The Low End Mac Mailbag

Power Mac G5 vs. Intel Mac mini, Video Thumbnails Lost in Migration, OCR Software, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.03.17 - Tip Jar

Power Mac G5 vs. Intel Mac mini

From John Muir:

Hello again Dan,

Regarding Ben Szymanski's quandary over an interim Mac on a low budget until college, I have doubts about the G5. My brother bought a top-end Power Mac dual 2.5 GHz new in 2004 - which he used for coding, hosting his Subversion repository (coding), and as a DVR with EyeTV. It started behaving erratically last autumn, and he discovered that its liquid cooling had sprung a leak . . . only visible once he'd painstakingly removed the non-user-serviceable processor block. Apparently the liquid cooled G5s have a mixed reliability record, according to Hard Mac. He'd been keeping an occasional eye out for leaks in the bottom of his machine's case, but alas this leak was too small to be obvious until the machine failed.

It's possible the processors are still fine: the machine's safety system kept powering it down when it sensed something was wrong. But the cost to repair the Power Mac was substantially above that of buying a lower end replacement: plus he needed his production machine back in action right away.

So he bought a new 2 GHz Intel Mac mini. It's quieter than the Power Mac, comparable at most tasks like compiling, and actually has quite an edge in H.264 encryption. For its price, it was a real steal. He upgraded the memory to 2 GB (which seems to be adequate for its 24-7 use) and has two NewerTech miniStacks piled under the machine hosting his old system's hard drives. FireWire and USB 2 handle heavy throughput nicely. In all he's pretty pleased with the new setup, though does hope to fix the G5 eventually with whatever scheme he can hatch, when time allows.

You get a real treat of processor power for the price with even the lowest end Intel Mac. Power Macs tend to retain their value for a long time secondhand, making the price difference even more noticeable. That dual 2.5 GHz G5 was among the best G5s Apple ever made: a single processor system can only possibly be beaten by the humble Mac mini by an even wider margin.

The Mac mini's shortcomings are, of course, its lack of internal expandability (though I've upgraded the CPU and RAM on mine without much ado, certainly less than going inside an iBook!) and its graphics. I use Photoshop on mine with no problems . . . it's certainly much faster than the G4s I've used. But games are definitely a sore spot, and I would recommend steering clear. I've played a few Windows titles using Boot Camp on the first Intel mini I laid hands on, and it was like a trip back to 2003! Although naturally none of those would run at all on a PowerPC, only native Mac ports.

Leopard really sings on every Intel Mac. Yes, even integrated graphics gives strong Core Image and Core Animation performance. The processor power is unmatchable even by the highest end PowerPCs, and you have Boot Camp and virtualisation available to you. Unless 3D graphics really is at the core of what you do, I find it hard to justify paying more for a slower system which can't offer all of that.

There's a lot of irrational fear and loathing out there about the Mac mini, but given a decent external hard drive and a bit of thought, it's something definitely to be considered. They even make the quietest and easiest hidden server money can buy right now, for making themselves useful once Ben does have an awesome future-spec Mac Pro!

John Muir

John,

Thanks for bringing up Power Mac G5 reliability. MacInTouch has a great Reader Report on this subject covering over 3,600 computers. On average 17% of them needed repair during the first year, and 4 of the 13 distinct models passed the 25% mark. Looking at general patterns, among the June 2003, June 2004, and April 2005 models, the fastest model has the highest repair rate - and the middle of the pack model has the lowest. Of all the problems tracked, only the June 2004 2.5 GHz and April 2005 2.7 GHz models report significant problems with coolant leaks (in the 3-4% range). All models had lower repair rates after the first year in use, which bodes well for the used Mac market.

In terms of raw processing power, the 1.83 GHz Core Duo Mac mini roughly matches what the 2.7 GHz Power Mac G5 provides - at a fraction of the cost. (The only PowerPC Mac to outperform the 1.83 GHz Mac mini is the 2.5 GHz quad-core model, and today's 2.4 GHz iMacs have as much processing power as those most powerful over PowerPC Macs.)

The Intel-based Mac mini is a real powerhouse for the price, and the iMac is no slouch. With a built-in display, stereo speakers, a 3.5" hard drive, and dedicated graphics (in all but two older 17" models), they'd be the better choice for gamers.

Dan

Dan,

The machine had no problems at all until it started shutting down late last year without warning and showing a red light deep inside on its motherboard. That's when my brother went inside behind the processor block - a risk he would not have taken if it were still under warranty - to discover a small pool of leaked coolant and a corrosive stain otherwise well out of view.

It's not to say that G5s should be avoided for reliability: Obviously this problem wouldn't have applied to an air cooled model like most Power Macs. But when it comes to options for repair, there basically are none. If this were a G4, he could have bought an aftermarket upgrade kit. No such luck for G5s though.

John

John,

I hear you. The biggest drawback to the G5 Power Macs is that there are and will never be CPU upgrades. The whole system is tweaked for a specific processor, and IBM has no reason to ever make G5s faster than what Apple used. That said, G4s only go as fast as 2.0 GHz. In comparing a used G4 + CPU upgrade to a used G5, the G5 won hands down for value. I need to continue analyzing the reliability results. The most reliable models are the April 2005 2.3 GHz dual (11% repair rate) and the June 2004 2.0 GHz single (17%), followed by three other models at 19% (June 2003 1.8 GHz single, June 2004 1.8 GHz dual, and Oct. 2004 1.8 GHz single). We'll add reliability ratings to our profiles when I'm comfortable with my analysis.

Dan

Sonnet HARMONi G3 Tiger Compatibility

From John Klos:

Hi, Dan,

I just thought I'd let you and your readers know about compatibility between OS X 10.4.x and the Sonnet HARMONi G3 accelerator and FireWire board for first generation iMacs.

iMac in a Tonka truckI have an iMac tray-loading motherboard built into a Tonka truck.

I've had the HARMONi G3 for a while now, and hoped to use it with 10.4 when it came out. However, there was a problem with the FireWire where the FireWire kernel extension would take 100% of the CPU in 10.4 and hardly share, leaving the system practically unusable. One option was to unload the kernel extension and not use FireWire; the other was to stick with 10.3.

I've recently tried later versions of OS X 10.4, starting with OS X Server 10.4.7, and I am pleased to see that the FireWire bus works fine, and the system is even speedier and more responsive than with OS X Server 10.3.9. Apparently, somewhere along the way, some 10.4 update fixed the FireWire problem.

If any of your readers have a Sonnet HARMONi G3, they might like to know that they can run later versions of 10.4.

As a followup to a previous letter regarding 512 meg DIMMs in these iMacs, I have tried four different kinds of 512 meg DIMMs, in both this HARMONi and on Apple CPU cards. None of them showed up as more than 256 megs. Oh, well . . . 512 megs total will just have to do!

Thanks very much,
John Klos

John,

That's one of the most unusual Mac mods I've ever seen. :-)

Thanks for the update on the Sonnet HARMONi upgrade. Too bad Sonnet never made a G4 version of that very useful upgrade.

Dan

OCR Software for Macs: Acrobat Pro

From Alec Morgan:

Hi Dan,

Regular reader here from New Zealand, where you say? Well look on your map, bottom of the South Pacific near Australia.

Low End Mac has been of immense help over the years to this Mac user. Now, a lot of people overlook the OCR feature that is built into Adobe's Acrobat professional 7.0. and later. I am not sure if the feature is present in earlier versions. You just choose "create .pdf file from scanner" or under the document menu "recognise text using OCR" for an open existing .pdf file. PDFs can be exported or 'printed' from many applications. Acrobats OCR is not as full featured as OmniPage, (which has the ability to divide pages up into sectors etc.) but is very accurate for standard office documents I have found. This may not appear to be a low-end solution, but you can buy academic versions of Acrobat.

One more thing . . . those who think their G3 iMacs PAV board or screen is dead might like to try pushing (just once for around 10 seconds) the reset PMU button. Yes, these have a physical button, a little tricky to find through the back hatch, but it has restored several for me recently.

Best Regards
Alec

Alec,

Thanks for the tips. I've never used the pro version of Acrobat, but I'm glad you're finding it to work decently for OCR. I'll also post your tip with our G3 iMac profiles.

Dan

Missing Video Thumbnails

From Trevor Howard:

Hello,

Figured I'd ask here, since this is the only place I can think of to get my question answered

Well I finally managed to get my hands on one of the nice new 17" MacBook Pros (2.5, 1680x1050 screen) and began the process of migrating files to it, however once I was done I found that suddenly I've lost my video thumbnails on a bunch of my videos within the Finder!

First thing I did was ensure that the thumbnail preview was on, and it was, so next up I set about checking codecs. So I loaded on all my old codec packs as well as a few new ones, and I got some thumbnails back . . . but not all.

The files play fine in QuickTime; Quick Look, however, tends to take a bit to spool up, they will eventually play . . . but it does take quite a while....

It's quite an odd problem actually, since there seems to be little rhyme or reason for the discrimination . . . a bunch of them that had thumbnails just now don't, and multiple restarts and fiddling doesn't seem to be helping. I mean, even before on the G5 things were a tidge spotty when it came to thumbnails, but never to the extent of having them on only a few files!

Even then usually they'd generate if I renamed the file or shuffled it to another drive . . . this time, no luck. I mean this isn't a huge issue, and besides that, the MBP has been stupendous, it just irks me that my brand new in every way superior to my G5 (okay maybe not every way) MBP cant generate previews for files my G5 can!

Thanks to anyone who might be able to help

-Trevor H

Trevor,

We're beyond my expertise here, so I'll have to post this to the Mailbag in hopes someone from readerland can help out.

Are all of the problem videos of the same file type? Were they possible created using the same program? Just grasping at straws....

Dan

Geoff Phillips' G4/450 Dual Processor Auction

From Dan Palka of Info-Mac and System 7 Today:

I was looking at the photograph linked by Geoff Phillips in the recent

mailbag, and I dare say I think that is a ZIF-socketed G4 Yikes! - which is not compatible with the standard G4 upgrades, and also doesn't feature AGP, so is limited to some rather lousy video under Mac OS X.

It also would make it single processor.

Dan Palka

Dan,

Thanks for writing. I can't say that I've ever handled a Yikes, but it that's what Geoff is getting, he's been seriously misled in the auction listing, as the Yikes Power Macs only came in 350 MHz and 400 MHz versions.

I've compared that photo with layout diagrams for the Yikes and Sawtooth models on Mac Gurus, and you're right - it matches the Yikes mobo. I also tracked down an eBay auction of a Mystic/Gigabit Ethernet mobo, and it's definitely not the one in the photo Geoff linked to.

I'll send this info to him.

Dan

UPDATE: Geoff emailed to tell me that the seller is using the same "stock" photo with all of his Power Mac G4 auctions, regardless of which model it is. That's only asking for confusion....

Internet Access via Digital Phone?

From Michael Askey:

Dan

Hi, I just discovered your site, and I thought you might be able to answer my question.

I have a Mac PowerBook G3 with the bronze keyboard. I don't have dialup Internet service, and I do have digital phone. Is there anyway I can get Internet on my laptop with WiFi or cable?

Thanks.

Michael Askey

Michael,

The Lombard PowerBook gives you a multitude of possibilities. If you have cable TV, you can probably get cable Internet through your cable provider. That will connect to the PowerBook's ethernet port, so you won't need to add anything to the notebook.

Likewise, if you have a regular phone line, you can probably get DSL, which is slower than cable but a lot faster than dialup. Availability depends on your local carrier and whether your location is close enough to the phone company's nearest hub. This would also connect via ethernet.

In some areas, you may be able to sign up to use WiFi (802.11) or WiMax (802.16) networking. WiFi cards, especially 802.11g ones, are pretty reasonable, but you have to be within 300' of a wireless hub. WiMax hardware is a lot more expensive, although personal WiMax service seems to be competitively priced, and a local carrier offers service up to 4 miles from its access points.

Finally, some mobile phone carriers do have data plans, and some mobile phones can be connected to your PowerBook using a USB data cable or Bluetooth. Throughput tends to be on the slow side, but still about 10x dialup. Costs tend to be on the high side compared with other options, but if you only use it a bit, it might be a reasonable choice.

There are way to many variables for us to offer any advice, but you may have a lot of options (much of this depends on where you live).

Dan

What if Apple Offered Intel and PowerPC Macs?

From Seth Windoms:

Since my last article about a used Apple notebook, I went and got a Intel Mac mini, and I have to say I miss Classic. So I thought back to when I bought my PC: Most PC companies offer two processor choices, AMD and Intel. So why can't Apple offer us Intel and PowerPC processors. I know PowerPC is slower or could be, but you could put in the base of each product. So then people who don't need to run Windows can just use the cheaper and bit slower, and more efficient PowerPC.

Seth,

Problem is, the PowerPC isn't more efficient, runs hotter than Intel, and lags in clock speed. Further, the hardware architecture of PowerPC and Core 2 computers is very different, so it wouldn't be as simple as plugging a PowerPC chip into an Intel motherboard. Apple would have to maintain a parallel line of motherboards.

Last summer Primate Labs reported Geekbench results for a wide range of Macs running Tiger, from the G3 era through Core 2 and Xeon CPUs. The most powerful PowerPC Mac, the Power Mac G5 Quad, had a Geekbench score of 3298. The 2.66 GHz 4-core Mac Pro, the most comparable model in terms of CPU speed, benchmarks at 5018 - over 50% higher with a CPU that clocks just 6.5% faster. And it doesn't require the sophisticated cooling system that the G5 needed.

If you want or need the Classic Mac OS, you have two options: Use the SheepShaver emulator on an Intel Mac or use a PowerPC Mac. There are plenty of them on the used market, and most Classic apps don't require monstrous horsepower, so you have a lot of options on the used market.

Dan

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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