Apple PowerBook G4 (17-inch)
Apple's reluctance to mess with a good thing brings a handful of modest upgrades to the new 17-inch PowerBook G4, which now offers a finer native resolution of 1,680x1,050 and a list price of $2,499--$200 less than before. Though it's significantly more expensive than comparable Windows-based hardware, the 17-inch PowerBook G4 remains the dream machine for creative professionals already committed to the Mac OS, and for anyone else looking for the sleekest, lightest-weight 17-inch wide-screen laptop on the market.
The 17-inch PowerBook has the same rock-solid aluminum-alloy case as the other PowerBooks. It measures 15.4 inches across, 10.2 inches deep, and just 1 inch thick, making it considerably sleeker than the competition. It's also remarkably lightweight at 6.9 pounds, which is at least 1 to 2 pounds lighter than most 17-inch PC laptops. For example, the , which starts at $1,099, weighs 8.3 pounds; the Dell Inspiron 9300, which starts at $999, weighs 8.2 pounds; and most other PC desktop replacements weigh much more. The high-end $2,499 weighs 9.5 pounds.
With the same keyboard layout as the 15-inch and models, the 17-inch PowerBook G4 has rounded keys that are shaped to fit your fingers. An ambient-light sensor automatically illuminates the keyboard in low lighting. The spacious touch pad's two-finger scrolling feature, for scrolling horizontally and vertically, is magical (use it for a few days, and you'll wonder how you ever did without it).
The screen is the star here. Apple claims it has improved the brightness by 46 percent (we did not test this claim) and increased the top resolution to 1,680x1,050 pixels (up from 1,440x900), giving you 36 percent more real estate on your screen. The higher resolution makes icons and text quite small, but the image quality is crisp, and the display is equally excellent for graphics work, watching movies, and surfing the Web.
Some of the 17-inch PowerBook G4's lightness comes from what it doesn't have. It lacks a TV tuner card, as found on the Qosmio G25-AV513 and the Sony VAIO VGN-AX570G, and it provides only two USB 2.0 ports; we consider four ports standard for a desktop replacement. Otherwise, the 17-inch PowerBook G4 has a complete assortment of connections, including a PC Card slot and ports for 56Kbps modem, 10/100/1,000 Ethernet, FireWire (one for 400 and one for 800), analog and digital audio input and output, VGA, S-Video, composite video, and DVI. It also has a slot-loading single-layer DVD burner. Since it comes on the heels of the revamped iMac G5, which has a built-in camera, we wish this pricey PowerBook also arrived with a built-in camera and Apple's Front Row software (and a remote). Alas.
Like all Apple laptops, the 17-inch PowerBook G4 lacks a true productivity suite, but it ships with one of the strongest software packages around. You get the latest version of the terrific, nicknamed Tiger, plus Apple's excellent software bundle for managing photos (iPhoto), videos (iMovie), and music (iTunes). Also included are more professional-grade apps, including Art Directors Toolkit, OmniOutliner, and QuickBooks for Mac.
The new PowerBook has similar components to those in the previous 17-inch model: a 1.67GHz G4 processor; 512MB of PC2-4200 DDR2 SDRAM (the previous model used DDR SDRAM); an ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 128MB graphics card; a new Bluetooth 2.0+EDR card; Airport Extreme 802.11g wireless; and a 120GB Ultra ATA/100 5,400rpm hard drive (the previous model had a 100GB drive) protected by Apple's Sudden Motion Sensor technology, which stops it from spinning when it detects imminent damage. If that drive is too slow, you can opt for a 100GB Ultra ATA/100 7,200rpm drive at checkout for the same price.
It's difficult to compare Apples and oranges (or PC laptops), but the new 17-inch PowerBook G4 isn't considerably faster than the previous version. While it turned in nearly identical results on our iTunes encoding test, it fared slightly better on our Photoshop test. Its scores on our Unreal 3D-gaming test show, again, that the PowerBooks don't cut the mustard for serious gaming.