Apple has introduced the Power Macintosh 9500, the first Macintosh based around the PowerPC 604 processor, and also the first to include the PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) bus, a standard in the Intel world that will replace NuBus expansion slots. Codenamed Tsunami, this six-slot tower Macintosh runs at 120 or 132 MHz, is rated as much as twice as fast as previous Macs, and is aimed at high-end publishers, engineers, and computing-intensive users. The Power Mac 9500 also introduces new architectural elements that will become standards as Apple evolves the Power Mac line; however, starting at an Apple Price of $4,999, these new machines aren’t for the faint of wallet.
New PCI Bus — The Power Macintosh 9500 will either leave you drooling for its power or moaning about the expensive toys you can’t bring over to it. First gone is NuBus: the Power Mac 9500 is the first Macintosh to incorporate the high-performance PCI bus. In theory, PCI should make it simpler for manufacturers to produce expansion hardware for Macs, since different driver software should be all that’s required for a Mac or a PC to use the same card. If you must take NuBus cards over to PCI, Second Wave offers a few pricey solutions that let you use up to eight NuBus cards with a PCI Mac.
New RAM — Next gone are your SIMMs. The Power Mac 9500 is the first Mac to use 168-pin DIMMs (Dual Inline Memory Modules). DIMMs provide a 64-bit bus, which eliminates the hassle of installing Power Mac SIMMs in pairs. However, the 9500 supposedly takes advantage of identical paired DIMMs, treating them as a 128-bit memory bank and gaining another 10 percent or so performance improvement. For the memory-hungry, the 9500 is a dream machine, with twelve DIMM slots and a capacity of 768 MB of RAM with 64 MB DIMMs. Newer Technology is reportedly developing a conversion unit to allow 72-pin SIMMs to be used in a 9500. The 9500 has no RAM soldered onto the motherboard (except for a 512K cache), so the DIMMs provide all of the memory. The hassle? Rumor has it that the entire motherboard must be removed to add or remove RAM.
New Emulator — Next gone? The old emulator that allows Power Macs to run 68K applications. The Power Mac 9500 incorporates the long-rumored 68K emulator that’s supposed to be 15 to 30 percent faster than the emulator shipping in current Power Macs. Though floating point operations in 68K code are still reportedly relatively slow, Macworld’s tests indicated that the emulator outperformed high-end 68040 Macs.
CPU on Daughterboard — The Power Mac 9500 has its CPU on a small daughterboard that can be easily replaced. Thus, when 150 MHz 604 chips become available, upgrading a Power Mac 9500 should be straightforward and relatively inexpensive. Also, upgrading the daughterboard may improve the video, SCSI, memory performance, and increase internal bus speed up to as much as 50 MHz.
Networking & SCSI — The Power Mac 9500 comes with both an AAUI Ethernet port and a 10Base-T connector, so there’s no need to buy a transceiver to hook up to a 10Base-T net. Also, the 9500 ships with Open Transport, providing a more robust implementation of AppleTalk and TCP/IP (and probably breaking programs that do impolite things with MacTCP, like SurfWatch). Apple says the Power Mac 9500 also supports SCSI-2 Fast and has sustained transfer rates over 6 MB per second.
System 7.5.2 — The Power Mac 9500 also ships with System 7.5.2, which is significant for some people. First, System 7.5.2 includes new PowerPC native system software components, including the SCSI Manager, the Resource Manager, the Ethernet driver, and Open Transport. In addition, System 7.5.2 blows away the four GB volume size restriction present in System 7.5 – the new maximum volume size is a Copland-like two terabytes. Also Copland-like is the Driver Services Library, which allows PowerPC native device drivers and a standardized technique for graphics acceleration. There’s no word on when or if System 7.5.2 – or portions of it – will be available separately, and the new 68K emulator is unlikely to make it to existing Power Macs.
What’s Missing? — With all this, what doesn’t the Power Mac 9500 have? For starters, there’s no built-in video – you need a PCI video card. Apple’s base configurations will ship with a 24-bit accelerated mach64 PCI video card from ATI Technologies. People familiar with the Windows world might wince at that, because though ATI is generally well-regarded for its hardware, their video drivers have been hounded by compatibility problems.
There’s also no AV option for the Power Mac 9500. Though its audio support is good – 16-bit, 44 MHz stereo playback and recording – the only way to do digital video or voice recognition will be through a PCI card. At this time there’s no information on whether Apple will make an AV card for PCI Macs. However, the PCI market for video digitizers and similar products should prove robust – especially if there’s real compatibility with hardware from the PC world – and companies like TrueVision and Avid have announced plans to support PCI Power Macs.
In A Nutshell — No one in their right mind can call the Power Mac 9500 a consumer product: basically, if you aren’t certain that you need this machine, you don’t. However, the 9500 is the first "second generation" Power Macintosh, and for people in high end, computing-intensive environments, the 9500’s performance might well be worth the price.