The future is getting closer -- so close that I have little need to stretch my performance-fevered imagination. The future I refer to is the PowerPC 750 processor, also called G3, the third generation of RISC chips on the Apple-IBM-Motorola alliance's techno-roadmap. (Some cognoscenti still refer to it by the code name Arthur.)
Instead of just daydreaming about higher performance this week, I can read about it in Henry Norr's reviews of upcoming cards and systems from Newer Technology Inc. and PowerTools Corp.. And then there's the news that Power Logix R&D Inc. and Total Impact have decided to join the speed bandwagon with 750-based daughtercards. All these products are slated to ship by the end of the month.
I'm not the only one with upgrades on the brain: No less a personage than Apple CEO Steve Jobs this week told attendees at the Macromedia Users Conference in San Francisco that the one big thing the Mac faithful could do for Apple was to upgrade their systems. Chances are, Apple's interim CEO was referring to unannounced products, such as Apple's forthcoming midrange Power Mac G3 systems (code-named Gossamer), reportedly due in mid-November (see http://http://www.zdnet.com/macweek/mw_1137/nw_gossamer.html), or the company's high-performance Power Express systems set for early 1998
While I'm all set to celebrate the arrival of these speed demons, my anticipation is tempered by two snafus that threaten to ruffle the smooth arrival of the latest and greatest processor. The first is the usual problem of availability; the second is the difficulty some users may have in gauging relative performance between models.
According to vendors, the upgrade cards may be scarce for many months. There's no simple reason for this. Of course, there are only so many of the new chips on the market, but as IBM and Motorola ramp up production, the situation will improve. Unfortunately, the ramp-up may not gain speed fast enough to satisfy 750-hungry professionals.
In addition, the special fast static RAM used for the Arthur systems' Level 2 backside cache is also constrained, the vendors said. Companies have to get in the queue for allocated parts, especially the highest-speed versions.
Mac users seem to have short memories when it comes to technological transitions. A reminder: Change doesn't happen with the turn of a switch. In the interim, users will either have to wait for volume to pick up or settle for one of the fine values in PowerPC 604e upgrades.
Furthermore, I foresee a problem as some users attempt to understand the performance and price differences between 750-based models. Instead of looking simply at the flavor and speed of PowerPC (a very simplistic, albeit popular, way of judging performance), users will have to weigh the speed of the 750 processor, the size of the cache and the speed at which the two communicate. Processor performance will entail a juggling act of all three factors, and any selection will require tradeoffs between price and performance.
Of course, such concerns are natural with any major step in technology. As the 18th-century philosopher Jonathan Eibeschutz said, "All pleasures contain an element of sadness."
Eibeschutz's warning notwithstanding, I'm really very upbeat about my future Mac - upgraded via a third-party card or in a new system.
Of course, maybe my anxiety symptoms are simply the result of excess idle time staring at my current, underpowered Mac. If that's the case, the PowerPC 750, G3, Arthur - whatever you want to call it - should be just what the doctor ordered.
David Morgenstern, MacWEEK senior news editor, welcomes feedback at email@example.com.