Mac Musings

Blowout G4s or Forthcoming G5s, Which Wins the Value Comparison?

Daniel Knight - 2003.06.25

This article has been corrected since it was first published earlier today. What we had believed to be a significant price reduction on the 2002 dual G4/1.25 turned out to be an entirely new 1.25 GHz model. This has not changed our conclusions. dk

When Apple introduced the Power Mac G5 on Monday, they dropped the Power Mac G4 from the Apple Store, but added a pair of new 1.25 GHz models that still boots into OS 9.

In typical Low End Mac fashion, we want to look at the Power Mac G4s in light of these price reductions and ask if they're worth buying - or should you wait for the G5s?

New: Power Mac G4 1.25 GHz

If you need a Power Mac that boots into OS 9, the 2003 Power Mac G4s were not an option - until now. Neither are the forthcoming G5s. You have only two choices on the new market - the dual 1.25 GHz G4 from 2002 at about $2,500 or the new Power Mac G4/1.25 models.

This is the first 9-bootable Power Mac since the January 2003 models were released as X-only machines. Considering the fact that Steve Jobs already held a funeral for OS 9 last summer and that this is based on a faster version of the 2002 motherboard, something must have convinced Apple that there's still a market for 9-bootable Power Macs.

In terms of specs, the new model includes 256 MB of memory, an 80 MB hard drive, a Combo drive, and ATI Radeon 9000 Pro video. It's available with a single CPU at $1,299 or two G4s at $1,599.

The January 2003 Models

Power Mac G4 1.0 GHz

We've never been real fans of the single processor 1.0 GHz Power Mac G4, and while the dual 867 MHz model was available at a comparable price, we considered it the better buy.

We feel very strongly that the benefit of dual processors under OS X makes a lower CPU speed model with two G4s a better value than a single processor G4 running 50% faster if they're selling for the same price.

Of course, the G4/1.0 is now selling for $1,149 with 256 MB RAM, a 60 GB hard drive, a Combo drive, and Nvidia GeForce 4x video, a reduction of $350 (down 23%), making it a better value than it was before.

Still, for $150 more, the brand new 9-bootable 1.25 GHz G4 is worth every penny of the difference in price. You have a faster CPU, a faster memory bus, a bigger hard drive, and a better video card. And you can boot into OS 9 if you need to or want to.

We recommend against this model if there's any way you can swing the extra $150 for the 9-bootable 1.25 GHz model.

Power Mac G4 Dual 1.25 GHz

Apple trimmed the price of the dual 1.25 GHz X-only model to $1,699. The $400 extra buys you a second G4 processor, which will improve computing power by about 80%. Other than dual processors, the only other significant difference is the inability to boot into OS 9.

We believe the second processor is definitely worth the additional $400. Then again, when you can buy a 9-bootable model for $100 less and gain a larger level 3 cache in the bargain, the June 2003 dual 1.25 is an even better bargain.

Power Mac G4 Dual 1.42 GHz

Soon to be eclipsed by a dual 2.0 GHz G5, the dual 1.42 GHz G4 remains the fastest Mac on the market - and the price has been trimmed to $2,399, making it a better value than ever before.

Still, that's a lot more money than the dual 1.25 GHz model - 41% more money to gain about 14% more power.

From a power standpoint, it just doesn't make economic sense. In fact, it rarely makes economic sense to pick the fastest Mac; that extra 10-15% of performance commands a huge price premium.

You do get 512 MB of memory, a 120 GB hard drive, and a SuperDrive, which adds about $300 worth of value. Still, at today's blowout prices, the 1.25 GHz dual G4 is the only G4 model we can call a best buy.

Buy Now or Wait?

It's unfortunate that we have no performance comparisons between the Power Mac G4 and the G5s that will be shipping in August. The G5 not only runs at a higher clock speed, but the general consensus is also that it's a more efficient CPU than the G4. Add to that the HyperTransport motherboard architecture, still better video cards, and a significantly faster memory system, and the G5s should smoke the G4s.

The big question remains how much faster it really is. I can hardly wait for Bare Feats, Accelerate Your Mac!, MacSpeedZone, Macworld, and others to get their hands on the G5s and run some Mac benchmarks. Until that happens, we'll have to guess at the performance boost.

Entry Level

The entry-level G5 runs at 1.6 GHz. It can be equipped with a Combo drive at $1,799, making it roughly comparable to the single processor 1.0 GHz Power Mac G4 being blown out for $1,149 or the new single CPU 1.25 GHz model at $1,299. Assuming a 60% boost in processing power (based on the GHz rating alone), both entry-level models would offer the same amount of power per dollar spent. But the G5 should be even more efficient, making it a better value for those who can justify $1,799 for a Power Mac.

Then again, we consider the entry-level G5 the worst value among the new models based on price vs. power.

The 1.25 Dual G4

Comparing a single processor 1.6 GHz or 1.8 GHz G5 to the dual 1.25 GHz G4 is more complex. When running OS X applications, a pair of 1.25 GHz G4s will provide the equivalent of a 2.0 to 2.5 GHz G4. We'll split the difference and call it 2.25 GHz.

MHz for MHz, the Power Mac G5 would have to be 40% more efficient than the Power Mac G4 for the 1.6 GHz entry-level model to match the power of a pair of 1.25 GHz G4s. We are going to see improved efficiencies thanks to the new CPU design, HyperTransport, and faster memory, but I don't expect that to improve overall system performance by more than 20-25%. (We're not talking about CPU benchmarks here, but benchmarks that test the whole computer.)

In short, if the G5/1.6 and dual G4/1.25 were priced the same, the G4 would probably outperform the G5. In terms of price, the dual 1.25 GHz models sell for less than the 1.6 GHz G5 will, whether with a Combo drive or SuperDrive. On top of that, the $1,599 price on the new dual G4/1.25 makes it a vastly better value - even in comparison to the G5, we still consider that one a best buy.

Comparing that to the G5/1.8 at $2,199 with a Combo drive, the processing power per dollar spent improves. The Power Mac G5 only needs to be 25% more efficient than the Power Mac G4 for this to match the power of the dual 1.25 GHz G4, and I strongly suspect it will be. But at $600 more, the value crown remains with the June 2003 G4/1.25, and the January 2003 model is a close second.

The Top End

We consider the dual G5/2.0 the best value of the Power Mac G5 line. Assuming the Power Mac G5 system architecture results in a computer 25% more efficient than the Power Mac G4, this will be roughly equal in power to a dual G4 running 2.5 GHz processors, something Motorola has never been able to produce.

This essentially offers twice the power of the dual 1.25 GHz G4 at $2,799 with a Combo drive or $2,999 with a SuperDrive. Compared to the new dual 1.25 GHz G4 at $1,599, the G5/2.0 dual is the better deal.

Read that again. Reflect on it. The top-end G5 provides more power per dollar spent than the blowout G4/1.25 dual. A brand new top-of-the-line machine. A blowout deal on a dated model.

Like I said yesterday, the Power Mac G5 changes everything.


There are precisely two standout values - the dual 1.25 GHz G4 (June 2003) at $1,599 and the dual 2.0 GHz G5 scheduled to ship in August. These are the clear cut winners when looking at processing power per dollar spent.

If you have $3,000 to spend and can wait until August, you may want to hold out for the Power Mac G5. This machine represents an awesome value that will give you incredible power for years to come.

If you can't budget $3,000 or if you can't wait to buy a new Power Mac until August, the introduction of the dual 1.25 GHz Power Mac G4s at $1,599 creates an excellent value. You could almost buy two of these for the price of the top-end G5.

While they last, this is quite simply the best Power Mac G4 value ever. Grab them while you can. You won't regret it, and the power should satisfy you for several years.

See our Week's best Power Mac G4 deals: New, used, and refurbished for the best deals on the Power Mac G4.