Three New Macs and a PowerBook
As Adam noted earlier in this issue, Apple has unveiled the Power Macintosh G3 series and the PowerBook G3. These new machines all sport the new PowerPC 750 chip, commonly known as the G3 (see Geoff’s detailed coverage of the G3 and backside cache in the next article). Apple also announced the Multiple Scan Display 720, a new 16-inch monitor.
Three New Macs — The G3, combined with a 512K backside cache and 66 MHz system bus, makes these new Mac run quickly, and they’ve performed well in published performance tests. They each come with 2 MB video RAM, three PCI slots for add-on boards, a 24x internal CD-ROM, and 10Base-T Ethernet. Also, these are among the first Macs to use SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic RAM). Unlike regular DRAM, SDRAM doesn’t use its own timing system; instead, it operates in synchrony with the computer’s CPU. By synching up with the CPU, the SDRAM stays on schedule with the CPU and other components, thus avoiding slowdowns that would otherwise arise due to conflicting schedules.
The high-end model – a mini-tower form factor – runs at 266 MHz; contains a 6 GB hard disk and a Zip drive; and lists for $3,000. The list price drops to $2,400 if you settle for a desktop form factor and a 4 GB hard disk, and – at the low end – there’s a 233 MHz desktop model with a 4 GB hard disk but no Zip drive for $2,000. And of course, if you purchase these machines through the new Apple Store, you can customize the configurations to meet your needs.
Initially, I was disappointed with the G3 series because the models are dull when contrasted with the sexy features in Apple’s Twentieth Anniversary Mac (see my article about that machine in TidBITS-387). Also, their relatively slow 5 MB/sec SCSI buses seemed an odd choice for such fast machines. Regular users won’t care, but those doing high-end video, for instance, will.
Although I’d still like to see Apple release truly exciting Macs, my initial disappointment has been smoothed over the reasonable pricing, and the fact that Apple appears to be abandoning its confusing model-numbering scheme. It’s easy to remember that a "Power Macintosh G3" contains a G3 chip.
In addition, these are the first Macs from Apple where each model contains the same logic board; custom components, including the G3 chip and the backside cache, live on a daughter card (or "personality card") that can be popped into the machine as it’s assembled. Although this isn’t a new idea, it is new to Apple and should help them quickly fill orders for particular configurations.
And a PowerBook — The new PowerBook G3, formerly code-named Kanga, runs at 250 MHz, and like its G3-based Power Mac brethren, comes with a 512K backside cache (running at 100 MHz, twice the speed of the system bus), and 32 MB EDO (Extended Data Out) RAM.
The machine uses the same form factor as the PowerBook 3400 and also shares the 3400’s four-speaker sound system, 33.6 Kbps modem/Ethernet card, and 12.1-inch TFT (thin-film transistor), 18-bit, 800 by 600, active-matrix color display. With its 2 MB video RAM, the PowerBook can drive an external monitor in 24-bit color at 832 by 624 pixels or 16-bit color at 1,024 by 768 pixels. Other specifications include a PC Card slot, lithium ion battery, and a bay that accepts interchangeable floppy disk and 20x CD-ROM modules. All these features fit in a 7.7 pound package that costs a whopping $5,699.
Who should buy this PowerBook? Those who need the speed and power now, and can’t wait for prices to go down. Apple is targeting the PowerBook G3 at design professionals who want to create and show sophisticated images and animations on a single computer.
What’s Next from Apple? I’ve heard rumors of a Power Express line of high-performance Macs, due for release in early 1998 with 83 MHz buses. There’s also talk of a G3-powered PowerBook, code-named Wall Street, which, from what I’ve heard, should offer a 350 MHz G3 and sport an optional DVD drive.