Where's My Wallet?: New PowerBook G4s Examined [Updated]

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Date: Wednesday, November 6th, 2002, 12:48
Category: Archive

Editor’s note: In a ridiculously large oversight on my part, I claimed that the video system hadn’t changed. I was misreading a spec sheet, and I apologize for the mistake. I’ve added details below of the new ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 video, which looks like great news. On the Bluetooth point, though, I seem to be right. Check the specs; Apple never lists built-in Bluetooth and still offers the USB D-Link adapter as an option, not that this is likely to be make-or-break for anyone! -PK

Apple today introduced a new PowerBook G4 that fulfills users’ two biggest requests: a faster processor and a DVD-burning SuperDrive. Video, audio, graphics, and science pros everywhere (among others) must be shouting out a collective cry of joy.

From the outside, the new PowerBook G4 looks identical to the previous models, based on specs released by Apple today. When fired up, though, the machine has some key differences. A 867MHz or 1GHz PowerPC G4 is now hooked up to the Ti’s 133MHz system bus. The new Ti is the first laptop to include a 1MB L3 cache, says Apple. And there’s a SuperDrive, complete with DVD-R movie burning capability. The conversion to the slot-loading, compact drive seems to have taken the edge off on SuperDrive performance, though. While Apple’s desktop SuperDrives and external FireWire drives using the standard Pioneer mechanism burn DVD-R discs at 2x and read CDs at 24x, the PowerBook drives only burn DVD-Rs at 1x. Other specs are the same (6x DVD read, 8x CD-R write, 4x CD-RW write, 24x CD-R read). But, anyway, who cares? A slot-loading SuperDrive PowerBook?! Video producers can shoot film, dump it onto their PowerBooks, edit it with Final Cut Pro and burn a DVD, without ever touching a desktop! And keep in mind the processor is going to be most helpful writing DVD-R movies because of the processor-intensive scripting / prerendering phase.

Graphics performance has been upgraded in what Apple describes as a “generational leap.” The new graphics system features the ATI Mobility Radeon 9000, powering Quake III Arena at a full 76 fps at 1024x768xmillions according to Apple tests. The ATI card has some neat additional features: “Fullstream” which ATI says reduces those chunky video artifacts in streaming video, improved power management for better battery life, improved DVD playback, nifty antialiasing and light/shadow rendering, and up to 64MB of DDR SDRAM in the high-end PowerBook. There’s even “the industry�fs best anisotropic filtering.” If you know what that is, please write in. Apple says the new video card, combined with the screen we already love and OpenGL in OS X 10.2, makes for a great experience in gaming and video, and given the reliance on OpenGL throughout OS X, even users in other fields are likely to benefit.

There’s a lot in this machine that’s the same: RAM remains 256MB / 512MB of PC133 SDRAM, and hard drives are still 4200rpm Ultra ATA/66 HD drives (40 and 60 GB instead of 30 and 40). And, despite rumors, there’s no onboard Bluetooth or larger screen. But we’re not complaining — even though I’d still like to see two FireWire ports instead of just one. Yes, technically this upgrade is a “speed bump” — but file this under the “throw out your old PowerBook and buy a new one” kind of speed bump.

So the big question now is, is this it? My guess would be that more significant underlying revisions like the rumors we’ve reported about Variable Bus Timing PowerBooks are further off in the future. It’s not hard to believe Jobs might be avoiding Macworlds for Apple upgrades, except on special occasions. Apple can reserve Macworlds for earthshaking press-friendly announcements like new iMacs, and keep the channel from clogging up with unused laptop inventory every time the Mac community thinks the Next Big Thing is coming.

There’s still room for growth, of course. But Apple is definitely keeping pace, the Ti is still insanely cool, and if you’ve been waiting for a revision, I say wait no more. Sell the car now and buy a cheap moped and the GHz/SuperDrive PowerBook G4. Better things will always be on the way, but major hardware tweaking takes time. You can have a machine right now that will quite simply rock for pro work. After your first PowerBook-produced movie makes it big, you’ll have the money for the next revision from Apple. (Don’t you like my rationalizations? Just credit me as an ‘associate producer’ and I’m happy.)

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