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Apple PowerBook G4 (PowerPC G4 1GHz review:

Apple PowerBook G4 (PowerPC G4 1GHz

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MSRP: $3,299.00
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The Good Backlit keyboard lights up automatically in low light; DVD-burning SuperDrive comes standard; built-in 802.11g and Bluetooth networking; attractive design; solid keyboard.

The Bad Doesn't outperform 15-inch Titanium model; awkward shape limits portability; weak standard warranty; no USB 2.0 ports.

The Bottom Line The 17-inch PowerBook is sexy, and it comes with great extras, but it's not much faster than the Titanium model.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.4 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Battery 8.0
  • Support 6.0

Apple's high-profile 17-inch PowerBook took on legendary status as would-be owners waited for this portable giant to start shipping. We can't deny that this is a rock star's notebook, what with its hot, new design; standard, built-in DVD burning and wireless networking; and awesome backlit keyboard. But the $3,299 17-inch PowerBook performs about the same as its 15-inch predecessor, and it's extremely awkward to carry. If you want an attractive, not-very-portable Mac with a 17-inch LCD and a DVD burner, an iMac is more than $1,000 cheaper. As Apple's new PowerBooks go, we think that the 12-inch model is the better, more portable deal; if you're after a G4-based desktop replacement, however, the high-end Titanium PowerBook is still our top choice. The 17-inch PowerBook G4, made of brushed aluminum alloy (like its new, 12-inch counterpart, rather than the titanium-built models of old), is almost ridiculously large; it's definitely a desktop replacement, and it's difficult to tote around. In everyday use, the PowerBook's extremely rectangular shape--15.4 by 10.2 by 1.0 inches--is a barrier to free motion. The notebook simply won't fit in most standard-sized laptop bags, and it's so long that when tucked under an arm, the end of the notebook bashes into passersby, turnstiles, and door frames. At 6.8 pounds (plus another 0.5 pounds for the power adapter), the PowerBook is more than 1 pound heavier than the 15-inch Titanium PowerBook, comparable to the Dell Inspiron 8500, and quite a bit lighter than desktop replacements such as the 8.1-pound Compaq Presario 3000 series and the 8.65-pound Gateway 600XL.



The PowerBook's size, not just its looks, turns heads.


The 17-inch-wide screen makes DVD viewing a pleasure.


There's one benefit to this notebook's strangely wide size, however. The 17-inch screen, viewable at 1,440x900 pixels and a 16:10 aspect ratio, makes watching DVDs in letterbox format a full-screen dream, and you can comfortably fit two open documents side by side. Text, however, appears slightly small at 1,440x900, a slight detraction. You can zoom in on or enlarge text to counteract the problem, but lowering the screen resolution from the native setting significantly deteriorates the image.

This marquee PowerBook's hottest feature, however, is its backlit keyboard. A few other notebooks, such as the IBM ThinkPad T40, feature some keyboard lighting--usually as a single light at the top of the screen--but the PowerBook uses an ambient sensor to detect low light and automatically illuminate the keyboard. In a darkened room, the letters and spaces between keys glow with a soft, purplish light. We found, however, that a room has to be quite dark for the backlighting to come on; we'd like to see a light-sensitivity setting in the System Preferences. Apple says that the backlighting won't eat battery life, as the PowerBook automatically dims its screen to compensate.




The main attraction: the keyboard lights up all by itself.


In daylight, the keyboard is fancy, but it's dwarfed by design.


The keyboard itself sports the same brushed-metal style--though it's actually plastic--as the 12-inch model, with full-sized, logically placed keys and comfortable, extremely quiet typing. The trackpad is huge--about four inches wide--with a single, enlarged mouse button. With so much extra space, we wish Apple would relent and toss in a second mouse button. In addition, the keyboard and trackpad both look tiny and awkward on such a large palette (maybe Apple could enlarge the keyboard to Pro size or throw in a numerical keypad to even things out a bit), and the trackpad is a bit too far from the keyboard for quick navigation. A set of speakers flank the keyboard, providing decent sound for music and movies.


The 17-inch PowerBook has all of the features that its new counterpart, the 12-inch PowerBook, lacks, plus a few more. You'll get a 1GHz G4 processor; 1MB of performance-enhancing L3 cache, which the 12-inch model lacks; 512MB of DDR RAM; a 60GB hard drive; and an Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go graphics card with 64MB of video RAM. You'll also get the Apple SuperDrive, which reads and writes CDs at 24X and 8X, respectively, and reads and writes DVDs at 8X and 1X, along with a built-in AirPort Extreme card, which provides 54Mbps, 802.11g-draft-compliant wireless networking that's compatible with the 11Mbps AirPort; and built-in Bluetooth for accessing Palm devices or the Internet via Bluetooth cell phones. Of course, there's also a built-in 56Kbps modem. The PowerBook's specs compare well against those of desktop-replacement notebooks on the PC side, few of which offer DVD-burning drives.

In terms of processor, memory, and drive space, however, the 17-inch PowerBook is almost identical to the 15-inch Titanium model--only extras such as the faster SuperDrive, the AirPort Extreme card, Bluetooth, the 17-inch screen, and the new keyboard design and lighting set the new model apart. The 17-inch PowerBook performed about the same as the 15-inch model, but its battery didn't last as long. It outperformed a similarly configured iMac, as well, though the iMac had half as much memory. Overall, its performance is excellent, but it's not significantly better than that of the iMac, and it's about the same as that of the Titanium PowerBook.



The FireWire port supports the faster FireWire 800 standard.


That slot, which the 12-inch PowerBook lacks, is for the PC Card.


As for connectivity, the 17-inch PowerBook comes all decked out--except for the odd omission of USB 2.0 ports. The left side of the notebook sports both modem and a USB 1.1 port, an audio-in jack, and a headphone jack. On the right side, there's another USB 1.1 opening; two FireWire ports (one is FireWire 800, a faster standard that supports data rates of 800Mbps, compared to 400Mbps for standard FireWire); gigabit Ethernet; a DVI-output port for connecting a digital monitor or projector; and S-Video out. The PowerBook ships with a DVI-to-VGA adapter that lets you plug in an extra (nondigital) monitor.

As always, Apple's software package is stellar but only if you buy your own office suite. You'll get OS X 10.2.3; the excellent new iLife bundle, which includes iDVD, iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie; as well as QuickBooks 5.0 from Intuit, Apple iSync, FAXstf, and OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle--an elegant charting app--from the Omni Group. Apple also bundles the Microsoft Office X Test Drive, which lets you use Office free for 30 days before you buy a license. Weirdly, though, Apple doesn't bundle its own office suite, AppleWorks, with the PowerBook line, although an OS X version is available.


Application performance
The 17-inch PowerBook features nearly the same system specs as the higher-end of the two 15.2-inch PowerBook configurations: a 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor, a 1MB L3 cache, 512MB SDRAM, and a 60GB, 4,200rpm hard drive (the 17-inch system features the faster Ultra ATA/100 drive interface; the 15.2-inch drive uses Ultra ATA/66). The 17-inch PowerBook also features a Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go graphics card with 64MB of DDR video memory.

Not surprisingly, given the nearly identical specs, the 17-inch and 15.2-inch PowerBooks performed about the same in CNET Labs' application-based tests. Both of the 1GHz systems outpaced the 12.1-inch, G4-867MHz PowerBook. The 12.1-inch system's performance suffered less from a slower clock speed than from its comparatively paltry 256MB of RAM. This discrepancy was particularly noticeable in our Photoshop tests, which are processor intensive and employ a large test file. The 17-inch PowerBook also outperformed a 1GHz G4 iMac desktop configured with 256MB RAM (Apple also offers the 1GHz iMac configured with 1GB of RAM), but the differences weren't significant, and most users wouldn't notice a difference in everyday use, especially on an iMac with more RAM.

CNET Labs uses three different applications (Photoshop 7.0, iMovie, and iTunes) to test Apple's notebook performance. We perform a number of common, processor-intensive tasks in Photoshop; in iMovie, we convert a large movie file into QuickTime; and in iTunes, we convert a music file into MP3, timing each procedure.

iMovie test  (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time, in minutes, to convert a movie to QuickTime  
PowerBook G4-1GHz 15.2-inch
2.5 
PowerBook G4-1GHz 17-inch
2.6 
iMac G4-1GHz 17-inch
2.9 
PowerBook G4-867MHz 12.1-inch
3.0 
 
iTunes test  (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time, in seconds, to convert a CD track into an MP3 file  
PowerBook G4-1GHz 17-inch
52 
PowerBook G4-1GHz 15.2-inch
59 
iMac G4-1GHz 17-inch
67 
PowerBook G4-867MHz 12.1-inch
70 
 
Photoshop 7.0 test  (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time, in seconds, to perform 10 functions  
PowerBook G4-1GHz 15.2-inch
52 
PowerBook G4-1GHz 17-inch
61 
iMac G4-1GHz 17-inch
109 
PowerBook G4-867MHz 12.1-inch
135 
 
System configurations:

Apple iMac G4 (1GHz, 17-inch)
PowerPC G4, 1GHz; 256MB PC2100 (266MHz) DDR SDRAM; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 64MB; 80GB 7,200rpm; Ultra ATA/100 hard drive; OS X 10.2.3

Apple PowerBook G4 (867MHz, 12.1-inch)
PowerPC G4, 867MHz; 256MB PC2100 (266MHz) DDR SDRAM; Nvidia GeForce4 420 Go 32MB; 40GB 4,200rpm; Ultra ATA/100 hard drive; OS X 10.2.3

Apple PowerBook G4 (1GHz, 15.2-inch)
PowerPC G4, 1GHz; 512MB PC133 SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 64MB; 60GB 4,200rpm; Ultra ATA/66 hard drive; OS X 10.1.2

Apple PowerBook G4 (1GHz, 17-inch)
PowerPC G4, 1GHz; 512MB PC2700 (333MHz) DDR SDRAM; Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go 64MB; 60GB 4,200rpm; Ultra ATA/100 hard drive; OS X 10.2.4


Battery life
We expected this PowerBook's huge 17-inch display to significantly hamper the battery-life performance, at least compared to the results from smaller PowerBook configurations. But although it features a slightly less-capable battery than the 15.2-inch system (a 55-watt-hour rating vs. a 61-watt-hour rating), the 17-inch PowerBook lasted nearly as long in our DVD-playback test. In fact, all three of the PowerBook designs seem to provide about the same amount of battery life: the tiny 12.1-inch system, which has a 47-watt-hour battery, outlasted the 17-inch model by only 11 minutes. Overall, battery life is roughly two and a half hours at high drain, which is acceptable. That's long enough to watch most movies, and it would probably last much longer using productivity apps rather than watching DVDs. In order to drain the battery of an Apple notebook, CNET Labs plays a DVD movie in full-screen mode with the sound on.

DVD-movie battery-drain test  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
In hours  
PowerBook G4-867MHz 12.1-inch
2.6 
PowerBook G4-1GHz 15.2-inch
2.5 
PowerBook G4-1GHz 17-inch
2.4 
 
System configurations:

Apple PowerBook G4 (867MHz, 12.1-inch)
PowerPC G4, 867MHz; 256MB PC2100 (266MHz) DDR SDRAM; Nvidia GeForce4 420 Go 32MB; 40GB 4,200rpm; Ultra ATA/100 hard drive; OS X 10.2.3

Apple PowerBook G4 (1GHz, 15.2-inch)
PowerPC G4, 1GHz; 512MB PC133 SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 64MB; 60GB 4,200rpm; Ultra ATA/66 hard drive; OS X 10.1.2

Apple PowerBook G4 (1GHz, 17-inch)
PowerPC G4, 1GHz; 512MB PC2700 (333MHz) DDR SDRAM; Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go 64MB; 60GB 4,200rpm; Ultra ATA/100 hard drive; OS X 10.2.4


Apple offers a somewhat stingy one-year warranty on parts and labor on the 17-inch PowerBook. For $349, you can extend the warranty to three years, which we recommend if you plan to tote this giant around a lot. You also get three months' worth of free (and toll-free) technical-support calls. After that, calls cost $49 per incident, unless you can demonstrate that a problem was caused by a factory defect.

The 104-page, illustrated, paper manual in the box is clear and informative, providing instructions on setup, use, installation of additional memory, installation of an AirPort Extreme card, changing the battery, and simple troubleshooting. You'll also find a rich resource of help information, software updates, and discussion forums at Apple's Web site, though you must register--for free--to use the help pages.

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