Apple's new PowerBook G4 range

Introduction

If you already use an aluminum PowerBook – any 12- or 17-inch model, or a 15-inch unit that's less than 18 months old – you're probably not going to get very excited about these latest updates to Apple's pro laptop line. Though the new G4 models offer performance improvements across the board, plus a couple of neat new tricks, their design and core features are identical to those of their predecessors.

Most PowerBook configurations are now £50 to £120 less than before, which makes these enhanced models even more attractive if you're thinking of going mobile or upgrading an older laptop. G5 laptops may not appear until much later this year, as Apple struggles to fit the super-fast processor into a thin, mobile enclosure that currently can't cool the chip sufficiently.

If your laptop is a couple of years old, with a much slower processor and outdated technologies (for example, 11Mbps AirPort and USB 1.0) this latest line-up is certainly worth considering. You can then update to the second iteration of G5 PowerBooks later in 2006 when any launch issues should have been dealt resolved.

If you can wait a month or so, we'd recommend buying after Apple has announced the next version of its operating system, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger – expected at the end of March, but this date may slip – or you'll soon have to cough up another £99 for it.

While the 12-inch PowerBook is a little lighter and has a few features the iBook lacks (notably audio in and out ports and support for extended desktop mode on external displays), iBooks remain appreciably less expensive (especially if you don't need a SuperDrive) – so don't automatically assume that PowerBook is best.

The 15-inch and 17-inch PowerBooks, on the other hand, are qualitatively different from any iBook. Gigabit Ethernet and FireWire 800 are nice to have and the backlit keyboard is just plain cool.

But the real difference, of course, is in the screens: The 15-inch widescreen, with a native resolution of 1,280-x-854 pixels, can display almost 40 per cent more information than the 1,024-x-768-pixel displays of the 12-inch PowerBook and both the 12- and 14-inch iBooks. On the 15-inch system, it's actually possible to keep an eye on your mail, for example, while you browse the Web or work in an office application – something that involves considerably more hassle on a 1,024-x-768-pixel system.

As for the screen-space on the mighty 17-inch PowerBook – those 1,440-x-900 pixels really make this portable a truly complete system with little need for a larger external display back at base. It now comes with a meaty 100GB, 5,400rpm hard drive and healthy 128MB of video RAM, and can drive one of Apple's 30-inch monster LCDs. You can also add these great features to the 1.67GHz 15-inch PowerBook, as well: £70 to up the disk to 100GB; and the same amount for the 128MB video card.

Either way, we're not going to wait till 2006 for a G5 laptop. For most users the new PowerBooks and even the current iBooks deliver more than adequate portable, plus a terrific set of features.

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