400MHz PowerBook G3

The latest PowerBook to be released by Apple has made small but significant steps to keep up with the competion. The most obvious difference to the PowerBook G3 is the size – it’s 20 per cent thinner and 2lbs lighter than its older brother. That may not sound like much, but when you pick it up you realize the real difference between bulky and petite. There are other cosmetic changes – which we’ll look at later – but the technological advances are inside. The processor has jumped to 400MHz, which is a significant-enough improvement to make even recent G3 PowerBook owners consider the upgrade. But perhaps comparison with older PowerBooks is a little unfair. This machine is so fast that you’re better off comparing with the desktop G3 models. The fastest Mac currently available is the blue-&-white G3 with a 400MHz processor – in our overall scoring system this machine achieved a MacBench 5.0 score of 1,912. This super waif could not match that, but it still clocked a staggering score of 1,705 – a fraction slower than the 350MHz desktop version. If you ever needed an excuse to ditch your desktop machine and go mobile, this is it. Other things to make the transition to mobile computing include dual-display and mirroring capabilities. This means you can have a good-sized screen when you are at your office base, and use other people’s screens for presentations on the road. The video controller is the ATI RAGE LT Pro, with 8MB of video memory - a light version of the mighty RAGE 128 found in the desktop models. The battery life has been significantly improved by using new longer-life batteries and Mac OS 8.6’s much-improved power handling. The PowerBook battery can now last up to five hours – and, if you use both battery bays, you can double that to ten. Using both batteries does mean that you need to take out the DVD drive. The 400MHz version includes DVD video, even in the UK where localization problems meant we had to go without until now. Rather than using a PC card to decode the DVD MPEG data, the hardware is actually on the motherboard. This is great for the 400MHz machines, but the 333MHz machine will need a third-party PC card decoder and DVD drive to add this function. Even with a single battery it is quite possible to watch two full-length DVD movies, which should make transatlantic flights more bearable. Floppy-disk drives are no longer an option. The theory being that if you are still using such ancient technology, you won’t be using this cutting-edge machine. A fair point, in my opinion. If you still require floppies, you can always use the new USB connections available with this machine. These add far more connectivity to the PowerBook, making it possible among other things to use the iMac mouse with it. More significantly, peripherals like USB scanners, printers, ISDN terminal adaptors and dozens of other devices are now accessible to PowerBook users. FireWire – Apple’s new ultra-fast connectivity link – was widely rumoured to be included with this machine on the motherboard, but this is not the case. Apple has decided to offer FireWire as a PC card addition. Working with Newer Technology, Apple will offer this feature as a built-to-order addition. One of the things that has enabled the new slimline look is losing one of the two PC card slots. This should pose no problem to most people as the kind of functionality usually offered by PC cards is now included on the motherboard. All these features are now at the back of the PowerBook; the modem was previously at the side. Newer Technology has been working on a version of the BookEndz desktop-dock for the new model. Now that all the technology is out of the way, I feel I should mention the feel of the new machine. The new PowerBook G3 retains all the slinky design features of the old PowerBook, and adds a bunch of new ones. One thing that was mentioned a lot when the first redesigned PowerBook G3 came out was whether the Apple logo lit up. Sadly, it didn’t – but this time it does. Because of the thinner screen the back-lit LCD illuminates the translucent white logo. It serves no useful purpose, but, boy, is it cool. Another minor change is to the keyboard, which now has translucent keys in a kind of copper-brown colour. The official Apple colour name is Java, although I think that name may already be a trademark for some other company...

OUR VERDICT

The whole PowerBook G3 package is highly desirable, and looks just as attractive as the skinny Vaio range from Sony. While it may not go as far as to beat the Vaio on looks, it certainly beats it on brains. (And most importantly, Mac brains.) Even the most conservative estimates put the G3 at around double the Vaio’s speed, so it looks like Apple has another winner on its hands.

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