Oct 23, 2003

iBook G4 Lacks Velocity Engine?

It appears that Apple's new iBook G4 lacks a Velocity Engine, and may not be using what we've known as a G4 processor at all. The iBook G4 tech specs fail to mention the Velocity Engine at all in stark contrast to all of Apple's other G4-class products. This comes to the chagrin of many users who expect a G4-labeled system, using what Apple calls a G4 processor, to include AltiVec technology.

Prospective Apple customer Daryl Stimm wrote that after having talked to a sales rep at 1-800-MY-APPLE, who claimed that the iBook G4 does not include the Velocity Engine. Furthermore the sales rep also stated that the G4 processor in the iBook is not a Motorola product at all, but instead an IBM chip.

Adding to the strength of the claim is the fact that the PowerPC 970—used in Apple's Power Mac G5—is the only IBM processor to include AltiVec. We can be quite sure that Apple hasn't slipped a 970 into the iBook under our noses. There have been rumors of a G3 that will include the Velocity Engine, but even the IBM's latest, the PowerPC 750GX, doesn't have AltiVec and won't ship until later this year.

I called 1-800-MY-APPLE and spoke to Josh, who couldn't find anyone at that time of night (1:00 AM EST) to answer my query about AltiVec in the iBook G4. He noted that several people had also asked the same question, and agreed with me when I suggested that it was odd for Apple not to trumpet AltiVec, let alone fail to mention it at all.

Where does this leave us? Still wondering about the new iBook until Apple posts detailed developer notes or someone from Apple confirms or denies suspicions. While we wait for new developments, there are a few important points to keep in mind.

One fact to consider is that names like G3, G4, and G5 are Apple labels only. For instance, the G3 has seen three revisions of the PowerPC 750, and the G4 includes several different chips from Motorola's 7400 line. Also keep in mind that while Apple has heretofore dubbed their systems after the CPU used in them, there has never been a hard and fast rule about it. Perhaps we are seeing a new flexibility in Apple's naming conventions?

Perhaps the chip in question is a PowerPC 750FX, or a Motorola G4 manufactured by IBM without its Velocity Engine, or just an older Motorola G4 and a confused phone rep. At this point in time, while Apple moves away from Motorola, it seems to make little sense that they prolong dependency on the company. IBM has also been Apple's sole supplier of G3 chips for the last several years. Until there is confirmation of an actual processor model number the mystery remains open. The issue will not truly be resolved, however, until Apple's customers are satisfied and informed.

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