Kendall Wrightson on new hardware from Apple.
Later this month Apple is expected to launch at least eight new Macs, providing a graphic demonstration of how far Apple's marketing strategy has moved towards the biannual product revamp common elsewhere in the computer industry. While the prospect of gleaming new product every six months ensures Apple hardware remains at the cutting edge, existing owners are left with nearly new machines worth a fraction of their original cost. For the software houses, frequent product launches mean an intensification of the never ending compatibility war.
For example, it took the MIDI software houses nine months to address the PowerBooks' serial port problem (see Mac Notes September), leaving unsuspecting PowerBook MIDI users with almost unusable hardware. If Apple upgrade their hardware every six months, the software developers will have to respond that much faster. However, even Apple didn't have time to upgrade its own system software for the PowerBook 145, unleashed on an unsuspecting public (and dealership) earlier this Summer: selecting 'About This Macintosh...' from the 145's Apple menu reveals the legend "PowerBook 140 © Apple Computer 1983-1991". The manual doesn't refer to the 145 either; only an A5 flier inserted into the documentation provides any kind of tangible proof that the lucky owner has indeed purchased a 145.
Despite Apple's claim that the 145 is virtually identical to the 140 (apart from CPU speed), several software incompatibilities are known to exist. The fault may not lie at Apple's door — software writers often stray from Apple's strict guidelines. However, regardless of where the blame lies, should the public have to face potential catastrophic data loss as unpaid beta testers? The only complete solution would be for Apple to supply all their developers with all new CPUs — an economic and administrative impossibility.
So what of the alleged new Apple kit? Portable-wise, at least four new PowerBooks are expected, with two — the PowerBook Duo 210 & 230 — capable of 'docking' with either the DuoDock or Duo MiniDock. The former sports two NuBus slots, an additional hard drive, a floppy drive, and a video port capable of driving 8-bit (ie. 256) colours on a monitor up to 16" in size. The usual array of serial, audio, DTB and SCSI (2?) ports are also provided. The MiniDock provides only standard Mac ports plus 8-bit (16" monitor) video capability. With much of the hardware built into the Duo or MiniDock, the 25MHz Duo 210 and 33MHz Duo 230 notebooks are 3lb lighter than the 140/170, weighing in at just over 4lb (1.7Kg). For anyone working from a single base, the Duos represent a unique and cost effective (at least by Apple standards) solution. Prices? Under £2,000 for the Duos; no price for the Docks yet.
For the multi-base or completely mobile Mac user, Apple is expected to deliver two new models, the 25MHz PowerBook 160 and 33MHz PowerBook 180. Unlike the current notebooks, both the 160 and 180 sport video outputs capable of delivering 8-bit colour to 13" and 16" monitors respectively. All the new PowerBooks have new 9" (diagonal) displays offering 16 shades of grey at a 640 x 480 pixel resolution. No prices yet, but it's likely that the three month old 145 will see a significant price drop from its current £1,395 (for a 4/40).
"While the prospect of gleaming new product every six months ensures Apple hardware remains at the cutting edge, existing owners are left with nearly new machines worth a fraction of their original cost."
Back on the desktop, a 33MHz Quadra 500 is expected to replace the IIci. An upgraded IIsi is also a possibility, though we may have to wait a while longer for the long-heralded Colour Classic. Of wider appeal is Apple's new Performa (sic) range, with four models based on the Classic II and the LC II, plus two new CPUs, the Performa 600 and 600CD. The 600s are both 32MHz, '030 machines offering three NuBus and one PDS slot; the latter also sports an integral CD-ROM drive. All Performas are said to contain System 7.0 in ROM which should produce a healthy speed increase with most applications. Performa prices are expected to be some 15% to 30% less than current Classic II/LC II models. Unfortunately, at the time of writing (early September), Apple UK have decided to postpone the Performa launch until deals with mass market sales outlets such as WH Smith and Dixons have been agreed.
With the entire Mac/Performa range offering 68030 processors, and increased clock speeds and NuBus slots available at the lower end of the market, one wonders why Apple have yet to match their undeniable software prowess — eg. QuickTime — with hardware of equivalent innovation. Which platform more deserves a 'multimedia' tag — the Performa 600CD with its built in CD-ROM, or the new Atari Falcon030 with MIDI, a Motorola 56001 DSP, SCSI-2, genlock, and multi-standard video support?
Having failed to make significant inroads to the mainstream or corporate markets with ST and TTs, Atari have decided to capitalise on their success in the music market, and look set to regain the preeminence they achieved in the late '80s. In the process, they may steal the multimedia crown Apple has been trying to claim as its own for the past four years. Unless the Cupertino mafia have withheld key facts about their new Macs, the £899 Falcon looks set to steal the hearts and current accounts of the next generation of computer-literate musicians. Let's hope that Apple — who never confirm leaked information until the 'official' launch — have a few surprises in store.
Feature by Kendall Wrightson
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