Will Apple Score With the Technical Crowd?

Even the most vocal critic must agree that the forthcoming PowerPC G5 will have considerable juice, but will it have what it takes to make the grade in scientific research and engineering apps? Storage Supersite Editor David Morgenstern looks at the Mac's

The dissection continues of Steve Jobs keynote address to the developers gathered in San Francisco for this weeks Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. Regardless of the resulting SPECmanship debate, and whether or not the forthcoming Power Macintosh G5 really should carry the Fastest Personal Computer sobriquet, the new machine should return some of the companys lost luster in the scientific and technical markets. And while some might expect the gains to come strictly from an evaluation of performance--hence the hubbub over the benchmarks--I expect technical customers will have a different checklist.

Certainly, the PowerPC 970 has plenty of floating point performance, and it showed its mettle in the real-world demonstrations of technical applications at the keynote. It ran rings around a dual-Xeon box with applications such as Wolfram Research Inc.s Mathematica 5 computation engine. This product is sold to a variety of platforms and would anyone suggest that Wolfram doesnt go out of its way to make sure that its products are sufficiently optimized for each platform?

Missing from the presentation was the announcement of a workstation-class graphics card for the new model. This lack has been a balking point for Apples pitch to high-performance customers for a while. The current Power Mac G4 models dont have a proper slot for high-end cards, the leg room for extended cards, or the additional power required to run them.

There was some grumbling when Apple showed the new G5 running the familiar consumer graphics cards instead of the workstation solutions with 128 Mbytes of memory, such as ATI Technologies Inc.s FireGL series or Nvidia Corp.s Quadro FX line. However, the new G5 machine does support AGP 8X Pro cards and Mac mavens poring over the images of the G5s logic board claim to have found the power breakout for these cards.

Inside the Power Mac G5

In addition, its easy to understand that Apple is trying to avoid some near-term market confusion by holding up support for these workstation-class graphics cards. No doubt they will require some driver-level support, which will only become available with the release of the Panther version of Mac OS X. Since that will follow the introduction of G5 machines by some months, the company is holding off on the announcements and thus a demonstration.

However, while the G5 processors performance, memory bandwidth, as well as its perceived value, may bring technical customers to the table, it may well be the "little things" that these boxes provide that will seal the deal.