SAN FRANCISCO – Reigniting the 20-year debate over the most powerful desktop computer, Apple Computer Inc. on Monday unveiled a next-generation Macintosh with features that up until now have been found only in expensive workstations.
The new Power Mac, which will go on sale in August, is based on the long-awaited G5 microprocessor. Unlike today’s 32-bit Pentium and Athlon chips found in most Microsoft Windows-based computers, the G5 can process data in 64-bit chunks, allowing a computer to more quickly access large amounts of memory.
“This is the world’s fastest personal computer,” chief executive Steve Jobs said as he introduced the Power Mac G5 in a keynote kicking off the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.
A computer’s performance, however, is affected by many factors, and analysts were skeptical of Apple’s bold claim. The benchmark tests that Apple cited “don’t always translate to real-world performance,” said Martin Reynolds, a Gartner Group analyst.
The PowerPC G5, which is made by International Business Machines Corp., is the first 64-bit chip to find its way into a desktop computer rather than a workstation. Companies like IBM, Sun Microsystems Inc. and Intel already sell 64-bit processors targeted at workstations and servers.
The only other 64-bit microprocessor for desktops is Advanced Micro Device’s upcoming Athlon 64, which is expected to debut in September.
Three models of the new Power Mac will be available in August, with prices of $1,999 for a 1.6-gigahertz model, $2,399 for a 1.8-gigahertz model, and $2,999 for a model with dual 2.0-gigahertz microprocessors.
In any case, Apple’s customers — which the Gartner Group says comprise less than 3 percent of the worldwide PC market — will be happy with the company’s products introduced Monday, Reynolds said.
“The real value in the Mac isn’t in the processors, it’s in how the system and the user interface works,” he said.
Dressed in his trademark black mock turtleneck and jeans, Jobs also previewed Monday the next version of its OS X operating system.
A key feature in OS X Version 10.3 will be an audio- and video-capable instant messaging program called iChat AV that Jobs described as “video conferencing for the rest of us.”
“This is going to change the way we communicate with each other,” Jobs said as he demonstrated the program by “video-chatting” with a friend standing within view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Other program features included an instant way to view all open windows and an easier method of switching between the computer profiles of users.
Early beta versions of the OS X, code-named Panther, were released Monday. Final units will be available by the end of the year for $129, the company said.
Building on the company’s strategy to make the personal computer the hub of the digital lifestyle, Apple also introduced a new digital Web camera called iSight. It was available immediately for $149.
More than 4,000 developers were in attendance at the address. The conference runs through Friday.
Apple’s shares fell 14 cents Monday to close at $19.06 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.