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Apple gives iBooks a step up

The Mac maker releases three new versions of the portable computer with G4 processors, faster memory and improved graphics technology. The company also drops prices on eMacs.

Apple Computer on Wednesday turned up the performance of its iBook portable computers and turned down the prices on its eMac desktops.

The company updated its iBook by adding the PowerPC G4 processor, its OS X version 10.3 operating system, faster memory and improved graphics technology from ATI Technologies. In addition, Apple's new iBook models now include a minimum of 256MB of RAM and a CD burner.

The iBook revamp, which comes in time for the holiday season, is designed to help Apple compete more effectively in the notebook market--a hot segment of the computer market in which price competition is becoming stiffer, as most portable computers now come with at least 256MB of RAM and a CD burner. The new iBooks complement the latest PowerBook portables Apple launched in September.

As a result of the update, Apple's new entry-level iBook now sells for $1,099, $100 more than its previous model. But the latest iBook comes with an 800MHz G4 processor, 256MB of RAM, a 30GB hard drive, a 12.1-inch screen and a CD burner/DVD-ROM combination drive. The earlier machine came with an 800MHz G3 processor, 128MB of RAM and a CD-ROM drive, for $999. Apple is now selling the remaining G3 iBooks for $899, according to its Web site.

Apple said the new iBook lineup offers better features, including more memory and a slot-loading CD burner, with a smaller price tag. Customers can now find features in its $1,099 iBook that were previously only available in a model that cost $1,299, said Greg Joswiak, vice president of hardware product marketing at Apple.

"What we were able to do was get the price down to $1,099 and at the same time get the memory to 256MB," he said.

Apple also beefed up its iBooks that come with 14.1-inch screens. One combines a 933MHz G4 processor, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and CD burner/DVD-ROM combination drive for $1,299. The other iBook offers a 1GHz G4 processor and a 60GB hard drive, in addition to the features found in the 933MHz system. It will cost $1,499, Apple said.

The three machines each have ATI's Radeon 9200 graphics chip and come with 32MB of video memory. They can run for up to six hours on a single battery charge and can be outfitted with Apple's AirPort wireless networking for $99, Apple said.

Steve Baker, an analyst with The NPD Group, said the iBook update will allow Apple to woo mobile buyers and stay competitive with other brands.

"Apple is trying to hit (the right) price points," Baker said, but "it's not just distinguishing itself through price. It aims to do so with design. It's going for people who truly want to be mobile."

Meanwhile, Apple reduced prices on its eMac all-in-one desktops by $200. The eMac is designed to appeal to budget-computer buyers, with the education market in mind, Apple has said.

As part of the change, Apple has discontinued its 800MHz model, which sold for $799. The new entry-level Mac, which also costs $799, combines a 1GHz G4 chip with a CD burner/DVD-ROM combo drive, 128MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. It also includes ATI's Radeon 7500 graphics chip with 32MB of video memory. Apple previously sold a similarly featured 1GHz eMac with a 60GB hard drive for $999.

Apple's higher-end eMac, which comes with a 1GHz G4, 256MB of RAM, a 4X SuperDrive combination DVD-CD burner, an 80GB hard drive and the Radeon 7500 chip, now sells for $1,099. It had been $1,299.