TV-PGApril 16, 2004: IBM confirms that it's having yield problems at the plant churning out 90-nanometer G5s. Meanwhile, Apple will only commit to a European launch of the iTunes Music Store "this year," and one of those new eMacs has reportedly already been put on a "short-term quality hold"...
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Beats Projectile Vomiting (4/16/04)

What with everyone being all aglow with the overweening wonderfulosity that came spilling out of Apple's Q2 earnings results a couple of days ago, we figured we'd let people bask in it for a while before we dragged us all back down into the muck. So bask, happy citizens! Bask away! Bask like there's no tomorrow! Keep basking... Keep basking... ...aaaaannnnd STOP! Okay, time to get back to business.

Here's the thing: we need to address one very interesting revelation that popped up during that conference call. Remember when PeterFred mentioned that Apple had sold "very few Xserve G5s" in Q2 because supply constraints had delayed the product until the very tail end of the quarter? Well, PeterFred made it clear that there was only a single missing component that prevented the Xserve from shipping on time-- and that crucial part was none other than the 90-nanometer PowerPC 970FX processor. Apple has officially confirmed the rumors: IBM is having trouble getting new G5s out in useful quantities. And since faster Power Mac G5s would use the same 90-nano chips as the Xserves, no wonder those speed bumps never materialized. Cooling problem, shmooling problem; it sounds like the real snag was that Apple's new Power Macs don't have anything inside to cool in the first place.

So what's up with the non-shipping chipping? Well, faithful viewer jkundert dished us a Silicon Strategies article (by way of MacDailyNews) which reports that Big Blue has come clean on its production woes: it lost $150 million in a single quarter due largely to "ongoing chip yield issues" at the East Fishkill fabrication plant where G5s are (supposed to be) cranked out. Says IBM's CFO, "we do see demand, but we need to make the products"-- and that isn't happening quickly enough to fill orders.

In other words, it's official-- there is a curse, or some kind of demonic possession, or something: whoever makes Apple's high-end processors winds up suffering otherwise inexplicable performance issues. Back when the jewel in Apple's chip line-up was the G4, Motorola proved singularly incapable of delivering the goods in reasonable quantities (forcing Apple to issue stock-decimating revenue warnings when sales would come in vastly under quota) or keeping chip development proceeding at anything close to the speed of the rest of the industry. At the same time, IBM was firing on all cylinders, lending a hand with G4 production and allegedly even cranking out faster G4s than Motorola itself was able to make. At one point IBM's G3s were almost eclipsing the speed of Motorola's G4s.

But now that the shoe's on the other foot and IBM is responsible for stuffing Apple's high-end systems with sufficient quantities of G5s, suddenly Big Blue is acting very Motorolan, causing Apple product delays by failing to show up with the necessary commodities. And while we're certainly not expecting another speed debacle like when we were all stalled out at 500 MHz for about a year and a half, since Power Mac speeds still haven't budged a megahertz since their introduction last June, we're starting to get a little skeptical of those initial claims that Apple would ship a 3.0 GHz system within a year.

Anyone know a good exorcist? Because we really think we need to nip this thing in the bud.

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Some Lovely Parting Gifts (4/16/04)

It's time once again to play Guess That Launch! Yes, folks, it's the Mac community's favorite game of intrigue and limb-rending mayhem, as contestants from all over the world compete for fabulous prizes by guessing just when the heck Apple will finally manage to get various products and services out the door! (Eat your heart out, Bob Barker.)

As you all know, we've been playing this game an awful lot lately, but we've been focusing ad nauseam on the rumored Power Mac G5 updates, with just a little smidge of PowerBook and eMac prognostication thrown in to break up the monotony. This time, though, how about we go totally hog wild? Instead of an Apple product, we'll play with an Apple service-- and just to be completely wacky, we'll limit the service's rollout to a completely different continent! Whoa! It's like we're groovin' on too many SweeTarts or something! Somebody call the men in white coats!

So here's the deal: this time around, we're going to be trying to guess the launch date of the iTunes Music Store-- in Europe. Just a few weeks ago this might have been a trick question, but now that iPhoto print- and book-ordering has finally made it across the pond, we can rest assured that it is, indeed, physically possible for Apple to launch services in Europe without the universe exploding at the speed of light. So Euro-iTMS is coming-- but when? Yeah, that's the tricky part. The good news is that Apple's European bigwig gave us all an official clue; the bad news is, said clue might have impatient Europeans throwing themselves off tall buildings, because while the general consensus had previously expected a Euro-iTMS rollout this spring, the official word from Apple is decidedly less optimistic.

Faithful viewer mrmgraphics forwarded us a Reuters article which quotes Apple Europe Chief Pascal Cagni (a.k.a. "Euro-Steve") as stating that "when we launch in Europe, we want to do it well. There can be no compromise on the ease of use, the depth of the catalog, or the responsiveness [of the store]." And that streak of perfectionism translates into the attitude that, because the project is so gosh-darned important, "a few months' delay is not essential." So much for spring. At the very least, though, when asked if the store would make it online by the end of the year, Cagni reportedly replied "absolutely." That may be scant comfort to those of you who originally expected Euro-iTMS to surface last September, but hey, at least we're down to a sub-year wait.

Anyway, there's the latest: Euro-iTMS is coming sometime this year-- now it's up to you to figure out exactly when. Guess correctly and you can act really smug for entire minutes before people will seriously threaten to beat you up if you don't stop. We were totally lying about that whole "fabulous prizes" thing, though. But at least you get the smugness, and isn't that a lot better than a supply of Turtle Wax and the home version of the game?

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Out Chasing Ambulances (4/16/04)

It's Happy Time, folks; at least one actual "news" site is confirming that new Apple portables ought to arrive next week, and while that doesn't necessarily mean squat, it's usually a pretty decent indication that a rumor has a fair amount of heft to it. Meanwhile, AppleInsider claims that "a number of iBook and PowerBook configurations are currently in air-transit to US distributors," and that the low-end 'Books were speed-bumped enough that, come next week, Apple's entire Mac product line will be 1 GHz or faster. That's a whole boatload of Weekend Glee for you right there.

And yet, we find ourselves ignoring just about all of that as our attention is drawn mothlike to the flame of a reported eMac "short-term quality hold." (Hey, what can we say? Drama's all about conflict, and it just so happens we were running about a quart low.) According to AppleInsider, one of the two new eMacs that were introduced just days ago has already been put on hold; Apple has stopped shipping the upper-crust SuperDrive model and has instructed resellers who may have already received a few of them "not to begin selling units to customers." Do we smell a messy "issue" causing trouble in those new systems? Perhaps a flaw related to the new 8x SuperDrive? An infestation of aphids in the 80 GB hard drives? New medical research linking part numbers built around the numerical string "9461" with sudden hair loss and severe thigh acne?

Well, not just yet; AI claims that Apple internally reports there's "no confirmed problem," but clearly it has its suspicions if it's holding up the high-end eMac "just in case." Not that we'd ever object to a little extra testing; if Apple is just being cautious, hey, good for them; every time a highly-publicized quality issue hits the streets (staticky miniPods, PowerBook leprosy, splitting Cubes, etc.), it's just another crack in the foundation of Apple's credibility-- credibility that Apple desperately needs to maintain if it's ever going to persuade a broad swath of Wintel users to come tromping over to play on the Mac side of the playground.

But like we said, while we're all for Apple cracking down on its quality assurance practices before a glaring manufacturing or design flaw gives the rest of the world one more excuse not to consider buying a Mac, from a drama perspective, part of us fears for a future in which Apple never again ships a Mac with a monumentally flaky logic board or a software installer that deletes a hard drive or two. After all, there's only so much entertainment that can be wrung from perennially unupdated Power Macs and the AAC vs. WMA debate; sometimes a healthy dose of outright product flaw tragedy is just what the doctor ordered. So here's hoping that the QA folks don't get too alert on us, or things might get awfully quiet around here...

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