Jun 25, 2003

The PowerPC G5 Bits Drought

According to Apple, the G5 is the fastest desktop computer in the world, as well as the first 64-bit desktop system. Something doesn't sit right with me though. Aside from the nigh-universal ranting about skewed benchmarks that has been circulating recently, there's another aspect the Power Mac G5 not many have touched upon.

Mac OS X is a 32-bit operating system and since the PowerPC 970 is a 64-bit chip, Mac OS X will effectively be running at 800, 900, and 1,000 MHz in the new Power Macs and not 1.6, 1.8, and 2.0 GHz as Apple claims. Let's stick to the specs and look a little deeper into this problem.

Mac OS X v10.0 debuted in March 2001. By October, Mac OS X v10.1 optimized the code in the operating system for G3 and G4 chips — until this point, a lot of the components in the operating system still had optimizations for PowerPC 603 and 604 models. Apple continued this trend with Mac OS X v10.2 by removing support the 60x family. Try installing Jaguar on a G2 system — it just can't happen. But by doing so, they were finally able to push the system to its limits with Velocity Engine tweaks.

With the PowerPC 970, however, Apple is in a different pickle.

One just can't scale an operating system to 64-bits on a whim. In two months the G5 systems will ship to consumers with an operating system that will halve the clock since it can't use half the bits of the chip it will run on! There will be a gap of four months between the 64-bit G5 ships and the 64-bit-friendly Mac OS X v10.3 arrives. Tell me, Mac users, what are we going to do in the meantime? This is worse than when Apple downgraded the speed on their Power Mac G4 systems while keeping the prices the same.

Your new Power Mac G5 will only run at half its clockspeed!

I wouldn't pay $3,000 for year 2000 performance. Apple better have something marvelous up their sleeve during what I like to call this four-month bits drought we're all facing. Otherwise, I'll be planting my foot firmly in their ass, and so should you.

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