PowerBook G3: Thinner, faster, more efficient

For those of you who need a notebook computer but eschew Microsoft Corp. products, you'll be happy to learn that Apple Computer Inc. has added two new versions of the PowerBook G3 to its impressive line of notebooks. Both versions come in the same case, but one features a 333 MHz processor, and the other features a 400 MHz processor, and each has a slightly different feature set.

These PowerBook G3s are lighter and thinner than previous G3 models. They weigh 7 pounds, 3 ounces, including the battery, CD-ROM or DVD-ROM, and AC power adapter, and they measure 1.7 inches thick.

Apple also has added some new features for which users might be willing to pay a premium price, which is what you'll have to pay to purchase these notebooks.

Unlike some older G3 models, these two new versions offer 14.1-inch active-matrix screens loaded with 8M of video memory for displaying millions of colors. Connecting to an external display (such as a monitor, projector or VCR) is easier now that you do not need an extra adapter, and you can view both displays simultaneously through the integrated S-video port. (In dual-display mode the LCD panel only displays thousands of colors, while the external can display millions.) The ATI Rage LT Pro video controller makes this possible.

Users also will find that they can work longer without replacing the battery. According to Apple, the lithium-ion battery can last up to five hours, up from only 3.5 hours on previous models, because of the efficiency of the G3 chips and the Mac OS 8.6 operating system, which also ships with the PowerBooks.

Both systems offer dual Universal Serial Bus ports, a built-in 56 kilobits/sec modem with V.90 support, a 10/100Base-T Ethernet port and infrared technology.

They also both come standard with 64M of RAM, expandable to 384M. An optional 10G hard drive is available as well. The hot-swappable expansion bay accepts a second battery as well as Iomega Corp. Zip and Imation Corp. SuperDisk drives. You also can insert the included "weight-saving module," a hollow plastic filler that protects the empty bay if you don't feel like lugging around extra weight you may not need. At the end of the day, your arms will thank you.

Other features vary, depending on whether you choose the 400 MHz or 333 MHz models. The 400 MHz model, which we tested, comes standard with a 6G hard drive, a 2X DVD-ROM drive (which also plays up to 20X CD-ROM), 1M of L2 cache and a nimble 160 MHz backside bus.

The 333 MHz model comes standard with a 4G hard drive, a 24X CD-ROM drive, 512K of L2 cache and a 133 MHz backside bus. In lieu of the CD-ROM, you can custom-order a DVD-ROM with this model. If you choose the 333 MHz model with a CD-ROM, be warned that Apple does not offer an upgrade to DVD-ROM for the 333 MHz yet, although Apple says other companies might offer an upgrade kit in the future.

We tested the DVD-ROM by slipping in a disk that contained a large multimedia file created by Macromedia Director and some QuickTime movies. Both files ran just as fast off the 2X DVD-ROM as off the hard drive. The 16-bit CD-quality sound was so good that we could hear imperfections in the 8-bit sound files that were in our Director movie.

The new notebooks also include two FireWire ports. FireWire ports, which operate at up to 400 megabits/sec, are designed specifically to allow users to hook up digital camcorders and other peripherals needed to support multimedia-intense applications.

We recently tested five other notebooks, all Intel Corp. Pentium-based, for graphics quality, sound quality, usability and ergonomics. The PowerBook G3 beats them all. If you are looking for a versatile, quick, light, stylish notebook, you owe it to yourself to check out these offerings from Apple.

But as good as the new G3s are, maybe the next versions will offer users something they'll really like: a lower price. That's the only qualm we have with either of these notebooks. The PowerBook G3s list at $2,499 on the open market for the 333 MHz standard configuration and at $3,499 for the 400 MHz standard configuration. Both are available on the GSA schedule.

But if you're used to paying premium prices for premium products, you may not suffer from too much sticker shock. A Corvette will get you where you're going fast, and in style, even though it may be out of another person's price range.

*****

PowerBook G3Apple Computer Inc.(408) 996-1010www.apple.com

Price and Availability: The PowerBook G3 333 MHz notebook has a list price of $2,499 on the open market. The PowerBook G3 400 MHz notebook is available for $3,499. Both also are available on the General Services Administration schedule.

Remarks: The new G3 PowerBooks offer style, usability and performance. A few surprises include the light weight and thin dimensions, as well as the video capabilities that come standard. Apple has been working hard to improve one of the most versatile laptop systems available. World Wide Web designers on the go, surveyors who need to record digital video data or presentation specialists who need portability will appreciate the features that these systems offer.

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