These Macs Are Built For Speed

The new G3 processor is fast, all right, but most folks will find better value in PCs

The newest Macintoshes from Apple Computer certainly are quick. Built around a new processor--the Motorola/IBM PowerPC G3, running at speeds up to 266 Megahertz--these Power Macs can match and often beat the speediest Pentium II PCs. Is that reason enough to rush out and get one? For most people, even dedicated Macintosh fans, probably not.

The new machines come in three versions: a desktop model starting at $1,999 for a 233-Mhz computer without monitor, a minitower starting at $2,499, and a 250-Mhz PowerBook laptop at $5,699. And in a new approach designed to bolster sagging Mac sales, all can be ordered directly from Apple on the World Wide Web at

BIG SHOWDOWN. Apple says the features on these new machines "add up to speed, speed, and more speed," and my informal testing backed Apple's claims. I compared a 266-Mhz G3 with a Dell Computer Dimension XPS H266X, both with 32 megabytes of memory. In tests manipulating a big, high-resolution image in Adobe Photoshop 4.0, the Mac took 2 minutes and 48 seconds compared with 4:35 for the Dell. In a number-crunching test in Microsoft Excel, there was a near-tie: 28 seconds for the Dell vs. 31 for the Mac.

For an artist, being able to save a few minutes working on a big Photoshop image may be a big deal. But for most buyers doing spreadsheet or word-processing chores, the issue is more likely to be value. At $1,999, the cheapest of the new Apples costs more than a similarly equipped Dell Dimension XPS with a 266-Mhz Pentium II at $1,812, and a lot more than the same Dell with a slower, but more than adequate, 233- Mhz Pentium MMX at $1,632. Even Apple doesn't expect many Windows users to switch.

The value issue is even more striking in the case of the PowerBook G3. The laptop is far faster than any Windows notebook because Intel does not yet offer a mobile version of the Pentium II chip. But Apple built the G3 using the year-old Macintosh PowerBook 3400 case and it offers only a 12.1-in. display, not the 13.3-in. screen found in many less expensive PC laptops.

The PowerBook offers some nice features, including an excellent keyboard, built-in modem and networking, and the ability to swap the CD-ROM and floppy drives while the computer is running. But it costs $1,500 more than a 233-Mhz Dell Inspiron. And the Inspiron, despite its bigger display, weighs nearly 13 ounces less than the 7.7-pound G3. Even a PowerBook 3400, identical to the G3 except for a slower 240-Mhz PowerPC 603e processor, is no great bargain at $4,499.

STILL WAITING. A Mac professional who needs the fastest possible laptop may be willing to pay the price for the PowerBook G3. The target audience for the fast yet pricey desktop units is more mysterious. Graphics professionals and others in the publishing business, who are Apple's most important customers, will have to wait until a new line of high-end machines comes out early next year to get the machines they need. G3 desktops lack high-performance disk and video systems and have limited expansion capability.

The G3s are far too expensive for schools, Apple's other critical market. And consumer and business customers have been moving to Windows computers in the $1,000 price class. Apple has no competitive products, though Umax offers a couple of PowerPC 603e clones in that range.

In the best Apple tradition, the G3 Macs show off the state of the art in processor technology. However, apart from the new laptops, which appeal to Macintosh users who want speed at any cost, it's hard to know who to recommend these machines for.