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Fastest Mac chip, systems debut

A 300-MHz version of the PowerPC processor powers the newest Macintosh boxes.

Apple Computer (AAPL) launched its fastest systems yet and Apple's CEO Steve Jobs demonstrated an even faster box to appear by early 1999, as the company attempts to build upon momentum gained after last quarter's profit.

Earlier this week, IBM and Motorola (MOT) introduced a 300-MHz version of the PowerPC processor, the latest speed upgrade to the PowerPC 750 line of processors used mainly in systems from Apple. The fastest G3 system previously shipped by Apple uses a 266-MHz PowerPC 750.

Accordingly, Apple today rolled out a Power Macintosh G3 system using the 300-MHz chip. This chip offers twice as much high-speed "cache" memory (1MB) attached directly to the processor as previous versions, and offers a 20 percent performance increase over the 266-MHz processor, the company says.

A high-end system comes with two 4GB high-performance hard disk drives, 128MB of memory, and a 24X CD-ROM drive, and goes for about $4,899. A system with 64MB of memory and one 4GB hard disk drive will sell for $3,359, and a basic model is available for an estimated $2,499.

Even faster 400-MHz Power Macintosh systems based on IBM's "copper chip" technology were demonstrated today at Seybold Seminars publishing trade show during a keynote speech by Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs.

Chips made with copper conduct electricity better than aluminum, the metal traditionally used for microprocessors, and allow the chip size to be reduced. Eventually, IBM will be able to make processors with speeds of up to 1,000 MHz (1 GHz) using the copper process.

Also today, Apple also introduced a 15.1-inch flat panel display that weighs in at only 12 pounds. The display offers a viewing area equivalent to a 17-inch CRT desktop monitor, Apple said. It is priced at $1,999.

For the first time, DVD-ROM drives are now available as an option for customers purchasing built-to-order systems.