The lackluster response to Apple’s September 12th event, and this reposted video by Stephen Hackett, got me thinking of past Apple products that were just as revolutionary as the iPhone 5, but failed to live up to analyst’s expectations. The Power Macintosh G3 (Blue & White) was just such a product. Although it shared the same name as its predecessor, the Blue & White was a complete redesign of the Power Macintosh line. Initially dismissed for its lack of backwards compatibility the Power Macintosh G3 (Blue & White) would go on to change the face and focus of the professional Macintosh desktops forever.
The original Beige Power Macintosh G3 started life as a stopgap solution between the proprietary Apple products of the past, and the overbearing threat of a PC dominated future. Developed during Apple’s troubled years in late 1996 and early 1997, the Power Macintosh G3 was designed with an eye towards compatibility with PC components, and the possibility of running Windows alongside Mac OS. It featured industry standard PCI slots, SDRAM, ATA hard drives, and a ZIF processor socket alongside the traditional Macintosh serial ports and SCSI connections. The logic board even resembled a PC ATX motherboard with solder points for a PC style floppy drive, and the ability to use both proprietary Apple power supplies and industry-standard ATX power supplies. Luckily for us the soul of the Mac was not squandered by Windows compatibility. Steve Jobs, after returning to Apple, made sure the original Power Mac G3 was known more for its powerful performance than PC interoperability.
The “Gossamer” motherboard in the Beige Power Macintosh G3 was originally designed to be able to support both the high-end PowerPC 604e and the new PowerPC G3, but when initial tests found that the cheaper G3 outperformed the 604e, this functionality was removed. The addition of a large Level 2 backside cache running at half the processor speed gave the G3 the reputation of being faster than Intel PCs running at the same clockspeed. This assertion was backed up by benchmarks performed by Byte Magazine, which prompted Apple to create the “Snail” and “Toasted Bunnies” television commercials. Still with all of the PowerPC G3’s speed, the Power Macintosh G3 had little to set it apart from other beige boxes shipping at the time.
The Rise of the iMac
The release of the iMac in August 1998 brought the unparalleled performance of the G3 to the consumer market in an attractive enclosure that made everything before it seem dated. The Power Macintosh G3 with its three full length PCI slots, and range of legacy ports still had the expandability professionals demanded, but it did not fit the “Think Different” image Apple was making for itself. Something had to be done.
Professional Meets Cool
In January 1999 Apple introduced the new Power Macintosh G3 (Blue & White), codenamed Yosemite. It shared the same processor architecture as its predecessor, but everything else was different. The new Power Macintosh G3’s most noticeable difference came in the form of its innovative new case codenamed El Capitan. Covered in blue and white translucent plastic, El Capitan was all curves, featuring four gripable handles at its corners. Unlike previous enclosures the logic board was mounted on a hinged door that could be swung down for easy access. Because nothing had to be unplugged to open the case, technicians could get an inside peek even while the machine was on. Many Apple fans appreciated the new case, but were disappointed by the new Power Mac’s lack of backwards compatibility.
Following in the footsteps of the iMac, the Power Mac G3 (Blue & White) lost most its legacy serial connections replacing them with USB. SCSI was replaced with by the new 400 Mbit/s FireWire standard, and the floppy drive was nowhere to be seen. Unlike previous Power Macs which offered upgradable daughtercards more of the Blue & White’s functionality was integrated onto the logic board. 100BASE-TX Ethernet was now standard, and there was only a single choice for integrated audio. Accelerated graphics was moved onto its own PCI card, but the make and model of that card was standardized at a ATI Rage 128 GL with 16 MBs of graphics memory. Gone were the days of upgradable backside cache, graphics memory, and a choice of enclosures. The new professional Mac Desktop now came in a one size fits all Blueberry colored package.
The initial sales of new Power Macintosh G3’s were disappointing as professionals snapped up the previous models for their legacy connections. Performance between the old and the new models were not that different1, and the initial release of Blue & White G3 were affected by a nasty bug that further affected their expandability.1 Despite the complete redesign professionals saw the new G3s as a new coat of paint necessary to reinvigorate Apple’s failing brand, but a step backwards in terms of features.
Production of the Power Macintosh G3 (Blue & White) was short lived, being replaced by the Power Macintosh G4 less than a year later. It would end up being one of the most stable and long lasting machines Apple ever built, running Mac OS 8.5.1 in 1999 all the way up to Mac OS X 10.4.11 Tiger in 20072. Its innovative El Capitan case would go on to inspire the look of future professional desktop Macs, and the technologies it brought with it like FireWire and the New World ROM would bring Apple into the next decade.
The Power Macintosh G3 (Blue & White) received much of the same criticism as the iPhone 5. Both were ridiculed for the changes in their appearance when under the hood both brought drastic modifications to their respective model lines. The Power Macintosh G3 brought FireWire, and a streamlined product line. The iPhone 5 brought a larger display, A6, and LTE. I believe the iPhone 5 will have the same lasting impact as the Power Macintosh G3 (Blue & White). A game changer that took Apple’s product line of the past and refined it, setting a new higher standard for the future.
Despite its faster 100 MHz system bus and PC100 SDRAM, the 300 MHz Blue & White G3 performed worse than its 300 MHz Beige predecessor, because it had only 512 KB L2 cache, half of what the 300 MHz Beige had. ↩ ↩
With a G4 processor upgrade, and plenty of hacking, it is possible for a Blue & White G3 to run Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. putting its useful lifespan into 2009, a total of ten years. ↩