This is a counter-intuitive move in an age when laptops are rising in popularity and desktops are falling. But I’m taking to heart the lessons of my incredibly trusty Power Macintosh G4 (Mirrored Drive Doors), which I’ve had at the office for three years. It’s been an absolute workhorse, and its surplus of ports, bays and slots has proven to be continually useful. There are many, many advantages to portable computing, but expandability is not one of them — towers like my Power Mac, on the other hand, are highly adaptable and configurable by the end user, a trait I’ve really come to value.
As a consequence, I’ve been looking closely at the cost of a brand new, dual-core Power Macintosh G5. It doesn’t look cheap.
Power Mac G5 Pricing Estimate
Dual 2GHz Power Mac G5
AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth Addition
AppleCare Extended Warranty
Two 1GB Third-party DDR2 SDRAM Modules
20″ Apple Cinema Display
Shipping & Sales Tax (approx.)
There was a bit of sticker shock when I added it all up. I’m not sure exactly how much I expected to pay — maybe US$1,300 less? I’m fully aware that the Power Mac G5 is, after all, a professional machine and that it comes with an attendant price point, but it still seems somewhat painful that it should be so prohibitively expensive for home users.
This underscores a drawback of Apple’s long-standing, simplified product line: there’s a gap between the company’s offering for home users and its offering for pro users. You might call it the ‘prosumer’ line, for lack of a better term — a market segment that, not coincidentally, camera manufacturers have made the most of in the past few years. By bridging their priced-to-move point-and-shoot cameras and their much more expensive professional grade cameras with reasonably priced digital SLRs, Canon and Nikon have convinced a nation of wannabe photographers to spend hundreds of dollars more than they might otherwise have for cameras, lenses and accessories.
It’s perhaps too convenient an analogy to be realistically applied to Apple, because prices for the company’s consumer and professional lines aren’t as dramatically far apart as what we see in the camera industry. But it’s a shame that, for those for whom iMacs or Mac minis are insufficiently expandable, the only alternative is the grand expense of a Power Mac G5.
The Right Mac for the Right Job
To be explicit, what’s missing is essentially a more expandable counterpart to the iMac G5 — a serious machine based on a version of the same, top-of-the-line processor but, crucially, without the iMac’s built-in display. Instead, a reasonably powerful video card would allow users to add an Apple Cinema Display (or any third party monitor), or to swap that same card for a more powerful, game-friendly substitute. The production savings from the display could be spent on a more manipulable enclosure: a mini-tower with at least one open drive bay and two available PCI slots, along with room for the addition of a moderate amount of RAM, perhaps up to 4 Gigabytes. While we’re at it, the machine may as well be priced similarly to the iMac, as well: US$1,399, say, for a 2.1GHz model equipped with a 250GB Serial ATA hard drive and an 8X SuperDrive.
Naturally there’s the danger that such a model would steal market share from the Power Mac G5 line, cannibalizing sales that might otherwise have gone into more expensive models because of this alternative machine’s expandability. This existing gap between Apple’s consumer and pro lines is, of course, no accident; it’s a sign of shrewdness, not incompetence, that the company’s current offering forces consumers like myself to spend for more horsepower than I truly need. I acknowledge that readily, and I’m realistic about that proposition being a very good reason why Apple isn’t likely to bring a machine like what I’m asking for to market anytime soon. Not soon enough, at least, to factor into my buying decision for this year. For better or worse, there’s probably a new Power Mac G5 in my near future.