Macintosh clone vendor Motorola (MOT) introduced today the first of the next generation of PowerPC computer systems using an unexpected, modified version of the Macintosh OS, as the company tries to push ahead and break away from Apple.
Motorola says the new systems signal the end of the clone era. "By the word clone we mean the end of the era where we got to copy what Apple did [in hardware designs], because that?s the way it was set up. That was a good way to start the clone market. Now we can use CHRP and other technology to allow us to innovate," says Michael Bordelon, vice president and director of desktop products for Motorola.
The biggest surprise is that the new system will use a CHRP-compliant version of operating system 7.6.1, which Motorola has a license to install on systems. Motorola has not yet signed an agreement to license Mac OS 8, which was previously thought to be the only CHRP-compliant OS Apple was shipping.
CHRP, also referred to as the PowerPC Reference Platform, is a specification for PowerPC-based systems that lets manufacturers use more off-the-shelf components and technologies, and ideally gives clone vendors freer reign to compete since Apple-generated technical red tape is mitigated.
"Apple thought about canceling 7.6, but we insisted and did get it because of our involvement [with CHRP development]," Bordelon says. "That?s what surprised a lot of people. We said 'We can do it this way,' so there's no reason to wait."
But the fact that Motorola is shipping 7.6--not OS 8--underscores unresolved issues. As the company works toward the ability to ship OS 8 pre-installed, it also has plans to send out a CD-ROM with the OS on it. Customers can then install the software themselves. This unorthodox delivery method stems from Motorola's attempt to get around OS 8 licensing obstacles it has run into with Apple.
The new StarMax Pro 6000 series will use a new PowerPC microprocessor expected to be called the PowerPC 750, now referred to by its code name "Arthur." The processor will run at speeds of 233 and 266 MHz but will outperform current Mac systems in most applications, Motorola says.
Motorola claims the new StarMax Pro 6000 line can run graphics and imaging applications up to four times faster than currently available Macintosh systems. This is accomplished by using the redesigned processor as well as a three-level cache memory structure.
Cache is high-speed memory for speeding up processor performance. Motorola includes 512KB of second-level cache that runs at half the speed of the processor and 1MB of additional third-level cache.
"In the Intel market, they have steadily tied megahertz to performance. Here there is a jump forward in performance...even at slower megahertz," says Bordelon. He adds that it will be a challenge to convince customers that higher megahertz doesn't necessarily mean higher performance but that customers should be convinced by results of industry standard benchmarks.
In addition to either 233- or 266-MHz processors, the 6000 series systems will offer up to 1GB of main memory, up to a 4.3GB hard drive, a 24X CD-ROM drive, an Iomega Zip Drive, built-in Ethernet networking, and a graphics accelerator card with 8MB of graphics memory.
The systems' CHRP design allows for two GeoPorts, an ADB port, a PS/2 mouse port, a keyboard port, two PS/2 serial ports, and a parallel port that is compatible with most standard PC peripherals.
Motorola expects to ship the systems in September, with prices starting at $3,895.