Fact Controlled
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Busman's Holiday
The New Mac Lineup, Hmm...
by Steve Wood
July 25, 2000

  

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I'd let my notes from the Steve Jobs keynote speech at MacWorld Expo 2000 just sit for a few days. During his speech, which I viewed via satellite from the comfort of my living room, I was initially swept away into the famous reality distortion field, apparently along with many of those physically attending the speech at the Jacob Javits Center in New York. As days have passed since the keynote, I find my views considerably less charitable to the less than revolutionary offerings from Apple.

While the optical Pro Mouse and the Pro Keyboard were needed changes, I found the best news of the presentation to be Apple's aggressive new pricing of the entry level 350 MHz iMac at $799. With the novelty and sales of the nearly 2 year old iMac series fading, even its proven worth and utility needed some price point help to continue healthy sales figures. The new pricing brings it back into the range for serious consideration by buyers looking at rock bottom priced PCs.

While the $200 retail price reduction is great news for educators, the education pricing of the new entry level iMac is curiously the same as the retail price. Until the current reduction, ed pricing of all iMacs (and most desktops) had been $50 below retail. While it's a good bet that Apple will sell a ton of $799 iMacs to schools, I also suspect some school sales will go to retail outlets other than Apple Ed where resellers sweeten the deal with extra RAM and other goodies at the same $799 price. Deal-Mac already has a posting for one non-authorized vendor offering the Indigo iMac at $749!

Along with the new iMac colors, the rest of the iMac series received improvements in hard drive capacity and a speed bump with the fastest iMac now coming in at 500 MHz with a 30 gig hard drive.

What was missing from the iMac presentation was the introduction of a G4 iMac or one with a larger display. Newer Technology already has its iMAXpowr G4 upgrades available for older iMacs. Powerlogix is sure to follow suit soon with its iForce upgrades for the iMac. Apple has chosen to stay with the G3 chip for its iMacs.

Both a larger integrated display in an all-in-one unit or an inexpensive monitorless iMac box that uses an external display have been discussed in the rumor sites before this and other recent Apple events. While 17" displays are rapidly becoming the standard for new PCs, Apple has not as yet addressed this seemingly obvious issue in its iMac line, choosing to maintain the current iMac form factor.

The much rumored iCube, officially called the Power Mac G4 Cube, blew away the crowd in the Jacob Javits MacWorld Expo hall. It's just eight inches square and may have the styling impact at introduction as the iMac did in 1998. Basically a miniaturized 450 or 500 MHz G4 minitower without PCI slots, the G4 Cube will weigh in at a hefty $1799-2299.

In the few days that have elapsed since the introduction of the Cube, the question that is being bandied about in the press is, "Who is going to buy it?" At a beginning pricing of $1799 the Cube seems seriously overpriced compared to the single processor 400 MHz G4 which starts at $1599.

minitowerPower Mac G4 400 MHz Minitower

g4cubePower Mac G4 Cube

$1,599.00

$1,799.00

400MHz PowerPC G4

450MHz PowerPC G4

1MB L2 cache

1MB L2 cache

64MB SDRAM memory

64MB SDRAM memory

20GB Ultra ATA drive

20GB Ultra ATA drive

DVD-ROM w/DVD-Video

DVD-ROM w/DVD-Video

RAGE 128 Pro graphics

RAGE 128 Pro graphics

Gigabit Ethernet

10/100BASE-T Ethernet

56K internal modem

56K internal modem

Harman Kardon audio technology speakers

Photos Courtesy of Apple Computer, Inc.

Apple's answer to the megahertz dominance of Intel and AMD is the new multiprocessor G4 lineup. While the stock 400 MHz G4 remains a single processor offering at $1599, the 450 and 500 MHz G4's now are dual G4 machines at the same price as the previous single processor models.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs and VP Phil Schiller demonstrated some of the raw processing power of the dual G4 equipped machines in comparison with a similarly equipped Pentium III. The comparisons presented using Photoshop were truly impressive, but the fact remains that most Mac software, including the current OS, does not take full advantage of multiple processors.

The speed gap between Macs and Intel and AMD equipped computers appears to be widening. While PhotoShop makes good use of both the Velocity engine (AltiVec) and multiple processors, general applications let both Velocity and the second processor sit idle. In megahertz speed comparisons this leaves Apple's products lagging sadly behind in the speed wars. One refreshing note on all of this is that many objective columnists on the Windows side are now openly stating that the G3/G4 chips perform about 100-150 MHz better than their stated speed when compared to Intel and AMD offerings.

It was amazing to me that some speed improvement in the G4 processor was not introduced at this time. IBM has long been rumored to have faster G3 and G4 chips, but currently, neither Motorola nor IBM has anything on the market to even remotely compete with the megahertz dominance of Intel and AMD. The current situation is reminiscent of the days when Apple's fastest offering was the 33 MHz 68040 chip to compete with Pentium 60's, 90's, and better.

Microsoft's Kevin Browne previewed features from the October release of Microsoft Office 2001 for the Macintosh. There were lots of new Mac only features shown, including a personal information manager component called Entourage, a Word project gallery to aid development of professional looking documents by one and all, and a new Design Wizard. Unfortunately, Office 2001 will remain an incomplete product as Microsoft Access, the vital database component of Office, is still absent from the Macintosh version. It's amazing with all the ballyhoo over various Office for Mac versions that the concept of true parity with the Windows product isn't mentioned more often in the press.

The release of the Mac OS X beta now scheduled for sometime in September is a welcome, if overdue advancement for the Mac platform. Microsoft's Windows 2000 Millennium Edition will be on the shelves on September 14, 2000. 

It's time for Apple Computer, Inc. and its chip producing partners to play some serious catch up in several areas. From the smoke and mirrors of OS X being available "this summer" (September?) and the lack of any megahertz improvement in the G4 chip, it's pretty clear that the Macintosh platform is lagging way behind its Microsoft/Intel/AMD competitors.

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©2000 Steven L. Wood