Apple Pushes to the Gigahertz Barrier with New Power Macs

Although Apple has long maintained that it's performance, not megahertz, that matters, even adherents of the "Think Different" company have long been awaiting Monday's announcement of new desktop Power Mac G4 models that, at the top of the lin

Although Apple Computer Inc. has long maintained that its performance, not megahertz, that matters, even adherents of the "Think Different" company have long been awaiting todays announcement of new desktop Power Mac G4 models that, at the top of the line, hit the 1GHz mark.

The new lineup includes two single-processor models with speeds of 800MHz and 933MHz; the top-of-the-line boasts two 1GHz G4 chips. The 800MHz, $1,599 base model also features a CD-RW optical drive, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and an ATI Radeon 7500 graphics card. The middle unit, at $2,299, ups the processor to a 933MHz G4 with 256K of L2 cache (lacking in the cheaper model) and adds a 60GB hard drive and a SuperDrive optical drive and includes a nVidia GeForce4 MX video card featuring 64MB of DDR RAM. The $2,999 top stock Power Mac G4 sports twin 1GHz G4 processors, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive and both the SuperDrive and the GeForce4 MX video card. In addition, the online Apple Store is offering a "custom built" Power Mac G4 with 1.5GB of RAM and twin 80GB hard drives -- it costs $3,649.

This is the first time a GeForce4 video card has been offered to consumers -- the official launch date is the first week of February -- but more details, such as core clock and RAM speed, are still unknown. In the past, nVidia has used the "MX" designation to note a less-expensive and lower-performing version of its full product. Apple representatives declined to comment on details, and nVidia representatives were not available.

The previous Power Mac G4 models are still being offered in the channel at discounted prices. The 733MHz model is down $400 to $1,299; the 867MHz loses $500 to hit the $1,999 price point; and the previous top-of-the-line Power Mac G4, with two 800MHz processors, drops $1,000 to $2,499.

In addition, the new Power Mac G4s come with an expanded software bundle. This includes not only Apples own iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie and (on SuperDrive models) iDVD but also the previously unpromoted Art Directors Toolkit, which allows viewing of font families, point size identification, color capture and more. Third-party applications are Caffeine Softwares PixelNhance, a real-time image enhancement application; Ambrosia Softwares Snapz Pro 2 screen capture utility; Lemke Softwares Graphic Converter; Omni Groups OmniGraffle diagram and OmniOutliner outlining software; PCalc 2; FileMakerPro Trial version; Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0; FAXstf X from SmithMicro; and Microsofts Internet Explorer 5. All of the listed software programs run in Mac OS X, the default operating system for these new Power Macs (though all also include Mac OS 9.2, which can be booted into).

Apple has stated that all models are available "immediately," with the online Apple Store claiming a one- to three-day shipping time. However, various resellers have stated that they do not yet have the new models in stock and may not get them soon. According to MacMinute, industry distributor Ingram Micro has said it wont have the new units until Feb. 12; however, Apple representatives chalk this up to normal discrepancies in channel flow.

But are they all that?

Rumors about the new Power Mac G4 models had been circulating since before early Januarys Macworld Expo trade show in San Francisco. Many had expected the Power Macs to be at least announced there; failing that, the rumor mill targeted last week as the introduction date. In addition, the most common rumors centered around a new motherboard architecture, incorporation of DDR RAM and over-gigahertz processors -- perhaps even the advent of G5 processors.

Though Apple representatives could not comment directly on timing, Greg Joswiak, a senior director for marketing at Apple, did say that the company "wanted to make sure Macworld Expo was all about a consumer focus," with the revamped iMacs and the iPhoto application taking center stage. Other information has also suggested that Apple wanted to reduce the channel inventory of existing Power Mac units.

As for a new motherboard design, Tom Boger, Apples director of Power Mac marketing, confirmed that though there are "small differences," the new Power Mac G4 models feature the "same general architecture" as previous versions, complete with PC 133 RAM. Boger did note, however, that the L3 cache (included in all but the base model) "scales with the speed of the processor," which, he said, should deliver better overall performance.

Addressing the apparently large feature and performance gap between the middle 933MHz unit and the dual 1GHz model, Joswiak noted that the heightened visibility of video-editing applications and Mac OS X, both of which benefit greatly from two processors, were reasons Apple moved away from its previous tactic of offering its fastest chip in a single-processor configuration. In addition, he said, "some customers were confused [with the previous configurations] that the top model didnt have the fastest processor."

In other news ...

Apple also announced that it has revamped its "Crystal Clear" promotion, which offered discounts on Power Mac G4 and Apple-branded LCD monitors bought together -- the new promotion extends the order deadline from Jan. 31 to March 31 and includes both the new Power Mac G4 models and the just-replaced ones. The other change is that where the previous promotion was tied to the Power Mac model, the new one is linked to monitor size, with reductions running $100 for the 15-inch LCD display, $300 for the 17-inch and $500 for the 22-inch Apple Cinema Display.

Finally, Apple released preorder numbers for the revamped iMac, which debuted at Januarys Macworld Expo. Orders reached 150,000 for all versions of the consumer-targeted, all-in-one computer. The first available model, featuring a SuperDrive and an 800MHz G4 processor and costing $1,799, should begin shipping today, an Apple press release said.