Apple's Macintosh Performa is sweet deal for home, small offices

Personal Computers

November 25, 1996|By PETER H. LEWIS

WE WERE PREPARED to say nice things about Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh Performa 6400/200 computer when all of a sudden Apple cut the price. Now we are compelled to say even nicer things about it.

The Performa 6400 is not cheap, either in price or in construction. But when Apple recently cut the suggested list to $2,199, from $2,799, it eliminated our only major criticism of the machine. The result is a solid, fast, versatile and easy-to-use personal computer for the home and small office markets.

Apple may have been responding to the lower prices set by its Macintosh clone competitors, which now include Motorola, Power Computing, Umax and Daystar.

Perhaps it was acknowledging that it needed to close the gap between prices of Macintoshes and comparable systems based on the Windows-Intel technologies. Either way, lower prices, especially at this time of year, are welcome news to consumers.

Sensible choice

Apple, which once befuddled customers with a confusing array of computer models for professional, office and home computer users, has been simplifying its product line.

The Performas have emerged as the most sensible choice for home computers, as they come with bundles of useful software and adequate power for most home and home office computing activities.

The 200-megahertz PowerPC 603e microprocessor at the heart of the Performa 6400/200 is more than adequate, in fact.

True speed demons may wish to select a Mac built around the brawnier 604e chip, which, other factors being equal, is about 50 percent faster than the 603e at comparable clock speeds. But the 200-megahertz 603e chip used in the Performa 6400 we tested was by far snappier than most chips in the Performa's price range.

When it comes down to it, most Performa buyers probably do not care whether the computer uses a 603e chip, a 604e chip or a potato chip, as long as it does the job and is not going to be obsolete six weeks after the machine is bought.

Newer and faster chips are being developed all the time, of course, and no doubt in a couple of years the children will wail that they are embarrassed to be using a 603e when all their friends have 620e's, but the 200-MHz 603e ought to hold up as well as any chip now on the market.

It certainly will not fail because of a casual knock on the computer.

Apple has surrounded the chip with one of the most substantial cases it has ever produced. The Performa's tower system, which is about 17 inches tall, 8 inches wide and 16 inches deep, is built like a tank.

The microprocessor is only one factor in a computer's overall performance. Other important issues are memory, storage, software and extra features.

With that in mind, we tested the Performa 6400/200 Apple Video Editing Edition, priced at $2,699. (Apple's prices do not include a monitor, printer or other peripherals unless otherwise stated.) This model is designed for people who enjoy, or think they might enjoy, making movies that can be transferred to a standard videotape for display on a television set.

The Video Editing Edition comes standard with 32 megabytes of RAM and a 2.4-gigabyte hard disk drive. While those specifications seem impressive compared with other computers, they are merely adequate for video production work.

Vanishing megabytes

Video eats disk space voraciously, and many first-time videographers are alarmed to see the megabytes vanish with each scene of 30-frame-per-second video produced.

By the end of my first day in the video director's chair, I was already mentally shopping for a removable hard disk system to augment the suddenly puny drive.

The system's performance is enhanced by one megabyte of video RAM and 256 kilobytes of Level 2 cache memory.

There is also an eight-speed (8X) CD-ROM drive, a 3.5-inch diskette drive that can read data files from DOS and Windows applications and a 28.8-kilobit-per-second fax and data modem.

Those who are so inclined can use the modem to transform the computer into a telephone answering machine. I prefer to avoid entrusting too many mission-critical applications to a single computer, because the likelihood of an equipment failure seems to increase in direct proportion to the importance of the device in one's office.

The key to the Video Editing Edition is Avid Cinema, a combination of hardware and software that enables anyone with a camcorder to edit video in imaginative ways.

Software array

Avid's software is simple to use, employing a notebook and tab format. While the software is much less sophisticated than professional editing systems, it nonetheless offers an impressive array of storyboarding tools and visual effects, including dissolves, fades, wipes, spins and other special video effects.

All Performa systems come loaded with an array of useful and not so useful software.

The Launcher window on the computer screen allows the user, with one click of the mouse, to activate programs including ClarisWorks 4.0, Adobe Photo Deluxe, a basic version of the Quicken home finance program, America Online (there is a subscription fee), Netscape Navigator, Claris Emailer, SurfWatch, The American Heritage Dictionary and other reference works.

More information about the Performa 6400 is available from Apple at (800) 462-4396.

Pub Date: 11/25/96

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