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Apple Hits New Mark with Power Mac G5

Apple Computer has unveiled its next-generation Power Macs, based on IBM’s new 64-bit processor chip, the PowerPC G5. “The 64-bit revolution has begun, and the personal computer will never be the same again,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

According to Apple sources, the G5 Power Macs will become available in August. The Apple Store is taking preorders for the new models, which range in price from US$1,999 to $2,999.

Also at the conference, Apple previewed “Panther,” its newest iteration of the Mac OS X operating system, for both desktop and server models. Mac OS X 10.3 is slated to ship by year-end and will offer more than 100 new features, including a revamped Finder that will work much like Apple’s signature iTunes application. It also will support the 64-bit processing featured in the new G5s.

The company also introduced Safari 1.0, its proprietary Web browser for Mac OS X, ending a successful beta program that began in January.

The 64-Bit Question

According to Jobs, the highest-end new Power Mac boasts a 1 GHz front-side system bus and can hold up to 8 GB of memory. The G5s also sport a brand-new aluminum enclosure that provides four independently monitored thermal zones to better handle the heat generated by the machines. Apple said this architecture enables the new computers to run two to three times more quietly than the previous-edition Power Mac G4.

Gartner desktop computing analyst Charles Smulders told the E-Commerce Times that the processor overhaul was overdue and is certain to please existing Mac users, particularly graphics and desktop publishing professionals.

However, he said he doubts that the new processor will cause a significant number of Windows PC users to switch to the Mac platform.

Benchmark Controversy

Smulders said the G5’s clock speed, which tops out at 2 GHz, still lags significantly behind its Intel counterpart.

In its announcement, Apple contended that its dual-processor 2 GHz G5 is the world’s fastest personal computer. The company said it performed several benchmark tests that prove its offering is faster against both 3.0 GHz Pentium 4-based PCs and 3.06 dual Xeon-based systems.

However, Smulders said benchmark tests are notoriously difficult to interpret. He added that potential customers tend to take a pragmatic approach and consider several factors when choosing a PC for themselves or for business. One of those factors is clock speed.

Pretty Good Numbers

On the other hand, IDC research manager Roger Kay told the E-Commerce Times that although he has not verified Apple’s benchmark numbers independently, he would wager that the company’s speed claims are largely true.

“Even though the clock rates max out at 2 GHz, its overall performance tops that speed,” Kay said. “Its system bus is the fastest in the industry, [and it shows] pretty good numbers coming from its tech specifications.”

Kay also noted that despite the limited market for the level of performance these Power Macs offer, pricing on the new boxes is “decent.” Between the upgraded performance and last week’s introduction of the OS X-native QuarkXPress 6.0, many users are likely to upgrade their current boxes.

Is Jaguar Good Enough?

Adam Engst, publisher of Mac community newsletter TidBits, seemed to agree that Apple’s new Power Macs are a giant leap forward for the company. “I’m most interested in learning how compatible they really are with existing software and how loud they are in comparison with the current Power Macs,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “I also wonder how much of the promised performance increase will be available immediately under Jaguar, or if it will require recompiled software and possibly Panther to see its full potential.”

Like Jaguar, he noted, Panther likely will contain many subtle differences that could alter a user’s day-to-day workflow.

“And iChat AV is pretty neat,” Engst added. “Both audio and video worked well in myinitial testing, with extremely good audio quality, at least over ahigh-speed Internet connection.”

In separate press releases, Apple announced that the Mac OS X user base has grown to 7 million and that the number of applications designed to run natively on the OS has topped 6,000.

The company also revealed that its iTunes Music Store has reached the 5 million downloads mark and that it will ship its one-millionth iPod this week.

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