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Apples on the Horizon

There are about a thousand half-truths about the computer industry, but there’s only one law: new machines will appear any day now. Apple has been doing such a poor job of keeping some forthcoming models secret that I felt some general notes were appropriate. We’ll cover these products briefly when they’re official; in the meantime, here are some details to whet your appetite.

Performas — Apple is widely expected to introduce the Performa 6400 series at Macworld next month. The Performa 6400s (codenamed Instatower) are the mini-tower configurations based on the Performa 5400 motherboard design. These Performas should feature a PowerPC 603e processor running at 180 or 200 MHz, an 8x CD-ROM drive, two PCI expansion slots, an extra front drive bay, and the ability to handle an internal modem and/or Apple’s TV Tuner. I’ve also heard persistent rumors the Performa 6400s may ship with a bundled video editing system and a sophisticated sound system complete with a sub-woofer (a speaker designed for lower-frequency sounds often lost on smaller, low-power computer speakers). Although the target market is a little unclear, Apple seems to be going after multimedia and video enthusiasts, as well as small businesses and production houses. The Performa 6400 series is expected to retail between $2,500 and $3,000.

Power Macintosh — It comes as no surprise that Apple is expected to revise its existing Power Macintosh line at Macworld, with units coming available in September. New versions of the 7200, 7600, 8500, and 9500 will sport 8x CD-ROM drives and higher clock speeds ranging from 132 MHz for the 7600 to 200 MHz for the 8500 and 9500. In addition, the fastest 8500 and 9500 models will be based on the PowerPC 604e chip and ship with 32 MB of RAM standard. Prices should range from $2,300 for the 7200 to about $5,000 for the high-end 9500.

Those revisions are predictable: more exciting, however, is the anticipated Power Macintosh 9500/180 MP. This machine, expected to be available in September or October, will sport dual PowerPC 604e processors running at 180 MHz. Although not the first multi-processor Macintosh available (DayStar has been shipping its Genesis MP models for some months, sporting two to four PowerPC 604 processors at 150 MHz), at about $6,000 Apple’s offering should be price and feature competitive. Although software must be specifically engineered to take advantage of multiple processors, 3-D rendering and graphics applications like Strata Studio Blitz and Photoshop already support multi-processor machines, and more applications are in the works. Even though the 9500/180 MP’s clock speed might not match other machines, if your life revolves around a multi-processor capable application, it might be worth considering. Apple and other vendors are expected to offer more multi-processor machines in the coming year, particularly for high-end workstation and server markets. DayStar has already dropped prices on its Genesis MP line in anticipation of the Power Mac 9500/180 MP, so it’s possible price competition may make these machines more affordable.


PowerBooks — Apple’s PowerBook line has been in a state of consternation, plagued by a dealer recall that even Apple says may have cost as much as $100 million. Furthermore, new PowerBook models have been repeatedly delayed: a revved-up 5300 to be released several months back was cancelled, and PowerBooks sporting CD-ROM and PCI expansion have been pushed back until later in 1996.

According to the best of my current rumor mill, Apple will introduce two new PowerBook models codenamed Epic and Hooper in October or November of 1996. Both will feature active matrix or dual scan color screens and the longer-lasting lithium-ion battery packs originally slated for the PowerBook 5300 series.

Epic will have a 117 MHz PowerPC 603e (like the current top-of-the-line 5300-series), an optional CD-ROM drive, and an upgradable CPU chip. Reportedly, Epic will not be able to use expansion bay devices designed for the 5300-series, although that might be offset by an estimated street price at or below $2,000 for a basic unit.

Hooper, conversely, will sit at the high end of the PowerBook line, sporting a PowerPC 603e processor running at 180 or 200 MHz, optional Level 2 cache, a CD-ROM drive, a 12-inch screen, and PCI expandability. Hooper will reportedly be able to use expansion bay devices designed for the 5300-series, and will use the PCI bus for external video and the expansion bay, as well as a card slot on the motherboard. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize that PCI peripherals designed for Hooper will need non-standard designs and connectors, which raises a serious issue regarding vendor adoption. Apple will probably start the ball rolling with a modem and/or Ethernet PCI device for Hooper, but I haven’t heard of any plans from other vendors. Though Hooper sounds speedy it could also be an expensive turkey, with prices estimated to range between $4,500 and $6,000.

That’s Not All, Folks — In the coming months, you can expect to see other new models from Apple and every Macintosh clone vendor. In addition, IBM and Motorola have both have sub-licensing agreements for the Mac OS, which will have ramifications in the coming year, particularly in overseas markets and as the Power PC Reference platform becomes a reality. So if you think the Macintosh model situation is confusing now, it’s only going to get more complicated.

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