Very Fine Powerbook Design

Apple's titanium-clad laptop will turn heads; 500MHz machine also outruns 600MHz Pentium III

Well, Apple Computer Inc. has done it again. The companys recently released Power Book G4 redefines how a notebook computer should look and feel, just as its iMac and G4 Cube led the way for new desktop computer designs.

Although it wont attract die-hard PC users, Apples first G4-based portable, encased in a tough, sleek titanium shell, has enough elegant good looks to win top honors at a Milan fashion show.

We tested the $3,499 500MHz PowerBook G4, which comes with 256MB of system RAM, a 20GB hard drive and a built-in DVD-ROM player, and we found that the titanium G4 isnt just another pretty face. In eWeek Labs tests, the 500MHz PowerPC-based notebook outran a 600MHz Pentium III-based notebook using Adobe Systems Inc.s Photoshop 6.0, and when we ran Microsoft Corp.s Office 2001 productivity applications for the Macintosh, the G4 portable more than held its own.

Lets face it; unless youre performing some herculean task in an Excel spreadsheet, even 300MHz-based notebooks deliver Office application performance thats outstanding. Just about any task, such as scrolling through a Word document, finding a word in one or even recalculating the national debt in Excel, usually takes less than 3 seconds.

We installed Apples latest operating system, Mac OS X, which became available last month, on the PowerBook G4 and were pleased with the units performance, although we experienced about 15 minutes less battery run-time than when the PowerBook was running Mac OS 9.1. (The G4 has been shipping since last month with Mac OS 9.1, but starting this summer, it will be available with either of these operating systems.)

The 1-inch-thick PowerBook G4 features an extra-wide screen that measures 15.2 inches on the diagonal but weighs only 5.3 pounds. At 12.75 inches wide by 8.5 inches tall, the G4s screen delivers 1,152 by 768 pixels vs. the standard 1,024 by 768 pixels. By not increasing the height of the screen over the G3 model, Apple made the PowerBook G4 easy to use on a crowded plane, and the extra 128-pixel width will come in handy for Photoshop jockeys as a parking place for the applications tool palettes.

Although the G4s keyboard felt slightly more spongy than previous PowerBook keyboards, we found it comfortable to type on. We did have to get used to the G4s larger trackpad, however. We kept brushing our fingers across it, causing the cursor to jump around like a peripatetic flea.

During tests, the bottom of the G4 grew quite warm after about an hour of constant use, but the heat was confined to the central area. To help dissipate the heat buildup, the G4 includes a fan that we think should have come on more often.

Although the PowerBook G4 draws more battery power than the previous G3-based PowerBook, we found running time with the G4 on a battery averaged about 3.5 hours, equivalent to the PowerBook G3. Unlike the PowerBook G3, the PowerBook G4s slim design doesnt allow a second bay for another battery.

To help make up for the lack of a second bay, Apple has included its PowerStep technology with these latest PowerBooks, which let us step down the processor speed to extend battery running time. With the Reduce Processor Speed option checked in the Energy Saver Control Panel, we were able to run the PowerBook G4 an average of 4 hours.

Plenty of room to expand

As with previous models, two ram slots are provided under the easily removed keyboard for memory expansion. The G4 uses SO-DIMM (small outline dual in-line memory module) RAM and can support up to 1GB of RAM through the use of two low-profile 512MB SO-DIMMs.

Adding an 802.11b wireless Airport card is another story, though. Users must remove the eight screws that secure the bottom titanium cover and pry off the bottom to reach the internal Airport card slot. Although we installed the card with not too much trouble, getting the bottom back on without bending the flexible titanium cover was a bit dicey. We recommend leaving Airport card installation to a dealer.

The PowerBook G4s all-in-one design includes all of the expansion ports of its predecessor. In addition to an IEEE 1394 FireWire port, the G4 includes a 10/100BaseT Ethernet port, two Universal Serial Bus ports, a VGA connector, an S-video port, a PC Card slot and a 56K-bps internal modem.

Although theres also a port for an external headphone, we missed having an external microphone port. Its absence kept us from using a speech-recognition headset with the PowerBook G4.

Apple ships the G4 with the same round power supply of the previous model, but the power connector is a smaller size to accommodate the G4s slim design and is not interchangeable with earlier PowerBooks.