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 HP Pavilion dv8000z, 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 Toshiba Qosmio G25-AV513 weighs 9.5 pounds.
With the same keyboard layout as the 15-inch and 12-inch 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 iSight 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 Mac OS X, nicknamed Tiger, plus Apple's excellent iLife '05 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.
Apple is touting the improved battery performance in this PowerBook, claiming 5.5 hours of use under optimal conditions. We did in fact see a significant improvement in our tests. Those improvements aren't due to the battery itself, but to hardware and software tweaks that let the PowerBook run more efficiently. We got 3.6 hours of continuous DVD play in our battery-drain test, which is almost an hour better than we got from the previous 17-inch model, and best of class for a laptop its size.
Apple offers a one-year warranty with the 17-inch PowerBook G4, which is the typical term included with most home and small-business laptops. But the company provides a short 90-day tech-support policy--the same that comes with some lower-end Dell laptops but far inferior to the standard one-year warranty that HP and most other vendors offer. At least Apple's support Web site features a useful forum section along with the usual FAQ and troubleshooting items.
For more detailed information about warranties and service plans, check out Computer Shopper's overview of 37 major computer vendors.
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iBook G4 (1.33GHz, 12-inch)
OS X 10.4.2; PowerPC G4 1.33GHz; 512MB PC2700 333MHz DDR SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 9550 32MB; Fujitsu MHV2040AT 40GB 4,200rpm
iBook G4 (1.33GHz, 14-inch)
OS X 10.3.8; PowerPC G4 1.33GHz; 256MB PC2100 266MHz DDR SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 32MB; Fujitsu MHT2060AT 60GB 4,200rpm
PowerBook G4 (1.5GHz, 12-inch)
OS X 10.4.2; PowerPC G4 1.5GHz; 512MB PC2700 333MHz DDR SDRAM; Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 64MB; Hitachi Travelstar 5K100 80GB 5,400rpm
PowerBook G4 (1.67GHz, 15-inch)
OS X 10.4.1; PowerPC G4 1.67GHz; 512MB PC2700 333MHz DDR SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 64MB; Fujitsu MHT2080AH 80GB 5,400rpm
PowerBook G4 (1.67GHz, 17-inch)
OS X 10.4.2; PowerPC G4 1.67GHz; 512MB PC4200 333MHz DDR2 SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 128MB; Seagate Momentus 5400.2 120GB 5,400rpm