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Macworld and PowerPC Impressions

There was a demo of the PowerPC in the Apple Pavilion. The Apple rep talked about scalability and how they can increase speed by two, three and four times past current speeds. He then did a demo in which he ran Fractal Designer 2.5 on a 66 MHz Compaq Pentium Machine and compared it to a 66 MHz PowerPC Mac. Normally, Apple demos cheat in these tests by giving the DOS machine stock, slow bus video while most Macs have fast onboard video, but the demo involved very few screen draws so it was probably reasonably fair. The presenter launched Fractal Design on the Pentium box and started the test. He then spent 45-50 seconds describing the test (image blur, rotate, color separation – basically an integer and floating point mix with few disk accesses). After 45 seconds he started the PowerPC, which still won by about five seconds.

The PowerPC talk was odd in that the Apple guy was saying that PowerPC was going to be the future of Apple computers, it was great, it would let you do stuff you never imagined before, etc. and it would be available in just a few months. But, twenty feet away was the booth showing off the AV Macs, which left one to wonder why anyone would be interested in 680×0-based Mac now… but a lot of people were buying them, so I guess there’s some sense to it. [I suspect it has something to do with people needing a new Mac now, and not wanting to bet on the first PowerPCs being completely compatible right off. -Adam]

Apple said it plans to offer upgrades for many of the newer Mac models, and DayStar plans to sell cards for several models for which Apple won’t offer upgrade. So there’s hope for you Mac IIsi owners out there!

An Apple Developer talk went into the nuts and bolts of the PowerPC, showing how the PowerPC architecture could be scaled up internally and how the Pentium can’t (for instance, the first two clock ticks of a floating point operation on a Pentium are done in the integer unit, so integer and floating point operations cannot be done concurrently). Basically, the only thing the Pentium can do is increase clock speed; it has hit its architectural ceiling. The talk went on a lot about emulation mode and how a PowerPC can run almost any ordinary Mac application.

Many booths on the floor were showing their wares in native PowerPC applications, with real PowerPCs hidden under a black cloth. [I’m not sure why they bothered to hide the machines, given the fact all the real ones I saw at various times looked much like normal Macs (generally the Quadra 610 case) without a nameplate. -Adam]

An engineer from Apple said they brought a case of champagne to a conference a month ago and offered a bottle to anyone whose Macintosh application could work on a normal Mac but crash a PowerPC in emulation mode. They didn’t give any away.

Microsoft said they probably wouldn’t have native PowerPC versions of Word or Excel done when the PowerPC Macs ship, but shortly thereafter. They are busy getting Word 6.0 up on the Mac first, then worrying about PowerPC stuff. [You have to wonder if Word or Excel for NT might not be draining a few resources right now as well. -Adam]

Wolfram Research said there wouldn’t be a student version of native Mathematica for the PowerPC, because it would have to be every bit as fast as the full blown version (which would be, of course, as fast as a Sparc 2) due to the fact that the SANE math library on the Mac will be native PowerPC, and not emulated. Another guy said there would be a lower-priced student version, however, that would be cut back in some other way.

Biggest Lies of the Show

  • "WordPerfect Inc. has always had an eye on the Macintosh market."
  • "Apple has a terrific track record with respect to offering machine upgrades."
  • "Microsoft will be working with other smaller companies in a collaborative effort."
  • "Apple has always encouraged the small developer."
  • "An Iris Indigo workstation is just as easy to use as a Macintosh." (for some reason, Iris had a display at Macworld)

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