The third generation of Apple's Macintosh computers based on the PowerPC chip encompasses all computers introduced from May 1998 onwards, with the exception of August 1998's second revision of the PowerBook G3 Series. The machines that comprise this set are commonly referred to as New World PowerMacs.

Visually, the primary distinction between these machines and their first and second generation siblings is the move away from the plain beige cases common among most desktop PCs. Instead, third generation Power Macintoshes favour bright colours, such as those found on the iMac, or shiny metal cases, such as those found on the Titanium PowerBook and the new G5s.

From a hardware standpoint however, the third generation represents a radical leap forward from its predecessor. Gone were Apple's proprietary serial and parallel ports, being instead replaced by USB ports. Also gone was the ROM only implementation of the Open Firmware standard, having been replaced with Open Firmware 3 -- which allowed the parameters to be read off of a file contained on the hard drive. The venerable ADB also got the axe, although some early third generation machines, such as the blue and white G3, kept them as an alternative means of input. Additionally, after flirting on and off with it in their low end models, the high-speed SCSI bus was finally permanently replaced by the more affordable IDE interface.

However, the move that may have caused the greatest furor among members of the computing community, both Macintosh fans and otherwise, was the decision not to include a floppy drive in any of the new designs. Fans declared it the start of a revolution that would finally remove legacy hardware from all systems, while critics declared it a death blow for the new systems. In the end it was neither, but it, combined with their unique colour schemes, brought the new systems much needed publicity.

While some might argue that the third generation of PowerPC-based Macintoshes has been a triumph of style over substance, pointing to such items as the G4 Cube and the much hyped G4, which failed to deliver as much of an increase over the G3 as the latter had been over the PPC 60x, as examples, there were notable successes. Firewire, which had been developed by Apple and featured on Macintoshes from the blue and white G3 onwards, gained widespread acceptance. In addition, 2003's introduction of the G5 processor, based upon IBM's POWER4 architecture, brought the Macintosh into the age of 64bit computing.

It should also be noted that, with the exception of the second generation G3s, only third generation machines are officially supported by any versions of MacOS X, Apple's current Unix-based operating system.

Although a chronology of third generation machines is more difficult than prior generations, with the prior's identifying model numbers being replaced in favour of changes in case design and features, the following is an attempt to list those members to date, along with year of introduction and processor type:
Those machines, such as the revision C and D iMacs and the various iterations of the white iBook, that are distinguished only by processor speeds, amount of RAM, hard drive space, etc, are combined into a single entry for simplicity's sake. In addition, machines that Apple itself lists under a single specification, such as the iMac (Slot-loading) and iMac DV, are listed as one item.

It should be noted a breakdown of what are normally classified as third generation Power Macintoshes down into further generations is possible. Although there are numerous variations as to how this could be done, this noder humbly suggests that the best spot to end the third generation and begin the fourth would be with the introduction of the G5 and the subsequent move from 32 to 64 bit computing.

Previous: Second generation Power Macintosh
Index: Power Macintosh


  • My own recollections

Am I missing something? Want to know why something was classified as an upgrade and not a separate product? Let me know.

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