An 'Xtrem' Interview
A few weeks ago very few people had heard of a company from Sweden called Xtrem Inc. Now they are the talk of the Mac community. On August 3, 2000 Xtrem announced on their website the XtremMac G4, a machine they claimed to be a 1200 MHz G4 that would ship by the end of the year. This, of course, was quite an astounding announcement since the fastest G4 Apple has shipped for the last year is 500 MHz. The press release gave just enough info to tantalize and raise a number of questions.
In an effort to get some of those questions answered moonrockreptiles Reporters Jason Buck and Shaun Nichols contacted and arranged an e-interview with Co Founder and Executive vice chairman of the Board, Chief Designer of Xtrem, Inc. and CEO of Tech Data Sweden AB since 1990, Mats Wallberg. The first thing he did was send us an FAQ that had not been published on the Xtrem web site. To bring you up to speed before you read the interview here is that FAQ.
Without further ado:
moonrockreptiles E-Interview with Mats Wallberg
Mats Wallberg: I would like to begin with an apology to all whom tried to access our site 3-4, August. We were not prepared for the very large number of visitors. Consequently our website was almost impossible to access. This has been attended to and should work fine now. Thank you for your patience.
Mats Wallberg: Straightforward: We are using Apples motherboard. The external/internal connectors are the same. A preliminary technical specification will be available at our website the 15-16, August 2000. Please note that it is preliminary and will most certainly be changed before release.
Mats Wallberg: The information originates from ATIs specifications for their new RADEON GPU. The motherboard only supports AGP 2x presently. The RADEON AGP graphics card is not due for release until September. We will of course publish real-time benchmarks as soon as possible. The preliminary specs are just theoretical figures based on different manufacture specifications.
Mats Wallberg: No deals have been finalized yet. As of today the Voodoo 5500 PCI is shipping, the ATI RADEON AGP is due to ship in September, and nVidia announced plans for Mac support later this year. We are continuously looking for better components in respect to higher performance to incorporate in the XtremMac.
Mats Wallberg: The casing opens by sliding the two halves apart. This way all the components becomes accessible. Internally there are five 3.5 bays and three 5.25 bays that can be accessed from the outside. The removable media drive bays are accessed between the horizontal aluminum bars. This is not shown in the renderings due to the early stage of the particular drawing and rendering.
Mats Wallberg: If everything goes as planned early 2001.
Mats Wallberg: There are so many unknown factors involved here so it would be wrong to give you any figure. It will surely be inaccurate. If you only want to crunch numbers you could go for a raw machine with a single ATA drive and sufficient RAM. That would obviously be less expensive. Roughly our entry-level system should be less than Apples high-end system.
Mats Wallberg: YES, but in all fairness I will have to put you on the list with all the others. Weve got a lot of inquires, both from magazines and large corporations.
moonrockreptiles: Uhhh, yeah, uhhh, of course that's what we meant. ;-)
You say that your machines use Apple hardware: Does this mean you will be buying a Macintosh from Apple (or a vendor) for every unit you produce? If so what hardware will you be buying, and how will it affect the cost of your product?
Mats Wallberg: Some of the hardware will most certainly come from Apple. There is no other way.
Mats Wallberg: Not necessary exactly the same. I can say as much as we are not exclusively using Apple ZIFs during the development phase.
Mats Wallberg: We are constantly looking for new components. Also, please see previous answer. As we have stated in our FAQ, we are not running any prototype at 1200MHz today. If we change the voltage and lower the temperature to X° C we will accomplish a certain speed. If we cool it further to Y° C we will accomplish a higher speed. If we use a higher rated processor we can either do lesser cooling and accomplish the same speed or increase the speed further. Although there are other factors like the bus speed, cache and frequency dividers that will prevent us from going beyond a certain point.
Mats Wallberg: We are not using the standard PC100 SDRAM and we are overclocking the memory in relation to the standard 100MHz bus.
Mats Wallberg: Our vision is to build an alternative subzero platform instead of todays air-cooled machines. The fact that silicon can work faster if we turn up the voltage and turn down the temperature is common knowledge and there has been research done in this field for several decades. Our challenge is to combine existing technologies to make a finished product that is attractive and affordable.
The Active Cooling System is the key to the overclocking. Very simply put: We are refining the technique that KryoTech and others use by adding cooling for cache, main memory and certain parts of the motherboard. The amount of temperature reduction needed varies depending on part. Generally the higher temperature we can accept the lesser problem we will have with encapsulation and condensation. All parts are not cooled to subzero levels.
Mats Wallberg: No. We are developing our own system so we dont expect any legal difficulties from any part.
Mats Wallberg: Hard disks and fans are the parts that cause the most noise. The cooling process is a rather quiet process using the proper equipment and method. High speed CD/DVDs can also be annoying during read sequence. We are working on vibration reduction and encapsulation of the drive bays. Because hard disks produce a lot of heat (especially 15Krpm disks) we need to cool them down if we are to encapsulate them.
Mats Wallberg: That depends on the market. We dont see this as a high volume product. Distribution is a costly business. If distribution would make the machine much more expensive there would be no benefit for the customer and consequently we would not be doing it. Another aspect is that I dont think that Apple would be a bit concerned if we were to sell too many machines.
Mats Wallberg: If we were to ship today the user would have to buy MacOS separately. We dont have any licensing agreement for the MacOS. Regarding other OS its up to our customers. If they want a certain operating system we are definitely going to help them.
Mats Wallberg: YES, it is a low-tech product or the opposite of the XtremMac that works on the older G3/G4. It was actually a spin off from early stages of the XtremMac development. We realized that this would be an easy and inexpensive way to speed up older G3/G4 macs. After a very positive testing period we decided to bring it to market. By making it easy to install and safe to manage we believe it will be an attractive product to the average non-hacker user whom will benefit from more speed.
Mats Wallberg: Simply because the web pages are not ready yet. We were actually planning to make the release closer to the finishing of the XtremMac prototype. But because of information we received concerning someone else working on a similar product we had to rush things. We then found ourselves, as you say, stuck between a rock and a hard place. The release meant a lot of traffic to our server and a lot of extra work for everybody. We actually had to physically move it to our ISP and increase the capacity. It took lot of effort to move the server and at the same time keep the off-line period to minimum. In addition to the shorter time frame for finishing our web site our web designers could not work as planned. During the last week we have received thousands of emails and phone calls from all over the world.
Mats Wallberg: 15-35% depending on what G3/G4 model you have.
Mats Wallberg: NO. Not the new ones.
Mats Wallberg: As of today -NO. The main problem with making an upgrade for those machines is that it requires too many tools and soldering. Too many things can go wrong.
Mats Wallberg: Working together with a lot of creative people always brings up new and innovative ideas. Right now we are focusing on the XtremMac. We are not a large corporation that has the means for running several projects parallel.
Mats Wallberg: The next step would naturally be to move the chassis to the new twin processor G4 to get 2 x 1200MHz. Theoretically it shouldnt be any problem, but I havent even looked at it yet so well have to see
Mats Wallberg: The first product released will be MacThrust. The MacThrust has been delayed until the end of this month.
Mats Wallberg: We dont have all the competence in-house. We are working with several partners with special competence in the different technologies involved in the project, so it varies from time to time.
Mats Wallberg: We are at this time not disclosing any information about partners or other companies we are working with on this project.
Mats Wallberg: I feel that the combination of our failure to clearly state that the XtremMac is under development and the fact that there has been a lot of speculations and second hand information has created this confused situation.
I would like to point out that this is not a general opinion among the thousands of people that have been in contact with us during the last week. On the contrary, 98% of all approaches has been very positive and several very large corporations have contacted us about cooperation. Our most recent investor, Göran Strandberg has been based in London as a member of Cisco´s European management group.
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