Steve Jobs, Apple Computer's interim CEO, could highlight the first new processor in the company's lineup in almost two years at the Seybold trade show tomorrow in San Francisco.
Industry sources familiar with Apple's plans say the company is getting ready to announce new Power Macintosh computers with processors running as fast as 500 MHz. These computers are aimed for markets such as graphics and publishing professionals, which constitute the main audience for the Seybold show.
Apple declined to comment.
Anticipation for some major news helped push Apple's stock today to 65 per share, a 52-week high, before it closed at 62.06. The all-time high for Apple's stock is 68 per share, reached on March 29, 1991, according to Apple's records.
More important than raw clock speed, the new G4 PowerPC chips, as Apple is expected to call them, will for the first time feature Motorola technology for speeding up multimedia and communications functions. PowerPC chips with the technology, dubbed AltiVec, are supposed to be able to process 16 times the number of data "chunks" for each "tick" of the chip's clock cycle compared to previous designs, Motorola has said previously. In some applications, this could translate into anything from a doubling to a thirtyfold increase of performance, the company has claimed.
Such technology could be instrumental in helping Apple keep a hold on the publishing market, which Intel and Microsoft have been focusing on.
Some software programs and parts of the operating system have to be rewritten to take advantage of AltiVec technology, and industry sources say development of software as an enhanced version of Adobe's Photoshop software is nearing completion, thanks in part due to software from development toolmaker Metrowerks that can automatically generate AltiVec program instructions.
"A number of developers have been playing with the chip and have gotten nice [performance] gains," said one source.
New servers, software coming soon?
Another much-needed feature of the G4 chip is its ability to be used in systems with more than one processor.
Apple may also use Seybold as the venue to unveil its first dual processor system since 1997. Sources say Apple is prepping a server with two G4 chips running at 500 MHz which will ship with Mac OS X Server. The server operating system is needed to take better advantage of both chips, something which current versions of Mac OS 8.6 are not set up to do.
Server systems are more powerful (and profitable) than their desktop counterparts and are used for applications such as streaming multimedia content to Web surfers and hosting large database files. Of late, Apple has only offered single-processor servers designed for use mainly by small businesses or in LAN (local area network) environments as file and email servers.
Also, Apple is likely to tout pre-orders for its recently introduced iBook consumer portable if those numbers are as strong as foreseen. The system is expected to begin shipping in late September, according to Apple's Web site. A more precise shipment date may be forthcoming at the Seybold show.
Hardware may not be the only news coming from Apple, either. Apple is likely to show off a revision to its operating system software, called Mac OS 9. Analysts will be looking for indications of when this software will ship, because it's a high-profit-margin product that will add to Apple's bottom line in the first quarter of 2000.
Jobs may also elect to show off some features of the consumer version of Mac OS X, due out in early 2000.
New iMacs may not be shown at Seybold
Sources are now saying that it looks like Apple may reserve the introduction of new iMacs, code-named Kihei, for later in the year. Analysts and investors are betting it's not too much later.
"They will have to roll out the iMac platform a little bit pre-Christmas," said Mark Specker, a SoundView Technology Group analyst. "I think the [product] refreshing would be speed-upgrade related or some feature-related upgrade. I wouldn't expect a big change in the form factor."