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>PowerMac G5 with 10.4.10, and 1.5 GB of memory
That is a pathetically little amount of RAM for a G5. :(
Make that at least 5GB and watch the difference in performance.
Also, make sure your primary scratch disk drive is set to a physically separate drive that is NOT your boot drive, and make sure that you have PLENTY of free space on all your drives.
4.1 has some new controls compared to 4.0, it might explain why it might be more time consuming, if you did not use those features before.
>PowerMac G5 with 10.4.10, and 1.5 GB of memory.
In your Photoshop preferences, how much of this memory is allocated for use by Photoshop? If the percentage is too high, ACR and Bridge may be starved for memory. In a recent thread Thomas Knoll suggested that an allocation of 60% is about right (I don't recall the exact number, but that is how I set it in my own installation after reading Thomas's recommendation).
Also, are you treating the NEFs in ACR hosted in Bridge or Photoshop? There is a preference to change the default setting (Double-click opens in ACR/Photoshop, Shift Double-Click opens in ACR/Bridge)