Is the Power Mac G5 a personal computer or really a workstation?

Is the Mac G5 a PC or a workstation,” asks Nebojsa Novakovic for The Inquirer.

The Power Mac G5 “is not sold by Apple as a workstation, but as a high-end PC, therefore it shouldn’t be compared against say Sparc or Itanium, but against Pentium4. Well, the reality is that there is very little hardware difference between a high-end Pentium4 PC and a Xeon workstation these days, except dual CPU and 64-bit PCI-X slots extra on the workstation. Everything else is pretty much the same,” writes Novakovic.

Novakovic continues, “What you may look at is what is the type of user in each case – a high-end PC for a gamer? Well the choice is still probably somewhere between Pentium4 and AthlonXP – the G5 just doesn’t have as many 3-D games as a PC (yet). A workstation for a photo editor or 3-D designer? Well, the choice could be between a Pentium4 workstation (if the program isn’t SMP-aware), Xeon, Opteron or – PowerMac Dual G5!”

“Simply, even though PowerMac G5 may be positioned as a high-end PC, its attributes like 64-bitness, large memory with high bandwidth, dual CPUs, AGP 8X Pro, and 64-bit PCI-X, all belong to a high-end workstation – and talking about that, put Dual G5 into the top of the workstation league – and could seriously shake that market! It definitely beats the hell of anything Sun can offer,” writes Novakovic.

Full article here.


  1. Sheesh! I remember when the IBM PC came out, it ran DOS from M$. Anyone who called an Apple product a “PC” was chastized about incompatibility. And now those same people are insisting that we go back to this?

    Here’s one: The G4 could do 1 GigaFlop of processing, and that was the definition of a “supercomputer” (might still be). Nowadays, this is common in many “PCs”.

  2. From the article, a rather unconnected rambling one at that, the author implies there are serious (workstation) users and non-serious (PC) users such as gamers. He obviously doesn’t have a clue about how the Mac community uses their computers.

    The closest comparison one could make is to label the iMacs as “PCs” and the Power Macs as “workstations”. But, as most of you know, there is a significant percentage of iMac users using them as workstations, myself included.

    Personally, I thought the term “workstation” became extinct as the last mainframe IBM terminal was replaced with a PC in the college computer department.

    He is trying to make some sort of comparison, but it is obscure and useless at best, and then it completely falls apart when he tries to give engineering advice.

    By the way, how does someone get a job like that? I’d love to write pointless, nonsensical, articles and get paid for it!! So, if anyone needs a very opinionated writer/artist with an electronics engineering degree, that actually knows how to use a semicolon, please, email me at I’d love a career change!

  3. Deja Vu all Over Again

    Reminds me of the Apple magazine ad from about 4 years ago showing the new G4 PowerMac surrounded by American tanks with a subtitle discussing how the U.S. DoD forbids “supercomputer class” machines (of a certain MIPS computing strength) to be sold outside the US. The G4 apparently met the criteria for a Supercomputer. The standard was quickly changed..

  4. Aryugaetu,

    Workstation here refers to a Unix computer used as a desktop computer running the X Windows GUI (which might or might not retrieve data from a central server).

    A typical use of a Unix Workstation would be an engineer designing a automobile part using a computer aided design (CAD) program or someone at Pixar using a Silicon Graphics Unix workstation to design an animation frame for a movie.

    When I think mainframe, I think of a huge IBM machine locked in a building miles away processing transactions to GUI-less “dumb terminals” (sometimes called workstations).

  5. I agree with the remark that it is a matter of semantics. The reason that the PowerMac G5 is a “personal computer” is because that’s what Apple says it is. But as the “power line” blurs, it becomes difficult to say.

    I’d point out that, in the past, “workstations” were usually optimized to do one thing very well. Thus, you had CAD workstations, design workstations, video editing workstations, etc. Usually, the software and hardware to do the task was very expensive which is why they would be shared resources–you would sign up for time on the “workstation.” You might have a “personal computer” on your desk for doing some of your work–E-Mail, scheduling, etc.

    IBM and AMD are bringing “workstation” performance at a price which would allow them to be used in machines costing thousands less than “workstation.” This would allow a company to deploy “workstations” as they now deploy “personal computers.”

    What this means to me is that the personal computer is getting faster–just like it has been for years. Five years ago, Pentium IV-class performance could only be found in a “workstation” costing thousands more than a personal computer. There is no difference between a “workstation” and a “personal computer”–only in how it is deployed.

    Also, as an aside, the GigaFLOP story has to do with what the U.S. government defined a “supercomputer” for export purposes. The concern with exporting “supercomputers” was that they could be used for designing weapons. It was an old measurement which nobody bothered to update because, frankly, there was no need to. It was changed when Motorola came out with the G4 due to political pressure.

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