Apple has launched a "whole new generation" of its G4 Power Mac professional desktop systems, with processors running at up to 733MHz. A new high-performance architecture features 133MHz system and memory buses, five slots for increased expandability, and CD-RW drives in all models. In addition, Apple unveiled an industry-first SuperDrive combination CD-RW/DVD-R drive that can read and write DVDs that can be played in consumer DVD players. Prices start at £1,199.

But only one of the new range – the mid-range 533MHz model - features more than one processor, stalling Apple’s drive for multiprocessing systems to take advantage of features of its next-generation operating system Mac OS X, or out perform Pentium-based multiprocessing Windows workstations.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs explained during his San Francisco Macworld Expo keynote speech: "If we’d waited for an acceptable volume of 733MHz PowerPC G4 chips to power multiprocessing Macs, we would have had to wait till April."

Faster, more slots, bigger drives The new Power Mac G4 line includes faster 466, 533, 667 and 733MHz PowerPC G4 processors with up to 256K of full-speed level 2 cache and 1MB of half-speed level 3 backside cache on some configurations. The new high-performance 133MHz system bus with over 1GB-per-second of system throughput, with 128 to 256MB of RAM expandable to 1.5GB.

Apple demonstrated a single 733MHz G4 running a Photoshop-based speed trial against a 1.5GHz Pentium 4 Windows workstation. In its tests, the Power Mac was 33 per cent faster. "This highlights the megahertz myth," Jobs pointed out.

The number of PCI slots is increased from three to four, with write-combining providing up to 215MB-per-second of sustained throughput - double that of previous generations.

An AGP 4x slot (improved from the previous 2x) is also added, with new graphic card options including the new nVidia GeForce2 MX graphics card with 32MB of SDRAM,

The new Power Macs feature a new digital-audio sound system, with built-in amplifier for support of multiple audio-output capabilities and Apple Pro Speakers based on Harman-Kardon technology providing a frequency range of 70Hz to 20KHz.

In addition, the Power Mac’s Ultra ATA/66 hard drives have been increase to up to 60GB.

Burning disc issues Capitalizing on Apple’s new iTunes jukebox software, the new models can burn standard audio CDs with the Power Mac’s new built-in CD-RW drives.

"We’re late to this party," admitted Jobs, "but we’re here now".

Jobs showed off Apple’s new CD-burning sofware, which is a simple Finder-level drag-&-drop exercise unlike the market-leading Toast application from Adaptec. Users drag their files onto a blank CD on the desktop in exactly the same way that they’d add data to a Zip drive or external hard drive.

"This is how it ought to work," said Jobs, pouring scorn on Toast and other third-party CD-burning software.

In addition, the high-end 733MHz Power Mac’s new SuperDrive and Apple’s new iDVD and DV Studio Pro software applications let users create professional quality DVD videos for playback on consumer DVD players.

The SuperDrive – developed with Pioneer – is a first in the personal-computer industry.

"With the new Power Mac G4s, Apple has created the first complete solution for CD and DVD authoring," said Jobs. "Apple’s revolutionary SuperDrive, which can ‘burn’ both CDs and consumer player-compatible DVDs, combined with Apple’s new iTunes and iDVD applications, creates a solution that is years ahead of everyone else," he added.

Even on their own, similar DVD-R drives usually cost $5,000, claimed Jobs. Yet Apple has bundled one with its top-end Power Mac for $1,500 less.

Availability and pricing The new 466 and 533MHz Power Mac G4s (priced at £1,199 and £1,599 respectively, with 128MB of RAM) are available immediately, while the 667 and 733MHz models (£1,999 and £2,499, with 256MB of RAM) will be available in February.

The 466MHz model ships with a 30GB Ultra ATA/66 hard disk drive and 16MB ATI RAGE 128 Pro AGP 4X. The 533MHz model features a 40GB hard drive and 32MB GeForce2 MX graphics card. The 667MHz system boasts a 60GB hard drive, and 32MB GeForce2 MX. The top-end 733MHz model also features a 60GB drive and 32MB GeForce2 MX card.

All models ship with Mac OS 9.1, which was also launched at Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

Build-to-order configurations through The Apple Store include models with dual 533MHz PowerPC G4 processors (an extra £210), and up to 72GB Ultra160 SCSI drives. The Apple Pro Speakers are optional for a suggested retail price of £39.

Additionally, Apple announced its award-winning 15-inch Apple Studio Display flat panel monitor is now available for £579 – a price cut of £120.

Finally, Apple’s server line-up has also been updated to take advantage of the new features.