US Report: Apple readies faster G3s

Apple will revamp its Power Mac G3 series in mid-August, shifting speeds up a notch or two. Sources said the systems will include new PowerPC G3 processors running at 333 and 366MHz.

While it made no mention of Apple's plans, Motorola's Austin, Texas-based RISC Microprocessor Division this week unveiled a new series of G3 processors, due later in August. The company said the updated chips offer higher performance and better power handling.

Apple's $2,999 (£1,828), top-of-the-line Power Mac G3 will reportedly ship with a 366MHz processor; the minitower model will include 128 Mbytes of RAM and a 4-Gb, 7,200-rpm Wide Ultra SCSI-3 hard drive. Next in line will be a $2,599 (£1,584) 333MHz audiovisual configuration with 64 Mbytes of RAM, 8-Gb hard drive, Iomega Zip drive and graphics accelerator PCI card.

Like the rest of the G3 line, the new systems are based on a Gossamer logic board design. Each will include a 512-Kbyte backside Level 2 cache and a 24x CD-ROM drive. The systems will reportedly feature updates to the ROM chip and other application-specific integrated circuits.

In addition, Apple will revise pricing for the rest of the Power Mac G3 series, sources said. The entry-level 233MHz desktop system with 32 Mb of RAM and a 4-Gb drive will cost $1,399 (£853). A desktop model running a 266MHz processor and sporting 32 Mbytes of RAM, a 4-Gbyte hard drive and a Zip drive will cost $1,699 (£1,036); and a 266MHz minitower version that offers a 6-Gbyte drive will cost $1,989 (£1,212).

Apple expects to boost shipments to dealers of some models -- particularly 300MHz and slower -- over the next couple of weeks to prepare for the roll-out of its consumer-market iMac on Aug. 15. Sources said Apple plans to have more Power Mac G3s on resellers' shelves in case iMac buyers decide to switch and "buy up" to a more powerful or more configurable desktop system.

Availability of the higher-speed models may be constrained through September, sources said.

Apple declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Motorola announced a tweaked version of the G3 processor, or PowerPC 750. PowerPC partner IBM Microelectronics Division of East Fishkill, N.Y., is expected to release similar chips.

The new 300, 333 and 366MHz chips are based on the G3's manufacturing process, Motorola said, instead of the copper-based process expected with the next-generation PowerPC G4. In May, Motorola unveiled its AltiVec graphics acceleration technology, slated for some G4 processors.

"We took the existing process and added in some more transistors," said Will Swearingen, Motorola manager of portfolio marketing.

He said the move simplified the chips' adoption in hardware designs.

"We were able to get a 20-percent performance boost and get [the 366-MHz G3] out much faster" than forthcoming G4 processors based on the new copper process, he said.

Swearingen said the new 366-MHz mark is "not necessarily" the apex of G3 performance, and that Motorola will continue to turn out G3 processors after the G4 chips go into production in the first half of 1999.