Mild-mannered update, or super PowerBook?

Mild-mannered update, or super PowerBook?

A PowerBook is more than a computer. It's a loyal companion, an indispensable assistant, a home entertainment system, and a gateway to the world. The mobility of the PowerBook, combined with an uncompromising feature set, makes it a fixture in the lives of mobile users. The only thing holding it back is a single wire leading from the back of the portable to a phone or Ethernet jack. No more.

With the release of the latest PowerBook G3, Apple has added a host of improvements to a product that just a year ago was deemed without peer. While the list of improvements is long and impressive, one new feature makes the release of the latest PowerBook a watershed event in the history of mobile computing - the addition of an internal AirPort slot. With a $US99 AirPort card installed, the PowerBook cuts its last tie to the earth, leaving users free to roam their homes and offices.

A featured player

How can you one-up yourself when you already make the most feature-rich portable on the market?

Simple: pile on even more features.

All the features from the bronze PowerBook remain intact, including last year's industrial design. But fear not: while the new PowerBook's chassis is unchanged, under that black polycarbonate skin is a totally new logic board that has this portable more in common with Apple's supercomputing G4 desktop machines than last year's PowerBook.

Because the G4 is too power-hungry to make a good processor for a portable, the new PowerBook features a G3. But what a G3! The high-end configuration, still priced at a moderate $US3499, clocks in at 500MHz; the $2499 model, at 400MHz. Better yet, Apple has surrounded these speedy G3s with state-of-the-art G4 logic boards. Highlights of the new board include the ATI Rage Mobility 128 graphics controller with 8MB of SDRAM and support for 2-D and 3-D graphics, the AGP 2x graphics architecture to push those pixels even faster, a 100MHz memory bus capable of supporting up to 512MB of PC100 RAM, and an Ultra ATA/66 hard drive with as much as 18GB of storage capacity.

Perhaps most incredible is what you get in the base model: a 400MHz G3 processor, 64MB of RAM, a 6GB hard drive, and a DVD-ROM drive. Yes, now all PowerBooks come standard with DVD-movieplayback capability, giving you the best seat in the theater on your next flight. The high-end model adds another 64MB of RAM; 6GB of disk storage; and of course, the 500MHz G3 processor. (A $US3997 system with an 18GB drive, an extra battery, and an AC adapter is available only through Apple Stores.)By the numbersLike cold, hard numbers to back up a product's claims? The results of our lab's testing should impress even the most-sceptical shoppers.

Using MacBench 5.0, we compared the 2000 PowerBook to both of last year's models and a 400MHz G4 desktop. We found that the new PowerBook's logic board delivered seriously improved disk and graphics performance, especially compared with its 1999 predecessor. For example, the 2000 PowerBook's graphics score is more than 60 per cent higher than the 400MHz bronze PowerBook's. The 500MHz PowerBook delivered especially impressive graphics numbers, coming within shouting distance of the G4 desktop.

Our biggest surprise when testing the new PowerBooks wasn't speed results but battery life. You would expect battery life to go down as performance goes up. Not so with the new PowerBooks, which actually offer improved battery life. Using our office-software test and default energy-saver settings, we ran the 400MHz model for three hours and 26 minutes on one battery charge; last year's 400MHz model ran out of juice 25 minutes sooner. The 500MHz model delivered slightly less than three hours of battery life.

No strings attached

When you've got that extra battery life, what's the first thing you want to add to your portable? More power-hungry features, of course.

This PowerBook is the first to offer AirPort wireless networking, and we couldn't be happier. Until you've had the pleasure of showing someone a favourite Web site while cradling your PowerBook in one hand and running your other hand underneath it to demonstrate that there are no visible connections, you just can't appreciate how liberating wireless networking at Ethernet speeds can be.

While wireless technology offers the greatest impact for portable users, it's not the only important new capability in the 2000 PowerBook. This portable also adds two FireWire ports to the back panel, at last putting a stake through the heart of SCSI on the Mac platform. The PowerBook is the ideal home for FireWire - who better than mobile professionals to take advantage of tiny, light, hot-swappable hard drives that don't require separate power sources?

Then there's the matter of being able to directly download video from a FireWire-equipped DV camera to the PowerBook. Apple has foolishly left iMovie off the hard drive, expecting PowerBook users to pony up $999 for Final Cut Pro if they want to join the DV revolution. Sorry, Apple, but you clearly missed the boat on this one.

Bugs and boos

It may take a while to learn all of the PowerBook's idiosyncrasies and figure out whether you can really live with them. For example, the first PowerBook G3 to include USB had several bugs associated with using that port, including losing USB devices. Those bugs, it turned out, were not fully addressed in the bronze PowerBook; Apple added to the list of petty annoyances DVD drives that would suddenly cease to function, and a tendency for the PowerBook to crash when waking up from sleep mode on a new network.

We're happy to report that with the new PowerBooks, the USB problems seem to have been resolved at last. So, too, have the mysterious problems with the DVD drives. However, after a couple of weeks of testing we noted that the sleep-crashing glitch began to rear its ugly head. As we went to press, Apple had posted a bug-fix that seemed to have eradicated the problem.

One other bug the new PowerBook seems to have inherited - not from earlier models but from the iBook - is date reset. Whenever you reset the system by pushing the button on the back panel, the computer zaps all parameter RAM, including date and time-which are reset to 1/1/1904, 12:01am.

Buying advice

What can we say? Apple's done it again with the release of the new PowerBook. Yes, the company blew it by not bundling iMovie, but for most mobile professionals that won't matter much. And yes, the date-reset bug is unfortunate. Otherwise, this is as close to a perfect PowerBook as you can get. Now, for next year's model, let's talk about wireless communication for when you're away from an AirPort base station . . .



PowerBook G3/400


l Absolutely amazing feature set for the money; leaves very few reasons to step up to more-expensive



l No iMovie bundle makes DV features inaccessible; annoying date-reset bug

Price: Available on application.

Apple Computer: 1300 301 485

PowerBook G3/500


l Fastest Mac portable ever made; mind-blowing feature list


l No iMovie bundle makes DV features inaccessible; annoying date-reset bug

Price: Available on application.

Apple Computer: 1300 301 485

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