Waiting for Motorola

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Since Apple introduced the first Power Mac G4 generation - and the PowerPC MPC7400 processor inside - more than a year ago, Mac users have watched as Pentium and Athlon processor speeds soared to more than 1GHz. So has anything new happened on the PowerPC front during that time?

Not really.

Sure, Apple added a second MPC7400 processor to the dual-processor systems. But under Mac OS 9, most applications - not to mention the OS itself - don't take advantage of that second CPU. Mac OS X will change that, but for the foreseeable future, dual processors won't be of much benefit to the majority of Mac users.

The PowerPC MPC7410, which Motorola announced in September 2000, is little different from its older sibling, except for lower power consumption. It, too, goes no faster than 500MHz.

Still, megahertz aren't everything. The PowerPC G4 generation can still hold its own, computationally speaking, against 1GHz processors from Intel and AMD.

But if PowerPC chips can compete with processors running at twice their speed, why aren't they running at the same speed and offering more than twice the performance?

If Motorola could make faster G4 processors, it almost certainly would. But since those faster chips aren't available, Occam's Razor tells us that Motorola is having problems making them.

Motorola is almost pathologically vague about its future plans. It claims to have a 75XX series in the works (the vaunted, mythical G5), but the company steadfastly refuses to even hint at when it will ship. Add to this IBM's apparent lack of interest in AltiVec - Motorola says IBM has a license to make chips with the performance-boosting technology, but chooses not to - and it looks as if Apple may have painted itself into a corner. By killing the clone business, Apple made itself the only major desktop PowerPC customer. Rarely are single customers enough to keep companies the size of IBM and Motorola interested for long.

The PowerPC is not out of the race yet, but it does lag a bit behind. It's hoped that the G5, whenever it appears, will make up for lost time and will arrive before Intel and AMD have a chance to build a real performance lead.

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