to hook it up.  Within minutes, it was sitting on my desk.  I had a Samsung LCD flat panel resting in my closet, – I quickly attached the screen to the Power Mac.  I then grabbed an extra keyboard and mouse and installed them.  An extra ethernet cable was discovered and installed.  A push of the power button on the front of the case sent the cooling fans into rapid motion, and within seconds, they slowed back down and were barely audible.  Then, the Power Mac booted to life.  The G5 immediately found my network.  I checked the remaining hardware, and everything worked.

I believe the operating system on it when it came was Panther, – it wasn’t on there long enough for me to totally be sure.  I had a copy of Leopard, and quickly installed it.  Then I installed the patches taking it to 10.5.8, the last OS X supported for the Power PC by Apple.  I left the 80 Gig hard drive, and added a SATA 250 Gig (another relic from my part’s bin).  Because I keep all my data, photos, movies, and music on a server, 330 Gigs of hard drive space is fine on the Power Mac.  The last upgrade I made was to install 2 additional Gigs of RAM (now 3 Gigs total).

Software really has not been that hard to find.  Here are some examples:  Libre Office, an open source office suite that has become a standard part of Linux distributions is available for Power PC machines.   Gimp, an open source graphic editor (similar to Photoshop) is available.   Teleport still makes software for the Power PC that allows me to control the Power Mac with my keyboard and track pad from my iMac.  VLC’s media player runs well on it.  In short, there is plenty of software available.

So after all is said and done, how does it run?  For its age, 8 years old, it is surprisingly fast.  Playing movies from its DVD player, or streaming video is handled with ease.  Spreadsheets, databases, documents, etc. seem to be as fast as those used on my dual core iMac.  Where it shows its age is when heavy graphics are involved, partly due to 64 megs of ram on the video card, and the 900 MHz buss speed.  The Power Mac is used daily, along with my iMac and Server.  When I write, my document is on the iMac and I do my research on the Power Mac.  I mix music on the Power Mac:  a stereo cable from my stereo pre-amp mixer is plugged into the Power Mac’s analog audio input.   I further edit the music in Audacity, convert and save the file to a mp3 on the server, all from the Power Mac.  Finally, I run a stereo cable from the Power Mac’s analog out to a stereo receiver and play back music via iTunes (also on the Power Mac).  I have also used the G5 for editing and rendering graphics, editing movies, and so on.  I would say for a computer that I paid less than $200 for, it really delivers (and that is no doubt a BIG under statement).

If you are going to school, you are on a budget, or you just want another Apple, the Power Macs are hard to beat.  Today, I have seen G5’s like mine advertised on Ebay (Buy Now, not auctioned) and in online retail stores go from (on the average) between $150 and $200.  I even saw a later model quad-core for $325.  One should still remember that the PC is still “Used”.  Things can go wrong and wear out.  The advantage here is that you are not into it for a lot of money.  If I cannot find a part, or the part is too expensive, I’ll buy a G5 from Ebay as “parts”, or buy a working one and keep the one I have for parts.  In the long run, I’m still money ahead.  There is one more reason to have one of these Power Macs:  There is indeed a “WOW” factor in owning one.  They were the state of the art for their time, and they still look like it.  If you appreciate well designed and engineered products, you’ll appreciate this machine.

–Larry

24 Comments

  • Rob says:

    Yep it is a very powerful machine still. I buy one yesterday for $100
    quad core g5 at 2.5 ghz.
    512 meg ram (upgrade)
    6600 256 meg vram pcix 4 slots.
    250 gig sata.
    dual gig ethernet.

    Included a 20 inch apple monitor aluminum cased.

    The guy practically had all the software and manuals that came with the computer and the monitor in a box. Even had the antana for wifi. iLife 06. Tiger install and Leopard upgrade.

    • Leo Vetus says:

      Rob,

      You got a great machine and a terrific deal. I am still amazed at how far “ahead” of the development curve these Power Macs were. I bought a “dvi-to-hdmi” adapter cable, and have my computer hooked up to my 42″ Sharp TV. Though it will run 1080P, I have it set at 720P because on some movies I was dropping too many frames. Your machine, which is much more powerful than mine, should handle full HD with no problem.

      Thanks for you comment, and enjoy your new computer.

      Larry

      • Rob says:

        I have my other one hooked up to the tv. 46 or 42 inch Dynex. That one I got for $80

        dual 2.0 ghz
        2 gigs ram
        Rty 128 meg vram
        160 HD (upgraded with 2 tb segate)

        Wonder if these take a 3 tb drive.

        • Leo Vetus says:

          If memory serves me right, 2tb’s is the max size for most of the early models; I have checked my sources but have not come up with a maximum hd capacity for your machine.

          You’ve got some great deals, and some great machines.

          Larry

        • rob says:

          It will take 4 tb drives. I have not tried 8 or 6 but I think those will work too. I think it has a 64 bit design so I suppose it will take a 200 tb drive. Don’t take my word for it test it to see. But the 4 tb drive is definite yes. I used to buy and repair and sell g5s. I had a whole bunch tested with 4tb. My 4tb segate drive was my data drive with all the goodies to copy on the machine for sale. You just plug in and copy over faster then on a fire cable. So back to what I remember having. quad core 2.5 water cooled. Dual cores. Single core 1.6, 1.8, 2.0 and 2.5. Those are ghz. The model i think was 7.1, 7.1, 11.1,11.2s.

  • Rob says:

    You know I am trying to figure out if this machine will take pc6400 ram all the info I find tells me that pc4200 is the only one it will take and that is ddr2 533 mhz but then I see a quad core listed on craigs list and the listing said that it comes with pc6400 2 gigs of ram. I been searching on ebay and cannot find g5 pc6400 memory modules.

    • Leo Vetus says:

      I checked at Crucial.com (I use Crucial in both my Macs). Here are the specs:

      Memory Type: DDR2 PC2-5300, DDR2 PC2-6400, DDR2 (ECC)
      Maximum Memory: 16GB
      Slots: 8

      So, it looks like it will take it.

      Leo

      • Rob says:

        I did the same and when I clicked on all compatible hard drives guess what popped on the list. A 3 tb hard drive. So I take it these also support 3 tb hard drives. That will give me 6 tbs plus 16 megs of ram and 4500 quadro pro video. That should support all the software like CS4 aperture 2 and LR 2. On the other I have all those. I wonder if i can instal aperture 3 once the quadro is here.

  • Neil says:

    The voltage in my country is 220v, can i plug it directly? thanks

    • prometheus says:

      Unless the G5 was originally designed for sale in your country, then you will need an adapter. I have looked at my G5 and I do not see a built-in adapter switch.

      Thanks for visiting my site and reading my article.

      Larry

  • James Gulwell says:

    A Good Read,
    I’ve just purchased one 2x2ghz on eBay in the UK. I away working and it’s turned up with major case damage, I’m hoping the internals are ok.
    Looking at a second one to use as a donor or vice versa.
    I’m planning on using it as a home media centre, with the likes of wireless now I’m sure it’s a lot easier to do this, even though sped through wired is faster.
    Just wondering if you’ve ever had trouble switching bits about from one machine to another?
    A tad of a novice when it comes to it. I’ve opted for the G5 because of its looks and power for the value for money.
    Cheers
    J

    • prometheus says:

      James,

      The G5 is a good machine. I am sure you are disappointed with the case on yours; hopefully, as you said, the internals are OK.

      My G5 has been in many roles since I purchased it. Initially I used it as a desktop computer, then as a media server. As a media server it worked very well. With video DVI out, and fiber optic audio out as well, it could stream and play video as well as anything I have had, and I used it in this role for a long time. Sadly, the main media server software I was using at the time, XBMC (now KODI), ceased to support the G5’s cpu’s, so I had to find a new job for the G5. At this point, I installed a 1TB hard drive, with Debian Linux as the OS (without the GUI, – command line only), and turned the G5 into a server, where again it performs admirably, and for a server, reliably as well.

      As to your question about switching bits from one machine to another, I have not had to do that. That being said, it is certainly doable. Just make sure switching from the same model. On G5’s, presuming you have a desktop, when you open the side door, there should be a label at the bottom of the case frame showing the model number, and the pieces the G5 was configured with at the time it was sold, and I believe date of assembly. Before purchasing another G5 from which you wish to marry the parts, do some research on the “net” to see if any changes were made to the model during its production run, usually delineated by the manufacturing date, like “early 2002”. In short, as long as your donor G5 is from the same ilk as your existing one, you should be home free.

      Glad you liked the article. Best of luck with your G5.

      Larry

    • Rob says:

      Try to see if there are some good deals on 1st gen zeon. Local craigs list is your place to go.

  • James says:

    Prometheus, thanks for your feedback.

    The plan was to use it as a media server and use Plex, I have Apple TV in one room and an Xbox One in another.
    The Apple TV Gen 3 I’ve seen a small back to use Plex.

    Do you see any issues with this?

    I’ve since contacted the seller to see about returning and buying another, it’s in a hell of a shape and supplied the wrong power lead so can’t even see if it will power up as yet…

    Cheers
    James

    • prometheus says:

      James,

      Plex is a “fork” of XBMC, now Kodi. That being the case, it may not support the G5. Assuming Plex will run on the G5, the rest of your plan sounds doable.

      Hope all goes well with the return of the “crunched” G5. I have purchased two Mac Pros from Ebay. The G5, that was the basis for the article on LarryTalksTech, and a dual Intel 3.0 ghz, that I purchased 18 months ago. Both were from computer recyclers, and came in well packaged, and totally clean. Except for a few minor scratches, they looked like “new”, both inside and out.

      Best of Luck

      Larry

  • Peter says:

    Very late to this party but just to comment on “My iMac lacks a port for an additional monitor”. Pretty sure the 24″ 2008 had a Mini-DVI which would drive a DVI screen or a VGA with the right adapter. Never seen an Intel iMac that didn’t have video out…

    • prometheus says:

      My 2008 iMac has a mini DVI, however, I added a second monitor by using a usb video card called “j5 Create”. Works great.

    • prometheus says:

      I do in fact have a mini-dvi connector on my 2008 iMac, but used a USB video card instead. I had several reasons for doing this, but most important I don’t think the onboard video card is strong enough to do a good enough job without some help.

      Larry

  • Child0fTheNight says:

    On of the editors at my job gave me his G5. same specs as Rob this is my streaming computer and its awesome! It was made totally ahead of its time. its sad that we cant get passed the Leopard OS

    • prometheus says:

      Thanks for your comments. See my article “Install Linux On VirtualBox With Mac Host”. If you can get a hold of a legacy copy of VirtualBox, you may be able to run a current version of Linux on your G5. In any event, I still have my G5 Mac Pro, and it still runs great.

      Larry

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