Apple's new low-cost models challenge IBM PCs


After months of speculation, Apple Computer Inc. finally unveiled three new models of the Macintosh Monday, including the first Macintosh to carry a list price of less than $1,000 and a low-cost color Macintosh.

The new models are the vanguard of an aggressive campaign by the Cupertino, Calif., company to increase its share of the personal computer market.

According to Apple, the new Macintoshes are priced as much as 60 percent lower than earlier Macs of comparable power.

Apple is hoping the new machines will provide a compelling alternative to low-cost IBM-style PCs equipped with Microsoft's Windows 3.0 software, which mimics the graphical user interface of the Macintosh, making programs easier to learn and to use.

Two of the computers introduced Monday, the Macintosh Classic and the Macintosh IIsi, are available now. The third, and perhaps most intriguing of the Macs, called the Macintosh

LC, will not be available until early next year.

The Macintosh Classic, which has a list price of $999 and a probable "street" price under $800, resembles the original upright Macintosh but with rounded, softened features.

The computer's small, built-in, black-and-white display seems rather quaint compared with the color monitors available on other Macs and PCs, but not everyone needs big-screen color.

The Mac Classic comes with one megabyte of random access memory and a single 3.5-inch Superdrive, a 1.4-megabyte floppy drive that, when used with a conversion feature in the Macintosh system software, can read and write to IBM PC-style disks as well as to Macintosh disks. It also comes with a greatly improved keyboard and a mouse.

The Classic appears to be an excellent entry-level computer, although we expect most users, especially those who expect to use the machine for light office or heavy educational chores, will probably want the Classic 2/40. That version comes with two megabytes of RAM and a 40-megabyte hard disk drive and a list price of $1,499.

Price is the most obvious advantage of the Classic, which is based on the aging Motorola 68000 microprocessor running at a poky 7.68 megahertz. Apple officials contend, however, that the Classic performs up to 25 percent faster than the Macintosh Plus, which it replaces.

Although it is slow in comparison with Apple's business computers, the Classic is almost certainly fast

enough for most home, school and small office applications.

The second new machine is the Macintosh IIsi (for "simply irresistible," the Apple spokesman said), which becomes the least expensive member of the Mac II family.

A Mac IIsi with two-megabyte RAM and a 40-megabyte hard disk has a suggested retail price of $3,769, rising to $4,569 for a model with five-megabyte RAM and an 80-megabyte hard drive.

The pricing is less aggressive than for the other Macs, but it is still about $2,500 less than a comparably equipped Mac IIcx, which it replaces. The IIsi is a "modular" Mac, which means the user must complete the system with a monitor and keyboard.

Of particular interest in the Mac IIsi is the machine's built-in sound input capability. All Macs have long had high-quality sound output, at least in contrast to their PC counterparts, but the IIsi, and its awaited sibling, the Macintosh LC, come with microphones to capture sound.

Using the microphone and included software, Mac users will be able to add voice messages to word processing documents, spreadsheets, electronic mail and other applications, assuming those applications are equipped to handle sound.

The engine of the IIsi is a 20-megahertz version of the Motorola 68030 chip, which, according to Apple, offers up to five times the performance of the Classic.

For the first time, Apple is matching its systems one on one for comparison purposes with rival machines in the IBM-Compaq world. The IIsi, Apple said, offers performance comparable or superior to that of the Intel 80386.

Apple says the new Macintosh LC, the low-cost color machine that will not be ready until January, is the company's challenge to the popular 80386-SX machines in the PC world. We will take a closer look next week.

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