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533-MHz Mac chips delayed

Exponential Technology will delay shipment of its 533-MHz processor for high-end Mac OS systems until the third quarter of this year.

    Exponential Technology will delay shipment of its 533-MHz processor for high-end Mac OS systems as IBM (IBM) and Motorola (MOT) prepare to deliver a new generation of faster PowerPC processors.

    Exponential says that it now expects to ship the 533-MHz X704 in the third quarter of this year, providing an opportunity for IBM and Motorola to close some of the performance gap with Exponential.

    Its X704 processor is a PowerPC-compatible chip designed for processor-intensive applications including desktop publishing, multimedia authoring, and image processing. The 533-MHz chip was originally slated for release by July.

    The company will ship chips in the second quarter at clock speeds ranging from 400 to 450 MHz, according to Joe Barta, Exponential's marketing manager.

    Meanwhile, Motorola has stated that the next-generation PowerPC processor, for use in desktop and notebook computers, will initially run at 250 MHz and could eventually reach speeds of up to 400 MHz, taking some the wind out of Exponential's sails.

    The delay, although not unusual, also comes at a time when Apple Computer (AAPL) is reevaluating its investment in a number of future technologies. Apple is an investor in Exponential, as is Mac clone maker Umax Computer, among others.

    Apple has reportedly reconsidered its use of Exponential's technology, but has recently reaffirmed its commitment to use the processors in upcoming, unannounced computers, according to sources close to the project.

    Current Mac hardware limits the overall performance of these souped-up processors, however. In the case of the X704, processing power is essentially confined to the special circuit board that contains the processor. If the processor needs to go out to the system to get data, then data only flows back at the clock speed of the system bus. The speeds at which the processor talks to the rest of the system have been limited to 50 MHz in most Apple systems.

    System manufacturers say they are looking forward to new hardware designs which will allow bus speeds of 75 MHz to 80 MHz by the third quarter.