Apple has overhauled the high end of its Macintosh computer lineup, rolling out new desktop models so powerful that it calls them "personal supercomputers."
Dubbed the Power Mac G4 line, the machines are built around the PowerPC G4, a new Motorola microprocessor with features to speed up graphics, multimedia and scientific calculations.
Apple also showed off a sleek new flat-panel digital monitor that measures 22 inches diagonally, the largest liquid-crystal display ever brought to market.
Interim CEO Steve Jobs introduced the products before an enthusiastic audience of graphics and publishing professionals attending last week's Seybold San Francisco publishing trade show.
To show what the new Power Mac will mean to such customers, Jobs showed it whipping a 600-MHz Pentium III, generally by 2-to-1 margins, on a variety of graphics and video operations. He called on John Warnock, chairman and CEO of Adobe, to attest that the Apple machine is the fastest that Adobe has tested with Photoshop, its widely used image-editing application.
Richard Crandall, a scientist who works at Apple, showed off the G4's speed at demanding scientific tasks. For example, he said, when the machine was set to run a program that searches radio data from space for patterns that might indicate extraterrestrial intelligence, it accomplished as much in six hours as the Pentium III did in 25 hours.
Apple calls the new models supercomputers because they can complete 1 billion floating-point math operations per second -- a level of performance known in the industry as a "gigaflop."
That kind of performance could open new doors for Apple among scientists and engineers. A decade ago, the company held a strong position in technical-computing markets, but in recent years it has largely abandoned that arena and focused marketing of its high-end models on graphics and publishing customers.
"We just didn't have hardware that could really compete in that area," said Jon Rubinstein, senior vice preseident of hardware engineering, "but the G4 is a dream machine for researchers. You'll see us starting to do some marketing focused on the scientific, technical and engineering areas."
One of the new Macs, equipped with a 400-megahertz G4 chip, has a retail price of $1,599. A version withMHz G4 and a $2,499 price is due in "a few weeks," according to Jobs, and a 500-MHz model priced at $3,499 is expected next month.
Apple will also offer the machines through its online store, where users can have configurations built to order.
In addition to faster processors, the higher-priced models offer more memory, bigger disks and faster internal data channels. They also have special slots where users can add a $99 wireless networking card, using the same technology Apple recently announced for the iBook, a $1,599 portable Mac to become available soon.
The new monitor, called the Apple Cinema Display, will sell for $3,499, also beginning next month. Though it is only a few inches thick, it offers the same viewing area as a 24-inch conventional monitor. Because supplies will be limited, Apple will sell the Display only through its online store and only with a 450- or 500-MHz Power Mac G4.
From the outside, the Power Mac G4s closely resemble their G3 predecessors, except that gray shades Apple calls silver and graphite replace the bright blue and white plastics that distinguished the previous models.
"We got a lot of feedback from our professional customers that they wanted a more professional look," said Jon Rubinstein, Apple senior vice president of hardware engineering.
The key new feature in the G4 microprocessor is a technology that Motorola calls AltiVec, but Apple will market it as Velocity Engine.
Like recent enhancements to Intel's Pentium processors and Advanced Micro Devices' K6 and Athlon chips, the Velocity Engine is designed to accelerate operations when the same computer instruction is applied to multiple blocks of data, which is increasingly common as computers handle more graphics, video and audio. As with the new Intel and AMD features, the Velocity Engine works only with software rewritten to take advantage of it.
With such software, Apple says, the Velocity Engine works dramatically faster than the PC equivalents. Benchmark tests downloaded from Intel's Web site, Jobs said, show that the 500-MHz G4 is 2.9 times faster than a 600-MHz Pentium III.
The gigaflop performance of the Power Mac G4s means they will fall under federal government regulations that limit exports of high-powered computers to China, Russia and other potential trouble spots.
Apple plans to capitalize on that with a new TV ad that shows a half-dozen Army tanks surrounding a Power Mac G4 as an announcer intones, "For the first time in history, a personal computer has been classified as a weapon."
Pub Date: 09/06/99