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OS X likely to boost dual-processor systems

Though Mac OS X will likely influence Apple's hardware designs for some time to come, one of the first effects may be a return to machines sporting more than one processor.

    CUPERTINO, Calif.--Though Mac OS X will probably influence Apple Computer's hardware designs for some time to come, one of the first effects is likely to be a return to equipping high-end machines with more than one processor.

    "Multiprocessing is really important, particularly to the Power Mac lines," Apple Vice President Phil Schiller told CNET News.com.

    Apple introduced dual-processor Power Macs at last July's Macworld Expo in New York. The move was not well-received, even though the machines were priced at the same level Apple had been charging for a similarly equipped single-processor machine.

    Analysts criticized the lack of built-in support for more than one chip under Mac OS 9, and Apple said more users than it had expected opted for Apple's cheapest Power Mac, its only single-chip model at the time.

    Apple pulled back somewhat, introducing Power Macs in January with a single, faster chip. A dual-processor machine remained an option from Apple's online store, and Apple executives hinted at the time that it was more a temporary retreat than a long-term shift in strategy.

    The arrival this week of the new Mac operating system, Mac OS X, brings added support for machines with multiple processors. The new operating system contains built-in support for symmetric multiprocessing--dividing most computing work between two or more chips.

    While certain applications already take advantage of more than one chip, Schiller said that Mac OS X allows many more applications to take advantage of an extra chip by automatically dividing computing tasks.

    Gartner analyst Chris Le Tocq said Apple may have readied the earlier dual-processor machines in anticipation of OS X, only to have it pushed further out. In any case, the timing now appears right to bring back the dual-chip machines, he said.

    "Now they have an operating system that can make them (both) work," he said.

    Schiller also said that Apple is enjoying an improved relationship with its chip partners, in some cases getting larger-than-expected shipments of fast chips.

    So given that Apple is getting more 733MHz processors from its chip suppliers, could a dual-processor version of its fastest machine be on the way?

    "Not right now," Schiller said. "We've got more, but not enough" for that.