Apple debuts PPC 970 machines

Ahh, it’s a beautiful day. Apple introduced new PowerMac systems based on the IBM PowerPC 970 chip. The leaked specifications were true, but not without a lot of surprises.

The machines now start at 1.6 GHz and the high end system is a dual 2.0 GHz system. The Front-side Bus is the new story - it’s a quad-pumped bus with effective speeds of 800, 900 and 1GHz. This is the most impressive engineering piece, considering it’s the fastest on a desktop PC.

The new main memory is DDR 400 on the midrange and high-end systems, DDR333 on the low-end system. However, Apple’s one major failing is to go with single-channel main memory. One of the key features of the famous Asus A7N8X Deluxe Mobo is that it has two DDR channels, effectively doubling bandwidth. So Apple has essentially introduced a key bottleneck in these new systems, and it’s a big one - Maximum memory bandwidth is effectively halved, and latency is 10% slower.

However, that one flaw aside, today Apple has closed the performance gap with Intel and AMD - important mindshare to a lot of people. And relative to the previous models, these machines are a huge leap in performance.

Also, Apple of course had to introduce a new case for this drastically new machine - personally, this time I say that the case is unimportant. Lots of people think it’s ugly, I like the clean look and departure of see-through plastic, and also love that there are USB and FireWire ports in front. Other than that, the important breakthrough today is that Apple has closed the performance gap with Intel, they are officially “good enough” now.

Lastly, on the hardware front, Ars Technica is reporting that Steve Jobs claims Apple and IBM will be going to 3 GHz some time within 12 months, so that’s encouraging. That, combined with dual-channel DDR RAM, on second-gen hardware, will make a formidable platform.

A couple other interesting tidbits - these new machines ship with up to 9 fans in them, yet Apple claims they run quieter than previous machines which probably had 6 fans or fewer.

The other interesting tidbit - Apple beefed up the real digital hub on these machines by adding Optical Audio I/O ports. Let’s hope the next iteration has Optical Digital I/O as well.

Apple also previewed Panther, the next version of OSX that will ship standard on these new PowerMacs in August - aparently it has the brushed-metal interface all around. One other interesting feature - FileVault, standard hard-drive encryption at 128-bit AES. It isn’t surprising, but it is nice to have.

Apple also introduced iSight, an extremely high quality video camera/speaker solution for videoconferencing that works in conjunction with iChatAV, a new chat app that uses the AIM and ICQ protocols and can now videoconference.

Apple introduced a new Video codec developed in conjunction with Pixar, called “Pixlet”, which features 48 bits per pixel, a maximum resolution of 960x540, and cinema frame rate of 24 frames/second.

And lastly, Safari officially released version 1.0 status today and is available for download.

Some day - other facts: Apple store has now sold 5 million songs, one million iPods have been sold to date.

Overall - it’s a great day. Great to see Apple regain the performance lead. SPECint and fp show these new systems are on par with Pentium Xeon performance.