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Apple demos 400-MHz notebook

The company is getting ready to boost its PowerBook portables even as it officially sanctions new Motorola chip technology.

Apple is getting ready to put some serious power into its PowerBook portable computers, while it officially sanctions new Motorola chip technology.

Apple demonstrated a prototype notebook with a 400-MHz PowerPC processor at its Worldwide Developers Conference today, according to attendees at the annual confab.

Currently, Apple's fastest notebook uses a 292-MHz PowerPC 750 chip; its desktops peak at 300 MHz. In contrast, the present generation of Intel Pentium II-based notebooks tops out at 266 MHz. Apple claims that a PowerPC 750 running at the same speed as a Pentium II can perform up to twice as fast on some operations.

In related news, the company also disclosed plans to boost multimedia performance of its desktop computers by using a chip technology called AltiVec. Introduced last week by Motorola, AltiVec consists of a new "execution unit" inside the PowerPC processor that is built to efficiently process certain kinds of data.

PowerPC chips with AltiVec will be able to process 16 times the number of data "chunks" for each "tick" of the chip's clock cycle compared to previous designs. In some applications, this could translate into anywhere from a doubling to a thirty-fold increase of performance, according to Motorola.

The chip will be able to use a total of 162 new instructions for manipulating data.

"We committed to support for AltiVec in our compiler technology," said Greg Galanos, president and CTO of Metrowerks, a supplier of developer tools for a number of computer platforms, including the Mac operating system.

In some instances, applications would automatically use AltiVec instructions when using functions intrinsic to the Mac OS, such as QuickTime. In others, Metrowerks' software compiler will be able to automatically generate program instructions, saving time for developers, Galanos said.

Chips using the AltiVec technology are expected to be available in the first half of 1999.

While Apple will aggressively roll out systems with AltiVec, one of its partners in PowerPC development will be more cautious.

An IBM representative said it will not initially offer chips with the technology, which is also known as VMX, but that later it would reevaluate its business decision based on demand.

IBM is expected to focus primarily on rolling out faster chips because these chips can also be used in its PowerPC-based servers and workstations. Meanwhile, Motorola is aggressively pushing AltiVec not only in the desktop chip market, but also the embedded market, where the chips would be used in network routers and other devices.