Review Ten months is a long time to go without a hardware refresh in the PC industry. For Apple, whose top-end PowerBook notebooks pretty much defined the genre, it's an eternity. The introduction this month of new, speed-bumped PowerBooks thus felt enormously overdue - the delay had led many to expect the fabled PowerBook G5.
Instead, Apple rolled out a triplet of machines, the 12in versions pushed to 1.5GHz, and the 15in and 17in models to 1.67GHz - up from 1.5GHz, a notional 11 per cent boost.
Offering such a modest improvement - lagging well behind Moore's Law - Apple has focussed on improving other facets, so what used to be build-to-order is now standard. Memory is, at last, 512MB, expandable to 2GB if you start with a 1GB module. The hard drives run at 5400rpm, rather than the 4200rpm common in notebooks. Bluetooth 2.0 and 802.11g Wi-Fi are built in. New trackpads offer a finger-driven scrolling facility. Surprisingly, the frontside bus hasn't been upgraded - it's still 167MHz, meaning it now runs up to ten times slower than the CPU. The PowerBook FSB speed has been in the mid-100s since 2001.
That the demand for these faster machines existed is clear: they're presently the number two seller on the Apple Store, behind the substantially cheaper iPod shuffle. But are they really worth it? We tested a 1.67GHz 15in PowerBook with 512MB RAM and DVD-R Superdrive.
First, an admission. I ordered one of these, to replace my ageing 500MHz 12in iBook, before the call came to review it. I just knew I needed a bigger screen and faster CPU. Off went my order, and then in came the review unit.
It's the same slim design as before, encased in aluminium with the screen hinged inside the body, a design first used in the iBook four years ago. There are two USB 2.0 sockets on either side of the body, along with separate Firewire 400 and Firewire 800 ports, sound in and out, a DVI connector for outside display, Gigabit Ethernet, a PC Card slot and modem port. The hard drive comes in 80GB or 100GB sizes. All in a package weighing 2.5kg (5.6lb) whose price has dropped some since last year. The standard version comes with a slot-loading CD burner; an 8x DVD burner is optional.
Turn it on, and the PowerBook shows off its graphics ability right from the start. The 15.2in screen is distinctly brighter than previous models and very crisp. The 1280 x 854 resolution isn't the best available on the market; Dell and IBM offer native resolutions up to 1600 x 1200. While Apple was first to offer 15in and, later, 17in screen sizes, it hasn't led the pack on resolutions. The Radeon, however. can drive a separate monitor as a mirror or as a second display with up to 2048 x 1536 pixels.