Pumping up volume on PowerBook G4

Like Popeye eating a can of spinach, Apple Computer Inc. has pumped up the PowerBook G4 notebook with a dose of the latest technology. Apple has ratcheted up the specifications to reflect today's cutting-edge standards and added a few extra features as well.

When we looked at the first version of the PowerBook G4 in April 2001, the price was $2,599 and the processor was 400 MHz. The current model comes with a $2,999 price tag and a 1 GHz processor. You can also buy an 867 MHz version for $2,299.

What else do you get for that additional $400? For starters, there are three brand new features: An audio line in, a Digital Visual Interface (DVI) port instead of a VGA port and, according to Apple, the industry's first slot-loading SuperDrive, a DVD-R/CD-RW drive.

The SuperDrive, which only comes with the 1 GHz configuration, allows you to burn custom CDs and DVDs using Apple's pre-installed iDVD software. The 867 MHz configuration features a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combination drive.

The DVI port allows you to connect external digital displays to the notebook. With the optional new DVI to Apple Display Connector (ADC) adapter, you can also connect Apple's digital flat-panel displays, including the 23-inch Cinema Display.

If you want to use VGA devices, you can use the included DVI to VGA adapter.

With the audio line in, you can connect microphones for recording or plug in devices such as a stereo or Walkman for converting analog sound into MP3 files.

Features that represent improvements or increases since the first PowerBook G4 include the 1,280 x 854 display resolution, 512M of PC 133 SDRAM (expandable to 1G), 40G hard drive, Gigabit Ethernet, 1M of Double Data Rate SDRAM, 64M of video memory and the Mac OS X operating system. Apple ships the system with Mac OS 9 preloaded as well, so you can run applications that are not yet compatible with Mac OS X.

The AirPort Card that was optional on the 400 MHz PowerBook G4 is now built into the 1 GHz model, although it's still a $99 option on the 867 MHz version. Users who purchase the optional AirPort base station for $299 can enjoy wireless local-area network and Internet access. The base station can host up to 50 users and features 128-bit encryption support and a built-in firewall. Bluetooth wireless technology is another option if you purchase a third-party USB adapter and additional Apple software.

Like the first PowerBook G4, this version features a gorgeous, cinematic 15.2-inch screen with an aspect ratio that is much wider relative to its height than a TV screen or typical PC monitor. The ports are the same ones featured on the original model: FireWire, two USB, Kensington Microware Ltd. Kensington lock, S-Video out (compatible with National TV Standards Committee and Phase Alternating Line, both color TV standards), a Type II PC Card slot and a port for the internal 56 kilobits/sec modem.

We were happy to see that the current model comes in the same sleek, titanium case and surprisingly thin form as the previous one. At 5.4 pounds, it also weighs about the same. The two major physical changes are the elimination of the infrared port and the five programmable function keys.

The PowerBook G4 comes with 90 days of free telephone technical support and a one-year limited warranty. Extending the warranty to three years of telephone support and repairs will cost you an extra $349. This extended warranty, called the AppleCare Protection Plan, also includes access to Web-based support resources and diagnostic tools.

Compared to PC-based notebooks, you don't get quite as much bang for your buck with the PowerBook. It's a fine machine, but a little pricey, so if you're already a PC user you probably won't want to convert to Apple notebooks unless you need an integrated CD and DVD burner or prefer the screen's aspect ratio. But for existing Mac users, the latest PowerBook is a winner.

REPORT CARD

PowerBook G4

Grade: A

Apple Computer Inc.

(408) 496-1010

www.apple.com

The 1 GHz PowerBook G4 costs $2,999, and the 867 MHz version costs $2,299. Both are available at Apple's Web site, Apple's retail stores and authorized resellers.

With the latest PowerBook G4, Apple has improved a notebook that was already a winner, although the unit still carries a premium price tag.

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