Power Computing today introduced their PowerWave product line, which currently consists of three new Mac clones built around the PowerPC 604 CPU, one of which will run at 150 MHz and potentially be the fastest Macintosh available. Expected to ship in November, the PowerWave product line features speed, good expansion and upgrade options, plus the ability to combine PCI and NuBus expansion slots in the same machine.
PowerWave Models — The PowerWave Mac clones have numerical names – the PowerWave 604/150, 604/132, and 604/120 – with the number at the end of the model name indicating the CPU speed in megahertz. The first two models are mini-tower systems, and the 604/120 has a desktop case. All models have the PowerPC 604 processor on a daughter card, allowing the possibility of upgrading the processor in the future. PowerWave models also offer up to 1 MB of Level 2 cache, two or three PCI expansion slots (see below), PCI-based accelerated video, built-in AAUI and 10Base-T Ethernet, an optional quad-speed CD-ROM drive, and a 10 MB/second internal SCSI bus. All PowerWave models use eight DIMM slots for a maximum RAM capacity of 512 MB; in addition, the PowerWaves take advantage of memory interleaving, so installing matching DIMMs in adjacent banks enables the computer to use a 128-bit memory path for increased performance. The PCI video card included with the systems comes standard with 2 MB of VRAM, allowing 24-bit color to a resolution of 832 by 624 pixels. The card can be upgraded to 4 MB of VRAM, for 24-bit support up to 1152 by 870, and support for monitor resolutions up to 1600 by 1200. In addition, the PCI video card features connectors for both standard Macintosh monitors and VGA monitors, and claims to offer software-only configuration for VGA monitors.
The mini-tower cases of the PowerWave 604/150 and 604/132 feature three drive bays accessible from the front of the machine, as well as an internal 3.5-inch bay that can hold either one full-height or two half-height devices, giving these machines plenty of storage options. The 604/120’s desktop case doesn’t lack in this department either, with two front-accessible bays and two internal bays that can handle 3.5-inch full-height devices. Front-accessible bays are important for systems using removable media (optical disks, DATs, or other systems), and the ability to handle full-height drives is important for large capacity hard disks.
Pricing for PowerWave models will vary significantly because Power Computing allows customers to request custom configurations. Direct pricing for base models of the 604/150, 604/132, and 604/120 is set at $4,499, $3,699, and $3,199 respectively. To get a better idea what your preferred configuration would cost, check out Power Computing’s online "configurator," which features complete model specifications and lets customers check prices on specific configuration options.
Stargate — Possibly the most intriguing aspect of the PowerWaves is Power Computing’s proprietary ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit), codenamed Stargate. Stargate enables Power Computing to include both PCI slots and NuBus slots in the same machine; users interested in a PowerWave can either get a machine with three PCI slots – just like the Power Mac 8500, 7500, or 7200 – or they can spend about $250 extra and get a PowerWave with two PCI slots and two NuBus slots, which sit on a riser card plugged into a connector on the motherboard.
The ability to mix PCI and NuBus peripherals should tempt many Macintosh owners who currently have investments in NuBus hardware that otherwise could not easily move to a PCI-based Mac. (Second Wave manufactures external devices that let NuBus cards be used with PCI Macs, but they’re pretty expensive.) However, before slamming money into a PowerWave with PCI and NuBus capability, it’s important to note that many people who currently own NuBus cards have no reason to bring them over to PCI Macs. The two most common types of NuBus cards are networking (Ethernet) and video cards. All PCI Macs – both Apple’s and Power Computing’s – include built-in Ethernet, so bringing over an Ethernet NuBus card is pointless. Second, even accelerated NuBus video cards typically aren’t as fast as PCI video cards, and cost considerably more. Unless you already own a specialized (or very costly) NuBus video card, it doesn’t make economic sense to try to shoe-horn it into a PCI Mac. Nonetheless, for owners of specialized NuBus peripherals (high-end digitalization and capture, high-speed SCSI cards, specialized interfaces to lab or research equipment, and others), Stargate may well provide a viable and inexpensive bridge into the world of high-performance Macs.
Best of Both Worlds? Power Computing’s engineering on its first Mac clones is widely regarded as being top-notch, and it will be interesting to see how independent lab tests rate the PowerWaves on performance and compatibility. Assuming Power Computing lives up to its reputation, these machines could be serious contenders in the high-end Macintosh market – especially with their ability to integrate existing NuBus peripherals – even though they lack the sophisticated AV features present in Apple’s current line of Power Macs. However, the long-term viability of Power Computing machines remains untested. Power Computing works very closely with Apple (and Apple is going to some lengths to provide support for clone manufacturers), but it’s important to remember this is a new road rather than a familiar hometown street – there may yet be unpaved sections ahead.
Another interesting aspect of the new PowerWaves is that they solidly target the high end Macintosh world. Part of the reason Apple opened up to cloning was to gain market share for the Macintosh and provide lower-cost options to consumers. So far, however, Macintosh clones have tended to target Apple’s markets in publishing, multimedia, and graphics, rather than the low-end consumer market or education. Although I’ve heard rumors of forthcoming Power Computing machines that will cost less than $1,000, one wonders if clone companies are trying to open new Macintosh markets or merely carve up Apple’s existing user base.