Power Macintosh offers lightning speed and a host of questions.
By Steve Oppenheimer
In 1984, the Macintosh 128K burst onto the computing scene. Well, okay, it crept onto the scene. The “computer for the rest of us” was a risky venture that could easily have fizzled. The world was ready for the Mac’s graphical user interface; Apple just needed to explain that fact to the planet’s unsuspecting inhabitants in an evangelical PR campaign. In the decade that followed, all Macs that ever lived were built around a single family of microprocessors, the Motorola 68000 and its descendants.
But no more; the PowerPC chip has been born, and the 680×0 clan appears headed for the spare-parts bin. The product of a once-unthinkable alliance between Motorola, Apple, and IBM, the PowerPC family of high-speed microprocessor chips will be the brain of most Apple and IBM personal computers in the future.
Apple, for one, is putting all its high-tech eggs in the PowerPC basket. In the midst of another evangelical PR campaign, the company is moving quickly to phase out most of its high- and mid-level 680×0-based Macs and almost certainly will phase out the rest of them in the next year or two. The Quadra AVs, 610, 650, and 800, will almost certainly be history in the near future.
Of particular interest to musicians, the blazing speed of the PowerPC makes the new computers capable of recording and playing 16-bit digital audio without using a DSP coprocessor. As we’ll see later, however, there appear to be several “ifs” and “buts” to this capability.
The PowerPC chip is not simply a faster conventional microprocessor; it has a completely different architecture than the chips used in previous desktop computers. The Intel 80×86 and Motorola 680×0 chips that provide the brain power for Ataris, Amigas, PC-compatibles, and pre-PowerPC Macintoshes are Complex Instruction Set Computing (CISC) chips. These chips contain a wide variety of instructions that enable the computer to carry out its functions. The much-ballyhooed Intel Pentium is a very fast, highly integrated CISC chip. In that sense, it is a further development of current desktop-computing technology.
Motorola, Apple, and IBM believe that CISC technology has almost reached its performance peak. (Motorola is working on a 68060, however, and DayStar Digital will offer current Mac users a series of accelerators based on it.) Apple sources state that further integration of CISC chips will increase the size and heat output of the chip but provide only a minimal gain in speed. Instead of continuing down the CISC path, the partners decided to tap the power of an alternative chip architecture, Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC).
The main difference between CISC and RISC is that instead of the wide variety of instructions contained in a CISC chip, a RISC: chip only contains the instructions used most often. However, it can execute these basic instructions extremely quickly. When complex instructions are required, the RISC chip builds them by combining sets of basic instructions. This means that most operations are handled far more rapidly in RISC than in CISC. (The hardware details of Power PC RISC chips were discussed in the March 1994 “Tech Page.”)
RISC chips of various types have been around a long time, powering various primarily UNIX-based, systems such as engineering workstations, high-end graphics machines, and large, commercial database servers. However, this constitutes a relatively small volume of expensive chips. Until the development of PowerPC, nobody marketed an affordable RISC chip that could run familiar operating systems such as Microsoft DOS and Windows and Apple System 7. In contrast, Motorola, Apple, and IBM are developing a full line of PowerPC chips and products for desktop computers, network servers, portables, workstations, and even consumer electronics.
Welcome To Power Mac
Apples line of PowerPC machines are the first to reach the market. Dubbed Power Macintosh, Apple’s new machines began shipping in quantity on March 14 of this year. These computers are still Macintoshes: they run System 7 (v.7.1.2), work with Mac peripherals, and are expected to run the overwhelming majority of 68040-compatible and System 7-compatible applications. (For details on the first three Power Macintosh models, see sidebar “The Power Macs That Be.”)
In addition, UNIX fans should be able to run Power Open, a replacement for A/UX, sometime later this year. A Power Mac version of the Taligent operating system is also in the works. To top it off, Insignia Solutions is offering Soft Windows, which lets you run DOS and Windows applications on a Power Mac (see sidebar “Power Windows”). (IBM’s as-yet-unreleased PowerPC computers also are expected to run several operating systems, with the primary focus on Windows NT and OS/2.)
The first three Power Macintoshes off the line use the first-generation, 32-bit PowerPC 601 chip and replace the mid- to high-end Quadras. Early next year, the 601 chip will be joined by the low-power, low-heat PowerPC 603. The 32-bit 603, which is already in production, is a tad slower than the 601, so it probably won’t obsolete the current crop of 601-based machines. Unlike the older chip, however, the 603 offers four software-controllable power-saving modes, including a dynamic mode that automatically puts inactive areas of the microprocessor in a low-power state. This makes it Apple’s choice for portables, as well as LCs and Performas.
By late 1995 or early 1996, Apple expects to ship Power Macs that use the PowerPC 604 chip. This supposedly will be the leader of the 32-bit pack, but not much else has been revealed. The final PowerPC chip announced for Apple computers (so far) is the 620, a completely 64-bit design due sometime in 1996. All we have been told is that the 620 will offer super-fast multiprocessing for big-time workstations and supercomputers. By the way, Motorola also is developing market-specific PowerPC chips for consumer electronics, computer peripherals, and assorted control and communications applications.
One minor drag is that System 7 still uses cooperative multitasking instead of the preemptive multitasking offered in the Commodore Amiga. This means that although applications can run in the background, there will still be times when one operation takes over your Mac, and you have to wait to switch programs. Apple apparently is considering changing to preemptive multitasking someday-it’s an operating system issue, not a hardware limitation-but it is a low priority at the moment. Besides, it could open a can of worms for developers.
Dancing Madly Backward
Fast hardware notwithstanding, many potential Power Mac customers will remain on the fence until two issues are resolved. First, Apple’s claims of excellent backward compatibility (i.e., emulation of the 680×0 instruction set) must be confirmed in real-world use. Next, programs must be written specifically for the Power Mac to achieve the smoking-fast performance Apple promises.
A certain amount of compatibility problems are inevitable when a major hardware or operating system changes: many Macintosh users had problems switching to System 7, the 68040 CPUs, and the PowerBooks. PC folks had to go through hard times with Windows, despite Intel’s and Microsoft’s attention to compatibility issues. And don’t even ask an Atari ST user about the problems encountered when upgrading to the Mega. Apple warns us to expect problems with as much as ten percent of existing programs, which is pretty good.
Apple’s confidence in the Power Mac’s backward compatibility is rooted in the fact that the new computers have the 68LC040 instruction set stored in ROM. To a pre-Power Mac program, a Power Mac looks a 68040. A Mix Mode Manager lets 680×0 code and PowerPC code run at the same time.
Also, the Power Macs operate under System 7.1.2, which is call-for-call compatible with System 7.1. In theory, anything that is 68040-compatible and System 7.1-compatible should run fine.
Putting theory aside, I asked former EM editor Bob O’Donnell to share the results of his hands-on Power Mac testing. In his current position as Macweek magazine’s executive editor for reviews, O’Donnell tested several music applications on a prerelease Power Macintosh and reported no problems with Digidesign’s Audiomedia II hard-disk recording hardware and Sound Designer II. Opcode’s Studio Vision 1.44 contentedly handled digital audio and MIDI together, though with multiple windows open and an extreme zoom setting, it started to slow down. This would also be the case on a Quadra, though, so it can’t really be considered a problem.
Passport’s Alchemy sample-editor required more memory than expected but then ran well. However, Macweek‘s Power Mac spontaneously rebooted whenever O’Donnell tried to launch Opcode’s Galaxy 1.22. He attributes this to a conflict between the Power Mac’s new floppy-disk handler and version 1.2.2’s older copy-protection scheme. Galaxy 1.2.5 and Vision 2.0 have a new copy-protection method and ran with no problem. Eight-channel MIDI files played back correctly through both serial ports.
So far, then, Apple’s confidence in Power Mac’s 68040 emulation seems well placed with regard to some popular, bellwether music programs. How fast programs will run under emulation is open to debate. Apple says that depending on how the application is written, you can expect anything from fast 68030 speed (i.e., a Ilci) to fast 68040 speed. Every other company I contacted said to expect emulation to run between IIci and Quadra 700 speed.
You would think that in order to take full advantage of the PowerPC’s capabilities, software must be written specifically to run on the Power Mac, i.e., written in native code. Not all programs will achieve the same degree of acceleration when ported to native code, though.
The vast majority of common applications use integer math, which is the type of calculation carried out by the computer’s CPU. Word-processors, telecommunications programs, spreadsheets, and system operations such as screen redraws rely on integer math. Many digital-audio programs, such as those from Digidesign, depend on DSP cards to process audio. They mostly use the main CPU for the user interface and system calls, which require integer math.
Accelerating integer calculations can speed up applications significantly. Apple says that ten percent of main processor routines-especially applications that heavily use the Macintosh operating system and Toolbox-account for 90 percent of the processor time. By accelerating these system routines, most OS-dependent applications should get a significant speed boost.
To this end, System 7.1.2 includes native versions of PC Exchange 1.0.4, AppleScript 1.1, and (attention multimedia authors!) QuickTime 1.6.2. The new QuickTime should be much smoother, with better resolution and larger windows. In System 7.5, now in beta and due this summer, PowerTalk and, more important, QuickDraw GX, will be native code. QuickDraw is responsible for drawing the screen; any Mac user will immediately appreciate the relief of much faster redraws.
However, most software that requires large amounts of high-speed calculations generally relies on floating-point math. High on this list are graphics programs, especially for CAD and graphic design. The floating-point unit is a separate math coprocessor chip in early 680×0-based machines, but in the 68040 machine, it is an integral part of the main CPU. (A less-expensive version of the 68040 without the integrated floating-point unit-the 68LC040-also is available.) In contrast the floating-point unit not only is an integral part of the PowerPC chip, it is an essential source of its long-term performance potential.
Apple says that for native applications, Power Mac integer operations should be two to four times faster than a Quadra 950 and floating-point operations as much as ten times faster. Therefore, while most programs for Power Mac will initially be simple ports, second-generation software will probably make use of floating-point math for as many jobs as possible to gain maximum use of the PowerPC chip.
Presumably, at this point we’ll start seeing products with features that simply are not possible with the 68040 Macs. Right now, the music-software vendors, at least, probably haven’t had time to consider the possibilities beyond porting their existing products. Besides, as we’ll see, fancy digital-audio tricks might be done better with third-party DSP cards than on the PowerPC CPU. But it seems likely that faster multimedia operations means smoother, more responsive interactivity.
Unsurprisingly, you will need more memory for native-code software. Apple recommends you add at least 4 MB to your current RAM to account for larger applications. Power Macs ship with 8 MB soldered on the motherboard, though, so you have a head start.
Not So Fast, Buster!
Some kinds of programs, including MIDI applications, have real-time operations that won’t necessarily benefit from being written in native PowerPC code. This is true because at this juncture, System 7.1.2 itself is not entirely native. (Presumably, this was done to ensure backward compatibility with existing software.) In particular, the interrupt handler-the code that tells the processor when to stop what it’s doing and deal with a higher-priority task-uses the 68LC040 emulator. Whenever there’s an interrupt, the PowerPC switches to emulation mode, which takes time; when the priority job is done, the CPU goes back to native mode. This is a system operation, so it occurs regardless of whether the application itself is native.
Operations that call be done in the background without interrupting the processor-such as screen redraws or printing-don’t force the processor into emulation mode and can be accelerated dramatically in native code. However, real-time operations, such as reading and writing MIDI bytes, have to be handled immediately, requiring the processor to interrupt its other work, The time required to switch to and from emulation mode to handle the interrupts could mean you wont see it lot of real-time performance improvements from native MIDI programs.
If the MIDI application uses emulation mode all the time, however, there is no switching. Therefore it might be better for real-time music applications to be written in mixed code, with 680×0 code for time-sensitive operations and native code for printing, redraws, and user-interface operations. The music-software companies will have to experiment with several approaches before deciding which solution works best.
The First Natives
Developers of business, graphics, and other general-interest programs are moving rapidly toward native-code versions. Apple recommends developers use a fat binary solution that provides both 680×0 and PowerPC code. A “smart” installer checks with the Mac CPU and installs native code for a Power Mac and 680×0 code for earlier Macs.
Software powerhouses such as Microsoft, Symantec, Claris, Adobe, Aldus, and Quark hope to offer native versions of some top programs either on, or within 90 days of, Apple’s March 11 Power Macintosh ship date. However, many popular software applications won’t go native until later this year.
Many of the larger music and multimedia software vendors hope to go native sometime this fall. Macromedia and Passport will port their multimedia authoring software later this year. Emagic has announced that they will port Logic Audio this fall, while Opcode and Mark of the Unicorn are testing the waters. However, many digital-audio sequencers rely on Digidesign Audio Engine (DAE) software to address Digidesign’s audio DSP hardware. Digidesign is porting DAE to PowerPC before porting its other programs, while dependent software developers adjust their schedules.
Because PowerPC was derived from IBM’s Performance Optimized with Enhanced RISC (POWER) architecture, used in the IBM RS/6000 workstations, software-development tools such as debuggers and compilers were supposed to already exist, though they needed to be optimized for the new chip. Theoretically, software developers should have a much easier tithe porting existing programs and writing new ones for the RISC machines thanks to these tools.
In fact, according to Passport Designs’ Denis Labrecque, a lack of finished development tools is one of the main things slowing Passport’s efforts to port its Producer Professional multimedia production software to native PowerPC code. Labrecque expressed sympathy for tool developers, noting that writing a development language is tough, and debugging a compiler can be torture. He sees this as a short-term problem. Once the development tools ate available, Labrecque expects things to move along quickly.
As mentioned earlier, the Power Mac is capable of recording and playing 16-bit digital audio without using a DSP coprocessor. How will porting digital-audio applications to native code affect existing Mac digital-audio hardware solutions?
Today, Digidesign’s Motorola DSP56000-based NuBus cards (especially Audiomedia II, Sound Tools II, and Pro Tools) are unquestionably the top-of-the-line audio cards for the Mac. Their sound quality is superior to that of the AV Macs and will almost certainly exceed that of Power Macs. The Digidesign card is dedicated to processing digital audio; the PowerPC does that, plus many other functions.
In addition, Digidesign is developing a powerful audio-processing card, called a DSP Farm, that contains multiple DSP chips. The DSP Farms and compatible audio-processing cards communicate by way of Digidesign’s special high-speed Time Domain Multiplexing (TDM) bus. (For more on TDM, see “Virtual Effects” in the March 1991 EM.) Some of this is relatively new technology, but clearly Digidesign audio cards will remain a standard among professionals.
Digidesign hardware is not the only digital-audio solution, of course. Media Vision offers an inexpensive card, the Pro Audio Spectrum 16 (reviewed in the April 1994 EM). But it lacks pro-quality software support, and its audio quality is not acceptable for serious recordists. It’s okay for adding budget 16-bit sound to existing Macs, but unless Media Vision makes some major upgrades, the PAS 16 card will not tempt Power Mac users.
Several digital-audio programs support Apple Real-Time Architecture (ARTA) compatible DSP systems, such as the AT&T DSP3210 chip used in the Quadra AVs and in Spectral Innovations’ NuMedia NuBus DSP card. Assuming comparable sound quality, if Power Macs are fast enough to perform audio DSP functions while maintaining the system and other applications, will the DSP3210-based cards die their infancy?
It’s a fair question. Apparently, one problem with using the AT&T coprocessor is that the chip shares the main bus with the CPU, causing bottlenecks when the two vie for bus access. With the PowerPC chip handling both tasks, this isn’t a problem. On the other side, the limits of the Power PC CPU’s ability to simultaneously handle audio, other applications, and system software are untested. Apple representatives emphasize that the 601 is not intended to meet the heavy audio-processing needs of a serious studio. True, the AT&T DSP chip also is asked to carry out assorted coprocessor tasks, so it’s not always completely available for audio. But overloading it shouldn’t crash the system.
The Power Mac is new, and it will take time to properly test its digital-audio capabilities. If it really can handle everything asked of it, including audio, without slowing down or crashing, the AT&T solution probably is history. But that’s a big “if.” It seems more likely that a Power Mac with an ARTA-based card or Digidesign Audiomedia II card will prove a better solution for the serious hobbyist and semi-pro, while the higher-end Digidesign cards will serve the pros.
Power Mac and ARTA
At press time, newcomer Alaska Software was just beginning to ship its initial version of DigiTrax, a hard-disk recording program for the AV Macs and Macs with ARTA/AT&T cards. Alaska also is planning a native-code version of DigiTrax, which the company (perhaps optimistically) hopes in release in early fall. Alaska’s projected approach to using ARTA cards on the PowerPC seems logical and probably will be taken by other companies (including OSC when Deck II is ported to PowerPC later this year). Let’s take a quick look at this plan.
Alaska will use a fat binary installer. When the installed application boots, it will look for an ARTA-compatible DSP chip. If the software finds the ARTA DSP chip, it will run the audio on it, using native Power Mac code for the rest of the application (mainly the user interface). If no ARTA chip is present, the applications uses the PowerPC chip to do everything, including audio.
What about running audio on both ARTA and PowerPC for multiple tracks? Synchronization is the big problem here. To understand why, let’s take a brief look at how the AT&T DSP chip and PowerPC chip get their audio timing. The DSP chip processes audio in frames of 240 samples each. As the audio streams in, the DSP’s Direct Memory Access (DMA) section writes the 240-sample frame into a buffer, where the signal is preprocessed and held until the DSP is ready to process it. While the DSP is processing one frame, the DMA is working on the next frame. When the DMA is finished, it sends an interrupt message to the DSP saying that the half it is working on is ready to go. The DSP takes over the prepared frame, while the DMA works on the next 240 samples.
One problem with ARTA’s time-slicing approach is that if you try to overdub on existing audio, monitoring the old and new tracks together, the DSP has to line up the two separate data streams. Inevitably, there’s at least a 5 to 10 ms processing delay, so overdubs aren’t quite in real time. But that’s just for starters.
ARTA includes built-in sync between DSPs, but at an unacceptable price for audio applications. TO sync two DSPs, the slave DSP has to ignore its own DMA interrupts and strictly follow the master DPS chip’s timing. But because the slave is ignoring its DMA, it doesn’t know when the next frame is ready for processing and therefore cannot run smoothly in time with its own incoming audio data stream. Thus, the slave could look for incoming audio at the wrong time, stumble, and miss a frame. A 240-sample frame takes about 5 ms to sample, so if the timing of the interaction between DMA and DSP drifts by one frame, it’s unacceptably noticeable.
Apparently, PowerPC chips sync in roughly the same way and pose similar sync problems. Until a way can be found to have a common clock for both processors, it probably won’t be practical to use the two chips simultaneously for multitrack audio.
These issues might not be resolved soon and may prove moot. Apple’s decision not to include a DSP chip on the Power Macs may foreshadow ARTA’s early demise. So far, Apple has not indicated whether it will revive ARTA, replace it with something new, or put the whole issue on the back burner indefinitely.
The Power To Succeed
Assuming you have decided you need some sort of upgrade, the biggest questions pit cost and compatibility against investment in a coming technology. Skepticism is usually justified regarding claims of compatibility with upgraded hardware and operating systems. But because of Power Mac’s hardware-level 68LC040 instruction set, there’s good reason to believe you’ll have few compatibility problems with software that runs cleanly on a Quadra. (That’s not a promise.)
Power Mac will provide an immediate speed boost for some users, and there will be much better performance when native-code programs arrive. Eventually, we’ll see real-time capabilities not possible on a 68040. In addition, if you want to experiment with hard-disk recording but don’t need (or can’t afford) the quality of a Digidesign card, Power Mac gives you an as-yet-undetermined degree of 16-bit audio recording.
Still, I don’t think all Macintosh users should go to Power Mac immediately. (You will eventually.) Most Quadra owners won’t see much improvement with their present software, and the 840AV might even run some programs faster than the Power Mac. If you have a 68040-based machine, or can make do for awhile with your IIci, wait to move to a Power PC until your critical programs go native (which night take as long as a year in some cases). When the time comes, you can decide whether to buy an accelerator (see sidebar ‘Power Upgrades”), a logic-board upgrade, or a new computer.
In addition, the prices on 68040 machines are dropping and will undoubtedly drop some more. If you have anything slower than a IIci, especially a compact Mac (Classic, SE/30, etc.), and are looking for a short-term, low-cost solution, a Quadra or 68040-based LC or Performa should satisfy you for the next year or two, and perhaps longer. (A fast 680×0 accelerator card might even do the trick.) You can always add a PowerPC accelerator later. However, keep in mind that accelerators don’t speed up I/O operations, including accessing SCSI and NuBus, which digital-audio programs use a lot. Thus, for digital-audio applications, you’re better off with a new computer built around a faster CPU.
Given that, if your machine is slower than a Ilci and you can budget $2,000 to $3,000, consider going straight to Power Mac. You won’t get as much speed in the short run as you would with, say, a Quadra 650. But next year, when most major applications are native, you’ll get a big boost for the price of a few software upgrades. If you have a PC-compatible and are considering switching to Mac, you absolutely should go Power Mac, as you call still run DOS and Windows business programs at acceptable speed under Soft Windows.
Maybe I’m past the point of being old and jaded and have reached the senile innocence of second childhood, but I am extremely optimistic and enthusiastic about Power Macintosh. Sure, native applications will take awhile, and 680×0 emulation isn’t as fast as I’d like. And as always, something better will come along later, such as the PowerPC 604 chip. But the 601 offers enough power that the “rest of us” working stiffs on a budget can confidently upgrade to the new generation of desktop computing.
The Power Macs That Be
Apple will start out with three mid- to upper-market Power Macintoshes. The Power Macintosh 6100/60 (CPU only, $1,819) is the entry-level computer, offering a pizza-box design with one 7-inch NuBus slot. The Power Macintosh 7100/66 (CPU only, $2,899) runs about 25% faster than the 6100/60 and could prove extremely popular among electronic musicians on a moderate budget. The first-generation top-of-the-line is the Power Macintosh 8100/80 (CPU only, $4,249). This tower of power is nearly twice as fast as the 6100/60.
All models are available as complete systems (see “The First Power Macs,” below), with color monitor; extended keyboard; 1.44 MB floppy drive; internal hard drive; SCSI; Ethernet; two LocalTalk and GeoPort-compatible serial ports; Apple Desktop Bus input; 1/8-inch, stereo, line-level audio input; 1/8-inch, stereo, line-level, audio output; and 8 MB of RAM soldered to the motherboard. Additional RAM slots accept 70 ns, 72-pin SIMMs, added in pairs. A CD-ROM drive is also available.
Although the 256 KB Level 2 cache is optional ($299) on the 6100/60 and 7100/66, it is highly recommended, as it considerably speeds up many operations by providing the PowerPC 601 chip with immediate access to fast memory for storing most-used commands. The 8100/80’s standard 256 KB cache can be expanded to 512 KB.
In addition, all three models are available in AV versions. However, unlike the Centris/Quadra 660AV and 84OAV, the AV Power Macs do not include a DSP chip; the designation refers to video I/O. The AV Power Macs offer NTSC and PAL video I/O and SECAM video in. An S-video I/O interface is provided, with composite (RCA) adapters. Video-in capabilities include a resizable window and frame and video capture. If you buy a non-AV Power Mac and later want to add video I/O, an AV NuBus card is available for $200 to $300. —SO
Logic-board upgrades include System 7.1.2, 8MB of DRAM, and the same interfaces, audio, and video support as the Power Mac model. DRAM for the upgraded system must be 72-pin, 80 ns or faster, installed in pairs. List prices: $999 for an upgrade to the 6100/60, $1,499 to the 7100/66, and $1,899 to the 8100/80. The AV logic-board upgrades cost an additional $100 to $400, depending on the model, and include the video I/O ports.
Apple’s user-installable, PDS-slot upgrade cards range in speed from 50 MHz to 66 MHz, essentially twice the clock speed of the motherboard (e.g., 66 MHz with a Quadra 650). They include 1 MB of SRAM (cache) and use the host computer’s DRAM. They also use the host’s ports, so the Power Mac AV video technologies are not supported. A Control Panel lets you boot from the host 68040 or the PowerPC 601. The PDS upgrades are a bargain, listing at $700.
In addition, Daystar Digital, a long-time leading accelerator manufacturer, is initially offering two Power Mac PDS accelerators. These PowerPro 601 accelerators are available in 66 MHz (est. $1,500) and 80 MHz (est. $2,000) versions. They can go in any Mac with an in-line PDS and NuBus slot, including the Centris 650 and Quadra 650, 700, 800, 900, and 950. Support for the Ilci and other Mac platforms are expected by midyear. Daystar will also offer upgrades from its Turbo 040/040i accelerators.
The PowerPro 601 uses Apple ROMs and PowerPC 601 chips but offers higher performance than Apple’s PDS card. Unlike Apple, Daystar uses an asynchronous design, so its card runs at full speed in any compatible machine, rather than running at twice the host processor’s speed. It has four 72-pin SIMM sockets, providing 128 MB of memory that works in addition to the host machine’s memory. The PowerPro’s data path is 64 bits, whereas the Apple card is 32 bits. Applications take advantage of this by loading into the accelerator’s memory until it is filled, then using the host machine’s RAM. A 1 MB static RAM cache, with the same specifications as Apple’s, also is available (est. $500). A Control Panel lets you boot from the PowerPro 601 or the host CPU.
Sometime in the second quarter of 1994, Daystar also will offer the nPOWER, a PowerPC 601 coprocessor card for multiprocessing applications. However, it is too soon to ascertain whether a PowerPC 601 coprocessor would offer significant advantages over a DSP coprocessor for running music software. Right now, the Motorola and AT&T DSP solutions still look good. —SO
One of the long-standing (and overblown) arguments in the computer world pits Mac users against Windows aficionados. We’re not quite to the point where everyone can quit fighting, but we’re getting closer.
Insignia Solutions has a line of programs that let you run DOS (Soft PC Professional) or Windows (Soft PC with Windows) on a Mac. Unfortunately, even if you have a fast 68030- or 68040-based Mac, it can’t exceed 25 MHz 80386SX performance when running applications in Insignia’s environment. PC MIDI applications have never been tested.
With Power Macintosh, some of this, at least, is changing. Insignia Solutions licensed the Windows source code from Microsoft and also struck a deal with Apple. The result is that under Insignia’s Soft Windows, Windows 3.1 applications run on a Power Mac 7100/66 as fast as on a 25 MHz 80486SX. When Windows 4.0 comes out, Insignia will have the source code to emulate that, too. You can even run System 7 and Soft Windows simultaneously, in separate windows, and transfer data between them via the clipboard. Estimated list price for the program is $499, and at least 16 MB of RAM is required. The company expects to ship when Apple ships the first Power Mac. In fact, Apple will optionally bundle preinstalled Soft Windows with Power Macs that have 16 MB of RAM or more.
The first version of Soft Windows for Power Mac emulates the 80286, albeit at 80486 speed. Later this year, an 80386/486 emulator is planned that will permit running Windows software in Enhanced mode. PC veterans might notice that hard-drive access is a tad slower, because the Macintosh does more data-integrity checks than a PC when accessing a drive.
Unfortunately, the initial offering won’t support digital-audio recording (e.g., Sound Blaster 16 emulation), though it permits PC system beeps. Digital-audio support is also on the 1994 agenda. Insignia still has not tested their environment with MIDI software, but we’re pressing them, and they have promised full MIDI tests in the near future. By the way, if MIDI works under Soft Windows, it should work under Insignia’s Soft PC programs, too. Stay tuned.
Overall, I got the impression that Insignia is not hip to the relatively small music-software market. But even without MIDI and audio support, Soft Windows lets the Power Mac user run specialized nonmusic programs from the PC world.