Apple is on the verge of announcing a trio of speed-bumped eMacs, sources confirmed to Think Secret.

Highly reliable sources said that Apple's consumer eMac lineup will be expanded to three models. In an effort to fill the gap left by the departure of the classic iMac G3, the first will be a bare-bones 800MHz G4 unit that will ship with only a CD-ROM drive. The other two models will ship with a Combo drive and SuperDrive, like today's units, but will now both clock at 1GHz, and include larger hard drives. Apple currently offers just two models, with the exception of a third custom-built unit with a stand and more RAM.

Other changes are in store. All models will be ready for AirPort Extreme, but, like the current units, none will actually ship with an AirPort card inside. Apple will also drop the current NVIDIA GeForce2 MX graphics processor for an ATI Radeon 7500.

The new eMacs are also expected to boast S-video and composite video output, though the Apple Video Adapter will be required to connect to a TV. Current models ship with VGA video output only.

Other features will likely remain the same, and the selection of bundled software will be nearly unchanged. As expected, these new 2003 eMacs will not support Mac OS 9, at least for consumer, non-education buyers.

At this time, we're unable to confirm the pricing for the new lineup. However, given the pricing for the two current eMac models -- $999 and $1,299 -- it's possible that the two new top-end models could keep those prices, with the new 800MHz unit shipping below that.

The eMac line has been plagued with a display issue that has turned into a significant problem for Apple, sources said. While the failure-prone component wasn't Apple's (it came from a subcontractor of the eMac's Taiwan manufacturer), a large number of eMacs were produced to ship at the time of announcement last year. As a result, more faulty units got out than should have, due to the lack of a gradual production ramp-up. A source familiar with Apple repair and support groups said that the failure rate is higher than Apple would like, but has not necessitated a recall. Despite this, stories abound of education buyers sending back 10 or 20 brand-new eMacs back for repair -- or more -- and there are hopes that this won't be an issue the second time around.

In an effort to spur sales of the current models, Apple recently cut the price of its lowest-end eMac for educational customers to $779 from its usual $849 tag, and the institutional price dropped to $699. Channel sources have confirmed that distributors' inventories of the eMacs are low, and insiders said that the new eMacs could be released any day.