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Rumors of G4 PowerBooks

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OPINION OCTOBER 4, 2000
Road Hog:
Separating the Hogs from the Sheep
[Page 2 of 3]

Rumors of G4 PowerBooks
I normally don't bother with rumors, most of which sound perilously close to bleating most of the time, but some pretty interesting tidbits are starting to rise above the din.

Motorola announced last week the second of its fourth- generation G4 PowerPC(TM) chips, the MPC7410. Their press release was mostly yammering on and on about embedded microproccessors, for things like high speed networks and really fancy toaster ovens—okay, mostly high-speed networks—but there was some actual news buried in there.

The good news is that these chips are smaller, use less juice and run cooler, which makes it sound like we really might not be dreaming to hope for a G4 PowerBook to be introduced in January. The lousy news is that the new chips run at speeds of 400 MHz, 450 MHz and 500 MHz—that's right, the same speed the current chips run at.

It's not as bad as it sounds for Hogs like us, since the raw speed of G4 chips is theoretically five times faster than G3 chips of the same clock speed that we have in our laptops now. But since the theoretical raw speed of the new G4 chips is 6.4 Gigabits per second, and the top clock speed is only 500 MHz, well, I'll let you do the math of what that really means. Which is to say, I'm not going to do it for you.

Here's where things start to get really interesting, though. The smaller, cooler, less consumptive chips offer Apple a lot more flexibility in architecture. In addition to the four- and six-processor desktop machines that you might have expected to be coming soon, the MPC7410 could mean dual processor PowerBooks coming out of the gate in January.

The fact is that it need not stop there, not by a long shot. If you were bold enough to wander over to the Pocket Protector Pavillion at New York's MacWorld Expo this summer to see what the hard core nerds were up to (and yes, I am a pencil-necked geek myself), you might have seen the handiwork of Black Lab Linux. These party animals offer the ability to connect a half dozen to more than 1,000 Apple G4s in parallel. Yes, one thousand G4s in parallel.

At MacWorld, Marathon Computer provided a rack-mount frame and accessories to mount the eight-node system, which included a PCI card, some switches ... and an AirPort card. They had that bad boy running wireless to a PowerBook!

Black Lab and their colleagues at Yellow Dog have gathered a pretty serious client list already, including General Dynamics, MIT, Smithsonian, NASA, JPL, Northrop Grumman, Sandia, Lawrence Livermore Labs and the Jim Henson Muppet Factory (had to throw them in since this is Creative Mac).

So at least as of this summer, the answer to how many G4s can dance on the head of a PowerBook was up to 1,000. Parking two on the motherboard doesn't sound like as big a deal now, does it? It'll cost less and be easier to carry configured like that, though.

But I'll tell you the rumor that really caught my ear: that the design of the new PowerBooks will follow the lead of the new Apple mouse. I don't know how I feel about that, since, other than its remarkable ability to track smoothly across my boss's head, I really have no particular use for the thing.

Still, rumors are fun if you take them for what they are, and, I have to admit, these are all a gas.

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