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The Proliferation Continues

My editorial on the proliferating number of Macs in TidBITS #192 incited plenty of comments, ranging from those who agree with me (although some think it is too late and that licensing the MacOS fit in there as well), to those who thought I wasn't looking hard enough for this information (check out the mac-facts files in the /info directory at <>), to those who thought I had lost my marbles in suggesting that Apple stoop to the level of PC clones. Apple's marketing people didn't respond, and it didn't sound like any of the readers who commented had any more clout than I do, so I guess we're limited to academic speculation for the moment. And of course, back seat driving is always easier.

Nonetheless, October is fluttering into view like a softly-falling leaf, and as we all know, October means new Macs. Here's what I know so far.

Naming Schemes -- As I mentioned several weeks ago, Apple will rename the current Centris line and add them to the Quadra line, theoretically reducing confusion. The Centris 610, 650, and 660AV will retain their numbers but become the Quadra 610, 650, and 660AV. That seems straightforward, but just to pull our chains a bit, the $1,550 Quadra 610 will be exactly like a Centris 610 with a full 25 MHz 68040, not the FPU-less 68LC040 that it sports now. The $2,300 Quadra 650 will pull a similar stunt, resembling a Centris 650 with a bump in clock speed from 25 MHz to 33 MHz. The Quadra 660AV will merely get a new nameplate. I wonder if this means that the few people who bought Centris 660AVs can consider them collector's editions and sell them for a lot of money in 50 years.

Quadra 605 -- Don't count that 68LC040 out with the demise of the Centris 610. The new $1,500 Quadra 605 will use a 25 MHz version of the chip in a completely new case that's reportedly even smaller than the LC case. There's nothing inherently wrong with a new, smaller case, but I hope the motherboard size becomes a standard so we don't see another orphan case, as was used for the IIsi. The case won't have room for removable-storage drives such as CD-ROM drives, although it will have room for a single PDS card. I wonder if, like in the Centris 610 and 660AV, if the size of the card will be limited, and if so, to what size?

LC 475 -- The Quadra 605 will share the 25 MHz 68LC040 with the new LC 475. Internally, the LC 475 will differ from the LC III by supporting all of Apple's monitors up to the 21" model, presumably with additional VRAM and perhaps improved video circuitry. The LC 475 will be fully Energy Star-compliant, which means that it will use significantly reduced amounts of power even when in operation rather than relying on a sleep mode.

PowerBook Duos -- Apple's much-maligned (but extremely cute) PowerBook Duo line will gain two new models, the 250 and the 270c. The 250 shares the innards of a Duo 230 but adds an active matrix LCD screen, that, much like the PowerBook 180, can display 16 shades of grey. The 270c, on the other hand, adds an FPU and the capability of handling up to 32 MB of RAM (up from 24 MB, although I haven't heard of many people able to afford even 24 MB of Duo RAM), along with an 8.4" active matrix color LCD screen. In a new twist, it will be capable of displaying 16-bit color (Apple's standard these days, it seems) in 640 by 400 pixels (the standard size for most PowerBook screens), or 8-bit color at 640 by 480 pixels (the standard size for 14" monitors). Both of the new Duos use a new type of nickel metal hydride (NiHy) battery that Apple claims will power the 250 for 2.5 to 6 hours and the 270c for 2 to 4 hours. I wonder why Apple's battery technology advances only keep pace with the increasing power appetites of new PowerBooks.

Prices on the new machines will be a bit steep at about $2,750 for the 250 and $3,300 for the 270c, but for those of us (yes, Tonya just bought a Duo 230 named Molly) with Duos, upgrades will be available. Call me a stick in the mud, but I don't mind even the passive matrix monochrome screen on Sally, our PowerBook 100.

Performas -- Several people noted in response to my proliferation article that Apple is splitting the lines, aiming Quadras aimed at businesses, LCs at education, and Performas at home users (PowerBooks cross all boundaries). I can accept the basic idea, but I have a quibble with limiting LC purchases to education, if that is indeed Apple's plan, and forcing home users to buy machines at Big Bob's House o' Computers. I'm sure many superstores and mass market resellers do a fine job of support, but every time we've visited the Performas at Sears, at least one of the machines is crashed, one isn't set up right, and talking to the salesthings gives the impression they aren't entirely sure which side of the mouse is up.

That may be our fate, though, and the choices will become utterly confusing with the addition of seven new models. I'm going to explain these in terms of existing models, since that's the only way I can wrap my mind around them.

First comes the Performa 410, an LC II with an 80 MB drive and 4 MB to 10 MB of RAM, priced around $1,000. The 405 and 430 may go away, since they are also LC IIs with differing RAM and hard disk configurations. The 450, an LC III, sticks around, but will be bested by the Performa 460, 466, and 467, which share the LC III's specs but a 33 MHz 68030 over the usual 25 MHz CPU. As far as I can tell, the 466 and 467 will have different hard disk and monitor configurations, and the lot of them will range from $1,100 to $1,400.

Home users won't have to stop at 68030 processing power with the new 475 and 476, both of which use that FPU-less 68LC040 that's in the Quadra 605 and LC 475. Otherwise they resemble the LC III in case and memory capabilities (36 MB maximum) and differ only in price and hard drive size (160 MB for $1,550 versus 230 MB for $1,800).

The final addition to the Performa line is the Performa 550, a souped-up (33 MHz) LC 520, the all-in-one Mac that has yet to see the light of day for non-education users in the U.S. It includes a color monitor and internal CD-ROM drive, and from all reports, is a slick machine. In addition, the IIvx-clone Performa 600 remains in the line.

Still with me? You'll never hold on after this one. MacWEEK reported that Apple will only sell certain models to certain retailers. The MacWEEK list claimed that, for instance, Price Club will sell the 466 and 476; Circuit City the 460 and 476, and Sears the 460, 475, and 550.

Put yourself in the shoes of Joe Homeuser. Joe wants to buy a Mac, and if he does his homework, he might go to Sears to buy the cheap 410. But Sears doesn't carry it (and can you imagine the salesthing telling Joe to go to Wal-Mart instead of pushing a different model?), so Joe is out of luck unless there happens to be a Wal-Mart nearby. Assume instead that Joe hasn't done his homework and goes to Price Club. Never mind the fact that the Performa 550 might be the ideal machine for Joe, if they don't sell it the salesthing isn't going even tell Joe about it, and Joe will either buy a machine that's not right or go home unhappy, thinking Macs aren't for him. I won't pretend that the dealer channel is necessarily any better, but as it stands, a dealer can sell most any Mac and thus won't be as tempted to pull the wool over the buyer's eyes. I'm sure abuses happen, where a salesthing convinces some poor sap to buy a machine that's more powerful than necessary because of the higher commission, or perhaps a machine that isn't right because the right one isn't in stock at that moment, but making the user find the proper store to buy a certain Mac strikes me as lunacy.


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