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PowerPC Reports Positive

March may bode well for Macintosh users if the PowerPC versions of the Macintosh appear on schedule and live up to reports I’ve heard. You can find some of this sort of information (but not the juicy stuff) via Gopher at the URL below. There’s also a possibility of native PowerPC demo applications appearing there.


Compatibility — Sure, the big name developers will support the PowerPC – they’d be stupid not to. But what about some of our favorite freeware and shareware authors? There’s no telling, although individual developers often support new technologies well in advance of the commercial outfits. News from Pythaeus indicates that university developers haven’t been left out of the fun. A four-month loan of a PowerPC has allowed various developers to ensure their applications work with the PowerPC. Among the programs tested are the Gopher server from the University of Minnesota, Mosaic from NCSA, CU-SeeMe and Mandarin from Cornell University, the World-Wide Web server (they probably mean Chuck Shotton’s MacHTTP), and MacSLIP from the University of Texas.

Compatibility reports I’ve heard about commercial applications are surprisingly good – apparently most everything runs well in emulation. The major exception is any application that requires a hardware FPU, since the emulation only emulates the FPU-less 68LC040 chip that has been used in a few Macs. I doubt this limitation will be serious since any application that relies heavily on the FPU has no business not going native. Reports from test sites indicate that the transition to the PowerPC Macs may be even less stressful than the transition from the 68030 to 68040 or from System 6 to System 7. Some people even claimed the PowerPC Macs were more compatible than the AV Macs (which must be pretty good, since I’ve seen relatively few incompatibilities with the 660AV).

Upgrades — Apple has announced that they intend to offer PowerPC motherboard upgrades for even more current Macs, bringing the list to the following:

  • LC 475, 520, 550, 575
  • Performa 475/476, 550, 600
  • Macintosh IIvx, IIvi
  • Centris 610, 650, 660AV
  • Quadra 605, 610, 650, 660AV, 800, 840AV
  • Apple Workgroup Server 60, 80, 95 (but only with System 7)

Of these, the only one that surprises me is the AWS 95, which is essentially a Quadra 950. It’s rumored that the upgrade will only come in the form of the PDS card rather than the full logic board upgrade, and at that point, it would seem that the Quadra 700 would be a candidate for the same upgrade. Upgrades will be available at the March 14th introduction and should start at less than $1,000.

DayStar has announced that they intend to provide upgrades for other Macs currently left out (the SE/30 rides again!). The details of how the DayStar and Apple PDS upgrade boards will handle RAM are still fuzzy, but the companies may come up with cards that use memory in different ways, resulting in different prices and different overall speeds.

One advantage of the Apple PDS card upgrade is that you can choose between PowerPC 601 or 68040 mode merely by rebooting, so if your software wasn’t compatible with the PowerPC chip, you could easily switch back to normal 68040 mode. The big question that remains is if the PDS card upgrades might not be even faster than the low-end PowerPC logic board upgrades since Apple’s PDS cards come with a large RAM cache.

Names & Prices — The naming scheme that Apple has adopted makes a certain sort of twisted sense, but requires the ability to perform complicated internal arithmetical linkages. When will these people learn that a word is worth a thousand numbers?. And of course, keep in mind that this information still fits in the rumor category. I suspect Apple sometimes changes squiggly details at the last minute to discredit those of us who disseminate them.

We should see at least six PowerPC Macs (three of which will sport AV technologies), all named PowerMac (or perhaps Power Macintosh). Each will sport 8 MB of RAM and the price includes built-in Ethernet, a keyboard, and monitor, presumably a basic 14" model.

The low-end PowerMac 6100/60 uses a 60 MHz PowerPC 601 chip and costs $2,099 with a 160 MB hard drive and room for a maximum of 72 MB of RAM. The next model up, the PowerMac 7100/66, is $2,999 for a 66 MHz chip, a 250 MB hard drive, and space for 136 MB of RAM. The fastest model, which will be the one to buy for adequate SoftWindows speed, is the PowerMac 8100/80 and costs $4,499 with a 250 MB hard drive and room for 264 MB of RAM, although I don’t even want to think about how much that RAM would cost. There will undoubtedly be various options in terms of hard drives and whatnot.

Reports indicate that the lowest end model is way too slow for SoftWindows (which will be included with some models), but the demo I saw at Macworld indicated that the high-end PowerPC Mac could do a good job of PC emulation.

I believe that some of the pricing difference between the various models is related to the secondary cache memory, which is fast and expensive, but which significantly improves performance.

Each of the above machines also comes as an AV model, with the AV technologies provided on a PDS card. Otherwise the specs are pretty much the same.

I’m sure you can figure out the naming scheme – the first number indicates the case type, with the 6 being the Quadra 610 case, the 7 being the Quadra 650 case, and the 8 being the Quadra 800 case. The 100 tacked on the end is there to make the number look impressive. The number after the slash is of course the chip speed. I have no clue what they plan to call an LC 550, for instance, that you upgrade to a PowerPC chip.

Performance — Reports from test sites still indicate that the speed of current Macintosh applications running in emulation mode feels like the speed of a Quadra 700. Apple disclaims emulation speed widely, saying that it varies dramatically from application to application and that it should range from IIci to Quadra 700 speed. It’s unclear how the recent InfoWorld article that claimed 68000 and 68020 performance was done – I have yet to hear from anyone who thinks that, and these are people who have used PowerPC Macs for some time.

Native mode software runs anywhere from twice as fast as existing high-end Macs to as much as eight times as fast in specific areas. I could quote benchmarks at you, but frankly, I think they’re relatively meaningless. No one is going to buy a PowerPC Mac solely because it’s a few SPECmarks faster than a Pentium-based Windows box. Instead, people will buy PowerPC Macs because they are Macs and they are damn fast, especially for the prices involved. End of story.

— Information from:
Apple propaganda

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