Maximizing the AGP Power Mac G5 into space.. and beyond!

The 2003 Power Mac G5 was the first in a line of controversial 64-Bit PowerPC Macs, which suffered from above average hardware failure/glitchiness rates. While not the most popular Mac in the lineup of PowerPC Macs overall, the Power Mac G5 still packs a punch, and can be used for a wide variety of things. To define a computer as obsolete, would be to define your particular Power Mac G5 as either out of manufacture, or personal use. Unfortunately, in addition to sometimes defective hardware, the Power Mac G5 suffered from a short support life from Apple, further cutting support from a once promising computer. Packed with a forward-thinking PowerPC 970 CPU architecture, combined with some of early 2000’s innovations (AGP, SATA, etc;), adding some specific hardware upgrades can entirely transform the experiential factor of your Power Mac G5. In this article, I will show the upgrades done to an ’03 Power Mac G5 DP 2.0 I own, the performance it has, and how it objectively integrates into the modern world as a part of my computer setup.

 

Hardware upgrades used/modifications performed

  • An ATI Radeon X850 Pro 256 MB, flashed over to a Mac ROM for an ATI Radeon X850XT, has boot image and all. Slight memory overclock but slight core under clock to keep the card cool.
  • 8 GB PC 3200 400 MHz DDR SDRAM, of course, it’s best to upgrade the ram.
  • 4x 240 GB Sandisk SSD plus, to create a 960 GB (896 GB in OS X Leopard) Software Appleraid in Raid0 as a boot disk
  • 4x 92mm be quiet! PURE WINGS 2 fans, 2 CPU Intake 2 CPU Outtake
  • 2x 80mm be quiet! PURE WINGS 2 fans, 1 Optical Bay, 1 for SSD Bays
  • A spare HDD bay was taken out of another Power Mac G5 and super glued in place into this particular Power Mac G5, to house the additional 2x SSD’s. This is more for aesthetics as to make it look more.. stock.
  • A flashed PC Silicon Image Steelvine RAID5 card flashed to a Mac ROM
  • 2x Additional SATA cables
  • Power wire modifications to support an additional 2 SSD’s, along with a molar connector-powered GPU
  • Some zip ties
  • SSD 2.5″ to 3.5″ metal sleds for the HDD bays
  • A 2004 Power Mac DP 2.0 Power Supply, as the old one was dying and clicking
  • OEM bluetooth card installed, along with OEM bluetooth antenna
  • OEM Wifi card installed, along with OEM Wifi antenna
  • OEM Apple Magic Mouse
  • OEM Apple Wireless Aluminum Keyboard
  • Mac OS X 10.5.9 Sorbet Leopard
  • A 1080p Samsung

Photos of hardware upgrades

 

1: ATI Radeon X850 Pro 256 MB (It’s using an X850XT 256 MB Rom)

Spot the differences! The blue card is a stock Mac Radeon X800XT 256 MB, versus the flashed X850 Pro PC version.

 

 

2: Of Course, we max out the RAM. It’s mixed and matched branding but it’s 8 GB of RAM. Screenshot is from before Sorbet Leopard was cloned onto the RAID0 array.

 

3: The fan upgrades

  • These fans were wired to their original power rails, to attempt to replicate OEM fan functionality as closely as possible. Although fans do seem to ramp up and down when the plastic shield is off, and the computer stays the same volume no matter how much I push it, I haven’t at all verified if the fans are indeed ramping up and down outside the OEM PSU fans. I can only testify that the non OEM fans, when hooked up to the power rails, will work!

Pictured below: one of the 80mm be quiet! fans for the SSD bay(s), blowing air toward the rear of the Power Mac G5, away from these 2 SSD’s mounted in the optical bay.

 

4: The SATA RAID0 card (or is it a RAID5 card..?)

 

5: SSD’s and SSD sleds

 

The complete picture

  • Well, what does it look like, after all those upgrades? The machine indeed becomes a powerhouse. Folks, I have difficulty conveying through this article how substantial the impact of the hardware modifications are, on the performance of this computer. Some may see yet another wild computer project here, but there was a moment where it hit me, all the while I was testing some apps, thinking to myself.. whoa, this feels like an intel Mac. It’s not just one specific thing, it’s everything together. I’d dare say the RAID0 array is pulling the weight of the performance increases of the computer, but without the upgraded GPU, animations would chug. Either way, performance is in another league of it’s own above where it used to be with stock hardware, for sure.

 

So, objectively..

  • With the GPU upgrade – This computer can handle the high demands of modern video streaming services, larger video files, heavier graphical rendering, and doesn’t struggle to multitask as a result.
  • With the 4x SSD Array upgrade – Greases up the wheels a ton. It never ceases to amaze me how this DP 2.0 G5 really wakes up with this SSD array. Try this sometime, you’ll be asking yourself if the G5 board was swapped out with an intel iMac board.
  • With the OEM Wireless KB/Mouse – It feels a bit more modern.
  • With the 8 GB of RAM – it has as much room as it needs to spread it’s wings and multitask without being forced to write to storage and slow down dramatically.
  • With the $75-90 worth of new fans – The computer becomes bearable to use, even within 1 ft of earshot. No longer does the user have to suffer from the loudness of the fans, irrespective of the apps being run. It isn’t loud anymore. It’s a quiet Power Mac G5.

Raw Performance

  • 48 db sitting 1-2 ft away (quiet whisper, claimed by an iPhone app)
  • up to 355 MB/s Read, 28 8 MB/s Write, according to Xbench 1.3 (2006)
  • Can stream 720p YouTube videos via TenFiveTube effortlessly, being able to browse controls without friction
  • ¬†Minecraft 1.8.9 runs okay. It fluctuates but smooths out.
  • Amnesia: The Dark descent runs well, but I still wouldn’t crank it up 100% all the way, but almost all the way.
  • With the OEM bluetooth antenna, bluetooth devices no longer have interference issues or randomly disconnect.
  • It boots pretty fast after it gets past the initial black screen. This screen is more of a result of the computer being a PowerPC Mac, rather than age, or hardware upgrades. Intel Macs are simply faster at doing their initial hardware checkup.

 

In Conclusion

As demonstrated using the hardware upgrades, the computer is able to satisfy a wide range of tasks, is able to keep up with modern demands, and in my own opinion, wasn’t given a fair chance in its lifetime. The consensus of the people and the manufacturer had written off the image of the computer as a pitiful and misled assumption, an assumption masking the true performance of this computer. As of the time of writing this article, the computer this article is written about has already crossed 20 years of age. It’s logged into my YouTube premium, my discord, and my gmail. I can surf the web a little and grab some pictures, photoshop them, while controlling my M1 Mac mini. I can watch a YouTube video while browsing finder for things while other things happen in the background. I can play serious games on this thing now, too. I can boot into Windows 7, open up Chrome, and bring the computer slightly closer to the internet, even if it’s an old version of chrome, in Windows 7, in Virtual PC 7. You too, can do this to your Power Mac G5. In conclusion, by giving this computer the tools it needed to execute on its capabilities, it’s able to far exceed the manufacturer’s designed expectations, and enjoy a longer life!

3 thoughts on “Maximizing the AGP Power Mac G5 into space.. and beyond!

  1. I was really going to sell mine as I can’t use.
    I did use Leopard Sorbet but it does not seem quite right. Your article motivated me to give another chance, especially the FANs upgrade.

    Do you have any tips in creating a bootable Leopard USB drive? I don’t have firewire adapters, so, USB 2.0 is the only way.

    thank you

    • Hey there!

      – There’s a few ways Leopard can be installed on the computer. Sorbet Leopard seems to be hit or miss so far on my own computers.

      – A leopard DMG can be restored to a USB or burned to a DVD+DL (Dual Layer DVD). I use Carbon Copy Cloner 3 for most disk restorations on PowerPC machines. It’s an easier UI to work with, and does a great job. It just asks for which drive or disk image you want to use and which drive to clone to.

      – Disk utility can help burn a disc if you have a DVD + DL

      – If you have another PowerPC or Intel Mac running Leopard which can connect the Power Mac G5’s internal drive while also being booted, you could just clone an existing Leopard installation to that Hard drive, remove it, and plug it into your Power Mac G5. Use Carbon Copy Cloner for this one.

      Also, quoting Michael K. Moore Jr. from Apple’s Support Communities: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4670074#:~:text=Yes%2C%20the%20G5%20can%20boot,and%20select%20the%20USB%20drive.

      “A G5 as mentioned above can boot from a USB drive provided it the following conditions are met.

      1. The image is restored properly through Disk Utility to the drive.
      2. The USB Drive is set up as Apple Partition Map.
      3. The USB drive is USB 2.0 certified, and at least 8GB in size.

      I personally use my USB drive to boot a G5 whenever it needs a fresh Leopard install.” – Michael K. Moore Jr. Jan 6, 2013 6:12 PM

  2. Great article, one really gets an urge to acquire a G5 and turn it into an ultimate PowerPC workstation. It’s just the fan noise that really put me off in the past along with the difficult task of maintaining them (water-cooled models). I may have to snag one if it’d shows up on our local classifieds.

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