Apple unveils lower-priced models

Apple Computer Inc. may be taking its lumps these days, but government Macintosh fans have reasons to rejoice, with the recent introduction of faster, lower-priced models and new additions to Government Technology Services Inc.'s General Services Administration schedule.

The new Apple machines use the latest PowerPC 604 processor, which provides a significant performance advantage over the 601 chip used until now. According to Apple, a computer equipped with a 120 MHz 604 chip will perform about 50 percent faster than one with a 100 MHz 601.

The increased clock speed alone would account for a 20 percent improvement, but the rest is produced by a more efficient chip design.

Power Computing Corp., which makes Mac-compatible systems and whose products GTSI is adding to its GSA schedule, countered Apple's announcement with the introduction of its own PowerPC 604 systems based on chips that operate as fast as 180 MHz.

GTSI said it will be several weeks before the new Power Computing models are added to its schedule but that the company would take orders for the machines in the meantime.

GTSI has a couple of years' experience selling to the Macintosh market, and many ex-Falcon Microsystems Inc. employees now work for GTSI, so the company is in a good position to market both vendors' Macintosh OS-based systems.

Power Computing is casting itself in the role Compaq Computer Corp. played in the early days of the IBM Corp. PC clone market. The company is offering PowerPC models at 166 MHz and 180 MHz, while Apple is content to stick with 120 MHz to150 MHz PowerPC 604 chips for now.

Apple did announce that its customers can expect the new and past products to be upgradable to 200 MHz later.

Power Computing is also chasing the affordable low end of the market, with low-priced, entry-level machines that cost less than $2,000, even with the speedy new 604 chip. But Apple is also cutting prices and has a similarly priced model that comes with a larger hard disk drive (though without a keyboard).

Neither vendor includes a monitor with its computer.

"It is nothing but good news for Macintosh buyers," said Paul Winslow, Mac OS marketing manager for GTSI. "The machines are substantially faster, and the price is lower."

Power Computing divides its product line into two segments; the PowerTower minitower design and the PowerCenter desktop model. The PowerTower comes in 166 MHz and 180 MHz processor speeds and costs $3,795 to $4,195 list price, with a 2G hard disk drive, 16M of RAM, a 512K secondary cache and 2M of video RAM. The PowerCenter comes in 150 MHz and 132 MHz versions that have 16M of RAM, a 1G hard drive, a 256K cache and 1M of video RAM for $2,495 to $2,995.

A pair of 120 MHz versions are the price leaders, at $1,895 to $1,995. Both have 8M of RAM, a 850M hard disk, 256K cache and 1M of video RAM. All models feature a quad-speed CD-ROM drive, three PCI slots, a built-in Ethernet network adapter and video outputs for Macintosh and Super VGA-type displays.

GTSI's GSA schedule prices will be significantly lower, Winslow said, but the exact numbers will not be known until GTSI negotiates a deal with GSA.

Apple uses a 256K cache on its Power Macintosh models, which, except for the entry-level model, are more expensive than similar Power Computing models.

The Power Mac 9500/150 and 8500/150 have 16M of RAM and a 2G hard disk drive for list prices of $4,799 and $4,699. The 8500/132 has a 1.2 G disk drive and costs $3,899. The 120 MHz chip is installed in three models, which range from $1,899 to $2,999, depending on the configuration.

Apple also announced a new Intel Corp. Pentium add-in card that gives Macintoshes the ability to run Windows software at top speed.

Mac loyalists who find a need to run Windows software can opt for a 100 MHz Pentium or 100 MHz 586 chip to run that software. Each is basically a PC on a card, with a processor, an ATI Mach 64 video controller and 8M of RAM on the card for $799 for the 586 and $1,049 for the Pentium.

The GSA schedule pricing for the Apple products is not yet set but should be lower than the list prices.

Apple and Power Computing will target the pockets of Mac users in the government at agencies such as NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the Peace Corps and the Justice Department.

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