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Gear makers get jump on Macworld

Although there are hours to go before Steve Jobs mounts the Macworld Expo podium, companies are already pulling the wraps off new Apple-flavored products.

Although Apple CEO Steve Jobs' keynote speech at Macworld Expo is still hours away, companies have started to make product announcements to coincide with the San Francisco show.

Mac overclockers may want to check out the Mercury Extreme G4/1.25 Gigahertz, announced Monday by Other World Computing, which upgrades the processor in a Mac. Although it uses a Motorola chip that is labeled to run at 1.25GHz, OWC is guaranteeing that it can handle clock speeds of up to 1.467GHz.

"We've found that Motorola has been very conservative with the speed," OWC President Larry O'Connor said in a statement. "We've been able to establish a design and burn-in process allowing us to guarantee that our new Extreme model using this processor will safely operate at speeds of up to 1.467GHz."

OWC is selling the processor upgrade for $429 via its Web site. The company also debuted a $350 80GB Mercury On-The-Go portable FireWire drive and cut prices on some older drives.

Also on Monday, optics giant Nikon unveiled three new high-end scanners: the $599 Nikon Coolscan V ED, the $1,099 Super Coolscan 5000 ED and the $1,999 Super Coolscan 9000 ED.

The 4,000 dot-per-inch Coolscan V ED is capable of producing digital scans of 35-millimeter pictures at close to 22-megapixel resolution, according to Nikon. The Super Coolscan 5000 ED, which can scan in as little as 20 seconds, is aimed at small and midsize business users such as professional photographers, Web developers and photo finishers. The top-of-the-line Super Coolscan 9000 ED is geared at studio photographers, advertising agencies and similar buyers. The Super Coolscan 9000 has a FireWire interface and can handle a range of film formats as well as electron microscope images.

FrogPad, a start-up that makes keyboards to be used with only one hand, is bidding to take another leap forward Tuesday when it plans to introduce a Bluetooth- and Mac-compatible version of its 20-key Qwerty killer. Like its wired predecessor, the wireless keyboard incorporates FrogPad's patented layout, which is designed around the 15 most-used letters in the English alphabet. The company says that with about eight hours of training, the average person can crank out about 40 words per minute, as compared to the average of 10 to 20 words per minute for the fastest thumb typists.

Accessory maker XtremeMac said it will show off a wireless audio-streaming technology it says can send a high-quality audio signal over 300 feet using Bluetooth technology. The company plans to show off the technology at its booth, starting Tuesday.

Most competing Bluetooth products use a different technology and are limited to 20 to 30 feet, according to XtremeMac CEO Gary Bart. "We exceed 300 feet," Bart said in a statement. "This allows the user, in normal indoor environments, to have the power to transmit high-quality audio wirelessly throughout a household, while our competitors will be stuck in one room."

The company hopes to integrate the technology into a variety of products. It plans to start with a compact transmitter and receiver that would allow people to stream wireless audio from a source such as an Apple iPod or a computer to portable speakers, wireless headphones or even a car stereo. The company hopes to have that product available by this spring.

Belkin introduced an updated version of its TuneCast device, which allows an iPod or other portable music player to broadcast music that can be played on a car stereo via FM radio. The updated version, TuneCast II, sells for between $39 to $49 and features up to 10 hours of battery life, the ability to scan all FM frequencies for the clearest channel as well as the ability to memorize up to four often-used frequencies.