Counter-Point: PowerBook Delight

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Date: Thursday, March 17th, 2005, 12:08
Category: Hardware, PowerBook 17-Inch

Not to minimize possible problems with the January 05 PowerBook incremental updates, but one owner is absolutely delighted with his new PB 17-inch 1.67GHz and wireless home network.

Perhaps I could have waited for the PowerBook G5, or dual-core G4, or whatever else we dream of. Or maybe if I upgraded my original 15″ 500 MHz Ti PB 10.1.5 with Panther, larger, faster HD storage, AirPort, and possibly a 3P SuperDrive…
But when the January PBs were announced with all the bells and whistles (and more) as standard that several times I had been on the cusp of ordering custom-built from the Apple Store (5400 rpm HD, 128 MB VRAM, all specs better), I took the plunge despite some trepidation as an early adopter (albeit of a mature design, slightly evolved). And I’ve been grinning with delight for the past month of daily use at work, at home, and on travel.
Some of the finer points:
– Memory, upgraded at a premium on Apple Store to 1 GB – 2 SO-DIMMs. Figured that hardware and OS X seem so sensitive to memory, I’d buy it from Mother Apple rather than save US$50.
– AirPort Extreme base station. Used with cable modem. This simply rocks! If you have been holding out, BUY IT NOW. There is no set-up! Plug it in and it works. Even the PC on the LAN is happy. Contrast Wintel: I also have a Compaq laptop with WiFi and I have yet to be able to get IE to recognize a wireless network.
– Trackpad. Mine is great: precise, stable, no shocks. The scrolling is an awesome feature, don’t know how we ever got along without it. I note no difference with “Ignore accidental input” on or off.
– Battery life. Initially I seemed to get 3+ hours of Word/Excel/Finder work, but then I couldn’t get through a 110 minute DVD. I think my monkeying with Energy Savor for faster processor speed may have screwed the pooch. xBattery says capacity of both of mine are OK. The spare is very svelte and easy to carry.
– SMS. Hope to never need this for its intended purpose! But the hacks are very cool, and no doubt more to come! (How bout a 3-axis g-record of a roller coaster ride?)
– Size on travel. I had some reservations about rolling my shiny new toy through the X-ray pit, and opening it on a steerage-class tray top. But both fears were unfounded. My Brenthaven case (HIGHLY recommended!) has an inner foam wrap with simple handle. I put the PB on top of the foam case in the plastic tub and know that its ride is somewhat cushioned through the security cobblestones. And once in the people tube, I stow the big case overhead and put the foam wrap under the seat until I can begin to use it. Got to be careful when the guy in front flings his seat back, but there is still room. (Don’t forget to shield it from drink spray and pass-overs when FAs are serving.) And once you experience 17 inches for a film or Excel or Word editing or dual-page Safari surfing, you can’t go back.
– Design, fit, finish. Markedly quieter HD, OD and fan (PB Ti OD sounded like a hovercraft when spinning up). Cooler–no problems on lap. Ports on the sides are obvious improvements over the previous rear location. There are a few teeny gaps in the case, but trivial. The sheer acreage of the closed slab requires two hands to pick up; I haven’t dared assess warpage when supported by only one corner.
– Screen. No stuck pixels with LCD Screen Tester. No white spot disease. This PB came with a thin foam shipping protector and I use it whenever I close up. Hence, no key stains, even if this design would permit it (can’t tell). The screen is bright! Haven’t noticed any oscillations of intensity. The screen hinge is perfect and the iBook-like drop hinge is an improvement over Ti PB.
– Keyboard. Elegant feel, travel, size. I have yet to use the illuminated keys but they seem uniform and steady when tested in a dim room.
– Speakers. Tinny, but obviously larger than on Ti PB. Much greater fidelity watching DVD movies. Need headphones only for privacy or to hear glass tinkle in explosions.
– Panther, Safari, iLife ’05. WOW! Faster, more fully featured, improved in every way over OS X 10.1.5.
– Networking. I bought a year of .Mac for backup-to-DVD, Virex, iDisk, and a spam-free e-mail account. Pretty good value for $100, I think. At home I’m on-line through AirPort, and at work just plug into the Ethernet on the wall and I have a log-in free T1 at my disposal.
– Speed. Let’s be honest. Some threshold multiple bump of our old machine’s processor or bus speed is how we rationalize hardware updates–I require a minimum three-fold improvement to crack open my wallet. And the speed of this machine with Panther at 1.67 GHz is simply transparent. In other words, I don’t have to wait for anything in routine use. Audio CDs rip at up to 11x, DVDs play within seconds of the slot loading, cold start-ups seem to be about 30 seconds. The cursor bogs while running Hardware Test from DVD, but that must be a consequence of the test.
So, this has been a wonderful hardware upgrade since my last Mac purchase four years ago. I hope my experience is somewhat reassuring to those anticipating a new PB buy soon, and can balance the bad news of some problems that have shown up in this model.
Finally, for me the best part of this story is what happened with my old PB Ti. I installed Panther and planned to sell it for nearly nothing at the local MUG, but my wife–a lifetime Wintel sufferer–wanted to try a Mac and the freedom of her first laptop. I installed an AirPort card, set up an account, gave her a five minute indoc, and she has become a devoted convert. Happily writing her first novel on the deck, in the kitchen, in bed, at kid’s swim practice, and wants to spend the first royalty check on a replacement Mac desktop and iMacs for the kids!
Gulf Breeze, FL

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