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Apple peels off new systems

In preparing to roll out machines with the new PowerPC 750 chip, Apple announces plans that could help customers get these more quickly.

3 min read
As Apple Computer (AAPL) prepares to roll out its first desktop systems with the new PowerPC 750 processor next week, the company today announced plans that could help customers get those systems more quickly.

Apple is readying three new desktop systems with 233- and 266-MHz PowerPC 750 processors; equally important, they will be running on a faster system bus, sources said.

The new Power Mac G3 systems will feature a 66-MHz system bus, the fastest ever offered in a Macintosh system. The system bus speed is the rate at which the processor communicates with the rest of the system and is a critical factor in improving the computer's overall performance.

Increasing the system bus speed from the pokey 40- and 50-MHz range used by older Mac OS systems to 66 MHz is an important step for Apple, since Windows-based PCs have used 66-MHz system buses for several years and are moving toward the 100-MHz mark by next year. Apple is expected to again increase bus speeds next year into the neighborhood of 75 to 83 MHz as even faster PowerPC processors arrive.

Some contend, however, that the system bus speed is increasingly less important for the 750 because the processor has another, separate "backside" bus dedicated to moving data between the processor and the cache memory. This "localizes" much of the processing (between the processor and fast cache memory), improving overall performance. The backside bus runs at 100 MHz in the new Apple systems.

Meanwhile, Apple today announced it is paring the number of distributors to just two--MicroAge and Ingram Micro. The move was expected by resellers in light of Apple's recent move to allow more resellers to buy directly from Apple. (See related story)

Apple hopes that by using just two distributors, inventory management can be streamlined, and the result will be better system availability for customers.

"If they play their cards right, it can work...It will make it easier to forecast, but they've got to get product out," says Michael Autrey, desktop PC analyst for Associated Research Services.

"Sometimes they get systems back-ordered, and they can't fill demand. For instance, there was huge demand for the 9600/350, but they couldn't fill the orders and then just stopped shipping it. The technology is great, the systems are easy to use, but they need to kick it in gear," he said.

Apple has been considering this move since the middle of 1996, according to industry observers. The Cupertino, California, company is hoping it will get more attention from distributors if Apple represents a larger portion of their product sales, and Apple stands to benefit from the streamlined operations, making it easier for the company to track and forecast product sales.

Of late, only three distributors have been active in distributing Apple products : MicroAge, Intelligent Electronics, and Ingram. Ingram bought another Apple distributor last year, and Tech Data and Inacom haven't shipped many Apple products recently. Merisel, which was also an authorized distributor, is just starting to emerge from insolvency.

Judging by customer interest, Apple will have significant demand for the new systems, according to a source familiar with the announcement. This is because even the 233-MHz PowerPC 750 system should outperform systems using 300-MHz Pentium II processors from Intel, the source said.

The Power Mac G3 systems will start at under $2,000 for a "stripped-down model" with a 233-MHz PowerPC 750 processor, 32MB of memory, a 24X CD-ROM drive, and a 4GB hard disk drive, the source said.

A top-of-the-line G3 system with 266-MHz PowerPC 750, a 24X CD-ROM drive, a 6GB hard disk drive, and 100MB Zip drive from Iomega will be priced at around $3,000. It will ship in a new mini-tower enclosure and offer more expansion slots for peripherals and graphics cards, but sources expect that graphics and video production people will still use the high-end 8600 and 9600 systems because they offer better expansion options.

Apple is also expected to introduce its first PowerBook notebook with the new PowerPC 750 processor next week, as reported earlier in October by CNET's NEWS.COM.