TV-PGOctober 5, 1999: It's here, it's clear, get used to it: Steve unveils three new iMacs calculated to separate you from your hard-earned cash. Meanwhile, a bizarre ripple in the time-space continuum temporarily transforms the Apple home page into a realm-protected gateway into the mysteries of the unknown, and Motorola is tired of being the megahertz whipping boy, so the next G4 revision is designed to boost clock speed...
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And Silence Is Golden (10/5/99)
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So there weren't any shocker announcements at today's Apple event that took us by surprise; there's no Apple-branded Palm device that doubles as a sphygmomanometer, Apple isn't buying eBay and renaming it iBay, and Steve Jobs isn't resigning his iCEO post to return to his home planet in the galaxy of Andromeda. But are we disappointed? Heck no. You know why not? Because the fact that the new iMacs are official, real, honest-to-goodness products with specs identical to the rumors is enough of a happy surprise to keep us giggly for weeks. Whodathunkit? We were braced for disappointment because the rumors seemed too good to be true, only to find that Apple's new consumer desktops are everything everyone hoped for and more.

After all, what's not to love? First you've got the entry-level model, which improves on the "current" revision D iMacs with better graphics, double the RAM, a slightly faster processor, an improved CD-ROM drive, kick-ass speakers, and Airport wireless networking capability, all for $999-- $200 less than its less-capable predecessor. Then there's the DV model, which ups the ante with a larger hard disk, two FireWire ports, DVD-ROM, and "iMovie" video-editing software, all for just $1299. (To keep things in perspective, remember what $1299 got you in an iMac a year ago.) And last, but definitely not least, is the "special edition" iMac DV, with 128 MB of RAM, a 13 GB hard drive, and a Graphite case whose sheer beauty could make the blind see again. Believe us; any computer that can be featured in a commercial shown on Buffy/Angel premiere night and whose looks can hold their own with the likes of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, and Charisma Carpenter is a computer that's forever welcome into our home. If you haven't basked in the glow of the new iMacs, you will definitely want to download the QuickTime versions of the three new commercials.

But with the flashy specs and the kicky new look, it's easy to get distracted from the real heart of the iMac 2.0: the goofy details. And the goofiest of the goofy is the fact that Steve Jobs has pulled it off again; the new iMacs have no fans. Jobs' dislike for fans in computer equipment is a thing of legend; we figure he must have been involved in some kind of fan-based trauma as a child or something. He thinks that computers should only make noise when you tell them to, and we can respect that. Aren't we lucky, then, that the G3 is so power-efficient that all Apple had to do to remove the fan from the iMac's design was punch a few more holes in the case? The only noise that emanates from the new iMacs is the sound of their hard disks and CD/DVD drives; by contrast, our it-has-three-fans-'cause-it's-MANLY PowerTower Pro is audible from two rooms away with the door closed; with the door open, it sounds like the next-door neighbors have their own private wind tunnel. So yeah, of course we're tempted to replace this deafening thing with a nice, quiet iMac, or even a G4-- we hear those are darned quiet, too, even with a fan. Now if Steve can just figure out some way to make hard disks silent, too, he'll have our gratitude forever...


 
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Just Out Of Reach (10/5/99)
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We had about as much luck tuning into the live QuickTime webcast of today's festivities as we did trying to figure out why the chihuahua and those cops want that guy to drop the Chalupa-- in short, none. Well, okay, we were slightly more successful than that; we went and grabbed a stream nice and early, about forty minutes before the show, and patiently watched the test pattern and the "coming up next" caption. Once the music started to play, we noticed the audio was decidedly choppy, and it got progressively worse the closer it got to showtime. And then, five minutes before the whole thing was scheduled to start, the entire system came crashing down hard. Of course, by the time we restarted, Apple's servers were so overloaded we couldn't even load the word "event," let alone an actual video stream of the real thing. And we kept trying for an hour and a half.

So, since Apple apparently decided to stream the video from an old Performa 475 they pulled out of the back of a closet or something, we at AtAT were relegated to the time-honored fallback of scrounging for third-hand knowledge posted elsewhere on the 'net. We found bits and pieces here and there, most notably at O'Grady's PowerPage and the XClave. But lots of the stuff posted was vague, or confusing, or contradictory, and so by about 3 PM EDT we decided it might be late enough for Apple to have posted info at their web site about all the new goodies. But what did we find when we tried to load <http://www.apple.com/>? A realm authentication box, requesting a username and password for "The Secret."

That's right, "The Secret." Don't believe us? That's why we grabbed a screenshot. Unfortunately, our attempts to gain access via brute-force guesswork and sheer dumb luck failed utterly, and shortly thereafter, the main Apple page was restored, with a new splash graphic featuring the Graphite curves of the iMac DV Special Edition. So was "The Secret" just a temporary glitch brought on by a newbie webmaster intern? Hardly. Had we been able to guess Steve Jobs' personal login and password (we were sure we'd get in with "RDFdude" and "billgshairisstupid"!) we're quite certain we'd have had access to all kinds of privileged information, like who was on the grassy knoll, which government agencies are wholly controlled by the Freemasons, and what illegal substance UPN was putting in Chris Carter's morning coffee to make the sixth season of The X-Files so relatively lame.

By the way, the event is now available via streamed QuickTime 4 video-on-demand, in case you missed out like us. It probably won't contain any data on the CIA's secret MKUltra mind-control project, but it's full of cool iMac and Mac OS 9 info nonetheless. Now all we need is the actual time to sit down and watch the whole thing... All these black helicopters buzzing our headquarters aren't making things any easier.


 
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MHz Wars: Another Shot (10/5/99)
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Now that there's this incredibly rockin' new iMac, Apple's victory in the battle for consumer market share is all but assured, right? Think again. There's still that little matter of price-performance to consider. Oh, sure, the 350 MHz iMac will likely blow away any Wintel-based system in its $999 price class, but the target market-- the average shmoe-- probably won't know that. Instead, consumers are still going to be looking at just two things when shopping for a home computer: how much it costs, and the raw clock speed of the processor in megahertz. Yes, when it comes to the Megahertz Wars, Apple is still lagging badly behind. Cool translucent case, trayless slot-loading CD-ROM drive, and overall ease of use aside, there are folks out there who are going to walk right past the iMac and pick up a cheapo Celeron-based beige box instead, because they'll get an "extra 150 MHz speed" for their money.

Honestly, we just don't see this getting better anytime soon; until the concept of clock speed as speed rating goes away, uneducated buyers (Apple's target market, remember?) are always going to think iMacs cost more yet run more slowly, no matter how many Bytemarks or Quake 3: Arena frame rates Apple throws at them. That's why it's encouraging that faithful viewer Brian Mita points out an article in The Register describing changes to the PowerPC G4 architecture which are designed to provide higher clock speeds, rather than just cool new vector-processing units and special parallel data-handling pipelines and that kind of thing. Because sometimes it's all about the numbers, and we don't mean the ones on the benchmark sheet. By focusing on cranking up the clock speed instead of just making the overall chip faster, Motorola expects that this modified G4 will hit the ground running at speeds starting at 700 MHz when it appears sometime next year. (Of course, who knows where Intel and AMD will be by then, but we're trying to accentuate the positive, here.)

Not that this necessarily helps the iMac line much, which is probably going to be G3-based for a while. Putting a G4 in the new iMac would almost certainly necessitate the addition of a fan, and we all know Steve doesn't want that. So while in the future Apple may have fewer troubles getting the Power Mac G4 across as the fastest personal computer available, if the iMac stays fanless and G3-based it'll still have to trade on its good looks instead of duking it out at the megahertz level. But that's okay, because its good looks can take it really far...


 
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