Today in Apple history: Power Mac G5 packs world’s first 64-bit CPU


G5 computer
A 64-bit CPU powered Apple's stunning "cheese grater" Power Mac G5.
Photo: Bernie Kohl/Wikipedia CC

June 23: Today in Apple history: Power Mac G5 packs world's first 64-bit CPU June 23, 2003: Apple launches its gorgeous Power Mac G5, a powerhouse desktop computer with a perforated aluminum chassis that earns it the affectionate nickname “the cheese grater.”

Starting at an affordable $1,999 (more than $3,300 in today’s money, adjusted for inflation), the Power Mac G5 is the world’s first 64-bit personal computer. It’s also Apple’s fastest machine yet.

Power Mac G5 launch

Inside its distinctive, anodized aluminum case, the Power Mac G5 boasted IBM’s PowerPC G5 CPU architecture. This provided a massive step up from the aging Power Mac G4, which had been Apple’s high-end Mac from 1999 until 2002.

Apple launched three different Power Mac G5 models running at 1.6 GHz, 1.8 GHz and 2 GHz. All used the same 64-bit PowerPC 970 (G5) processor, which offered higher clock speeds. It also brought vastly improved (and massively parallel) computing capabilities.

In advertisements, Apple touted the new computer’s speed when compared to PCs.

“In side-by-side tests using industry-standard benchmarks,” one said, “the [top end] dual 2.0-gigahertz Power Mac G5 is up to 41% faster than both the fastest Pentium 4 and dual-processor Xeon workstation. And the results get even better when using real-world applications: the new Power Mac G5 runs Photoshop more than twice as fast as the fastest PCs.”

High-performance hardware

Apple CEO Steve Jobs promised that a 3 GHz model would be available “within 12 months,” but it never happened. In fact, a Mac with a processor capable of running at that speed did not arrive until 2006. That’s when Apple introduced the similar-looking Intel Xeon-based Mac Pro.

In terms of other hardware features, the Power Mac G5 packed an AGP 8X video card, FireWire 800, gigabit Ethernet, up to half a terabyte of internal Serial ATA storage and a SuperDrive for authoring DVDs.

As far as professional-level computers went, very few could beat the Power Mac G5 in 2003. For trivia buffs, this was also Apple’s first computer to include USB 2.0 ports.

Power Mac G5: A stunning piece of design

The Power Mac G5's insides were lovingly designed by Jony Ive's team to look attractive
Jony Ive’s team lovingly designed the computer’s insides to look attractive.
Photo: Bernie Kohl/Wikipedia CC

The industrial-inspired design of the Power Mac G5 made it distinctive in its day. In fact, it still looks stunning nearly two decades later. (There’s a good reason why the “cheese grater” design returned with the 2019 Mac Pro.)

The G5’s gorgeous design wasn’t limited to the computer’s unique case, either. The Power Mac G5 was the first Apple computer to have its interior — which most users would never even see — designed by Jony Ive and his team to be aesthetically pleasing.

The computer presented some problems, however. Some models suffered from noise and heating issues, although a subsequent liquid-cooled version attempted to correct these shortcomings.

One of the best Macs ever?

Still, this remains one of my favorite Macs of all time. It underlined the fact that Apple was doing much more than building fashionable mass-market devices like the iPod and consumer-friendly computers such as the iMac G3 and iBook, models the company was most associated with at the time.

If you want to track down a Power Mac G5 now, it will likely set you back around $100 on eBay. Do you have fond memories of this machine? Leave your comments below.


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