Mac Musings

Where's the 500 MHz G4??

- 2000.01.21 - Tip Jar

Remember how Steve Jobs announced the Power Mac G4 on August 31, 1999? There would be a less-expensive Power Mac G4400 MHz model plus two faster machines with AGP video and more. The "Sawtooth" models would run at 450 and 500 MHz.

Due to production problems at Motorola, the 500 MHz model was postponed until "January 2000".

Then, on October 13, Apple dropped the base G4 to 350 MHz and offered the Sawtooth version in 400 and 450 MHz variants.

At the start of December, Apple quietly replaced the Yikes! G4/350 with a Sawtooth model at the same price.

Where's the Beef?

It's late January. Macworld Expo has come and gone without a single Apple hardware announcement. No "Pismo" PowerBook. No faster iMac. No iBook with adequate memory.

And no 500 MHz Power Mac G4.

It Really Is a Problem

If you pay any attention to the Wintel world, you'll know that Apple has fallen way behind in the Megahertz Wars. While the Wintel world has the Pentium III and Athlon CPUs fighting for dominance in the 800 MHz range, Apple doesn't offer anything faster than 450 MHz.

"Yes, but Macs are twice as fast," you counter.

Sorry, but Apple never made that claim. In some benchmarks the PowerPC G3 and G4 are twice as fast as a Pentium II or III at the same speed - but there's no such beast. You can find entry-level Celeron machines below Apple's top speed of 450 MHz, but the P-III and Athlon are running faster than that.

Different benchmarks show different things, but in the real world the Power Mac may offer a 50% advantage over a Wintel box, making the G4/450 about as fast as a P-III or Athlon at 600-650 MHz.

In that light, the G4/500 will still put the Power Mac a notch or two below Wintel's fastest. To pull ahead, Apple needs to get 600 MHz G4 processors from Motorola or IBM before Intel or Athlon reaches the gigahertz level.

And even then, unless you're running AltiVec-enhanced software, the Mac will only be holding its own against the Wintel boxes.

With the G4 teething problems at 500 MHz and beyond, Apple's great hope may be Mystic, the rumored dual-G4 Power Mac (UPDATE: Mystic was introduced on July 17, 2000). The Mac OS has had some multiprocessor support for years, greatly improves that in OS 9, and will absolutely run with it when OS X ships.

Couple a pair of 450 MHz G4s with an optimized multiprocessor OS, and Apple will have a Power Mac able to hold its own against the Wintel world - even the dual-Pentium machines.

And when quad-processing becomes and option and even faster G4s become available, the Power Mac will zip right past the most powerful Pentium and Athlon boxes on the market.

Until then, where's the 500 MHz G4?

UPDATE: Dual-processor G4s arrived in July 2000, but we had to wait until the Power Mac G5 Quad at the very end of the PowerPC Era for Apple to ship a quad-core Power Mac.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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