Mac Musings

Faster G4s Coming Some Day

Daniel Knight - 2002.07.22 -

Where are the speed bumped Power Macs?

That's one of the great mysteries of last week's Macworld Expo. Apple almost always rolls out faster Power Macs as the July show in New York. Almost always.

Let's look at Apple's Power Mac history by the fastest models available:

I've marked Expo releases in bold. Do you notice a pattern?

Sometimes Apple announces newer or simply faster Power Macs at the Expo - and sometimes they don't. They did move the Power Mac forward at three of the last five Expos, but not at either of the last two.

Also notice that August shows up four times: the speed-bumped beige G3, the original Power Mac G4, and the actual release date of the Dual 500 MHz G4. Four times out of the 11 listed above, new Power Macs were announced or first shipped in August.

Look at the list again. Two January Expo announcements, two July Expo announcements, and three August non-Expo announcements. If you think Apple typically boosts Power Mac performance at Expos, I think this proves that Apple is simply not that predictable.

Does this mean we can expect faster Power Macs in August? No, but if Apple can clear out the current inventory soon, we may see an August announcement. Or September. Or October. Or November. Pretty much any time except December.

A fluke?

Let's look at PowerBooks:

That's just one Expo PowerBook rollout out of seven G3- and G4-based models.

And the iBooks:

iBook Expo introductions? None.

So let's turn our attention to the iMac:

Five times the iMac has been improved at the Expo - exactly what happened last week. As Apple's leading consumer model, maybe it's the model most appropriate for speed bumping and otherwise tweaking during the big Expos in January and July.

But Apple doesn't seem to be locked into any kind of announcement schedule. Except for December, they seem to announce new products when they're ready, Expo or not.

Moore's Law and the PowerPC

What about Moore's Law? Although Moore's Law doesn't specifically state CPU speeds or processing power will double every 18 months, it pretty much implies it by noting that the number of components on a chip doubles approximately every 18 months. A good part of this comes from smaller chip dies, which lead to improved speed and processing power.

If Moore's Law were actually predictive, we'd see 2.4 GHz Pentium 4 . . . make that 2 GHz and faster Athlons . . . er, how about 2 GHz G4s?

Of course, Motorola is notorious for breaking Moore's Law. Last summer's dual 800 MHz G4 was already 20% behind predictions, but even that would have led us to expect nothing less than 1.2 GHz G4s this summer - and they haven't arrived yet.

Oddly enough, while Apple seems wed to Motorola, IBM (the third member of the AIM consortium) is selling computers with 1.3 GHz Power4 CPUs. These are PowerPC chips, and the computers they run in support anywhere from 2 to 32 CPUs. Imagine the power Apple could offer if they ported OS X to the Power4 - or if IBM ported that technology to a "G5" processor for the next round of Power Macs.

Still, Intel and AMD have learned how to make wicked fast CPUs when measured on a GHz basis, which seems to be what consumers "understand" (no matter how many times we say MHz Myth). Apple needs to announce new Power Macs soon that don't just offer more horsepower, but also provide the marketability of higher GHz ratings.

What About Current Inventory?

Apple apparently has too much Power Mac inventory on hand. This is undoubtedly due to the tight economy, the slow progress in MHz speeds (would you replace a G4 system with one that's only 20% faster?), and the anticipation that sooner or later Apple has got to release new G4 models that offer more than a minimal boost in performance.

Until that happens, Apple should recognize that today's Power Macs are laggards, cut their prices, and offer more options. Don't depend on rebates for Apple displays to drive sales. My suggestions:

Here's where I think the current models would be very attractive:

And if Apple still wants to offer rebates on their monitors, do it with CPUs at prices like these and really watch the inventory move.

That should help clear out inventory to make room for the inevitable speed bump - and still give Apple room to reduce prices on current models when the new ones are announced.