The invasion of the Apple snatchers

Sutherland Lyall looks at the high-speed serial bus Firewire and Umax’s Pulsar series – the new Mac clones – while he despairs at the sluggish pace of the Net

These days Wall Street analysts affect shudders when they hear about breakthrough technologies emanating from Cupertino. What they want is evidence of the company’s dedication to the bottom line and not to Mac-unique, technological points of view which the other 90 per cent of the computer-using world can’t or won’t use.

Such may be Firewire, the high- speed serial bus, which Apple evangelists are making a point of billing as “IEEE 1394/Firewire”, emphasising its adoption by the electrical engineers’ organisation as a universal, rather than an Apple, standard. The company claims that in a couple of years all Apple machines will have Firewire built in on the motherboard.

Sucks to the PC which has opted for the very much slower USB (universal serial bus). Don’t ask me why, it might be simply because Apple was going for Firewire. All this begs the question whether Apple will be building machines at all in two years. One scenario is that Apple, the software house with lots of clone-makers, continues doing the hardware stuff to its heart’s content.

The clone-makers are active in the US. There is Power Computing’s very successful range of consumer machines which are significantly cheaper than real Macs, and Apple has been showing its own new motherboard for cloners. But it won’t be until 1 July that we get to see some high- end Mac clones – the introduction of Umax’s Pulsar 1500. It’s a 9500 at the price of an 8500 which is around 3200. It, or something very close, is being sold in the US as the S900L at around $4000 which includes a serious graphics accelerator card, so there’s a suspicion that the old dollar-for- pound exchange rate may apply. The UK model has a card-mounted 150MHz 604 with the option of a second processor for extra speed. It has half to one full megabyte of second-level cache, 16Mb of RAM with the option of 1Gb of DIMM, a 2Gb SCSI disk, a six-speed CD-ROM drive, six PCI card slots and a bunch of really good stuff, including System 7.5.3. Like all Macs, and unlike PCs, you have to add your own VDU, accelerator and keyboard, although it does come with a mouse. There are three virtues about the machine, says Graham Mulcock of distributor IMC Computer – the dual processor, which means fast, an optional ultra/wide SCSI 3 card, allowing very fast communication with peripherals, and the PCI bridge chip which enables one PCI device to talk to another, or to the main memory, without having to go through the main processor. According to US reports, it comes with the same performance as a 9500.

Later this year, it will be followed by a general office Umax clone, followed by a very cheap clone. The machine comes ultimately via Radius, which had to sell its clone licence to Umax earlier this year.

The Pulsar 1500 looks like being a nice, sensibly priced platform for graphics, video and multi-media designers, and we expect to be giving it a serious going over in an office environment. In the meantime, ring IMC Computer for more details on 01344 872 800 and check out the full spec on www.imcnet.com/imc/ucd.

Speeding up the Net

Everything Internet is reaching fever pitch. You’ll know about Macromedia’s Shockwave, which allows you to download whole chunks of stuff and watch

Director-animated multimedia. The trouble is, it downloads the whole lot as one big file, while you snore quietly in a corner of the screen.

The people at Strata in Utah claim to be able to download selectively – but we haven’t seen this happen yet in the office. And now there’s Adobe, with its “universal” Acrobat file format and a whole range of products, including Bravo, the forthcoming imaging model, Vertigo, the interactive authoring app, PageMill, the html authoring tool and WebPresenter – which claims to provide a seamless environment for Web graphics. And that’s just a few apps intended to make the Net comfortable and seamless.

Despite these and dozens of ingenious apps with similar ambitions, the real issue facing their widespread commercial use is the Net’s speed. It needs to be not just fast, but also reliable. Right now browsers have to call up the Web site they are addressing repeatedly in order to assemble a page of text and pictures. You have to agree that there must be a better way of doing it.

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