Power PC: not ready for you and me?
by Alan Zisman (c)
1994. First published
in Our Computer Player, July 1994
Question: What is it that's fast and cheap, and runs
all your existing
Macintosh and Windows software?
If you answered the new PowerMac, running the first
product of Apple
IBM's alliance, the PowerPC chip, then you've been reading Apple's
Unfortunately, at least for right now, the reality's a
little more complex.
The new PowerMacs are becoming available at a lower
price than Apple
previously priced its high-end Macintosh personal computers (though
out... you'll need to set aside some money for a monitor and a keyboard
top of the advertised price). And they have the potential to be
screamingly fast... when you get all new software, specially rewritten
its PowerPC chip.
While all of the big-name Macintosh software products
released in PowerPC versions, most aren't available yet. But if you've
got a collection of current Mac software, designed for the Motorola
680x0 series of chips, it will run on the new PowerMacs. The catch
that it will run in emulation. That means that the PowerPC chip has
pretend that it's an older 680x0 chip... and that means it will run
slowly than it would in 'native' PowerPC mode.
Kind of like ordering food in a French restaurant if
you have to look
each word in a French-English dictionary. Recent testing suggests that
even the fastest currently available PowerMac runs current generation
Mac software more like a medium-range Mac IIci that like the speed
it could be.
Because of this, when the new generation
of software, compiled for the PowerPC, becomes available, you'll want
to upgrade your entire software collection. Even at discount upgrading
prices, that can cost a bundle.
And the ads like to point out that the PowerMacs can
run DOS and
Windows software too. Well, this has been possible on Macintosh
for a while, in the same way as on the PowerMacs... using Insignia
Software's series of products, Soft PC, Soft AT, and now Soft Windows.
But while it's been possible, it hasn't been desirable. Even the Mac
magazines have pointed out that this capability has been too slow to
of any practical use to anyone.
Because the PowerPC is such a powerful processor, Soft
faster now... it's been estimated that a PowerMac with Soft Windows
be able to run Windows programs at speeds somewhere between a 386-DX40
and a 486SX-25-- that is, while cretainly usable, at the speed of an
entry-level PC costing about $1250 today in
Ironically, some people have suggested that the
PowerMac will run
Windows programs faster than the equivalent current generation of Mac
programs, running both
in emulation. That's because, while the performance of the PowerPC's
numeric co-processor is one of its strengths, it emulates an older-
generation Mac, without a numeric co-processor. Spreadsheets,
graphics, and CAD programs' performance suffers.
But there are a couple more problemsif you want to run
software on your new PowerMac. First, the
machines on sale in the ads with 8 meg ram won't have enough memory
for this... you'
ll need to upgrade them to at least 16 meg. So budget an additional
for Soft Windows and $500 for additional ram) in order to get your
Mac to run your Windows software at the speed of a $1250 clone PC.
be better to simply buy the second PC.
As well, the current version of SoftWindows under runs
Windows in 286-
standard mode... not the preferable 386-enhanced mode. Some programs
rely on enhanced mode, and won't work at all. As well, many device
drivers are missing. Insignia is aware of these problems and promises
that they'll be fixed-- someday.
There are three potential big winners connected to the
there's Apple. The company's been in a bit of a doldrum, lately. Its
last big hope, the Newton Personal Digital Assistant, has hardly made
much of a sales
splash. With the PowerMac, they hope to see a lot of current Mac users
upgrading to the new machines.
Second, there are the software companies. In the past,
many home users
could buy a Mac (or a PC for that matter), and illegally get pirated
software for free from their friends or co-workers. (some estimates
suggest a dollar lost to software piracy for every dollar spent on
legitimate software). But no one has Power Mac software to pirate...
if you want to get software that lets you make
use of your machine's power, you're going to have to be prepared to
gasp!) purchase it.
Finally, there are the people who will really
benefit-- the people in
the graphics and publishing industries, who have been paying too much
for too little power on Macintoshes for years. Instead of paying
for a MacIIFX, as they did would have just a couple of years ago, they
can get a genuinely powerful PowerMac, fully equipped for much less.
But a lot of other people have been waiting hopefully
for the PowerPC
for a year or so, since its advance publicity started coming out. They
include the people who've felt frustrated running Windows on top of
on an Intel CPU, who've felt that Intel's Pentium chip was overpriced,
and that Microsoft's 'next generation' Windows NT operating system
t really have anything to offer them. And most Windows users are Mac
wannabes at heart.
Some time in the future, the PowerPC/Mac combination
may be a realistic
alternative for these computer users. Maybe when there's a critical
of real PowerMac software available. If future generations of
PowerPC equiped Macs outperform future PCs with Intel Pentium and
later CPUs, and at a lower price. But not yet.