Road To Expo: System Hardware

There's not always a lot of activity at the circuit card and silicon level, but, with all those pretty iMacs selling like hotcakes, loads of manufacturers are taking a look at the Mac market. Some of the largest companies that develop for the PC are looking at porting over their hardware products. Whether its USB, FireWire, or PCI, if it can be connected to a Mac the chances are that someone is trying to connect it.

Creative Labs, the makers of the successful SoundBlaster line of PC audio cards, will be at Macworld Expo. The company has announced that it is bringing the SoundBlaster Live PCI audio card to the Mac. These cards support 3D surround sound (for users who have multiple speaker systems that can take advantage of it) and higher-end models have superior digital processing and MIDI support. The high end Platinum SoundBlaster Live retails right now for $199 and there's little reason that the price should go up for Mac users.

Another player that's looking at the Mac market is 3dfx, maker of Voodoo-brand PC graphics cards. 3dfx has had beta versions of Mac-compatible drivers for its PCI and AGP Voodoo3 graphics cards up on their Web site for a few months now (see Macworld Lab's beta test of these cards, " Millennium Voodoo "). Sadly, 3dfx is not on the official list of vendors for the Expo -- but, that's not a guarantee that its presence won't be felt in some form.

Let's face it -- for general Mac hardware, 1999 might as well have been called the Year of USB. Mac users have more mice, trackballs, hard disks, and many, many more peripherals than ever before. Look forward to seeing loads of new, color-coded USB gear at Expo.

Happily, FireWire is beginning to get the respect it deserves -- it's not just for DV cameras anymore. There now are zippy 10GB and larger FireWire drives that are as portable as a cellular phone. Older machines can get on board with new PCI and PCMCIA FireWire cards. Keep an eye open for new products using the fast throughput and easy connectivity that FireWire offers.

Apple is as quiet as they usually are before an Expo. Those guys can really keep secrets! However, Apple did release the Power Mac G4 in 1999, and now the higher-performance "Sawtooth" logic board is standard on all G4s. While many of the Sawtooth's improvements do not translate into immediate performance gains, Apple is remaining farsighted with their technology. Wider bandwidth memory and faster system buses translate into a machine with a longer life span. It's impressive in this age of one-year-old obsolete PCs that today's Macs should remain productive for years.

Speaking of performance gains and aging Macs, Sonnet, Newer, XLR8, Powerlogix, and Phase 5 all recently introduced G4 upgrades for older Macs. All of these companies have upgrades that work in the CPU slot of older Power Macs or in the ZIF socket of newer Power Macs. Remarkably, Sonnet has just released a G4 upgrade for NuBus Power Macs. It's powered by a G4 processor running at a maximum speed of nine times the upgraded machine's bus speed. That means your Power Mac 6100, 7100, or 8100 is still in the game after almost six years!

So, will Apple release any new systems at Macworld Expo? The Internet rumor sites are abuzz with chatter about a new PowerBook coming out. But with the great showman Jobs at the controls, it's impossible to tell what bombshells Apple will drop at the Expo. Stay tuned to Macworld Expo Central for complete coverage of Jobs' keynote -- it's only then that we'll know the truth about how Apple plans to usher in the year 2000.

Go to: Macworld Expo Central
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