May 17
Apple Demonstrates Multiprocessing G4
Machine offers twice the speed of single-proc unit

by Charlie White

A multiprocessor Mac G4 is in the works, and Apple showed it to developers behind closed doors at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) yesterday. In a private "technology demo," a dual-processor G4 was shown running a developer's release of Mac OS X.

According to sources, the multiprocessor machine was compared side by side with a single processor Mac G4, and the dual-processor prototype ran more than twice as fast as the single-processor G4 system. Apple officials wouldn't say when the new machines would be introduced to the public, but the announcement could come as early as this July's Mac Expo in New York.

This won't be the first time Macs have been multiprocessor capable—earlier PowerPC 601- and 604-based machines were able to run up to four processors. Multiprocessors on the Mac have had a questionable history, however. In the Mac clone days, Daystar offered a multiprocessor model called Genesis, sporting four processors under its well built hood. But in extensive testing, it was difficult to see significant improvement in processing speed due to the underlying lack of support from the Mac OS of the mid-'90s.

The next chip to power the Mac, the G3, wasn't capable of multi-proc tricks. But the newer G4 processors do support multiprocessors, even though that ability isn't implemented in current Mac hardware and software designs.

The appearance of multiprocessor Macs is big news, but not unexpected in light of the fact that one of the much-touted features of the forthcoming Mac OS X is its symmetrical multiprocessing capability. And, according to developers, the ability to use both processors is an inherent part of the OS X system, where no extra coding is required for OS X apps to take advantage of the multiprocessing features. However, applications must be made OS X native to enjoy this functionality, a process that many developers characterize as "easy." This significant speed increase could further stimulate developers to quickly convert their applications to the new OS X Carbon architecture.

So when will we see a multi-proc G4, and how much will it cost? Apple hinted that the big Mac was on its way but wouldn't say anything about availability except that it would be available by next year at this time. This hardware release also depends on whether OS X can be delivered on time, a point of speculation after Steve Jobs's recent announcement of a delay in shipment of the new OS. No details about dual-processor machine pricing were revealed.

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