Apple Unveils G5 Computers

Apple unveiled a slew of hardware products and software updates Monday, including new desktop computers featuring the G5 processor, the company's first-ever 64-bit desktop CPU.

Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive officer, announced three new desktops, shipping in August, that will offer the company's next-generation G5 chip. Designed in cooperation with IBM, the processor will run at up to 2 GHz at launch, and will support both 32- and 64-bit applications. Jobs revealed the products at the Apple World Wide Developers conference here.

Next-Generation Chip

To move desktop computing from 32 to 64 bits, and to catch up with the Windows-based competition in terms of processor speed, Apple and IBM decided to create a CPU dramatically different from the existing G4, said Dr. John E. Kelly, III, senior vice president of the technology group at IBM.

"We took the core of a 64-bit supercomputer and put it in a desktop chip," he said. The processors are fabricated in IBM's new $3 billion semiconductor facility in New York.

While Jobs, and others, repeatedly noted the G5's 64-bit pedigree, he did not offer any specifics about when the company's operating system would offer support for 64-bit desktop applications. Today's desktops are 32-bit machines, as are the operating systems and applications that run on them.

In addition to 64-bit support, the new G5 offers a 1-GHz frontside bus (up from 167 MHz in today's G4), for bandwidth of up to 16GB per second. Comparable Intel Pentium 4-based systems offer an 800-MHz frontside bus for a maximum of 6.4 GBps throughput.

The processor, along with its accompanying system controller chip, offers support for a range of additional next-generation technologies, Jobs said. Those technologies include up to 8GB of 400-MHz DDR memory, Serial ATA interfaces, PCI-X slots, and AGP 8X Pro.

The processor is based on IBM's 130-nanometer technology and contains more than 58 million transistors, of which Jobs said, "I don't know how they count them."

New Desktops

Apple isn't a processor vendor, so new processors mean new PCs. This time around, Apple's designers opted for a slick, all-aluminum chassis created to help keep the new chip--and its surrounding components--running cool.

To improve cooling, the new desktops include nine fans, Jobs said. However, because each fan is independently controlled and runs only when needed, the system is actually much quieter than previous desktops, he said.

Apple will offer three retail desktop configurations; buyers can also build their own computer at the company's Web site.

Apple's entry-level $1999 system will include a 1.6-GHz G5, an 800-MHz frontside bus, 256MB of 333-MHz DDR memory (4GB maximum), an 80GB hard drive, an NVidia GeForce FX 5300 graphics card with 64MB of DDR RAM, three PCI slots (33 MHz), and a 4X SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW). The $2399 unit will include a 1.8-GHz G5, a 900-MHz frontside bus, 512MB of 400-MHz DDR memory (8GB maximum), a 160GB hard drive, three PCI-X slots (two at 133 MHz, one at 100 MHz), and the same graphics card and optical drive.

The top-of-the-line unit will sell for $2999 and will include dual 2-GHz G5s, dual independent 1-GHz frontside buses, 512MB of 400-MHz DDR memory (8GB maximum), a 160GB hard drive, a Radeon 9600 Pro graphics card with 64MB of DDR RAM, three PCI-X slots (two at 133 MHz, one at 100 MHz), and the 4X SuperDrive.

After unveiling the new hardware, Jobs showed benchmarks in which the new systems competed well with existing Windows-based PCs. Then he and a parade of executives from other companies demonstrated the new hardware's real-world prowess by running side-by side demonstrations of high-end applications against a fast PC from Dell. Of course, the Apple machines won each demonstration handily.

Panther On Track

Hardware was only part of Apple's story Monday: Jobs also unveiled a long list of new features the company will roll into its next update of the Mac OS X operating system, code-named Panther. Available now in beta, and due out at the end of the year, the software will sell for $129.

The update includes more than 100 new features, Jobs said. Chief among them: The new Finder feature that puts common folders, drives, and servers in one easy-to-find location; the new Expose tool that lets you view all open windows immediately, and Apple's FileVault, which instantly encrypts and decrypts files you store in your home directory.

Finally, Jobs pulled out the big guns for a demonstration of the new IChat AV. Based on Apple's existing IChat instant messaging program, Jobs said the new software offers audio and visual features that make it "video conferencing for the rest of us."

The program requires zero setup since it uses existing instant messaging technology, he said. To use the audio tools you need a microphone and a dial-up connection; for video you need a camera and broadband. After using the software to confer with two Apple employees--one in the building and one in France--Jobs told the audience he was expecting an incoming call at any moment. That caller turned out to be former Vice President Al Gore, who declared the technology "very cool."

Apple launched the free beta version of IChat AV today; the final product will ship as part of the Panther OS and will also be available separately for $29. In conjunction, the company also launched a new $150 FireWire-ready video camera called the ISight.

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Tom Mainelli

PC World
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