Crowds of Clones
For years, one of the main laments about the Macintosh was Apple’s failure early on to license the Macintosh and/or Mac OS to outside vendors. Now, Mac OS clone manufacturers like Power Computing and Motorola are prompting users to choose not only which model to buy, but from which vendor. Here at TidBITS, we’ve often found it difficult enough to keep up with Apple’s products (something exacerbated by the now-defunct Performa line), let alone sets of Macintosh compatibles from other manufacturers both in the United States and throughout the world. As a result we have a tendency not to talk about clone models or clone makers with great consistency, which doesn’t do justice to the now rapidly-developing field of Macintosh compatible hardware. With that in mind, here’s a brief rundown of some of the major and minor players in the Mac clone market. For more information on Mac OS clones, check out David Engstrom’s The Mac and Mac Clone Performance Comparison Page.
Power Computing — Now approaching "grandfather" status in the field, Power pioneered the Mac OS clone market and gave users reason to believe non-Apple machines could be a viable alternative. Power’s line of computers fill both the low- and high-end markets: a 180 MHz 603e processor-based system starts at $1,199 (including decent RAM, hard drive, video, and expandability options), while their top of the line PowerTower Pro models hover between $2,700 and $3,700.
UMAX — Umax’s SuperMac line, originally inherited from former clone manufacturer Radius, also appeals to a broad range of users, starting with the inexpensive C Series and topping off with the S Series. UMAX has moved ahead forcefully with its product lines: all SuperMac machines are based on an Advanced Scalable Processor Design (ASPD), allowing for easy processor upgrades (rather than replacing the entire motherboard); the S900 machines also come with the ability to run as dual-processor machines.
DayStar Digital — Unlike many clone vendors who are positioning their systems to appeal to all users, DayStar Digital continues to concentrate on the heavy-horsepower crowd with their multi-processor Genesis MP workstations. The low end of these "big iron" machines offers two PowerPC 604e processors running at 200 MHz, six drive bays, six PCI slots, eight DIMM slots (allowing over 1 GB of RAM), and more, starting at $5,000. DayStar wants to dominate high-end graphics, video, and media production markets, and the few people I know who’ve used their machines don’t plan to ever take their work back to single-processor Macs.
Motorola — It was only a matter of time before Motorola, the manufacturer of Macintosh processors since the 68000, started building its own boxes. The StarMax line starts with a 200 MHz 603e and the usual complement of entry-level components (16 MB RAM, 1.2 GB hard drive, CD-ROM), and ramps up to the StarMax 5000/300 mini tower, featuring a 300 MHz 603e (not 604e, which is available at 200MHz in the StarMax 4000/200) with 32MB of RAM, Ethernet, internal Zip drive, and 4.3 GB hard drive. Like IBM, Motorola may sublicense Mac-compatible systems to other manufacturers (such as APS) without explicit permission from Apple, and Motorola also offers a five-year limited warranty with its machines.
APS — APS hard drives, cables, and accessories have been a TidBITS standard for years, so it came as no surprise when APS announced its MPower line of Macintosh clones, based on CPU designs from Motorola. Starting with the MPower 603e180 ($1,199) and maxing out with the M*Power 604e200 ($2,399 for the best configuration), APS brings a wide range of configuration options plus their excellent support and quality hardware to the Mac OS clone arena (despite a lack of original machine names).
Computer Warehouse — The machines from this United Kingdom-based vendor are geared toward speed and power in multimedia authoring. Based on Motorola’s Tanzania motherboard designs, all of their lines – New York, Manhattan, and Hollywood – run from 200 MHz 604e processors and start with 64 MB of RAM, priced between 1,500 and 2,000 British pounds, excluding VAT. Computer Warehouse’s machines are being manufactured in West London and aimed at the European market.
Akia — Akia demonstrated their array of MicroBook Power machines at Macworld Tokyo this year. The name suggests PowerBook clones, but Akia’s machines come in tower and desktop models based on 604e and 603e processors and logic boards sublicensed from IBM, all with a minimum of 80 MB RAM and 4 MB of video RAM. Also interesting are the monitors that can be purchased for these systems: all of Akia’s screens are flat-panel displays. To buy them, however, you’ll have to travel to Japan.
Vertegri Research — Canada-based Vertegri made news recently by announcing a Mac OS portable not based on Apple’s PowerBook specifications (which aren’t currently licensable). The imediaEngine features a 604e processor running at either 200 MHz or 240 MHz, built-in CD-ROM, and optional internal Zip and Jaz drives. What it lacks, however, is a battery. Vertegri also offers the Quicktower 200e, a 200 MHz 604e system.
Vision Power — A newcomer to the clone market, Vision Power plans to offer two lines of machines: the 603e-based PowerExpress and 604e-based PowerMax, both available in desktop and tower models and targeted at North American customers, although the company has reportedly been selling Mac clones in Asia since late 1996. According to reports, high-end models will offer a second processor slot for multi-processing applications (similar to UMAX’s S900 models), but few other details are available. The company can be reached via email at <[email protected]>.