In an attempt to improve its financial situation, Apple Computer is expected to unveil new Power Mac desktops with faster chips and restyled PowerBook laptops, say sources familiar with the company's plans.
At Macworld next week in San Francisco, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company will introduce four new Power Mac models, including a new top-of-the-line computer with a 733-MHz G4 processor, the fastest Macintosh computer to date. Three other Power Macs will contain chips running at 466 MHz to 666 MHz.
All of these computers will also come with a system bus that runs at 133 MHz rather than 100 MHz. The bus serves as the data conduit between the processor and memory; the faster the bus, the better the performance.
The new computers will help the company close the speed gap with PC competitors such as Compaq Computer and Dell Computer, which are already offering computers with Intel's Pentium 4 chips running at 1.5 GHz.
Apple promotes new speedy PowerMacs
Chris LeTocq, analyst, Gartner
Despite the numbers, PCs with 1.5-GHz Pentium 4 chips aren't three times faster than Power Macs with 500-MHz chips. Yet the megahertz numbers carry some serious weight in consumer marketing; recent wars between Intel and AMD to come out with the next-fastest chip have shown this. Having chips with smaller megahertz numbers likely hurts Apple sales, analysts have said.
Apple also may unveil the long-anticipated G4 PowerBook, code-named "Mercury," as the company begins to move the portable beyond G3 processors, sources said.
David Bailey, an analyst at Gerard Klauer Mattison, did not have information on new computers from Apple, but said he would not be surprised to see new Macs.
"We expect hardware announcements," he said. "Steve Jobs was pretty adamant that there would be many new products soon...Most likely would be new PowerBooks. They're due for an update."
Meta Group says despite a salvo of new product announcements set for the Macworld Expo, Apple is trapped in its niche markets: consumers, graphics, education and Web design.
Following its policy, Apple refused to comment on upcoming products.
Overcoming the perceived speed difference between PCs and Macs is something Apple has wanted to do for some time, said Gartner analyst Chris LeTocq.
"It's important for Apple to say they've solved the megahertz issue," he said.
In all likelihood, the chips inside these new desktop PCs will be Motorola's "V'Ger" G4 processors. Motorola unveiled the architecture of the V'Ger family at the Microprocessor Forum in October 1999. In October 2000, Motorola executives said that the first versions would come out commercially early in 2001.
On Wednesday, a Motorola representative said the first V'Ger G4 chips are still slated to come out in the first part of 2001.
The V'Ger chips contain a longer pipeline, or assembly line, and can run at speeds above 700 MHz. A version that can run at 1 GHz and contains Motorola's Silicon on Insulator technology is due out in the second half of the year.
While giving higher clock speed, Apple may also take something away.
Apple introduced dual-processor systems in July--with either 400-MHz or 500-MHz G4 processors. But the company, at least for now, is expected to return to single-chip Power Macs, sources said. Apple had hoped that many Power Mac buyers would opt for dual-processor systems, but instead a greater number bought the lower-end 400-MHz single-chip machine.
Still, multiprocessor systems could come back when Mac OS X comes out later this year. The new operating system is optimized for dual processing. By contrast, the current version of the Mac operating system does not make good use of two chips.
The goodie bag
Apple is also planning new PowerBooks with G4 processors, something the Mac community has craved for some time. To make the new PowerBooks lighter and sleeker than current models, Apple will abandon removable bays that allow Mac owners to add, for example, an extra drive. A slot-loading DVD drive, a first for Mac notebooks, will be integrated into the machine, as will the lithium polymer battery.
Mac enthusiasts can also expect to see Mac OS 9.1, the update to Mac OS 9.04, sources said. The update is expected to contain some of the features that will be available in Apple's next-generation operating system, Mac OS X. Apple hopes to smooth the transition to Mac OS X with the update.
Apple is planning to show off combo DVD/CD-rewritable drives on new Mac models as well, sources said. The company blundered by not offering CD-RW drives on new Macs introduced in July, analysts have said.
Jobs recently admitted it was a marketing mistake and vowed to correct it.
While the new drives may be announced, actual shipment may come later, sources indicated. The company has been evaluating Pioneer-manufactured DVD-rewritable drives, which can also record CDs.
In what LeTocq called another sign that the company is trying to clear out old stock to make room for the new, Apple on Monday cut prices by as much as one-third on current Power Mac and PowerBook models.
News.com's Michael Kanellos and Ian Fried and staff writer Matthew Rothenberg contributed to this report.