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Apple PowerBook G4 (17-inch) review: Apple PowerBook G4 (17-inch)

Apple PowerBook G4 (17-inch)

Troy Dreier
5 min read
Apple 17-inch PowerBook G4
With the latest version of its 17-inch wide-screen PowerBook, Apple incorporates some nice upgrades but leaves out the one most of us were hoping for: a mobile version of the high-performance G5 chip. Still, the impressively designed 17-inch PowerBook G4, Apple's premiere desktop replacement, is equipped with a new-and-improved set of specs and features, including a scrolling trackpad, for easier navigation through documents and Web pages, and Sudden Motion Sensor technology to protect the hard drive. Apple has also lowered the price by about $100; unfortunately, at $2,699, the 17-inch PowerBook G4 still costs hundreds more than the PC competition.

There's no denying the aesthetic beauty of the PowerBook G4, which puts many Windows laptops to shame. Designwise, the new iteration isn't much different from the last: The 17-inch PowerBook G4 weighs 6.9 pounds, which is 1 to 3 pounds less than most other 17-inch laptops, and it measures 15.4 inches wide, 10.2 inches deep, and 1.0 inch thick, making it somewhat bigger than an airplane tray table. As such, this laptop is best suited to people who travel only occasionally. The notebook has a sleek, aluminum body and a large keyboard, which is set back from the front edge. When you're typing, your wrists rest on the notebook instead of hanging off the front, as with many smaller notebooks; it's not an uncomfortable arrangement--just something to be aware of. We like that the keyboard automatically lights up in dim or dark environments. One new, cool feature: you can scroll through Web pages or long documents by moving two fingers on the trackpad--a distinctly Apple twist to the scrolling feature found on many PC notebooks' touch pads.


Apple PowerBook G4 (17-inch)

The Good

Sublime Apple design; lighter than other comparably sized laptops; motion sensor protects hard drive; 512MB of RAM standard; scrolling trackpad; built-in wireless and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR; illuminated keyboard.

The Bad

Expensive; features an older G4 processor, not a G5; only 90 days of toll-free telephone support.

The Bottom Line

The foxy Apple 17-inch PowerBook delivers the performance and the features most users will need, but it's more expensive than a similarly outfitted Windows laptop.

This PowerBook G4's wide-aspect 17-inch display has a fine 1,440x900 native resolution that affords quite a lot of screen real estate; it's equally great for viewing movies and working on documents side by side. The notebook's new Sudden Motion Sensor uses a tri-axis accelerometer to detect sudden drops; in midair, the PowerBook's hard drive heads will lift and lock to prevent damage. We tested it by dropping the PowerBook a few feet onto a pillow; the DVD we were playing stopped while falling and started back up when the PowerBook was safely at rest.

Priced at $2,699 (as of March 2005), the PowerBook G4 is equipped with a solid array of components: the G4 processor runs at 1.67GHz (up from 1.5GHz with the last version) and features a decent ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics processor with dual-link DVI support for connecting to an external monitor. You also get Apple's SuperDrive--an 8X DVD±RW/CD-RW burner (up from 4X with the last version)--which looks a bit less super next to the double-layer DVD burners showing up on Windows laptops, such as the Dell Inspiron 9200. The 17-inch PowerBook G4 series isn't terribly configurable; 512MB of RAM comes standard, which should be fine for basic use, but you can upgrade to 2GB (though it'll set you back--whoa!--$850). Hard drives are available in two capacities: 80GB, which pushes the price down $100, or 100GB.

CNET Labs used iTunes and Photoshop CS to test the 17-inch PowerBook G4's processing power. Configured with the 100GB hard drive and 512MB of RAM, the notebook delivered a decent performance, handily defeating a 14-inch iBook running a slower 1.33GHz processor and with half the RAM, and keeping pace with a 1.25GHz G4 desktop with a faster, 7,200rpm hard drive and L3 cache. The 17-inch PowerBook G4 whooped the 14-inch iBook in our Unreal Tournament 2004 gaming test; however, if games are your primary interest, you're generally better off with a PC. In our DVD battery-drain test, the 17-inch PowerBook lasted only 176 minutes--an hour short of the 14-inch iBook's 233 minutes, but fairly standard for a desktop-replacement laptop. That said, for in-flight movie-watching, the iBook is a better choice.

This PowerBook comes with a full range of connectivity features: Both AirPort Extreme (802.11g Wi-Fi) and Bluetooth 2.0 (Enhanced Data Rate) come standard, and you also get 10/100/1000BaseT Gigabit Ethernet and a 56Kbps V.92 modem. There are only two USB 2.0 ports, but Apple makes up for this by including both an unpowered FireWire 400 and a powered FireWire 800 port. Also onboard are a DVI output, an S-Video output for connecting to a TV, optical digital audio input and output, and a PC Card slot. Apple throws in a strong software bundle that features iLife '05 as well as Art Directors Toolkit and QuickBooks New User Edition. Sadly, you won't find the iWork productivity suite, which would have been a useful addition.

Some of Apple's support policies are downright stingy. You get only 90 days of toll-free telephone support, so it's up to you to ask every question you'll ever have during those first three months. Otherwise, Apple offers an industry-standard one-year warranty for parts and labor. After that, you'll have to go it alone with the printed user guide and the online forums and help resources that Apple provides on the support section of its site. The documents can be a bit much to wade through, but the forums are a great place to get help from other users. Extending your support options is expensive--the $349 AppleCare Protection Plan gives you three years of phone support and repairs.

iTunes MP3 conversion
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
In seconds  

Photoshop CS
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
In minutes  

Unreal Tournament 2004
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
In frames per second  
Power Mac G4-1.25GHz

DVD movie battery-drain test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
In hours  


Apple PowerBook G4 (17-inch)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 7Support 5