A Clone That's An Apple At Its Core

At first glance, the new machine from Power Computing Corp. looks like just another no-name PC clone. But look closer and you'll notice there are two little buttons where the reset switch should be, and the floppy drive has no eject button. Yes, Macintosh clones are here, and an early look suggests their arrival is good news for users.

When IBM clones appeared in the early '80s, they ushered in the era of super-cheap computing. They also introduced incompatibilities that plague the Windows/DOS world to this day. The Mac clones are off to a different start. Apple Computer Inc., which blocked imitators for over a decade by refusing to license its basic operating system, now fully backs the cloning effort as a way to build market share for its software BW--Apr. 24). The Power Computing units use Apple-designed chips, have Apple software loaded in read-only memory, run the Mac OS operating system, and boot up displaying the familiar "happy Mac" icon. For all practical purposes, they're Macs.

FIT AND FINISH. As with PC clones, price is the main attraction. Power Computing's Power 80, without a monitor, sells for $2,599, about $400 less than the street price of a comparable Power Mac 7100/80. They will begin shipping in May, although the machines will be in short supply until midsummer. Both to minimize costs and to avoid direct competition with Apple's established retail channels, Power Computing will stick to direct sales (800 999-7279, or E-mail to info@powercc.com).

Power Computing's clone lacks some of the industrial-design touches for which Apple is famous. The modified PC case is clunky, and the power supply is an off-the-shelf PC unit from Taiwan. Other than that, it shows few signs of cost-cutting efforts. First-quality components, including an Apple keyboard and mouse, are used throughout. The circuit boards, even on the preproduction Power 100 that I used for evaluation, were free of the patches that indicate last-minute repairs. Probably the most significant functional departure from the Mac design is the inclusion of an extra video connection that allows you to hook up a standard PC monitor without an adapter.

Given this high level of compatibility, it's not surprising that in a weekend of putting the Power 100 through its paces, it gave every appearance of being simply a very fast Power Mac. I connected it to AppleTalk and NetWare networks without difficulty. The quad-speed CD-ROM drive did fine with multimedia presentations. Programs that challenge memory and processor power, including Wolfram Research Inc.'s Mathematica and KPT Bryce, performed without a hitch. The Power 100, with its 100-megahertz PowerPC 601, 16 megabytes of memory, and high-performance video system, is designed to compete with Apple's top-of-the-line Power Mac 8100/100. Predictably, it knocked the socks off my Power Mac 6100/60.

The initial Power Computing models compete with the top of the Apple line. Future offerings will go up against low-end Power Macs, the 6100 and Performa series. And like the clonemakers of a decade ago, Power Computing isn't content just to imitate: "Later this year, we'll start to add features that are unique to our own boxes," says Bob LeVitus, director of evangelism.

That could be a mixed blessing for consumers. Competition and larger market share could bring users better, cheaper machines. But it could also destroy the Apple-enforced consistency and uniformity that have long made using Macs such a pleasure.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.