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BARE FEATS - real world Mac speed tests

REVIEW: Fastest G5 Power Macs
versus Windows PCs
(Page Two - 3D Gaming)

Originally posted January 31st, 2005, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
Updated February 28th with AMD Athlon FX55 (2.6GHz)
and AMD Dual Opteron 252 (2.6GHz) results.
Updated March 8th with Doom 3 results for G5 Power Mac.

On PAGE ONE, we isolated CPU speed. On this page, we want to show the effect of 3D GRAPHICS intensive operations. The Intel Dual Xeon, AMD Athlon 64, and AMD Dual Opteron systems were configured with PCI-Express graphics card interface while the Power Macs had 8X AGP.

The nVidia GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics card was used as the common denominator between the PCs and Power Macs. Since we had an ATI Radeon X850 XT (PC Edition) and Radeon X800 XT (Mac Edition) available, we threw in those numbers. The Intel Dual Xeon and AMD Athlon FX55 supported SLI mode so we ran some tests with two GeForce 6800 Ultras on those systems.

Though we had tested workstation cards like the Quadro FX 3400 and FireGL V7100 on the Intel Dual Xeon, we decided to pull those results since nothing similar is available on the Mac. Besides, they got smoked by the consumer graphics cards when running 3D Games (or any application that involved heavy use of pixel textures and shading).

Both Mac graphics cards tested support Dual-Link DVI and are able to run the awesome 30" Apple Cinema LCD Display.

Halo is a great test since it uses advanced shading technologies.

Athon FX55 = AMD Athlon FX55 (2.6GHz; PCI-Express; SLI support)
Opteron 252 = AMD Dual Opteron 252 (2.6GHz; PCI-Express)
Xeon = Dual 3.4GHz Xeon (PCI-Express; SLI support)
G5 PMac = Apple Dual G5/2.5GHz Power Mac (8X AGP)
GeFU = nVidia GeForce 6800 Ultra (PCI-Express PC edition and 8X AGP Mac Edition)
X850 =ATI Radeon X850 XT (PCI-Express PC Edition)
X800 = ATI Radeon X800 XT (8X AGP Mac Edition)
SLI = nVidia's Scalable Link Interface (SLI) multi-gpu technology; two PCI-Express cards are linked together using a special connector with SLI mode enabled in the display driver.

Doom 3 is now available for the Mac, so we're adding it to our cross-platform suite of tests. We used the default "Demo1" timedemo test with Video Quality set to High and first four Advanced Options set to "YES."

Then we turned on Full-Scene Anti-Aliasing (FSAA) to 4X.

Next we ran the "Inferno" map in the Unreal Tournament 2004 test, using the SantaDuck Toolpak for both Mac and PC.

Note how SLI mode speeds up the Flyby but does very little for the Botmatch as you can see below.

The Inferno Botmatch simulates game play more closely than the Flyby. Therefore the framerates are closer to what you'll see when you are actually playing the game.

1. Though the G5 Power Macs held their own in the CPU tests, they brought up the rear on the 3D GRAPHICS tests graphed above. One reason may be the fact that all 3D games on the Mac run under OpenGL. The same game running on the PC using DirectX is almost always a lot faster.

The performance gap also has to do with how much effort developers put into optimizing (or re-writing) the game code to take advantage of the unique features of the G5 and Mac OS X. Quake 3 Arena, though considered obsolete by hard core 3D gamers, is a good example of the potential of the G5 Power Macs to do well in 3D gaming:

One of the lead programmers at Id Software (Graeme Devine) took a personal interest in optimizing the Mac version to take advantage of the Power Mac's Velocity Engine and Dual Processors.

2. Dual-Link DVI, as you know, is required for "9 megapixel" displays (up to 3840x2400 resolution). The Apple 30" Cinema display runs at 2560x1600 and requires Dual-Link. The high-end Dual-Link Mac compatible graphics cards may seem expensive to Mac users at $499 for the Radeon X800 XT and $599 for the GeForce 6800 Ultra. But in the Windows PC world, you usually have to go to a costly workstation card to get Dual-Link DVI support. I'm thinking of the $850 FireGL V7100 and the $1200 Quadro FX 3400. However, according to one discussion group, there are a two consumer PC compatible cards that support the 30" Display: Asus V9999GE and Dell 6800GTO.

Some of you pointed me to the new Matrox Dual-Link graphics card but it is plain old 66MHz PCI -- which is a far slower interface than 8X AGP and PCI-Express. I don't think you want to go there.

4. We had two of the GeForce 6800 Ultra cards in the Intel Dual Xeon and AMD Athlon FX55, so we were able to try out nVidia's SLI multi-gpu technology where you bridge two cards in adjoining PCI-Express slots. Once you enable the mode in the display driver, your graphics processing sub-system now has dual processors.

Though nVidia says performance will be "up to 2x," keep in mind that the bandwidth is shared and the memory of each card mirrors the other. In other words, there is no gain in bandwidth or memory capacity by linking the cards. The gain is in adding a second graphics processor. That's still a good thing. We saw an impressive 73% jump on the AMD Athlon FX55 in Doom 3 and 54% in UT2004 Flyby when SLI was enabled.

According to MacOSrumors, Apple is developing two new ATI graphics cards that may be PCI-Express and might support SLI mode. That, along with OpenGL optimizations could help the G5 catch up to the PCs.

5. PCI-Express has a theoretical bus speed four times that of 8X AGP, but I postulate that the bandwidth advantage is under utilized. The current generation of graphics cards and motherboard designs don't even saturate a 4X AGP bus. We're hoping to set up a sub-test with two Windows PCs of identical specs and identical graphics cards except one will have PCI-Express and the other 8X AGP. That comparison should support or refute our hypothesis.

The results will be academic, since the transition to PCI-Express is a foregone conclusion.

6. I often get asked to do price/performance comparisons on the Mac vs PC. It's hard to do since the price of the Windows PCs vary widely depending on the motherboard used and from whom you buy. I did go to @XiComputer for a quote on the AMD Opteron 252 (Dual 2.6GHz) with 4GB of memory, DVD burner, 10K Raptor boot drive, and 160GB data drive, a configuration that matched the Dual G5/2.5GHz Power Mac we tested. I also ran the numbers on the Intel Dual Xeon 3.4GHz system (same config):
The Dual Opteron 252 quote came in at $5593 (before tax and shipping).
The Dual Xeon 3.4GHz came in at $4197.
The Apple Online Store quote for the G5/2.5GHz Power Mac was $4870 + $179 for the 10K Raptor (ZipZoomFly) for a total of $5079. (Apple typically overcharges for memory. Buying the four 1GB PC3200 modules from a "sane" source drops the overall price to $4351.)


Anandtech tested the PC "pro" workstation graphics cards (nVidia Quadro FX 4000, ATI FireGL X3-256, and 3DLabs Wildcat Realism 200). They compared them to each other as well as to consumer cards (GeForce 6800 Ultra and Radeon X800 XT).

Anandtech explains SLI and tests various cards with and without SLI enabled. Compare their 1600x1200 Doom 3 graph to ours. Here's another Doom 3 SLI graph from a similar article.

Anandtech tests the ATI Radeon 850 series against others using Doom 3, Halo, and other apps.

Anandtech tests the workstation ATI FireGL V5000 against comparable graphics cards running Doom 3 and other apps.

Anandtech has a Doom 3 shootout with PC versions of GeForce 6800 GT, 6800 Ultra, Radeon X800, and 9800 XT. (Doom runs better on the GeForce cards because nVidia has worked closely with Doom 3 developers to optimize the game for their cards.)

Anandtech posted a fascinating article comparing the architecture of the G5, Xeon and Opteron. They also compare OS X to Linux.


For your Mac Pro, you have the following 16X PCI Express (PCIe) options:
The GeForce 7300 GT (16X, 256MB, dual-link DVI + single-link DVI port) is the default. We recommend the Radeon X1900 XT (16X, 512MB, two dual-link DVI ports) as a CTO option. It's much faster than the GeForce 7300 GT and just as fast as the expensive Quadro FX 4500. According to Alias/Autodesk, the X1900 XT is the only graphics card without limitations when using Maya 8.5. To custom order your Mac Pro with the Radeon X1900 XT, go to the Apple Store and click on the Mac Pro graphic.

If you didn't order the Radeon X1900 XT with your Mac Pro, you can order the Radeon X1900 XT as an aftermarket kit for your Mac Pro, go to the Apple Store and click on DISPLAYS in the left margin or do a search on "X1900."

NOTE: Mac Pro PCIe graphics cards will not work in Power Mac G5s with PCIe slots -- and vice versa. Nor will Windows PC PCIe graphics cards work in the Mac Pro.

Graphics Card Options for the Dual-Core or Quad-Core G5 with 16X PCI Express slot:
The best option for your Dual-Core or Quad-Core G5 with PCIe slots is the ATI Radeon X1900 G5 Mac Edition released in November 2006. You can buy it directly from ATI's Online Store for $299 (with "trade up" allowance).

It's also sold by Small Dog Electronics and Other World Computing.

The following cards only work on a G5 Power Mac with 8X AGP slot:
The "G5 only" Radeon X800 XT Mac Edition (8X AGP, 256MB, ADC + Dual-Link DVI port) is available from ATI Online Store, Apple's Online Store, Buy.com, Other World Computing, and Small Dog Electronics. (The MSRP is $299)

Apple's Online Store is no longer selling the GeForce 6800 GT or Ultra, which had Dual-Dual-Link DVI ports (for two 30" Cinemas).

The "G5 only" Radeon 9800 Pro Mac Special Edition (8X AGP, 256MB, ADC + DVI port) is no longer made by ATI.

The following cards work on both the G5 Power Mac (8X AGP) and G4 Power Macs with 2X or 4X AGP:
Other World Computing has the new ATI Radeon 9800 Pro Mac (2X/4X AGP, 256MB, DVI + VGA ports) graphics card in stock for $259. ATI has it on their Online Store for $249. The SKU number is 100-435058, in case you want to make sure you are getting the right card.

ATI Online Store, Buy.com and Other World Computing have the Radeon 9600 Pro PC and Mac Edition (4X AGP, 256MB, DVI + Dual-Link DVI port) as well. It's compatible with late model G4 Power Macs and all G5 Power Macs with AGP slots. Priced at $199 MSRP it is the lowest priced AGP graphics card with Dual-Link DVI support.

The Apple Online Store lets you custom configure your G5 Power Mac. You can do the same if you order from Small Dog Electronics. If you have an Apple Retail Store in your city, it's always worth a visit to see and feel the different models of Power Macs.

For new and refurbished G5 Power Macs, check with Small Dog and Power Max.

Some of you have asked which G5 Power Mac models are most desirable. Whether you buy a new, refurbished or used G5 Power Mac, I recommend getting a model with 8 memory slots, 100/133MHz PCI-X slots, and 600W Power Supply. The table below gives the model number, etc., of these most desirable G5s.

Model Number
clock speed
intro date
June 2003
June 2003
November 2003
June 2004
June 2004
April 2005
April 2005

All other models have only 4 memory slots, 33MHz PCI slots, 450W Power Supply, and slower frontside bus speeds. If you can't find the model you want at Apple's Special Deals page, Small Dog's site, or Power Max's site, go to Froogle.com and search on the model number.

Apple Online Store

There are many places to buy PCs. We want to plug WhisperPC since they provided the Intel Dual Xeon 3.4GHz and 3GHz Pentium 4.

The AMD Dual Opteron 252 (2.6GHz) and "Solo" AMD Athlon FX55 (2.6GHz) were provided courtesy of @XiComputer. Be sure to visit their site and play "what if" with various configuations.

All systems we tested had 4 GB of 400MHz PC3200 memory, GeForce 6800 Ultra PCI-Express graphics, and 10K Raptor boot drive.

The GeForce 6800 Ultras with Dual-Link DVI are scarce. According to the Apple official discussion group, only the Asus V9999GE and Dell GeForce 6800 GTO will support the 30" Cinema display. I expect the situation to improve if card makers perceive a significant demand for 9 megapixel display support.

Workstation cards like the Quadro FX 3400 or FireGL V7100 do support Dual-Link DVI. For pricing, try NTSI. You can buy the FireGL at ATI's online store, too.

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2005 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"