The PowerPC should bring whole new meaning to the phrase 'power without the price' But is it still a price worth paying? Ian Waugh has the answer...
You're in the market for a new computer and you're torn between the elegance and sophistication of the Macintosh and the ubiquity and value for money of the PC. Wouldn't it be great if there was a computer that had it all? Well, don't look now but...
Anyone reading last month's feature on buying a computer could be excused for thinking that choosing any of the current models involved a degree of compromise which one shouldn't need to make when spending upwards of £1000. Of course, it could be argued that with any of today's personal computers you are getting power and performance at a price no one would have believed possible a few years ago. Only... well, people did believe it would be possible a few years ago. At that time, no edition of Tomorrow's World would have been complete without someone telling us just how important personal computers would become in our lives and how powerful we could expect them to be. As in so many other areas, we seem to have been waiting for the technology to catch up with the speculation, convinced that better (and cheaper) machines are just around the corner.
Certainly, anyone who buys any of the Mac or PC magazines couldn't fail to have been aware of reports of an imminent new generation of computers which would far outstrip the performance of even the best of today's models - and at a price which would have us all reaching for our cheque books. Is it true? Are the reports exaggerated? And just how imminent is imminent?
Well, I'm pleased to say the answers to these questions are 'yes', 'no', and 'by the time you read this (probably)'.
The PowerPC is a new RISC-based microprocessor family under development by Apple, IBM and Motorola, aimed at bringing "a new level of performance and functionality to personal computing at low prices". I think we'd all drink to that.
Besides the obvious advantages of speed and power, the PowerPC's most impressive attribute is its ability to run both Mac and PC software, giving the user the best of both worlds and eliminating the problem of which computer to buy. This is made possible by virtue of the fact that the PowerPC's RISC processor is more efficient than either the standard PC or Mac chips, and will run software more quickly.
Latest news is that the PowerPC 601 chip which lies at the heart of the machine has just been given a hike in speed from 50MHz to 60MHz, and that an 80MHz chip is expected to appear before the end of the year.
"There seems little doubt that the advent of the PowerPC will be the coming of age of multimedia"
Motorola has also announced the 603, a special chip with low power consumption for use in PowerBooks, although it's unlikely that portable PowerPCs will appear before 1995.
Eager not to alienate its existing user-base (although you'd hardly think it from the almost weekly round of price cuts and obsolescence), Apple hopes to provide PowerPC upgrade options for many of its existing models; as well as the entire Quadra range, this includes the IIvx and IIvi models and the Performa 600 and LC range - though upgrades for these latter machines could take up to 12 months to appear.
Upgrade prices will vary according to model but are expected to start at under $1000 - which probably means £1000 to UK users.
The list of software developers currently signed up to produce PowerPC programs reads like a Who's Who of the computer world. Interestingly, this doesn't yet include any of the music software companies, but in computing circles these are generally considered to be 'small fry'. There are, however, already several multimedia software developers working in this field.
Should you buy a Mac or PC now or wait for the first PowerPCs to emerge? Well, if you can wait you'd certainly be advised to do so. However, although development of the PowerPC has so far broken every target set, it seems unlikely that machines will be available in any kind of quantity before the middle of the year - and it could well be autumn.
There is also the cost to consider. The much-touted price of around £2000 will be for the base system only. Expect to pay several hundred pounds more for a usable setup. If you don't like paying over the odds it could well be into 1995 before the power without the price becomes a reality. But of course, this is all relative. Serious, professional users may well decide that the advantage of having one of these machines immediately outweighs the extra cost. And certainly, anyone working in a competitive industry could well gain a real advantage from using a PowerPC.
It will also be interesting to see what happens to the price of the current range of machines. Even with the recent reductions of up to 50% on many systems, Apple will almost certainly have to drop prices further if dealers aren't to be left with machines that suddenly look underpowered and overpriced. By the end of this year there could be some incredible bargains around. If this is something that's already occurred to you and you're the kind of person who likes to hedge their bets, just make sure you opt for one of the machines which offer an upgrade path.
Feature by Ian Waugh
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