Thought some of you might like thisNow I know I said I didn't want to start the Mac-experience blog until after I got back from NY...but my flight was just delayed by 2.5 hours and I was bored beyond belief. So I found free wireless in a cyber-cafe at RDU and started typing away. There's going to be very little structure to these blogs, but I will have a full (structured) article at the end of the period so if you don't like the style of these things just wait until then.
I actually ordered a Powermac G5 2000 before I made the pull-the-trigger post; the system arrived on Friday. I didn't go for a Powerbook simply because they are entirely too heavy for my tastes. Up until my latest notebook I was using a ~3lbs Thinkpad X31, and now I'm at 1.7lbs with the Sony X505 - even the 12" Powerbook felt like a dense brick to me. At the same time, this machine was to replace my main work computer - what I write all the articles on, manage emails with, etc... so a desktop made more sense. I agree that the PowerBooks are nicely made machines, but I've been a thin-and-light advocate for quite a while now and I'm not interested in lugging something that heavy around. Some are, I'm not.
You can find the full specs of the G5 2000 here; basically it's got dual 64-bit G5 CPUs running at 2GHz (the North Bridge uses a point-to-point bus so each chip gets their own 1GHz 64-bit FSB connection), 512MB of CAS3 DDR400 memory (2 x 256MB - it's a dual channel memory controller) and a 160GB SATA hard drive. The system ships with a Radeon 9600 by default, I may give ATI a call and see if they can send over a Mac version of the Radeon 9800 Pro once I get into the gaming tests. The damage on Apple's top of the line system? $2999. Luckily, with a student discount it's down to $2699. But there's no getting around the fact that this is one expensive system.
In the usual Apple style, the fit and finish of the packaging is superb - but for a ~$3K computer these days you'd expect that. I didn't bother with the default mouse; I've used it before, yes it only has one button, yes I can use the same Microsoft Optical Mouse I used on my old desktop with no problems (and all the buttons will work). The one-button argument against Macs isn't something I'm going to get into; it's entirely an avoidable issue now. Steve Jobs is particularly passionate about keeping the one-button mouse so I wouldn't expect that to change anytime soon (remind me to share the story about the famous game developer who challenged Jobs on the mouse issue). My solution to the problem: just don't use the mouse. I don't anticipate any power users would be able to function with only one button, and there's no way a hardcore gamer would touch it. The Apple optical mouse itself isn't all that great either, I prefer the Logitec and Microsoft solutions byfar.
I was already running dual Cinema displays on my desktop, so I was finally able to strip off one of the ADC to DVI converters and go native with the G5 system. ADC is Apple's digital video interface standard that essentially combines all the signaling for video, USB and power in one cable. There's no plugging your monitor into a wall, just a single cable that runs to the system. Unfortunately for Apple, not all monitors are ADC and in order to support the vast majority of "PC" displays all new video cards come with one ADC and one DVI port. An ADC-to-DVI converter is about $100, so dual cinema display users are penalized a bit. I haven't hooked up the second display just yet, I'm taking it one step at a time.
The system is fairly quiet; the fans are variable speed and there are times when they will spin up and start making a decent amount of noise. If you factor in the "loud" mode, the system isn't as quiet as a Dell - but a good percentage of the time it is silent.
I approached this project with an open mind, and I think that's absolutely key to being able to fairly evaluate the Mac platform. I've read up a lot on the OS and the hardware over the past several days so I knew a bit of what to expect.
The first thing I noticed as soon as I was dropped into the OS was how extremely slow the mouse speed and keyboard repetition rates were set to - those were the very first things I changed. The dock at the bottom of the screen (think of it like Apple's taskbar equivalent, but it's a little different) had icons that were way too big - making them smaller wasn't difficult at all. My only other complaint was that the desktop icons are entirely too big for my tastes; I haven't found a way to get around that yet. After speeding up the mouse, the system was much less frustrating to use - now I could start having some fun. You have to keep in mind that these things aren't configured for power users by default, they are configured for someone who has never used a computer - and you don't normally see those folks flinging their mouse around at lightning speeds. All the mouse/keyboard speed options are pretty much at their maximum values on my machine now, whereas they were much closer to defaults on my PC. Not a complaint, just different and interesting. Scroll speed using the mouse wheel is still entirely too slow; that's a complaint, and as far as I can tell there's no way to speed it up without resorting to third party software/drivers.
Getting used to the OS and the way it works wasn't too difficult; the first thing I noticed and tried to exploit as much as possible is that OS X is very keyboard-shortcut friendly. Maybe it's because I started using PCs in the DOS days but I've always been a keyboard shortcut fanatic; you wouldn't think it, but Mac OS X is very pleasing for someone who likes to use the keyboard to be fast. I'll talk more about what I think about the way the OS manages applications later, but for now I'm going to focus on multitasking.
When I'm writing an article, it's very easy to have anywhere from 20 - 40 windows open at any given time; as you can guess, managing them becomes a pain. The one feature that truly piqued my interest about OS X was Exposť. You can read about it at Apple's site but basically using a single hotkey (woowoo keyboard shortcuts) all the visible windows on your screen will automatically miniaturize themselves and tile themselves across the screen. You can then pick the window you want using the mouse and clicking on it will restore all windows to their original locations (and sizes) but with your selected window on top. There are a number of videos of Exposť in action, if you're a heavy multitasker I strongly suggest checking them out.
I got a little too addicted to Exposť at first as I used it in situations where the OS X equivalent of ALT-TAB (Apple + Tab) would've sufficed. I've since controlled my Exposť addiction, but the true test will be what happens when I've got those 20 - 40 windows open and running at the same time.
The OS does some heavy caching which also means that the 512MB of memory that the system came with was not going to cut it. At first I thought that I would be able to survive with only 512MB until I got Photoshop, Office, Dreamweaver and a bunch of other memory hogs installed - but without any of those applications running, I was already on the verge of swapping. So it's my first hours of ownership and I've already cracked open the case and I'm tinkering around with it.
The inside of the G5 is like a freshly cleaned room; Dell does a great job of keeping cables and clutter out of the case, but Apple does a much better job. The dual G5 motherboards feature a total of 8 DIMM slots; as I mentioned before, they have to be populated in pairs because the chipset supports a 128-bit wide DDR memory interface. I just happened to have 4GB of memory laying around, so I quickly populated all 8 slots with OCZ PC3500 modules. Unfortunately, the system didn't agree with them and wouldn't POST. No beep codes, no errors on the screen, just a blinking power light on the case and on my Cinema display - I would've appreciated a bit more information as to what was going on. I suspect it has issues with memory whose SPD returns a CAS2 latency, as it would POST if I had the original CAS3 DIMMs in there but it wouldn't recognize the additional modules. I happened to have some older Corsair sticks laying around, so I threw two more 256MB modules in to bring the total memory capacity up to 1GB. If that configuration proves to be stable, I will work on adding more.
The OS had no problems at all using the additional memory; within a couple of hours of usage and I'm already up to 800MB memory utilization. What can I say, I'm a heavy multitasker.
This brings me to the most fundamental difference between the way OS X and Windows works - in Windows, most applications are confined to a window, closing that window closes the application. In OS X, applications are not confined to a window, and closing the window of an application does not close the program. In Windows, if you close all MS Word document windows you've closed the actual program. In OS X, you can close all the document windows but unless you actually quit the Word application, it's still running. There are pros and cons to doing things this way; it reduces "startup" time of your applications, but with so many applications always open in the background it eats up a good amount of memory. I put "startup" time in quotes because if you fail to actually exit the program, your startup time isn't really startup time - it's just the time required to spawn a new document window since the actual program is still running. I do much prefer this method of leaving all of your programs running with one caveat: the system must be entirely stable while doing it. I have yet to truly tax the G5 yet; I've heard good and bad things about the stability of the OS - we'll see how things work out over time.
So far my experiences have been positive; I've been able to get up and running with very little effort. Being a DOS/Windows user all my life, getting accustomed to using a Mac hasn't been a difficult task at all. There are a few tweaks that you'll have to make to be happy with the setup (mainly mouse speed and dock icon size in my situation) but it's quite easy to switch. My laptop is still a Windows XP machine so going between the two OSes hasn't been an issue either.
The next several posts will be about individual experiences with the OS and applications, so stay tuned for them. I'm going to try to update the "Macdates" blog at least a couple of times a week. If you just want to see those posts you can link directly to the Anand's Macdates URL at the top of the right column. As you can probably guess, the Macdates have blue headers while my normal blog posts have orange headers.