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New Power Macs faster, cheaper

Apple launches Power Macs with twin 1.42GHz processors, as it seeks to close the gigahertz gap with Windows-based PCs.

Apple Computer on Tuesday harvested a new crop of Power Macs outfitted with faster processors and with lower prices on some configurations. The company also released a new wide-screen monitor.

The high-end system tops out with twin 1.42GHz PowerPC G4 processors, as Apple seeks to close the gigahertz gap on Windows-based PCs. At the same time, the price of the high-end model has dropped from $3,299 to $2,699.

The new low-end Power Mac costs $1,499--a $200 reduction on the previous starter system--and packs a single 1GHz processor. But the megahertz boost and price cut represents a trade-off, as the previous entry-level Mac packed dual 867MHz processors.

Meanwhile, the price of a midrange model has dropped from $2,499 to $1,999.

"We've changed the economics about how you buy a Power Mac," said Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president of worldwide hardware product marketing. "We've reduced prices more than 40 percent."

The new systems come preloaded with the iLife digital media suite.

As for monitors, Apple cut the price of the 17-inch digital flat-panel display from $999 to $699 and introduced a new 20-inch Cinema Display monitor for $1,299. Apple likewise dropped the price of its 23-inch Cinema Display from $3,499 to $1,999.

Like the 23-inch model, the new 20-inch Cinema Display has a wide-screen ratio of 16-10. Its maximum resolution is 1680 pixels by 1050 pixels.

Power Mac is Apple's line of professional computers geared for content creators, graphic arts professionals and the business market.

IDC analyst Roger Kay said the performance gains on the new systems and related price cuts are important moves for Apple, particularly as technology spending continues at lower-than-expected levels.

"The new (Power Mac line) is well configured and aggressively priced," he said. But "the real draw is the display. The 20-inch Cinema Display is big enough to see a full-page spread at 100 percent, the benchmark for professional layout artists."

The new professional hardware comes as Apple seeks to revitalize sagging Power Mac sales. During the company's first fiscal quarter, ended Dec. 28, Power Mac sales year-over-year declined 25 percent as measured in units and 20 percent in revenue. Sequentially, sales dipped 10 percent in units and 16 percent in revenue.

Analysts blame the sales problem in part on publishing-software maker Quark's failure to deliver a Mac OS X version of QuarkXpress thus far. "The Quark problem is still unaddressed," said Kay, who emphasized that the lack of this significant Mac product could be choking a large number of new Mac sales.

"We certainly have acknowledged there's a slow economy and the lack of a particular application," Joswiak said. "That's coming along, but we can't announce for them when Quark is available."

Overall, Apple's combined consumer and professional market share is declining, according to market researcher IDC. Apple's share of the worldwide PC market dropped to 2 percent during the fourth quarter from 2.3 percent the previous quarter. In the United States, Apple's share declined to 3.1 percent from 3.8 percent.

Apple has said that increasing Power Mac sales is critically important to the company's long-term profitability.

"If future unit sales of Power Macintosh systems fail to partially or fully recover, it will be difficult for the company to improve its overall profitability," Apple said in a December filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

It's uncertain how much--if any--market share Apple might gain from the new Power Macs. But Kay said he believes Apple is on the right track, as the company adds new technologies to the Power Mac line.

Power Mac packages
Like new PowerBook portables launched earlier this month, the new Power Macs support Bluetooth, 802.11g wireless networking, and second-generation FireWire. The new 802.11g ratchets speeds to 54 megabits per second (mbps)--fast enough to transfer video over the air--compared with the 11mbps provided by 802.11b wireless. The new FireWire doubles the transfer rate from 400mbps to 800mbps.

The entry-level Power Mac at $1,499 comes with a single 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 256MB of double-data rate (DDR) 266 SDRAM, a 60GB hard drive, a CD-rewritable/DVD combo drive, a 64MB Nvidia GeForce 4MX graphics card, a 56kbps modem, USB 1.1, FireWire 800, 10/100/1000 networking and Mac OS X 10.2.3.

The $1,999 midrange model packs dual 1.25GHz PowerPC G4 processors, 256MB of DDR 333 SDRAM, an 80GB hard drive, a CD-RW/DVD combo drive, an ATI Technologies Radeon 9000 Pro graphics card, a 56kbps modem, USB 1.1, FireWire 800, 10/100/1000 networking and Mac OS X 10.2.3.

The high-end system, selling for $2,699, bumps up to dual 1.42GHz processors, 512MB of memory, a 120GB hard drive and a DVD recording drive. The DVD burner, dubbed the SuperDrive by Apple, records at 4X up from 2X on earlier models.

Bluetooth is a $50 option on all the systems, as is 802.11g wireless for $99. The new Power Macs also come preloaded with Apple's iLife digital media suite, featuring iDVD 3, iMovie 3, iPhoto 2 and iTunes 3.

Last week, the Mac maker unexpectedly delayed iLife's release by one week until Saturday. The suite is free on new Macs but otherwise costs $50 for the full package. Apple plans to offer iMovie 3 and iPhoto 2 for free download. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company already offers iTunes 3 as a free download.

The entry-level and midrange models are available immediately, but consumers will have to wait about a month for the high-end model, said Tom Boger, Apple's director of Power Mac marketing. The new 20-inch Cinema Display will be available starting Tuesday.

News.com's Ian Fried contributed to this report.