What's New in the Rev. B PowerBook G4?

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Date: Tuesday, November 6th, 2001, 02:22
Category: Archive

Apple made numerous improvements to the professional PowerBook G4 Titanium on 16 October 2001 when they announced two new revisions with 550 and 667 MHz processors.

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Much has been written about the bits and hertz of the new portable machines but having just acquired a 667 TiBook 500 MHz I noticed a number of differences in the new machine.


Apple made numerous improvements to the professional PowerBook G4 Titanium on 16 October 2001 when they announced two new revisions with 550 and 667 MHz processors. The new configurations replaced the original 400 and 500 MHz models that were announced in January 2001. In addition to the boost in clock speed, the high end 667 MHz model features a faster 133 MHz bus speed, the 550 retains the 100 MHz bus of their predecessors. Both new PowerBook models have 256 K of on-chip Level 2 cache running at full processor speed, not the half-speed of previous TiBooks.

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Figure 1: New PowerBooks ship with Mac OS 9.2.1,
Mac OS 10.1 and Apple Hardware Test v.1.2.
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Apple upgraded the video subsystem of both new models replacing the ATi Rage Mobility 128 (8 MB) with the Mobility Radeon 4x AGP graphics accelerator with 16 MB of DDR memory, a huge boon for gamers. Barefeats has posted an excellent comparison of the video systems in the Rev. A and B PowerBook G4s. Barefeats also notes that the abysmal FireWire performance in the original PowerBook G4 has been fixed (70 and 90% improvements in sustained read and write). To round out the new hardware changes Apple added Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000BaseT) and added a standard Airport card in the 667 model.

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Figure 2: Black accents replace white on the packaging.
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The most significant improvement for my dollar is the 33 percent boost in system bus speed (from 100 to 133 MHz) in the top end model. Combined with the 667 MHz clock speed this machines really hums and is noticeably faster than previous 400 and 500 MHz TiBooks that I have used. The extra zip is noticeable in Mac OS 10.1 – finder work and window speed just feel faster as do app launching and switching between multiple apps.

Much has been written about the bits and hertz of the new portable machines but having just acquired a 667 to replace my (aging?) TiBook 500 MHz I noticed a number of differences in the new machine. I am going to use this article to focus on some of the small changes to the 667 MHz PowerBook G4, after all, it is the little things that give a PowerBook its personality.

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Figure 3: The inner box houses a nice surprise, the square AC adapter.
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First impressions are important and the new 667 and 550 make a good one. The new box is black on the outside as is the cover of the inner box (see Figure 2 above), a stark contrast to the clean, white design of the original box. Perhaps a subtle reference to the machine’s code name: Onyx. Included in the complement of CDs are two Software Restore CDs (Part 1 and 2), Mac OS 9.2.1, Mac OS 10.1, and Apple Hardware Test version 1.2. (see Figure 1 above).

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Figure 4: The square adapter with the duck head and
longer power cable. Then compared to the Yo-Yo adapter.
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Inside the inner box you can see the new extended power cable in the left cutaway, removing the manual and CD-ROMs reveals the new square-shaped portable AC adapter. The new adapter is smaller and lighter than the “Yo-Yo” adapter it replaces and features two flip-down wings for winding the cable around. (Anyone remember the similar PB500 design?) The new adapter is a huge improvement over the bulky and space inefficient Yo-Yo, not exactly desirable traits in a portable accessory.

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Figure 5: The glowing AC adapter, orange is charging, green is charged.
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But wait, there’s more. The 45W Apple Portable Power Adapter (M8576LL/A) has two interchangeable cables depending on your needs. There is a small “duck head” power plug with flip down prongs that can be used to minimize overall size, ideal if you have limited space in your bag. Also included is a longer cable that increases length to 12 feet. But, by far, the coolest aspect of the new adapter is the built-in LED that illuminates a ring just around the collar that connects to your ‘Book. The ring glows orange when the battery is charging, then green when it is fully charged.

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Figure 6: Two different logic boards, Rev. A (Left) Rev. B (Right).
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The overall system reportedly has 11 fixes over the previous TiBook, which I suspect include: DVD-ROM, battery, Airport antenna, trackpad and hinges

among others. The logic board is totally reworked since Rev. A with several Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) being moved or consolidated. Also note: the ribbon cables from the DVD-ROM have been moved and the trackpad has a new ribbon cable to the main board (for a total of two).

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Figure 7: Rev. A keyboard (top) and Rev. B (bottom). Rev. B adds
a second command key to the right of the space bar.
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One significant change that I did not notice until about two days into using the machine is the revised keyboard. I noticed it when I reached to click the mute key, normally F6, only to find that it is not there. Mute has moved over to F3 and the volume controls have moved over one key to F4 and F5. More significant is the addition of a second command key to the right of the space bar!

Finally Apple has swapped out the useless right hand option key for the overused command key. Now the shortcut to print (command-P) no longer requires an act of contortion that Cirque du Soleil would be proud of. Another small change is the spacers between the function keys. The Rev. A PowerBook G4s had three small breaks after the Esc, F4 and F8 keys. On the Rev. B keyboard they are moved to after Esc, F5 and F11. The reason for the move remains a mystery, but it places the keyboard lock more in the center of the keyboard.

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Figure 8: Rev. A (top) and Rev. B (bottom) with new
vents cut into the rear door for heat dissipation.
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Another new but subtle touch is the addition of louvres in the center of the rear door for heat dissipation. The door also functions slightly differently, staying in the open position better, the previous door wanted to spring closed. Without seeing the AC adapter, the louvres and the new keyboard layout are the only visual clues distinguishing Rev. B from Rev. A PowerBook G4s.

Another change in the new ‘Book is in the eight screws that hold the bottom bezel on the machine, Apple changed them from standard philips screws back to the Torx-8 screws found in many older generation PowerBooks. Luckily you only need to remove the bottom screws if you are installing an Airport card and/or changing the hard drive. Time to put the old Torx screwdrivers back into your computer bag folks!

Overall the new machine feels rigid and tight, like a thin metal notebook computer should feel. Sure some of this can be attributed to simply being new, but it definitely feels stronger and more sturdy. It should be interesting to see how the new Rev. B PowerBook holds up over time compared to the relatively good durability of the Rev. A PowerBook. Stay tuned to Go2Mac for more news on this wonderful machine, as it, er, breaks…

What is your take on the new 550 and 667 PowerBooks? Sound off in the Go2Mac PowerBook G4 Message Board. Do you have a 667? Considering one? Are they a worthwhile upgrade? Check out our new 667 Message Board

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