--Alan Zisman

Intel's Celeron and Apple's iMac vie for a slice

of the growing low-cost computer market

A few weeks ago, I briefly looked at a couple of new products, both aimed at the growing low-cost computer market: Intel's Celeron processor, and Apple's iMac computer.

Reader Art Prufer took issue with my suggestion that potential computer buyers stay away from Celeron-powered units. I'd suggested that because the Celeron lacks a feature known as a Level-2 (L2) cache, its performance left much to be desired, compared to competitively priced processors such as the AMD K6.

Prufer e-mailed me several reviews of the Celeron. While they agreed that for standard business applications, Celeron performed at about the same level as last generation's Pentium-MMX 200 or 233, they suggested that this level of performance is perfectly adequate for most business users. As well, the reviews pointed out that on a number of popular games such as Quake-2 which make limited use of the L2 cache, a Celeron will outperform Pentium-MMX and K6 models.

In addition, they point out that Celeron computers use a Pentium-II-compatible motherboard, enabling buyers to eventually upgrade to a more powerful Pentium-II processor, something that can't be done if they purchase a K6 machine. (The K6 uses motherboards built around the older Pentium-style Socket 7 design.)

The moral, of course, is that there's no piece of advice that's right for everyone. And I'd have to agree: even though the Celeron-powered machines offer slower performance running standard Office suites than their equally low-priced competition, it's probably plenty fast enough for most business users.

As for Apple's iMac, the company's entry into the low-priced market, it looks like nothing else for sale (actually, it won't be for sale until August, more or less) with its one-piece design in a curvaceous, translucent blue case. But with a price of about $1,999, it's not quite competing with the real low-end PC models.

In demoing the machine, Apple's sort-of-chair Steve Jobs suggested that while the competition was offering yesterday's technology, iMac represented tomorrow's. And in many ways, that case could be made: the G3 Power PC processor powering the iMac is fast and powerful, and the styling does look like it belongs in a Jetsons episode.

But while it included Ethernet networking, a modem, a CD-ROM drive, and a PC-style Universal Serial Bus (USB) port, Apple left out many standard features found on virtually all other personal computers. And as a result, I think they've managed to limit the iMac's usefulness -- particularly to those customers upgrading from an older Macintosh model.

If you have a Mac-based small business, you may have several machines connected with the built-in, easy-to-use AppleTalk networking. Want to add an iMac? Sorry, no AppleTalk.

One of the nice things that Macs have over PCs is the ease with which users can plug in an external SCSI drive, bringing their data and programs from one machine to another. Sorry, no SCSI port.

Users may want to upgrade their computer but keep their current printer. Sorry, iMac has no printer port. There's a built-in 33.6 kbs modem, but no mo-dem port to upgrade to 56k.

And I'm writing this column on my notebook. If I wanted to print it out, I'd save it on a floppy disk, walk downstairs to the computer that's connected to the printer, open the file, and print it. But iMac has no floppy drive. In fact, it has no built-in removable storage at all.

There are ways around all of these problems. Upgrade the AppleTalk network to Ethernet (and get a far speedier network). E-mail the file to yourself, so you can get it on the computer where the printer is attached. Wait a while, and buy new printers, new removable storage, new scanners, all using USB.

Intel has already announced that it will produce a Celeron processor with a Level-2 cache for better performance. Maybe Apple will release an iMac model that's a better fit with the computing environments of many of its potential customers.

In that case, both of these products could turn out to be winners.*

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan