G4 PowerBook revamp not compelling

G4 PowerBook revamp not compelling

Apple released an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, revamp of its PowerBook notebook line at the end of January. Improvements include slightly faster PowerPC G4 processors, hard drives, graphics chips and optical drives. While testing the 1.67GHz 15.2-inch widescreen PowerBook with 8X DVD+RW burner, I found it to be fast, light and a joy to use - but no particular enhancement rocked my world.

In my hands-on tests, the machine seemed noticeably faster than previous versions. Apple has made 512MB of DDR RAM standard (up from 256MB), and increased the hard drive speed to 5400 rpm (up from 4200 rpm). The unit can support up to 2GB of RAM; and since the standard allotment uses only one of the two memory slots, you can add more juice later without swapping out the memory you already have.

The unit came with an 80GB Ultra ATA-100 drive, which Apple says is more shock-resistant than the drives in previous models. That's due to the new Sudden Motion Sensor, which stops the hard drive and protects the data in the event of a sudden plunge.

A new feature called Trackpad Scrolling lets you horizontally pan and vertically scroll through documents and Web pages. It requires exactly two fingers and a light touch. However, your two fingers don't need to move together - nor do they need to be two fingers on the same hand. Trackpad Scrolling takes a little getting used to, and is less sensitive than I would like, although you can make use of the whole touchpad rather than just zones on the sides as with other notebooks.

A few minor enhancements: Apple says the illuminated keyboard is up to ten times brighter than that of the last 15-inch model, but in my experience the room still needs to be pretty dark for the backlight to be noticeable. In a completely dark room, I found typing on the white-lit keys an eerie, yet totally productive, experience. The PowerBook also supports the new Bluetooth 2.0 standard and the 15-incher is a little lighter than the previous version.

At $US2299, the unit remains quite pricey. For the money, you get most of the bells and whistles found in notebooks this size, including FireWire 800. And while it's no lightweight, it remains lighter than most Windows-based 15-inch models.

The battery life still isn't great. Apple claims up to 4.5 hours on one charge in an energy-saving mode; with AirPort 802.11g turned on, the company quotes 3.25 hours. In my tests, with AirPort 802.11g and Bluetooth turned on, I averaged just over 2.5 hours.

Local information

Revamped PowerBooks are available from Apple. RRP: $3199 for the 15-inch 1.67GHz model test.

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