Apple's new machine so fast its details are on internet before it's even launched

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The secretive computer company Apple has seen details of its newest, and fastest, machines leaked on the internet because of an error by its own technicians working on its website.

The glitch will infuriate the company's founder and chief executive, Steve Jobs, who was due to launch the machines today in San Francisco. Mr Jobs is known to be obsessed with achieving maximum surprise for his twice-yearly "keynote" speeches.

Since he returned to the company in 1997, he has imposed stringent restrictions on employees leaking details of forthcoming products, and at one stage monitored employees' e-mail for hints of leaks to outside organisations.

The error was apparently perpetrated by Apple's own staff, who replaced details of the current top-end machines, which have processors running at 1.4 gigahertz (GHz), with those of the new ones on the company's online store.

The image and details appeared for about half an hour on Friday night, adding to speculation among those expecting something big from Mr Jobs's speech today. Then the website went briefly offline. When it returned, the images and details had gone.

If the details that were shown are correct, then the fastest of the new machines would each have two 2GHz processors made by IBM. That would make them faster, in speed terms, than normal Windows PCs, the fastest of which has a single Intel processor running at 3Ghz. This could reignite competition for speed in the personal computer world, where for years Intel has reigned supreme.

The new machines with IBM chips would be able to do "64-bit" arithmetic. That would put them on a par with top-end scientific workstations. The current generation of PC processors, introduced around 1991, do 32-bit arithmetic. The shift would put Apple in the forefront of personal computing.

While the company controls only a tiny percentage of the overall PC market, it is the favourite for graphics, music and video production.

Some observers have suggested that the error was a marketing ploy. "Sites don't 'accidentally' put the wrong image up; the image wouldn't be loaded yet on the servers," said one poster at the online forum Slashdot, a favourite watering-hole for people who build and write websites and computer programs.