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Apple boosts desktop line

Apple announces new Power Mac G4 computers, featuring faster graphics performance and a new digital interface for flat-panel displays, as it attempts to put its supply issues behind it.

Apple strengthened its high-end desktop line today, adding performance-enhancing technology as it attempts to leave behind the supply issues that have plagued the Power Mac G4s.

The new systems feature faster graphics performance and a digital interface for flat-panel displays. Apple's latest desktops come in 350-, 400- and 450-MHz versions and are the first G4 updates since the product was introduced last August.

Touted by Apple aficionados as superior in performance to comparable Intel-based machines, the G4 has been in high demand since its introduction. But that demand, coupled with processor shortages from supplier Motorola, resulted in shortages among Apple's retail partners.

The scarcity has led to increased pressure on Apple to sell enough G4, iMac and iBook systems during the holiday season to maintain the company's economic turnaround.

G4 supply issues eventually led Apple to ship slower computers than customers had ordered in order to meet demand. After a slew of customer complaints, Apple changed its policy. In the meantime, Apple's stock has been hovering around its all-time high, seemingly bolstered by the clamor.

"Until I see a really consistent outlay of product by Apple, I won't be convinced that the supply issues are taken care of," said Matt Sargent, of Sargent Consulting. "Coming out with new products and actually supplying them are two different things."

Apple's fate may not lie in the business market, where the G4's are targeted, Sargent said, but in the consumer market where its iMac and iBook computers continue enjoying almost unparalleled popularity.

"Apple can afford to not please the business market because they're becoming more and more of a consumer company," Sargent said. "It's a pretty smart move to milk the business market for what you can get profitability-wise, but not put all your focus there."

The G4 systems announced today feature new interfaces to connect so-called flat-panel displays, Apple said. Apple will also offer a wireless networking card called AirPort as an option, for $99. AirPort was first introduced with the iBook notebook earlier this fall.

In addition, the computers offer up to 40 percent better graphics performance, according to the company, because of the inclusion of the new Rage 128 Pro graphics card.

"The new Power Mac G4 configurations offer significantly higher graphics performance and bring breakthrough features, like Airport, across the entire G4 product line," Phil Schiller, Apple's vice president of marketing, said in a statement.

The 350-MHz G4 will be priced at $1,599 for a system with 64MB of memory, a 10GB hard drive, DVD-ROM drive, built-in Ethernet and a 56-kbps modem. The 400-MHz version, with 128MB of memory and a 20GB hard drive, will cost $2,499. The 450-MHz G4, with 256MB of memory and 27GB hard drive, will be priced at $3,499.

Apple separately announced a 15-inch flat panel display, priced at $1,299.