My Experiences with the new Apple G5 Quad Processor

It would be an understatement to say that I was eager to get my hands on Apple's new Quad Processor (Quad Core, really) G5. I had read rumors about it before it was announced, and I was drooling. Apple held off on announcing it longer than the rumors had anticipated, and I was annoyed every time Steve Jobs made another announcement that didn't include it. Then it was announced, and it still wasn't available. I checked the Apple site every day waiting to see it become available. I was happy when the shipping status changed from "2 to 3 weeks" to "5 to 7 days", but the anticipation was driving me nuts!

My dreams were shockingly realized on November 21st. I had gone to the Apple store with one girlfriend to buy the other girlfriend a video iPod for her birthday. As a joke I said to the sales guy "I have two questions, and the first answer better be no. Do you have any quad processor G5s in stock?" Damn it, he said yes. I walked out with a video iPod and a 2.5GHz quad processor G5. (Getting it home via the train was amusing...)

My troubles began when I got home and plugged it in. I have two 20" Sony SDM-S204E LCD displays. I plugged them both in using the DVI ports. When I booted only one monitor lit up. No biggie, maybe that was the default behavior, right? I go through the initial setup, then to the System Preferences, then Displays, then Detect Monitors. Still, only the monitor plugged into DVI #1 lights up. I swap the connections, cables and all. The display switches; with DVI #1 lit and DVI #2 dark. OK, it isn't my display. Next test, put both monitors on DVI->VGA adaptors. Now both light up, but Detect Displays is only able to determine the model of the monitor on DVI #1, and it lists the monitor on DVI #2 as Generic VGA. This is not good.

So, the very next morning I'm on the phone with Apple Support explaining the problem. I talked to a fellow named Hector who was knowledgeable and supportive. He had me walk through a few tests, and said he was going to ship me a new video card. I pretty much left the machine off while waiting, not knowing whether the video card was bad in a way that could cause long term damage to the system. Over a week goes by, and no video card. I call Apple to get a status. I am told that it has not shipped, and there is no ETA. This isn't good.

My fourteen day window for returning the box for a refund was almost over, and Apple hadn't shipped me the replacement nVidia 6600 video card. I was also getting 'buyers remorse' in regards to having bought a nVidia 6600 instead of the nVidia 7800 GT. So, I took the machine back on Sunday the 3rd of December. I took my refund as a gift card and ordered a custom built QP G5 with nVidia 7800 GT as soon as I got home.

The next day the replacement 6600 video card arrived. Oh, sweet Irony, how you are the true voice of the Universe... I sent it back unopened. When Hector called back to check up on me, which impressed me greatly, I explained about the machine and all was good.

The waiting began all over again. Now I was waiting for my custom built box to ship. It was agony. I kept reloading the Apple Order Status page over and over. It shipped five days after I ordered it, well in advance of the expected delivery date listed on the status page. Now I started reloading the FedEx page over and over. See how I am?

It finally arrived last night. The box was dinged up a bit, and there were a couple of holes in the side. Nothing appeared to have hit the G5 itself. It looked like someone had pushed the box across the floor on its side, explaining why they had to replace the barcode mid-shipment.

When I pulled the G5 out of the box I heard something rattling around inside. A cold chill swept through me. There should be no loose screws floating around inside an Apple G5! Apple has higher quality standards than that, or so I thought.

Broken side-panel alignment pinI opened the side panel to look for the item that was rattling around. As soon as the side panel came off one of the guide pins fell to the floor. It apparently broke off during shipping. This poor G5 must have had a rough ride at the hands of FedEx. That wasn't what was rattling around though...

It took me a while, and lots of holding the machine over my head and shaking it, to figure out where the loose screws were hiding. Yes, screws: three. Three screws designed to support a rather heavy set of components. They were floating free. That heavy component was not fully supported during a FedEx ride that was rough enough to break off a guide pin on the side panel. I am having bad feelings about this, even though the machine seems to be working fine now that I have restored the screws to their proper place. They should have been supporting a very important set of components during shipping, and I am very nervous about what damage might have happened as a result of their nor being secure. For the next two weeks I will be running dnetc in order to cook the processors and other components. If it suffered damage during shipping I want to know before the return window closes.

Locations of the loose screwsNote Added: 12/20/2005: Yesterday I called Apple to request a new side panel. Fifty-nine prime-time cell minutes to get the new side panel ordered. While I was on the phone I told the support guy about my loose screws, including where they were. Since he didn’t freak when I explained where the screws belonged, and that I had put them back myself, I guess it is safe to put my pictures up. 🙂

OK, loose screws handled. I'm ready to turn it on. It boots. Whew! I do the initial setup and registration. I go through a few rounds of patches. All looks good.

Now it is time to upgrade it. I've got 4G of memory from Otherworld Computing and a Seagate ST3500641AS 500G SATA hard drive that are going to give this G5 a real boost. The memory goes in easy. The hard drive had one catch... Whoever connected the SATA cables to the motherboard put a twist in the B slot cable. The twist poked up into the drive bay and prevented the insertion of the new drive. No big deal, as I just unhooked the MB connector, removed the twist, and put it back. Still, that shouldn't have happened. The hard drive was now installed.

It boots again, though I didn't expect any problems this time. Odd though, OS X didn't notify me that there was an uninitialized drive detected. I go to About This Mac and I see that it now has 4.5G of memory. It doesn't list my new drive in the System Profiler. Uh, oh. Disk Utility doesn't see it either.

Now begins my drive saga...

First I check the Seagate site for firmware updates and tech specs. No updates, no utilities, but there is a drive diagram. There is one user jumper and it controls forcing the drive to 1.5Gb/sec for systems that don't support speed negotiation. I dig out a mini-jumper, since Seagate didn't include one with the drive. It has no effect, so I remove the jumper. I put the drive into my PC, and it is detected immediately. I move the drive that shipped with the G5 from bay/cable A to B, and it works fine. So, the drive is good, and the B bay/cable is good, but the G5 can't see the Seagate.

Google to the rescue... There are several people reporting this problem. Several people post an explanation. Apparently Seagate ships this drive with SCC (Spread Spectrum Clocking) enabled/required. The Apple QP G5 doesn't support SCC, and therefore can't negotiate data communication with the drive which renders it undetectable. Two post a solution. Of the two people who post a solution, only Paul Jongsma posts a link to the 'secret Seagate utility' that will allow me to turn off SCC on the drive. I say 'secret utility' because it is nowhere to be found on the Seagate site and can only be obtained directly from tech support, which is of no use at 11pm. (The utility is sscset.exe and I'm making it available here as well.)

This utility requires that the drive be attached to a PC, which could be a problem for many Mac users. Fortunately mine was already attached to my PC due to my testing. I create a boot disk and copy the utility to it. I boot off the disk and run the utility. The utility detects my drive, displays the model number on the screen, then scrolls that off with blue space and exits after printing a line of gibberish. Frell. I goof around for a bit, and I go to the BIOS to enable Enhanced mode for my SATA interfaces and disable the onboard Promise SATA RAID controller. (I did not connect the Seagate to the Promise controller, but I was thinking that perhaps the simple minded sccset utility might detect the Promise and its attached drives and not know how to handle it.) Now the utility runs correctly, and I am able to disable SSC on the Seagate ST3500641AS.

I put it back in the G5. This time when I boot I am informed that there is an unitialized disk, and I am prompted to run Disk Utility. The drive partitions, and appears to be working correctly. Not without a lot of effort though.

Setting up a new Mac shouldn't be this hard. Sure, I wasn't setting up a stock Mac and not a lot of Mac users do their own memory and hard drive upgrades. Still, even if I hadn't been upgrading the memory and adding a drive, those screws would have still been loose. That was't cool.

It's running, and I plan on beating it up pretty hard. This machine is fast: dnetc processes 5.2 times as many keys per second on the QP G5 as it does on my P4/3.2GHz; and that just amazes me. Both monitors are working, and World of Warcraft looks awesome on the 7800 GT with all the graphics controls cranked up to max. I haven't started installing my real work tools yet, but it was late last night by the time I got it working this much. I am sure I'll be making some drooling post about its capabilities soon.

-Chris Knight