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Apple's G3 the fastest notebook

Apple's new top-line PowerBook, with a 292-MHz PowerPC 750 chip, will outpace the 266-MHz and 300-MHz Pentium II notebooks also due this spring.

Apple Computer's (AAPL) notebook line is set to bloom in spring with the arrival of new PowerPC G3 systems that will strive to maintain their lead over Intel-based notebooks.

Apple's new top-line PowerBook is slated to feature a 292-MHz PowerPC 750 processor, outpacing the 266-MHz and 300-MHz Pentium II notebooks expected to be available in the April time frame. Currently, Apple's fastest notebook is the PowerBook G3 with a 250-MHz PowerPC 750 processor. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)

The second generation of G3 notebooks will be important for Apple on a number of fronts. First, the company can continue to claim bragging rights for shipping the fastest notebook, a fact which it has started to trumpet in television commercials.

More important, the new notebooks will signal Apple's continued effort to simplify its product lines and hence cut costs. Like the Power Mac G3 desktop systems, these notebooks will use a simplified, customizable circuit board design for all three different models, a technique which streamlines manufacturing.

Apple's new line of PowerBooks will run the gamut from a fully loaded notebook with a 14.1-inch active-matrix display and possibly a DVD-ROM drive at an expected price of around $6,300 to a midrange notebook with 233-MHz PowerPC 750 processor and 12.1-inch passive-matrix display for around $2,500.

In between, Apple is expected to offer a system with 250-MHz PowerPC processor and either 12.1-inch or 13.3-inch active-matrix display for $3,600 and $4,600, respectively.

Basing multiple products around a common circuit board saves Apple on production as well as inventory costs. With a common design, Apple does not have to keep as many systems and parts on hand.

So far, the Power Mac G3 desktop systems have been a hit for Apple because of their aggressive pricing, say numerous dealers. The company also seems to have maintained a steady supply of the systems for customers. Supply has been a chronic and often financially perilous problem for Apple.

Maintaining a steady supply of notebooks, which typically represent higher profit margins than desktop computers, will be essential to Apple as it tries to repeat or exceed its first quarter financial feat of turning a $45 million profit.

Apple is likely to phase out the 3400 series notebooks with the introduction of the next-generation G3 notebooks. The 3400 series PowerBooks were originally introduced in February 1997, and were refreshed in November with a faster PowerPC 750 processor.