The significance of Motorola's system, called Viper, is rooted not only in the 300-MHz processor speed but the fact that the new systems will work with the PowerPC Platform and run a version of the Macintosh operating system that complies with this standard.
The platform "is absolutely crucial to getting innovation in the Mac market," said Dennis Schneider, vice president of marketing for Motorola Computer Group.
PowerPC Platform, formerly known as the Common Hardware Reference Design, is intended to provide an open standard for PowerPC-system designs that use industry-standard components and run multiple operating systems, including Apple Computer's Mac OS, AIX, and Microsoft's Windows NT.
Although the specification has faltered badly over the last few years and has been chronically behind schedule, the specification now appears to be near completion. The first systems are expected to appear this summer.
By no later than September, Schneider says Motorola expects to ship systems based on Viper with enhancements such as bus speeds of up to 100 MHz and high-performance graphics subsystems that will dramatically speed overall performance.
The bus speed is the rate at which the processor sends data to the rest of the system. Increasing the bus speed from today's relatively paltry 50- and 60-MHz range is becoming critically important as super-fast chips--such as Exponential's 500-MHz processor and the 300-MHz PowerPC chip--will be shipping this year and can take devastating performance hits when they must slow down to talk to the system at only 50 MHz.
But with the specification in place, users can expect to see performance gains in systems using fast bus speeds and motherboards.
The Viper system could eventually become part of the Motorola's current StarMax line of Macintosh-compatible systems, though Motorola hasn't made this clear yet.
Motorola also has plans to increase processor speeds and should be able to do so more quickly than in the past. Currently, the 300-MHz 603e in the Viper system would have to be certified first by Apple, after it certifies that a software suite would work on its own designs as well as those of clone vendors. Schneider says PPCP will free Motorola from having to get Apple's approval every time there is a hardware change.
In addition to systems based on the 300-MHz 603e, in September Motorola expects to see initial iterations of the next generation of PowerPC processors referred to as G3. Motorola has stated previously that the G3 chips will have speeds starting at around 300 MHz and will eventually reach 400 MHz and above.