Apple unwraps ‘desktop supercomputer’

Steve Jobs unveils Power Mac G4

Steve Jobs, no stranger to the dramatic announcement, introduced the Power Mac G4 yesterday in San Francisco, dubbing it "the first desktop supercomputer" and the fastest PC ever created -- 'PC', you'll note, not 'workstation'. It has a specification and price makes it a very attractive offering, and as it is capable of one Gigaflop (a billion floating point operations per second) it can't be exported to countries like China, Iraq or North Korea. Jobs claimed the machine is 2.94 times faster than a 600MHz Pentium III according to data found on an Intel Web site, but Apple's product spec. more modestly credits it with being 100-200 per cent faster than the fastest PIIIs in CPU and Adobe Photoshop tests. Incidentally, Adobe's John Warnock was on-stage with Jobs to give it his blessing, and he looked much more comfortable than when he shared a platform with Bill Gates at Comdex some years ago. The processor is a Motorola PowerPC 7400, which includes what Apple is calling a 'velocity Engine', but Motorola calls AltiVec, its vector processing module. The velocity engine, the integer unit and the floating point unit all operate independently and simultaneously. Four simultaneous 32-bit data streams can be pre-fetched in each clock cycle. There are 32 128 bit registers - eight times as many as on the PIII. There are three core models at 400MHz ($1599 and available now), 450MHz ($2499, available in mid-September) and 500MHz ($3495, expected to be available in Octobet), with built-to-order options as well. The Power Mac G4 has 1MB of backside L2 cache running at half the speed of the processor, with a 100MHz system bus that allows a 800MBps throughput. The built-in network is 10/100Base-T Ethernet. All three G4s have 128-bit internal memory data paths. Sensibly, the hard disks are either 10GB, 20GB or 27GB, and up to a total of 100GB is possible. The optical drives may be a 32x CD-ROM, DVD-ROM or DVD-RAM (both with video playback). There is a 100MB Zip drive, and support for two internal Ultra ATA-66 drives or three external SCSI drives (with an optional SCSI card). The graphics support consists of the ATI Rage 128 card with 16MB of SDRAM. There is support for 1600 x 1200 pixels at 32 bits per pixel and an 85Hz refresh rate. Up to 1.5GB of SDRAM is possible, with a maximum of 999MB per application. There are four expansion slots, though one of these contains the Rage graphics card. Up to 100 gigabytes of internal hard disc can be supported. Jobs' final turn was to unveil a 22in flat LCD monitor, called the Apple Cinema Display, which he claimed is the largest on the market. It will only be available with a high-end G4, at $3999 exclusively through the Apple Store in mid-October. It can display a 11 x 17in page, which is three-quarters of an inch shorter but half an inch wider than A3 -- and double the non-International standard American 8.5 x 11in page. It is said to be twice as bright as a CRT monitor. The resolution is 1600 x 1024. Apple still sees itself in its traditional niche markets -- "We realise they're not for everyone," said Jobs -- but it looks as though the niches will get bigger, especially in the education sector where students have little in the way of legacy data. Its use in digital video, multimedia and graphics generally should also expand the market further, especially with Apple's Final Cut Pro software. Eat your heart out, Intel. ® Power Mac G4 Coverage Apple's G4: the real Windows challenger?

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