Apple beefs up Power Macs

Apple Computer Inc. put some more punch in its Power Macs today with a new microprocessor called the PowerPC G4, which Steve Jobs, the company’s interim chief executive officer, colourfully likened to “a supercomputer that’s been miniaturized on a sliver of silicon.”

Speaking at the recent Seybold publishing conference in San Francisco, Jobs also unveiled a giant 22-inch LCD flat-panel display, dubbed the Apple Cinema Display, which will ship in October priced at US$3,999. Apple claimed it is the largest LCD display ever brought to market.

He also detailed new features in the Mac OS 9, which will also ship in October and includes a voice-enabled password feature and new search capabilities.

True to recent form, it was Apple’s hardware announcements that elicited the most cheers from the horde of excitable Apple fans who gathered here to watch Jobs speak.

The PowerPC G4 processor was designed by Apple, IBM Corp. and Motorola Inc., and features a new architecture that lets it process data in large, 128-bit chunks, allowing it to make light work of video, voice and graphics applications, Jobs said.

A 400MHz version of the chip is available in the Power Mac G4, priced from US$1,599. Apple will also offer a 450MHz G4 system, and a 500MHz system in October, Jobs said. The Power Mac G4 systems look similar to the aqua-blue G3 systems, but come in silver, gray and translucent clear casings. They are targeted primarily at professional users, while Apple’s iMac serves the consumer desktop market.

While the clock speeds of the Power PC G4s don’t match those of Intel Corp.’s fastest chips, the Apple executive claimed his new processors beat the pants off of a 600MHz Pentium III running most applications — an assertion that Intel will likely try to refute.

“Of all the machines we’ve seen, this is the fastest that runs our applications,” said John Warnock, chairman and CEO of Adobe Systems Inc., who joined Jobs on stage to help him hawk the new processors.

The new LCD display also drew a gasp of delight from the Apple followers. Jobs warned that the screen will be available in limited supply only, and the company will start taking orders for it Oct. 1. The screen initially will be available only packaged with 450MHz or faster G4 systems, in bundles priced from US$6,498, he said.

Apple has been riding a wave of success since early last year, and has reported profits for its past seven fiscal quarters, Jobs said. The company already has secured 140,000 orders for the iBook, a colourful portable product aimed at consumers, which is due to ship in mid-September.

Apple’s success stems partly from its innovative, energetic image, said conference attendee Gregg Muret, a product manager with Digital Graphics Advantage, a publishing firm in Anaheim, California.

“IBM, Microsoft, Compaq, the impression they give is [of] starched shirts and suits and that they’re very serious,” Muret said. “They make good products, but they don’t seem to enjoy it. Like Steve said, ‘Have some fun!’ “

The Apple chief also detailed new features in the Mac OS 9, the next version of the Macintosh operating system. The OS is due to ship in October, and will be “a biggie, with more than 50 new features,” Jobs said.

Among them are an updated version of the Sherlock search system introduced last year, which allows users to search the Web using multiple search engines simultaneously. The new Sherlock acts as a “personal Web shopper” by allowing users to search the contents of user-selected on-line stores simultaneously, and return results in a price-comparison table.

The company also has extended the Mac’s “file sharing” capabilities from the local area network to the Internet, allowing companies to more easily write workflow applications that run across machines in different locations. “The same thing you can do over a LAN with AppleScript, you can now do securely over the Internet with OS 9,” Jobs said.

Another software feature, called “keychain,” allows users to enter a single password into their machine, which automatically activates all other passwords stored in the computer. The company has also included a voice-enabled password to access OS9, which uses voice-print recognition.

Specifications for the G4 Power Macs ( as follows:

The 400MHz machine includes 64MB of RAM, a CD-ROM drive and a 10GB hard drive. The 450MHz system, priced at US$2,499, includes 128MB of RAM, a DVD-ROM drive, and a 20GB hard drive. The 500MHz PowerMac, priced at US$3,499, comes with 256MB of RAM, a DVD-RAM drive, and a 27GB hard drive, Jobs said.

The Power PC G4 processor includes 1MB of Level 2 cache, designed to increase the data transfer rate between the processor. All of the G4 Power Macs also include dual universal serial bus (USB) and 400Mbps Firewire ports, Apple said.

Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., is at (408) 996-1010.