Apple's generation gap

Apple's generation gap

With the introduction of its G3 range of Power Macintosh computers (short for "Generation 3"), Apple has adopted a new nomenclature and a new manufacturing process, and widened its performance lead in the notebook market.

Previous Power Macintoshes had model names like 8600/250 or 9600/300, indicating the type of machine and clock speed. The G3 range bears a simpler naming system: Power Macintosh G3 desktop, Power Macintosh G3 minitower and PowerBook G3. Apple says it removed the clock speed because the performance of the G3 processor (also known as PowerPC 750) was not directly comparable, megahertz for megahertz, with the previous incarnations of PowerPC, and customers may have been confused as to which machines performed better.

For instance, the Power Mac 6500/300, which uses a PowerPC 603e processor, rates a score of 432 on the standard MacBench performance score, while the Power Mac 8600/250, based on a PPC 604e, rates 611 on the same test. The 233MHz G3, by comparison, rates 774.

The G3 will be available in three configurations: a desktop machine which resembles (and will eventually replace) the current 7300 series; a mintower using the same casing as the current 8600 machines; and a PowerBook. The introduction of a PowerBook based on the same CPU as the mid-to-high range desktop machines is something of a coup for Apple, since the fastest Intel processor, the Pentium II, will not be available in a mobile version until sometime next year.

All three configurations of the G3 series use exactly the same motherboards, a fact which Apple hopes will help it to dramatically streamline its manufacturing. The specific differences between the machines (such as the AV capabilities of the mintower) are provided with the inclusion of "personality cards", which can be added at the final stage of production. At one time a couple of years ago, Apple had twelve different motherboard designs in production, making inventory management almost impossible. With only one board design, it will be possible to add person-ality cards late in the process and build machines as demand requires. Naturally, the G3 is the foundation of Apple's build-to-order plans in the US.

Upward mobility

In the past year, Apple has attempted to regain lost ground in the lucrative notebook market, where it was once the dominant player. In May, it introduced the PowerBook 3400/240 which, at the time, was the fastest notebook available, at least in terms of clock speed. Since the 3400 is based on the same PPC 603e as in the 6500 series, its performance in some applications drops somewhat below that of slower-rated Intel chips.

The PowerBook G3/250, however, outperforms the PowerBook 3400/240 by 2.2 x in MacBench tests, and has a significant lead over the desktop Power Mac 9600/200. Even a direct comparison between the PowerBook G3 and a desktop-bound 300 MHz Pentium II showed comparable, if not slightly superior, performance for the notebook.

The PowerBook G3 will be available in December with 32Mb RAM, 5Gb HD, 20x CD-ROM and 12.1in SVGA display for an RRP of $10,495. Other configurations are likely to follow.

The 7300-like desktop machine is available now with 32Mb RAM, 4Gb HD and 24x CD-ROM at RRPs of $4299 for the 233MHz version and $4999 for 266MHz.

The minitower model will not be available until January, when it will carry an RRP of $6495 for 64Mb RAM, 6Gb HD and 24x CD-ROM. Like the 8600 that it will eventually replace, the G3 minitower includes an AV card with audio and video in and out ports.

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