Ten years old: Apple's Power Mac line

Born: 14 March 1994

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Almost ten years to the day, this reporter was in New York listening to then Apple CEO Michael Spindler and hardware chief Jim Gable launch the first Power Macs: the 6100, 7100 and 8100.

Quite apart from offering a big performance jump over older, 680x0-based Macs, the new models were going to blast Intel out of the water. Originally due to be launched on 24 January 1994 - the Mac's tenth birthday - Apple's slipped and ended up launching on 14 March.

The three machines were based on the first PowerPC chip, the MPC601, a desktop-oriented implementation of IBM's RS/6000 line. PowerPC's Risc architecture and with the development efforts of two key semiconductor players, IBM and Motorola, would be a combination Intel, struggling alone with its x86 Cisc architecture, could never match.

Of course, what neither figured out - nor Apple, for that matter - was that Intel would leverage the same ideas. With the 486 to the Pentium and its successors, Intel created chips that decoded complex x86 instructions into a number of simple, Risc-like 'micro-op' instructions.

Still, the Power Macs, for a time, were impressive performers, and Apple's clever move of integrating 680x0 emulation software to retain backwards compatibility with older Mac apps proved a signal success that few other IT companies have achieved. Ditto its ability to allow new PowerPC code to co-exist with 680x0 instructions, allowing one program file to contain code for two very different processor types.

Not only did old software run on the new machine, but the bulk of the Mac OS remained in 680x0 code, with portions ported over to the new PowerPC instruction set over time.

Indeed, Apple sold 145,000 Power Macs in the two weeks following the launch, and went on to sell more personal computers in the US than market leader Compaq during Q3 of that year. Over a million were sold in the platform's first year. In those days Apple was a regular feature of the top five computer suppliers chart, usually in the top three. ®


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