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Low-end Power Macs get dual processors

Apple also upgrades midrange and high-end models, though they don't hit the speeds the company had hoped for by this point.

Apple Computer has updated its Power Mac G5 desktop line with three dual-processor models, including its first low-end desktop based on the dual model.

Although it had been offering dual processors in its midrange and high-end G5 desktops, Apple on Wednesday began offering that feature on all of its Power Mac G5 desktops. The company also stepped up its top Power Mac to dual 2.5GHz processors.

Apple kept prices on the three machines largely unchanged, even as it added features. The company last updated the Power Mac line in November, when it added a dual 1.8GHz option for its midrange model.

Prices for the new machines are "basically the same, but with a heck of a lot more performance and a heck of a lot more value," said Tom Boger, Apple's senior director of desktop product marketing.

The company also said Wednesday that it will stop manufacturing Power Mac G4 systems, though it will continue to sell the $1,299 model while supplies last.

Power Mac G5 updates had been expected after Apple released a service manual containing pictures of the innards of an unreleased Power Mac. Meanwhile, wait times had also increased for those trying to order existing Power Macs from the online Apple Store.

The new flagship G5 desktop model will include dual 2.5GHz processors--IBM?s latest 90-nanometer PowerPC 970FX chips--as well as a faster 1.25GHz front-side bus, which is a pipeline that shuttles data to and from the processor, and a new liquid cooling system. The machine will ship in July for a price starting at $2,999, Boger said.

It will also include 512MB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, ATI's Radeon 9600 XT graphics card (with its own 128MB of onboard RAM) and an 8x Apple SuperDrive, which can burn DVDs and CDs.

But even with the dual 2.5GHz system, Apple had wanted more by the Power Mac G5's first birthday, which is this month.

At this time last year, Apple was shooting for 3GHz. CEO Steve Jobs, who introduced the first Power Mac G5 models last June, said at that time that they would be available at speeds of up to 3GHz within 12 months.

Problems with IBM's chip manufacturing got in the way, however. IBM executives recently said the company's chip production problems have eased. The company has not said, however, whether it would be in a position to allow Apple to meet its 3GHz goals for the G5.

During its last quarterly earnings conference call in April, Apple blamed IBM for not being quick enough in supplying G5 chips, which hurt Apple's ability to ship its Xserve G5 server.

In IBM's defense, Boger said that the transition to 90-nanometer chip production proved to be more difficult than anyone had expected. But as a result, Apple will be unlikely to hit 3GHz until next year, he said.

"I think the bottom line in all of this is while we?re not hitting 3GHz, this is a substantial speed increase," he said of the dual 2.5GHz Power Mac, whose chips offer a 25 percent bump in speed compared with its 2GHz predecessor.

Apple's entry-level and midrange Power Macs are available now. The entry-level model offers dual 1.8GHz processors and costs $1,999. Previously, Apple's entry-level Power Mac offered a single 1.6GHz processor. The entry-level machine also includes 256MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, Nvidia's GeForceFX 5200 Ultra graphics card (with 64MB of onboard memory) and the 8x SuperDrive.

The midrange G5 will sell for $2,499 and offers upgrades to dual 2GHz processors, 512MB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive.