Inner Beauty

SAN FRANCISCO (03/28/2000) - Ever since Steve Jobs returned to Apple Computer Inc., we've come to expect drama when the company introduces new products, whether they're colorful and cuddly iMacs or shocking-blue Power Macs. But sometimes the most-dramatic changes don't have to do with a flashy appearance -- they're all about what's inside.

That's certainly the case with the latest updates to Apple's line of portable Macs, the PowerBook and the iBook, announced at Macworld Expo Japan in February. The PowerBook, whose name has been officially truncated from the previous "Macintosh PowerBook G3," hasn't been redesigned into a translucent, fruit-flavored gadget -- it's a dead ringer for last year's model, right down to the bronze-colored keyboard. But in truth, this PowerBook is dramatically different, with a blistering G3 processor, FireWire connectivity, AirPort support, and much more.

In contrast, the new iBook Special Edition adds a third color to Apple's line of consumer portables, but beneath the skin it's largely the same iBook Apple announced last fall.

That's the funny thing about appearances -- they can be deceiving. When it comes to actually using your Mac, the real substance is on the inside, and that's where Apple's new PowerBook really shines.

Familiar Faces

The first thing you'll notice about the new PowerBooks is that their prices haven't changed-still $2,499 to $3,997.

THE NAME GAME

ProductListPriceProcessorRAM/MaximumHardDriveOpticalDriveSpare Batteryand AdapterPowerBook$2,499 400MHz G3 64MB/512MB 6GBDVD-ROMnoPowerBook$3,499 500MHz G3128MB/512MB12GBDVD-ROMnoPowerBook$3,997 500MHz G3128MB/512MB18GBDVD-ROMyesAll systems include a 1MB backside cache and a 100MHz system bus.

The familiar expansion bays are still there, and they work with batteries and expansion drives from last year's PowerBook. The PC Card slot hasn't disappeared either; it still supports the same cards as the old machine, including Type I and Type II PC Cards and Zoomed Video PC Cards.

Lift the new PowerBook, and you'll find it a little lighter than the previous version. It weighs in at 6.1 pounds-5.7 pounds with only the battery and a weight-saving module (essentially a hollow battery case) in the second slot-compared with the 6.2 pounds of the older high-end system.

Open the PowerBook, and you'll see the same bronze keyboard and bright 14.1-inch active-matrix LCD panel. Even battery life remains the same: Apple estimates that you'll get five hours of life out of each charge (or double that with a second battery installed).

Close Inspection

Take a closer look and you'll notice some subtle differences. The blinking sleep-indicator light has been replaced by a gently pulsing one. And the old, solid-black accessories have been replaced by snazzier ones-the PowerBook comes with a round, silver power-cord holder and an AC adapter similar to that of the iBook. Even the VGA adapter has an "ice" color scheme. Under the display, the moniker reads simply "PowerBook," reflecting Apple's current minimalist approach to naming its systems.

It's when you turn the new PowerBook around and open the rear port door, however, that you begin to realize that the real story behind the latest PowerBook is on the inside.

Fire When Ready

When it comes to connecting other devices to this PowerBook, you'll be glad to find that most of the ports you're used to are still there. Instead of the SCSI port, however, there are two FireWire ports.

The new FireWire ports operate on a single bus and are powered. That means the peripherals you attach to them can draw their power from the PowerBook-though that will drain your battery faster-without needing a separate power supply.

The FireWire ports can support a combined total of 63 peripherals, including additional hard drives and digital video cameras.

Also gone is the SCSI Disk Mode option, which let you hook up the PowerBook to your desktop Mac via SCSI so that one machine's hard drive appeared on the other's desktop. It's been replaced by FireWire Target Disk mode. Even better, the new PowerBook can boot up from an external FireWire hard drive.

The 2000 PowerBook also offers the same two independently powered USB ports included in the previous line, allowing you to connect a total of 127 hot-swappable USB devices.

Speed Demon

Moving deeper inside, you'll discover that the new PowerBooks are available in 400MHz and 500MHz G3 PowerPC configurations. If you're hoping for a G4 notebook, though, you still have to wait: the current G4's high power consumption and resulting heat continue to preclude it from being used in portable Macs.

On the other hand, you can expect to experience CPU performance levels nearing those of the latest G4 computers on applications that don't take advantage of the G4's Velocity Engine. The G3 PowerBook steps up its system bus speed to 100MHz (from 66MHz), bringing it up to par with the Power Mac G4s. In addition, all new PowerBooks standardize on a 1MB Level 2 backside cache, resulting in increased speed and stability.

Great Graphics

Graphics professionals and gamers should be pleased with the PowerBook's graphics performance. It ships with the speedy ATI Rage Mobility 128 graphics chip set with AGP 2x support for 2-D and 3-D graphics, and 8MB of SDRAM video memory. Though not as powerful as the graphics card on the G4 desktop, the card should offer impressive portable graphics performance-meaning higher frame rates in your favorite scoot-and-shoot games and increased responsiveness in graphics-intensive applications. You'll also be able to see those gory games (or your presentations and designs for work) in living color. The monitor supports millions of colors at a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels and scales down to 800 by 600 or 640 by 480.

I Want My DVD

To showcase that graphics power, all 2000 PowerBook models ship with a 6x DVD-ROM drive (only high-end models included DVD in 1999). The new DVD drive can read DVD-ROM, DVD-Video (movies), and-a first for PowerBooks-2.6GB DVD-RAM media. The drive can also read CD-ROMs at up to 24x.

Getting Air

It's no secret that Apple has been striving to include AirPort compatibility in all its models so that all Mac users can enjoy this new wireless way to surf the Internet and network multiple Macs. With the new PowerBooks, the company can cross that item off its to-do list. Lift up the keyboard and you'll discover a slot for an optional $99 AirPort networking card, which enables the PowerBook's built-in AirPort antenna. In addition, you'll find access to the hard drive and RAM expansion bay.

The 2000 PowerBook also includes the latest AirPort 1.1 software, which allows you to use any AirPort-equipped Mac as a base station. You'll avoid the $299 cost of a hardware base station, but you'll need to keep your PowerBook hardwired to your network, and this will affect its portability.

AirPort 1.1 also improves compatibility for users who had trouble connecting their AirPorts to their Internet service providers (although connecting to America Online via AirPort was still not possible at press time). An active roaming feature allows the AirPort connection to seamlessly transfer to the closest AirPort Base Station if you're in an environment that has more than one, such as an office or school.

The Last Word

Regardless of where you choose to use your new PowerBook, you'll have three configurations to consider.

For $3,499, you'll get a 500MHz G3 processor, 128MB of RAM, a 12GB hard drive, and a DVD-ROM drive. The $3,997 system pumps up the hard drive to 18GB and includes a second battery (normally $129) and an extra AC adapter (normally $69). You can also specify your own built-to-order configurations with up to 18GB of hard-drive space and 512MB of RAM by visiting the Apple Store (http://store.apple.com).

But the low-end configuration is the most impressive. It offers a 400MHz processor, 64MB of SDRAM, a 6GB hard drive, and a DVD-ROM drive for $2,499. If that's still too steep, you might also consider a revamped iBook, which now features more memory and a bigger hard drive than its predecessor, as well as a new color.

With the introduction of the new PowerBook, Apple now offers a completely integrated product line. All systems feature AirPort compatibility, and most-with the exception of the iBook and low-end iMac-include FireWire ports and DVD drives to take advantage of desktop video capabilities. The best news about the 2000 PowerBook is that it takes what was superb about the PowerBook and makes it even better.

Assistant Editor FRITH BREITZER covers displays, imaging hardware, and anything big that Apple announces at Macworld Expo.iBook Gets BrawnyThe iBook, released last September, offered a new take on a low-cost portable-one with style and good performance. However, in order to achieve the $1,599 price, Apple skimped on built-in storage and RAM. It was the latter item that caused the most trouble, because with only 32MB of RAM, the iBook not only had barely enough memory to run one application, but also exhibited stability problems (these vanished when the base configuration was expanded to 64MB; see Reviews, January 2000).

More Bang

With the release of the 2000 iBook, which started shipping in February, Apple boosted the on-board RAM to where it should've been in the first place: 64MB, bringing the iBook in line with the rest of the Mac product lineup (for details, see the table "Bigger, Better, Grayer"). It also doubled the iBook's anemic internal hard drive from 3GB to a much more spacious 6GB of storage, a necessity these days if you carry around lots of MP3 files or need many applications loaded on your computer. The processor speed stays the same at 300MHz, but as a result of the RAM boost, the iBook should seem much faster to users who have been struggling with the 32MB version of the portable. And for those who find even 64MB of RAM too meager, the 2000 iBook can handle up to 320MB of RAM, double the previous maximum of 160MB.

BIGGER, BETTER, GRAYER

ProductListPriceProcessorRAM/MaximumHardDriveOpticalDriveColoriBook (1999)$1,599 *300MHz G3 32MB/160MB3GBCD-ROMtangerine, blueberryiBook (2000)$1,599300MHz G3 64MB/320MB6GBCD-ROMtangerine, blueberryiBookSpecial Edition$1,799366MHz G3 64MB/320MB6GBCD-ROMgraphite* No longer sold.

All other specifications stay the same: built-in 10/100BaseT Ethernet networking, a 56-Kbps modem, a 2x AGP ATI Rage Mobility graphics controller with 4MB of SDRAM, a 24x CD-ROM drive, a USB port, and a 12.1-inch active-matrix display capable of a maximum resolution of 800 by 600 pixels.

Since the price remains $1,599, the blueberry and tangerine iBooks are now an even better value than before.

The Graphite Blues

Too bad the same can't be said for the iBook Special Edition (SE), which comes in a slick new "graphite" (gray) and "ice" (white) case.

Except for the gray rubber bumpers, which are semitranslucent, unlike their blue and orange counterparts, the only difference between an ordinary iBook and a Special Edition is an additional 66MHz of processor speed-and an additional $200 tacked on to the price. The 366MHz iBook SE retails for $1,799.

Though Apple claims that the jump in speed and sexy new color are enough to justify the extra expense, our initial reaction is less enthusiastic. Consider that the jump from the $1,299 iMac DV to the $1,499 iMac DV Special Edition includes more RAM and a larger hard drive (and both models include Apple's great new iMovie software).

On the other hand, users who were reluctant to be seen in public carrying a tangerine or blueberry iBook by its purselike handle may find the slightly faster, more businesslike iBook Special Edition worth the price.-ANDREW GOREMobile Moviemaking?

The 2000 PowerBook has all the bells and whistles necessary to be a no-compromise portable digital video-editing system. Unfortunately, despite its brilliant design, extensive feature set, and incredible value, the new PowerBook gets you only halfway to mobile moviemaking.

Video Void

Unlike the iMac DV, which includes Apple's iMovie editing software, the PowerBook does not include any digital-video software. Should you want to turn your new PowerBook into a video-editing studio, you'll need to pay extra for the necessary software. And the amount you'll fork over isn't necessarily insignificant: Apple does not offer its easy-to-use iMovie software independent of the iMac DV, which means you're forced to choose Apple's $999 Final Cut Pro, another high-end program such as the $549 Adobe Premiere (800/833-6687, http://www.adobe.com), or an entry-level option such as Digital Origin's $149 EditDV Unplugged (800/572-3487, http://www.digitalorigin.com).

Desktop video is one of Apple's main focuses for the year 2000. However, by not including at least an entry-level video-editing application with the new PowerBook, the company has missed an ideal opportunity to promote DV to an important new audience: the mobile professional.

Just because people buy a "pro" Mac-such as the 2000 PowerBook-doesn't mean they're high-end users across the board. In combination with iMovie, the new PowerBook could be a great desktop video ambassador. And professional digital video users would still have the option of upgrading to Final Cut Pro to meet their more demanding requirements.-ANDREW GORERear WindowPowerAudio-in portAudio-out portTwo USB ports10/100BaseT EthernetTwo FireWire portsS-Video outVGA out56-Kbps modem4-Mbps IrDA infrared.

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