Apple G5 and AMD FX-51: Separated at birth?

My AMD Athlon FX-51 reference desktop arrived in early September, wrapped in a so-not-a-PC silvery case bearing the CoolerMaster brand. Okay, it's a wicked case. Mad props to CoolerMaster and all that. I have been working with it almost constantly under non-disclosure. My Apple Power Mac G5 reference system came in about two weeks later, and I'm banging on that as I make this entry. I am pitting the boxes again

My AMD Athlon FX-51 reference desktop arrived in early September, wrapped in a so-not-a-PC silvery case bearing the CoolerMaster brand. Okay, it's a wicked case. Mad props to CoolerMaster and all that. I have been working with it almost constantly under non-disclosure. My Apple Power Mac G5 reference system came in about two weeks later, and I'm banging on that as I make this entry.

I am pitting the boxes against each other, as much as is practical, in a review that will run in print. The Athlon runs all x86-32 applications like a manic Pentium III. It is also so easy to flip its 64-bit switch in code that Linux, BSD and Windows are already using 64-bit mode. I sense that it will take me a while to explain to mainstream readers why that's so exciting. I'm patient.

As is true with 64-bit Athlon, the vast majority of software written for the G5 runs in 32 bits. In fact, since Apple's OS X is the only OS of note for PowerPC Macintosh, no apps can go to 64 until Apple does. Developers can take advantage of the G5's faster math and its broader address space using version 10.2.7 of OS X, but only in 32 bits.

AMD invested considerable effort in designing Opteron and Athlon 64 to operate in most conceivable combinations of 32 and 64 bits. For example, the OS can run in 64-bit mode while user-level applications run in 32. All can be 32, or all can be 64. That's a perfect arrangement for migrating all types of OSes and applications from other architectures.

The Power Mac G5 is more of a mystery to me because I had far longer to study Athlon 64 it in depth prior to its launch. My serious research on the G5 just started. At this point, all I know is that the G5 is a lovely deskside dualie that, at the very least, is the fastest 32-bit Mac ever made. That's not a bad thing. I'm probably alone in the universe for requiring more from it than that.

I know where Athlon 64 is going, and roughly how long it will take to get there. Apple has more of a challenge selling a system that has features even the manufacturer can't demonstrate. Apple has shown "G5 optimized" 32-bit applications. Observers will speculate that Apple's engineers derived too little overall gain porting test apps from optimized 32-bit to native 64-bit. If that's true, Apple will be in no rush to go 64.

But I doubt that Apple was disappointed by the G5 running on all cylinders. The software vendors working on Opteron (the server-level Athlon 64 CPU) lined up for AMD's launch event. One by one, they practically wet themselves over the ease of porting to 64-bit and the resulting boost in speed. I hope the same holds true for the G5. Not for Apple's sake, but for mine. I'm so bored with prefab 32-bit PCs that I could stomp into Intel's headquarters and, in clipped but polite words, share my PC ennui with the receptionist. Then I would stomp back out and drive away at the posted speed limit. I may be a journalist, but I'm a gentleman first.

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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