Sunday, 24 June 2012

Apple Mac G5 Update

Apologies in advance for this indulgent post - incorporating high levels of Mac tech info! But, If you are a creative bod who runs an old Mac day in day out for work, the following may be of use to eek out as much performance as possible from your old box of sparks.
I have two Macs: An old 2005 G5 (Non Intel, Power PC 2.5 Quad Core) for rendering images and an Intel MacBook for email comms, net surfing and general family use. Both are synced with Apple's MobileMe. With the imminent closure of MobileMe and the move to iCloud this June signals the end of Apple sync support for older Macs. What to do?
New Mac Pro / iMac updates were expected at WWDC this June, I had planned to replace the Mac G5 with the latest Mac Pro when announced. Very disappointed with Apple's derisory upgrade. After a direct email to Tim Cook from a disgruntled Mac Pro user (not me!), Apple's new CEO replied publicly and made the unprecedented announcement (for Apple) that they are working on a Pro machine for 2013. Faith restored for Apple's long term users, but no new Mac Pro for me just yet, I'll wait. Time to refresh the G5 while keeping to a modest budget and explore alternative syncing approaches, so buying a bit of time to see what Apple do next…

At launch the 2.5 Quad Core G5 was a potent bit of kit, but things have moved on in the last seven years:
Current Spec: 8 GB RAM. Two internal HDD Drives. First for OSX, Apps and Work Files. Second partitioned, one section as a Photoshop Scratch Disc, the second for back up. Both drives almost full with only a couple of GB to spare, so performance of the G5 was slow to say the least, and crashed pretty regularly. Decided to rebuild from the ground up, and after much net trawling a plan materialised...
1.First step was to ruthlessly delete space hogging files - reference for old commissions, alternative illustration versions, scanned sketches etc. Literally, GB's of data deleted. A cracking little app for the purpose: 
2. All of the applications that I'd tried as a demo, and never bothered deleting were trashed. Again, GB's of space reclaimed. Another handy app: 
3. The next stage was to pinpoint the work files regularly used (textures, backgrounds etc etc) and which little used files could be archived.This gave me an idea as to how much hard disc space I had to play with for when setting up the drives.
4. Before any further changes were implemented everything was backed up to three external drives. Two drives mirrored and bootable, one just another copy of work files.
The Kit
5. Matched pair 4 GB new RAM bought, giving a total of 12 GB.
6. A Solid State Drive (SSD) ordered. A low-ish capacity 120GB unit, to be used as the OSX boot drive. Not the fastest 6G available as it has to be back compatible with SATA1 transfer speeds. So a 3G SSD it was. Still a significant improvement over a mechanical drive!
7. Internal Drives configured: Drive 1 SSD 120GB (smallest capacity) now only holds OSX Leopard 10.5.8, accompanied by essential Apps, and the current working illustration file. Drive 2 HDD 500 GB (largest capacity) partitioned into two: 75GB for a Photoshop Scratch Disc. The remainder 425GB for work files alone. No internal backup this time round. 
8. An eSATA PCI Express card added to one of the spare PCI Express slots to speed up data transfer / write speed to the two external backup LaCie D2 Quadra Drives. The third LaCie connected via a Firewire 800 port.
9. Then, both internal drives were backed up to the LaCie's. I tend not to use Apple's Time Machine as it does not support a bootable backup.Two helpful backup apps...
10. I Installed Dropbox, Evernote and Syncmate. Three superb pieces of software that help with the communication between both Macs and overcome the syncing chasm left by the closure of MobilMe...

And there we have it. The outlay? Around £235 / $350 (inc tax & courier delivery). A relatively modest sum compared to a new Mac, which bought me a significantly snappier, refreshed box of G5 tricks. The result - Is it a new Mac? No, but its enough of an improvement to wish I'd employed these upgrades much much sooner.
The results by breakdown, not benchmark figures I hasten to add, just an everyday working perception as to how the workhorse Mac feels in use…
1. RAM: Noticeable difference, quicker application switching and less spinning beach ball of doom when waiting for rendering effects in Photoshop. Machine now much happier with multiple apps open at the same time.
2. eSATA PCI Express Card: Significantly improved write speeds to the external LaCie drives. Makes using them for storing often used resources (textures etc) viable, rather than just archive backup.
3. Drive Configuration: Using two separate drives for OSX and working files helped make the launch of apps snappier and sharper. 
4. SSD Drive: The best till last. Would I go back to HDD? No ! Some run times…

Bootup1.05 min / sec0.45 min / sec
Photoshop Launch0.15 min / sec 0.5 min / sec
Photoshop Open 1.85GB File2.55 min / sec2.10 min / sec
Overall I'd say that the Mac feels about 20% sharper than before. Well worth the outlay and buys me some thinking time while Apple sorts out the next Mac Pro.
Hope you find the post interesting - and congratulations if you have got this far without the use of smelling salts :-)  

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