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Mac Musings

WebMate

9 June 1999 - Page not found | Low End Mac

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- Tip Jar

Whether you call it the P1, Consumer Portable, iBook, or WebMate, Apple's newest portable Macintosh is shaping up to be a real winner. For consistency, we'll call it the WebMate in this article.

The following anticipated specifications are reproduced from Mac OS Rumors under their Open Content License:

  • 300 MHz PowerPC 750 processor
  • 66 MHz main bus, 512k backside L2 cache (rumors of a cacheless version persist but are considered unreliable).
  • 32 MB of RAM, expandability up to 384 MB with SDRAM SO-DIMMs (same as used in Wallstreet, Lombard, and iMac).
  • 2 MB ATI 64-bit graphics supporting millions of colors in 832 x 624 resolution. Unknown whether resolution will be switchable.
  • 11" passive matrix LCD display. Display quality will be industry-leading for this price point, but still behind the latest professional models.
  • "Bulletproof" enclosure designed to survive nearly any accidental impact or fall. Employs high-strength plastics similar to iMac and Blue G3. Design will employ translucent colors not from any existing Mac, rumored to be based around smoke grey and purple (colors are highly speculative and not confirmed). Form factor reported to take a page from the eMate's book, but due to design constraints it will be significantly larger and may not include a handle.
  • Total weight approximately 4.5 pounds.
  • Because of the curvaceous design, thickness measurements can be misleading, but reportedly the enclosure will be approximately 3" thick in the middle and approximately 1" thick at the edges.
  • Expansion port of some type (either a Mezzanine PCI slot or PC card slot) to accept wireless LAN and Internet access options.
  • Built-in 56k v.90 modem and 10/100 Ethernet.
  • Two USB ports
  • Supports NetBoot capability
  • Reported retail pricing: $1349
    (above list ©1999 by Mac OS Rumors/Black Light Media)

Looking at the WebMate feature by feature, we should be able to agree that a 300 MHz G3 is a lot of power for a computer, even one aimed especially at the education market. Although faster G3s are available, running at 300 MHz draws less power - and battery life is a key issue for Apple. It also allows Apple to use the least expensive G3 available.

The same can be said of the 66 MHz system bus, which requires less costly and more energy efficient parts.

Having seen how much slower the cacheless PowerBook G3/233 performed than the PowerBook G3/233 with a cache (see Road Apples article for details), I hope Apple will include a backside cache. That half megabyte of fast RAM would make the WebMate about 70% faster than it would be without it.

A 32 MB Macintosh is adequate these days - witness the continuing popularity of the iMac. Most of all, by shipping with 32 MB standard, Apple shaves perhaps US$50-100 from the retail price.

Whether it has a SuperVGA 800x640 or more Mac-typical 832 x 624 color display, I don't expect it to have the same quality as the amazing 14.1" active matrix screen on the PowerBook G3 Series. Passive matrix would be a compromise, but Apple may find it necessary to keep the price down.

Field reports say PowerBooks are already quite durable, but an extra measure of strength to survive use in schools will be a real bonus.

Size and weight are very attractive. I'm sure appearance will be, too.

I hope the WebMate will offer an expansion port and/or expansion bay. These specs say nothing about hard drive size, but 4 GB is probably the smallest that's readily available these days. CD-ROM would be a natural for loading software and playing games.

No, make that essential. A bootable CD-ROM is essential for running diagnostics, reinstalling system software, and more. Whether that's an internal drive as used in the current PowerBook or an external bootable USB CD-ROM drive, it's an absolute must.

Some sites think wireless networking and/or a wireless modem is essential to the WebMate's success. I think both would be great options that would make an already compelling machine even more attractive, but doubt that Apple will make either a standard feature. Either would raise the price too much. Still, they need to have some way for users to add wireless communication, whether by PC card. (Maybe Apple will offer a PC card cage to fit the same space as the removable CD-ROM?)

With a modem, ethernet, and USB ports, the WebMate is ready to interface with the world. And with NetBoot, schools can make sure everyone's WebMate is running the same OS and programs - this could be a real plus for tests, especially if the WebMate can be told to ignore the internal drive while the student is writing an exam.

At a suggested retail price of $1,349, the WebMate should easily sell the million units a year Apple has contracted. In fact, it might force Apple to reduce the iMac to $1,099 or bump the iMac to 64 MB of memory.

A lot of us are going to see the WebMate as a great personal notebook and game machine (GameBoy on steroids) and a viable alternative to the vastly more expensive PowerBook G3.

Whatever Apple calls it, this little guy should be be a runaway success.

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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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