Powerbook G5: A Hard Look


G5 processor Following the release of newly upgraded Powerbook G4’s, I feel it’s time to do a little soul-searching on the topic of the G5 processor in Apple’s Powerbook line. There are so many things that Apple has to contend with (way to go, to The Apple Blog’s Chris Holland for being quoted) before a viable Powerbook G5 could even be considered for the consumer.

Obviously, don’t hold your breath for it anytime soon. A couple minutes of simple thought (all I’m usually capable of) bring a couple show-stoppers (or show-slower-downers) to mind. Heat, Power, Size.

Guys especially beware: those laptops can get hot, and if you want children, you’d better be careful about using it as the name implies. Anyone who’s used their laptop on their legs, held it in their hand, or anywhere else close to exposed skin knows that they get hot. And that’s only a G4. The G5 Power Mac uses 9 (Yeah, like as in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9!) fans to cool the beast. Powerbooks are a skosh smaller and less ventilated. Peeling scalded skin from bodies is not a feature Apple will pursue… This will be one of the largest issues to contend with.

My 17″ Powerbook gets 2 and a half hours of battery life. Tops. Yes, it’s a large display to power, and I usually run the processor without power-saving measures. But what happens when the G5 is chugging along? There’s a lot more going on in the G5 architecture than in the G4. I haven’t done the in-depth examination, but it seems to me that the added capabilities of the G5 chip are taking away more power than they’re conserving. IBM is working to create a ‘lite’ version of the G5 that will consume less power (around 100 watts – which is still up there for a notebook) at lower clock speeds. While that’s a step in the right direction, there still seems to be a fairly large gap between now and a viable G5 Powerbook solution. My next question would be, is there potential for the power-saver setting on a lower clocked G5 to be more sluggish than the current G4 in the same configuration? I don’t know. It’s something to think about.

It does matter. Especially to Apple and their product design. They didn’t get to be the Number 1 Brand of 2004 by neglecting aesthetics. Anyone who’s seen, touched, or used an Apple product can attest to this. So how then will they be cramming the G5, it’s cooling, and its power supply into a 1 inch (or nearly 1 inch) thin enclosure as we’ve become accustom? Will consumers settle for a larger/thicker/heavier Powerbook design just for a slow(ish) G5 processor? Personally, I think not.

Will there be a G5 Powerbook? Of course there will be. There are G5 Xserves and iMacs. The ability is close, but it’s the details that Apple will strive to get right before they release ‘the Holy Grail’ to consumers. This is why Apple has been successful – they sweat the small stuff. While I’m as on-edge about The Announcement as the rest of you, I’m not planning on hearing it anytime soon. I trust Apple to give to us the G5 Powerbook with their blessings, when it’s ready to rock our world, without making compromises.


Mark Eagle

Apple has already made a processor 10 times as powerful as the G5 and they didn’t spare space, and look what they came out with! The Macbook Air!

Nick Santilli

Well there is no PowerBook G5. Rather, Apple switched to the Intel platform of processors, so there’s a CoreDuo powered MacBook Pro. You’ll find a lot more about that if you look around a bit.


Hi all, new to the blog thing… but got a comment… since the powerbook g5 is out, why cant I find more comments/blogs on it? I really like the idea of running both os’s, mainly for work, any advice where to find more info? Thanks

nick santilli

Fred – thanks for the great details. Definitely lends some optimism to the G5 PB sooner than later.

Though after the recent speed bump, MacWorld Boston may be a bit soon to have an announcement. But still, I’d love to hear it!


The 100w power Nick quoted must be total power not cpu. The PPC970 consumes anywhere from 12 to 45w depending on clock speed and has power management built-in. If you look at the new imacs their form factor isn’t that different from the powerbook and they seem to handle the power dissipation issue (180w max continuous) fairly well and it has a 600MHz FSB. Now they will have to package a battery and keyboard in as well but after seeing what the Apple engineers did with the mini, It wouldn’t be too hard to imagine a 1.8 GHz G5 Powerbook in time for MacWorld Boston.


I agree with a few of you, why do we think the new PB has to look or feel like the last PB? Also, why doesn’t Apple start to look at other processors or get away from IBM and G whatever anyway?


…and depending on how the forthcoming Cell processor evolves, possibility is that PowerMacs and PowerBooks will jump to the new architecture before PowerBook G5s ever appear…


The PowerBook G5 would have great marketing appeal, but the fact is that having a 64-bit processor gets really interesting only when you throw boatloads of RAM at it (2GB is the max when it comes to laptops) to address Big-Science challenges (astrophysics, bio-sciences), humoungous Photoshop files, insane multitasking or gigantic databases, and a totally 64-bit operating system (Tiger).

Apple will surely offer energy and heat-efficient dual-core G4 laptops with faster buses (the current 167MHz mega-hurts performance) before going G5…


What if there never is a G5 Powerbook?…what if they’ve diverted their resources to the Next Thing…?
Why wouldn’t the Next Thing have the same issues that the G5 has? Unless it’s this new ‘crossbar latch’ thing from HP (which is probably years down the road), it seems to me that every advance in processor tech will have the same issues as the one before it, and will require a little (or a lot) more work to squeeze it into a small, lightweight space. So it will always trickle down from desktop to laptop because desktop is inherently easier: space and weight is less of an issue, so it’s easier to solve the problems there first, then tackle the harder problems. Maybe there will be a breakthru on the portable side, but it seems to me that in that case it would be introduced in all systems simultaneously, for the simple reason that anything you can do in a portable you can do at least as easily, if not easier, in a desktop.


Be careful when attributing a cause-and-effect to the G5 “requiring” 9 fans to cool it.

The 9 fans are not needed for cooling. Apple could have done it with far fewer fans, like on PCs. Apple chose 9 fans to cool it quietly, distributing the load across the cooling zones so that each fan doesn’t have to turn as fast.


Don’t worry, there will be a G5 powerbook introduced. Even if it’s not the chips previously mentioned.

Till then, I’ll be satisfied with my recent move from a tibook 550 to an albook 1.33. That rocks my own world.

nick santilli

I was teetering on saying there may not be a G5. I couldn’t bring myself to do it though (Because I want one so bad, or because i don’t believe it…not sure)

Very good points about THink Different. Maybe their next portable is a Tablet-esque machine. Who knows.

But in the end, as Different as Apple is, I don’t think they could afford to let the PB line stagnate and not produce a G5 predecessor. That would be a costly mistake in the year of Apple. They’ve got too much momentum to hold off in lieu of the next big thing.

Just my opinion of course. Whatever their next portable upgrade is, it’ll be something to blow us away (as you said), and continue the mass exodus over to the Apple side.


Also, one more point: Where is it written that all leaps forward in the computer world have to start on the desktop, then trickle down to portable devices? I know heat and size are a huge factor, at least with the G5, which went from an enormous tower to a smaller, but still fairly large and thick enclosure for the iMac, but is it technologically conceivable that the next great leap can be made first in the portable arena, then migrate back to the desktop?


What if there never is a G5 Powerbook? What if Apple has already run all the scenarios and decided, nope, it just won’t happen, for all the reasons cited above. And what if they’ve diverted their resources to the Next Thing (The Processor That Will Not Be Called G6) already? What if they’ve written off 2005 as a holding year, with incremental bumps to the G4 line and are working on some kickin’ liquid-cooled, super-fast 3 ghz machine?

And, finally, what if what we think of as laptop form factor isn’t what they come back with? After all, we thought we knew desktops, then we saw the iMac flatscreen. We thought we knew all-in-one design, then Apple came out with the iMac G5 with its long “chin.” We even thought that music players absolutely had to have a screen and along came the Shuffle.

My point is, I fully expect Apple to come up with a portable solution that makes us all drool AND slap our head at the same time.


Easy. Use the Energy Saver prefs pane.

Nick – perhaps “capacity” wasn’t the best word to use here ;)


nick santilli

Sorry Jon, poor wording on my part. I meant that I don’t use power saving measures on the cpu (via System Prefs) when I’m running on battery, I keep it running full tilt.

I didn’t mean that it was over-clocked or anything like that.


About your 17″ PB, you said: “I usually run the processor at its highest capacity”… how can you change the processor’s capacity????

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