Friday, December 31, 2004

New headless Mac at Macworld?

You've probably already heard by now the rumours of a new headless low end Mac to be announced at Macworld 2005 in January. The rumours were first started by Think Secret on Tuesday, and since then several other rumour sites and even much of the mainstream media has joined in the chant. Most agree such a product is likely for Macworld. If true, this would answer the wishes of many a potential switcher: an entry-level headless Mac, priced low enough to almost be an iPod accessory. Think Secret suggests US$499, although the $599 or higher predictions by others seem more realistic.

I would suspect (based partially on Think Secret's article) such a product to have specs such as this in the base model:

1.25 GHz G4 7447A, CPU soldered to motherboard
256 MB DDR333 RAM, expandable to 2 GB
167 MHz bus
Radeon 9200 32 MB (no full CoreImage support)
DVI and VGA support, GPU soldered to motherboard
40 GB hard drive
DVD/CD-RW combo drive (slot-load)
Firewire 400 and USB 2
100 Mbps Ethernet
V.92 modem
Airport Extreme ready
Bluetooth ready

In essence, it would be a current eMac without the CRT display. This would be a major development, as many people want a low priced Mac, without the added cost of the CRT, which for most is unwanted and takes up too much space anyway.

Is 1.25 GHz enough? Yes, for this kind of product. Let me explain.

Since I had not suspected such a product might be released, I went ahead and purchased a Cube, and added a 1.7 GHz 7447A CPU upgrade. This machine is reasonably fast for basic use, and would be 36% faster in terms of clock speed compared to such a G4 1.25 GHz 7447A headless iPodMac... err... Mac. Indeed, the Cube 1.7 feels significantly faster than the 1.25 7455 G4 iMacs I have tried in the past, despite their 167 MHz bus. Most OS slowdowns that I've noticed with a 1 GHz 7455 machine (with 1 MB L3) are gone with my 1.7 GHz Cube. They are not completely gone on the 1.25 GHz iMacs, but overall, those machines are indeed fast enough for most people, for basic use such as surfing and word processing. A 1.5 GHz or faster G4 would be preferred, because the speed difference is still sometimes noticeable in basic use, but the 1.25 GHz 7447A is definitely a nice start for the headless Mac. This is in stark contrast to something like a G4 800, which would feel slow to too many people. Still, one would hope that the speeds can ramp up quickly, both for the headless G4 Mac, and for the G5 Macs too of course.

What does this mean for this eMac? If the low end headless Mac does appear, it's possible the eMac could go to a G5. A G5 1.6 eMac would be a reasonable product, and could be reasonably priced. Either that or it would disappear altogether. I don't expect the headless Mac to go G5 just yet, for reasons of G5 supply and product segmentation, and this would also be a good argument for the expectation of the eMac to disappear, too. Furthermore, the eMac's CRT is becoming less and less desirable even at the low end, and for many people the built-in CRT in the all-in-one eMac design is simply a liability.

Let me go on record to say that I too believe this rumour could be true. Or at least I hope this rumour is true. Even if this makes my updated Cube less valuable, this is a good thing for the Mac platform, and is something that many people have been asking for, for years.

In an ironic twist, the same day Think Secret posted this rumour, PC Magazine's John Dvorak published Grim Macintosh Market Share Forebodes Crisis, which talks about "...Apple's inability to make the Mac a commodity computer" and details why Apple is thus doomed. All I have say is that for the most part, Apple does what it needs to do when it needs to do it. It's no surprise that Apple is one of the few consistently profitable personal computer manufacturers today.

I'm sure that 2005 will bring lots of new and cool products from Apple, and we'll see soon enough if the headless Mac is one of them.