I recently bought a Power Mac G5, the first desktop Mac I've owned since purchasing a Power Macintosh 7500 in 1995. As a freelance writer...

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I recently bought a Power Mac G5, the first desktop Mac I’ve owned since purchasing a Power Macintosh 7500 in 1995. As a freelance writer, I’ve been content with a succession of PowerBooks to do my work — my PowerBook G4 remains my main machine. But after testing a top-of-the-line Power Mac G5, I decided to invest in some big iron to pursue my interest in digital video editing.

The G5 is Apple’s mid-range configuration, featuring dual 2.3 GHz PowerPC G5 processors compared to a single 100 MHz PowerPC 601 processor in the old beige workhouse 7500.

I ordered an upgraded ATI Radeon 9650 video card with AirPort and Bluetooth wireless networking built-in. To round out the order, I bought 2 GB of extra RAM from Crucial.com. You can never have enough memory, and the Power Mac G5 supports up to 8 GB in the 2.3 GHz and 2.7 GHz processor configurations; the 1.8 GHz and 2.0 GHz models support up to 4 GB of RAM.

Despite the increase in computational power, I’m just as impressed with the Power Mac G5’s design. I don’t necessarily mean the exterior “cheese grater” look; the front and back panels are perforated by thousands of small holes to pull cool air in through the front and expel heated air out the back. Instead, I refer to the designers who made the inside of the G5 so beautiful.

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While other computer manufacturers spend a little effort to make their cases appealing, Apple looked at the guts of the G5 and asked, “How can we make this easier?”

Case in point: I bought a 200 GB hard drive to put into an external enclosure, but accidentally ordered one with a Serial ATA (SATA) interface instead of the IDE interface required by the enclosure. I held onto it, though, knowing that a G5 was in my future.

My previous experiences installing hard drives included metal sleds that needed to be bolted onto the drive, then a frustrating tangle of power and data cables. In the Power Mac G5, all you do is fasten four screws with extra-large, rounded heads to the sides of the drive. The screws are stored on a mounted piece of plastic near the drive bay, so you don’t have to hunt for them in a little plastic baggie somewhere. The rounded heads fit perfectly into two grooves in the drive bay, and a plastic gate swivels down to hold the drive in place. Finally, the power and data cables are tucked neatly below the bay, sliding out like a drawer to connect to the ports on the drive. Installation took about four minutes.

(If you want, you can download the Power Mac G5 user’s manual as a PDF and view the steps starting on page 44: http://manuals.info.apple.com/en/PowerMacG5_(Early_2005)_UserGuide.pdf.)

Similarly, adding the extra RAM was easy. To access the memory slots, you need to perform what would appear to be major internal G5 surgery: Remove the side panel, air deflector, and the fan assembly; insert the RAM; and then replace the other pieces. But here, each piece is self-contained and pulls out with a tug of a finger, no tools required.

Speaking of the fans, previous Power Mac owners will appreciate that this model seems to be much quieter than the “wind-tunnel” models of the past. Even running a processor-intensive application in a fairly warm room (in this case, the superbly rendered game Doom 3, with its dynamic lighting and excellent graphics; http://www.aspyr.com/games.php/mac/d3/), the fan noise wasn’t overly intrusive.

You may be wondering, “Who cares about the inside of the computer?” After all, most people probably don’t ever need to open the side panel. But for professionals who frequently swap out hard drives and PCI expansion cards, the superior design makes the process painless. I’m sure that Apple benefits, too, by making it easy for Apple Geniuses and other repair technicians to get in and fix your problems or perform upgrades for you faster if you don’t want to do it yourself.

Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column. Send questions to carlsoncolumn@mac.com.