IN one of the biggest launches of computers based on the PowerPC microprocessor, Apple and IBM have introduced a whole slew of new systems, among them the world's first PowerPC-based notebook computers. While the Apple systems are targeted at the home market, the new IBM machines are being aimed squarely at the business sector. IBM also launched a new line of Intel-based PCs for the home market last week. At the IBM Solutions Show '95, IBM showed off its Personal Computer Power Series 830 and 850 and the world's first PowerPC-based laptops. The desktop PCs are based on the PowerPC 604 microprocessor and come in speeds of 100 megahertz (830 only), 120 MHz and 133 MHz. The ThinkPad Power Series 820 and 850 are both powered by a 100-MHz 603e microprocessor. The PowerPC series of microprocessors is being developed jointly by Apple, IBM and Motorola. These new machines, both the desktop ones and the ThinkPads, come with a choice of one of three hard disks; 540MB, 728MB or one GB. The desktop drives are IDE but the laptops are SCSI. The CD-ROM is quad-speed and the memory configuration starts at 16MB. What makes these machines really different is the choice of operating system. Right now Windows NT Workstation 3.51 (PowerPC Edition) and AIX (IBM's UNIX) are available and in the future OS/2 Warp and Solaris (PowerPC Edition) will also hit the market. This will certainly make these machines among the most versatile in the market. Up to now the dominant platform for the PowerPC chip has been Apple's Macintosh. An IBM spokesman said they were trying to establish a path to move the Mac OS over to these machines as well. On the home market front, it would seem both Apple and IBM intend to bring multimedia into the home at a price that is affordable. IBM last week announced the Aptiva Enhanced Multimedia line of computers based on Intel's 80486 microprocessor. The Aptiva 450 is based on a 486DX2 chip running at 33/66 megahertz. It comes with eight MB of random access memory (RAM), a 538MB hard disk, a 1.44MB floppy disk, Sound Blaster 16-bit Audio Card, 4xIDE CD-ROM drive, 14.4K Data/Fax modem and a pair of 30W speakers. The Aptiva 550 is essentially the same machine but runs at 33/100 MHz, has a 727MB hard disk and a bigger internal cache. Both machines come with a mouse and a keyboard. There is also a large amount of preloaded software. At the operating system level there is IBM PC DOS 6.3, Microsoft Windows 3.11, IBM OS/2 Warp. In a group of software products that IBM calls 'Productivity Software' there is PFS:WindowWorks, IBM Works, FaxWorks for OS/2, Internet Access Kit, OS/2 CompuServe Information Manager and Hyper Access Lite. There are some applications that help the beginner understand more about the Aptiva series of computers including First Steps, Custom Tools, AptivaWare Descriptions and Multimedia Basics. There is also a program called Rapid Resume Manager which has nothing to do with writing CVs but in fact handles such things as resuming what you were doing when the machine was last used. There is also a host of CD-ROM titles. From the Oxford Advanced Learner's English-Chinese Dictionary to Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia, there are a lot of the titles one has seen in the top ten lists of CD-ROM titles. According to IBM, retailers will set their own prices but the estimated 'street' prices will be about $14,900 for the Aptiva 450 and $18,900 for the Aptiva 550. Apple's contribution to the launches came with the announcement of three new Macintoshes, two powered by the PowerPC reduced instruction set computing (RISC) chip and one based on the older Motorola 68LC040 processor. Apple's new machines are called the 'Performa' series and they are also aimed at the same group of people as IBM's Aptiva series. The Performa 580 is a complete system, ready to run out of the box. It has a 500 MB IDE hard disk, an optional AppleCD 300i Plus CD-ROM drive, a SuperDrive 1.4MB floppy disk drive and a 14-inch colour monitor built in. The Performa 5200 has a 75-MHz PowerPC 603 RISC microprocessor with a 500MB hard disk and optional CD-ROM drive. The Performa 5200 is also a complete system that is ready to run right out of the box. The Performa 6200 is the most powerful of the new machines and is modular. It is also based on the 75 MHz PowerPC 603 chip and has a 500MB hard disk. The optional CD-ROM, however, is one of Apple's new quad-speed ones. It will support a variety of monitors. All the new machines come with special software packages that include ClarisWorks, American Heritage Dictionary, Quicken, Click Art and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. The CD-ROM versions include the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Family Doctor and a number of other titles. The pricing for these new machines is the lowest yet of any Macintosh series. The Performa 580 with CD-ROM will cost US$1,798, the 5200 is $2,298 and the 6200, including an Apple 15-inch monitor, will be $2,447. It is obvious that both IBM and Apple see the home market as an important one and that cheap, multimedia machines are what is wanted. IBM may find it difficult to be competitive with the 'street' prices they quote but Apple's prices have come down considerably. The Aptiva machines will have to compete with the cheapest available computers from the Golden Arcade and that could prove to be a little difficult. Apple, on the other hand, will want to convince the new buyer that its multimedia solutions for the home are now not only the easiest to use but also as inexpensive as any Intel-based machine.