by Geoff Duncan <email@example.com>
Apple today announced the availability of three new desktop machines: the Power Macintosh 8500, 7500, and 7200. These second-generation Power Macs put technology introduced in the Power Mac 9500 (see TidBITS-282) into aggressively priced packages designed for professionals and mainstream users.
These machines underscore Apple's commitment to the new PCI bus (each featuring three PCI expansion slots) and DIMM memory modules. Unlike the 9500, however, each of these machines includes expandable, multiple-resolution built-in video, audio capture, and (in the case of the 8500 and 7500) built-in, high-quality video input. In short, these systems look to offer significantly improved performance and capability at prices in the range of today's Power Macs.
Power Macintosh 8500 -- At the high end of the new machines is the Power Mac 8500, a mini-tower design similar to the existing 8100 in terms of appearance, but revised in nearly every other respect. The heart of the 8500 is an upgradable 120 MHz PowerPC 604 processor on a removable daughterboard, similar to the 9500, which should offer snappy performance even at computing-intensive tasks. The 8500 also features three PCI expansion slots, a Fast SCSI internal SCSI bus capable of transferring up to 10 MB per second (external SCSI will handle up to 5 MB/sec), a 256K level 2 cache on a DIMM, and an internal Apple quad-speed CD-ROM drive. The unit has 8 DIMM slots for RAM expansion (with 16 MB of RAM standard), has a bay for an additional internal storage, and is available with either a 1 GB or 2 GB internal hard disk. There is at least one major headache with the Power Mac 8500: although access to the PCI slots and CPU daughterboard is simple, like the 8100 and 9500 before it adding RAM requires removing the entire motherboard.
Video support in the Power Mac 8500 is exceptional. Unlike the Power Mac 9500 (which must use a PCI card for video), the 8500 comes with high-quality internal video supporting resolutions up to 1280 by 1024 pixels, a 64-bit data path to the VRAM, and 2 MB of VRAM that's upgradable to 4 MB (which would support 24-bit video out to 1152 by 870 pixels). The Power Mac 8500 comes with composite and S-video input and output, with 24-bit video real-time playthrough up to 640 by 480 (NTSC) or 768 by 576 (SECAM and PAL). The Power Mac 8500 can also capture 24-bit video at 25 frames per second using NTSC at sizes up to 320 by 240 (quarter-screen), and has 24-bit NTSC and PAL video output described as "near broadcast quality" by Apple. These video capabilities exceed anything offered by Apple on previous Macs (including the AV options on previous machines); however, they aren't part of an optional AV add-on. Every Power Mac 8500 ships with this video horsepower.
The 8500 doesn't stop there. The machine features both RCA phono and mini jack stereo audio input and output, all supporting 16-bit audio and 44 kHz sampling rates. Like the 9500, the 8500 features built-in Ethernet via both Apple's AAUI and the more common 10BASE-T connector. Also, the 8500 includes an internal DAV (digital audio/video) connector for video compression/decompression cards.
In addition, the 8500 ships with an armful of new software that you wouldn't ordinarily expect. Like the 9500 before it, the 8500 ships with System 7.5.2, including Open Transport, more PowerPC-native core code, speech recognition and text-to-speech capability, and an improved 680x0 emulator for running non-native applications. But the 8500 also includes QuickDraw 3D, support for QuickTime Conferencing (QuickTime-based video conferencing from Apple), plus a plethora of goodies such as a version of Apple's Control Strip which works on desktop Macs and enhanced sound and display control panels which are fully scriptable. The QuickDraw 3D and QuickTime Conferencing software will work on the Power Mac 9500, 8500, 7500, and 7200, and Apple says it will synchronize the software bundles with each machine.
Done yet? Not quite. The suggested prices for the Power Mac 8500 begin at $3,900 (keyboard and monitor sold separately), with correspondingly higher prices for a 2 GB internal drive.
Power Macintosh 7500 -- If the 8500 is aimed at high-end users, developers, multimedia authoring, and video production, then the Power Macintosh 7500 is the "enterprise" machine of Apple's new product line, targeted at mainstream application users who are looking for good value in a machine that can deliver power and performance in day-to-day tasks. Starting around $2,700, the 7500 offers decent performance, video, and future expandability.
The Power Mac 7500 is built around a 100 MHz PowerPC 601 processor on a daughterboard, and features a new desktop case design (which it shares with the new Power Mac 7200). As with the 8500, the Power Mac 7500 offers three PCI expansion slots, an Apple quad-speed CD-ROM drive, a Fast SCSI internal SCSI bus capable of up to 10 MB per second (the external SCSI handles up to 5 MB/sec), 16 MB of RAM standard, a bay for an internal storage device, and either a 500 MB or 1 GB internal hard disk. The 7500's audio capabilities match the 8500, with phono and mini jack stereo audio input and output at 16 bits and up to 44 kHz sampling rates. The 7500's video hardware is also like the 8500's, with 2 MB of VRAM (expandable to 4 MB), a 64-bit data path to the VRAM, and display support up to 1280 by 1024 pixels.
The 7500's video input capabilities are nearly as impressive, with both composite and S-video input, real-time video playthrough up to 640 by 480 pixels (NTSC) or 768 by 576 (PAL and SECAM), and 24-bit 320 by 240 (quarter-screen) video capture at 15 frames per second with NTSC. What's missing in comparison to the 8500 is video output capability; although the 7500 comes with an internal DAV connector to plug in video compression/decompression boards, the video capability in the 7500 is aimed more toward video conferencing and basic capture than toward production and high-end output. The Power Mac 7500 ships with the same software bundle as the 8500.
One welcome feature in the new 7000-series Power Macs is inside the box: the chassis where the internal hard disk, CD-ROM, floppy drive, and power supply are mounted is hinged, so the entire chassis can unsnapped and swung upward without disconnecting any of the components. (One of the plastic chassis connectors even functions as a "kickstand" which prevents the unit from becoming unbalanced and toppling over.) This allows easy access to the VRAM, 8 DIMM slots, PCI expansion slots (which have their own swing-out vents) and the CPU daughterboard. Getting memory and other components in and out of the new 7000-series case should be a breeze, especially compared to the much more awkward 8500 and 9500.
The Power Mac 7500 has a replaceable CPU daughterboard, and Apple is already saying the machine will be upgradable to a PowerPC 604 processor. The unit also has space for an optional 256K to 1 MB of level 2 cache, so there are a variety of options for wrenching more performance out of the machine.
Power Macintosh 7200 -- The Power Mac 7200 rounds out the lower end of Apple's new Power Macintosh offerings, and is available in two configurations surround a 75 MHz or 90 MHz PowerPC 601 processor. It shares its external case with the Power Mac 7500, along with its quad-speed CD-ROM drive and decent video display capabilities (although it comes with only 1 MB of VRAM standard). However, the Power Mac 7200 features neither video capture nor video output, so video conferencing or QuickTime authoring are trickier propositions requiring PCI peripherals. The 7200 does come with three PCI expansion slots, but it also has a slower SCSI bus than the 8500 or 7500 (up to 5 MB/sec internal or external), only 4 DIMM slots and 8 MB of RAM standard, and an optional level 2 cache that can be increased to 512K. Apple has no planned CPU upgrade for the 7200 (although Apple does promise an upgrade - probably an expensive one - to a 7500).
But don't knock the 7200 too hard: it wasn't so long ago when Mac users would have been very happy to see a machine like this, and with a suggested price starting at $1,700 (75 MHz model) to $1,900 (90 MHz model), the 7200 should have a healthy life with same sort of customers who currently are considering Power Mac 6100s. The 7200 should prove a capable machine for home, small business, and education users, who need PowerPC capability at a decent price.
The "Promise" of PCI -- Apple's new Power Macs deliver on the technology introduced earlier in the Power Mac 9500, and take Apple further toward being a RISC-based platform using industry-standard PCI components. At MacWorld Expo in Boston this week, Apple will be waving around impressive lists of manufacturers who have committed to ship (or are shipping) PCI cards for Power Macs. However, the long-term proof of PCI on the Macintosh remains to be seen. In the Windows world - where PCI has been an option for some time - software drivers are the fly in the ointment. Vendors and manufacturers are constantly updating drivers and components, resulting in a confusing panoply of versions, updaters, and hardware. Although it's true that Apple started its PCI efforts on more solid ground - with a well-defined API for Macintosh drivers, a better hardware standard, and a lot of hand-holding for vendors - it remains to be seen whether these efforts will pay off in the long run. After all, in many cases Apple is dealing with the same vendors who are principal instigators of driver-confusion under Windows. With luck, Apple will be able to work with PCI vendors and maintain the levels of quality and ease-of-installation that Macintosh users have come to expect and which add so much value to the platform. But with only a few months of real-world PCI history behind us, it's just too soon to tell.