Jobs debuts faster Macs, previews OS X update

Apple Computer Inc. kicked off this week’s Macworld show in New York with upgrades to its iMac and Power Mac G4 product lines, and a pledge that Mac OS X version 10.1, the first major upgrade to its recently released operating system, will ship in September.

Apple chief Executive officer Steve Jobs pleased the crowd with a demonstration of some of version 10.1’s improvements, including faster application launching, more elegant windows resizing and a moveable dock, improved networking capabilities with machines running Microsoft Corp. Windows, and the ability to burn data CDs from the Finder.

Jobs also introduced new hardware, including three Power Macs with processor speeds running at up to 867MHz. The new computers are housed in silver-coloured “quicksilver” cases.

Priced at US$3,499 and scheduled to ship in August, Apple’s new high-end model will be a Power Mac G4 featuring duel 800MHz processors, 256M bytes of RAM, a 80G-byte hard drive, and a SuperDrive, a CD-RW/DVD-R (CD-rewriteable/digital versatile disc-recordable) combination manufactured by Pioneer Corp. and adopted by Apple earlier this year for use in its high-end machines.

Two new Power Mac G4s are currently available. Apple’s US$2,499 machine has an 867MHz processor, 128 MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive, and a SuperDrive. For US$1,699, the company is offering a Power Mac with a 733MHz processor, 128 MBof RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a CD-RW drive.

Apple made less radical updates to its aging iMac product line, trimming prices and upping iMac processor speeds to 700MHz. Two new iMac configurations are now available: a US$999 iMac with a 500MHz PowerPC G3 processor, 128 MBof RAM, and a 20GB hard drive; and a US$1,299 iMac with a 600MHz processor, 256 MB of RAM, and a 40GB hard drive. A 700 MHz model with 256 MB of RAM and a 60GB hard drive, priced at US$1,499, is slated for August availability. Each of the new models includes a CD-RW drive.

Apple’s last major Macworld New York hardware debut was short-lived: The Power Mac G4 Cube, introduced last July, was scrapped earlier this month because of poor sales.

Jobs devoted the first hour of his keynote to touting the Mac OS X, released in late March. A parade of Macintosh developers took the stage to demonstrate how their applications are optimized for the operating system.

His demo-laden speech wasn’t entirely bug-free. A display of version 10.1’s DVD player had to be restarted after the DVD failed to launch properly the first time around, and Jobs’ attempt to show off version 10.1’s digital camera interfacing abilities was repeatedly thwarted by the camera’s refusal to turn on.

Jobs also devoted a section of his keynote to defending the G4’s chip speed, which is lower than processors from rivals such as Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Apple dispatched senior vice-president of hardware Jon Rubinstein to deflate the “Megahertz Myth” and to tutor the audience on why Apple thinks the G4’s architecture is superior to that of other processors.

His talk culminated in a head-to-head showdown between an 867MHz G4 processor and Intel Corp.’s 1.7GHz Pentium 4, handling a variety of multimedia-heavy rendering and encoding tasks. Naturally, the G4 easily beat the Pentium, although an audience member noted after the keynote that Apple stacked the deck by choosing applications well-suited to its operating system and architecture.

“Put a G4 running Quake against an Intel (processor) running Quake, and then see how it stacks up,” suggested Michael Depsky, who works in systems support for a software developer.

He said he’d like to see Apple come out with a machine featuring a 1GHz processor. “Maybe next time,” he said.

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