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PowerBooks speed up, do new tricks

Apple's latest laptops feature a new scrolling TrackPad and a Sudden Motion Sensor. But what about the G5 processor? Photos: Juiced-up PowerBooks

It's not the G5 laptop some were hoping for, but Apple Computer's latest PowerBooks do come with faster G4 processors, lower prices and a couple of new tricks.

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The Mac maker on Monday offered updates to its models with 12-inch, 15-inch and 17-inch screens, including a new scrolling TrackPad designed to make it easier to get through long documents. Another new feature is the Sudden Motion Sensor, which helps protect the computer's hard drive if a machine is accidentally dropped. IBM has offered a similar feature on its ThinkPads for some time, while Apple applied for a patent in June 2003 for its method of detecting falls.

"It is patent-pending technology," said David Russell, a senior director in Apple's portable and wireless unit. Russell said Apple incorporated the technology into the motherboard of all the PowerBooks, meaning Apple can use hard drives from a variety of makers. Russell declined to say whether Apple might look to add similar technology to its iPods, which also use hard drives for storage.

All of the new models come standard with 512MB of memory and faster graphics cards, as well as built-in 802.11g and Bluetooth wireless capabilities. Models with a DVD burner now have a faster, 8X drive. The machines start at $1,499, a $100 drop from the prior lineup.

"Apple continues to lead the industry with the most innovative notebooks" and features like the scrolling TrackPad and Sudden Motion Sensor, Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, said in a statement.

Although the processors in the new models are slightly faster than those in past PowerBooks, they're not the G5 processor many Mac fans have been waiting for. The anticipation began when the first G5 towers were introduced in June 2003, and it has increased since Apple managed to get a G5 into the tighter space of the iMac. However, Apple has consistently warned that the heat-related challenges of getting a G5 into a notebook are significant.

"It is fair to say that incorporating a G5 into a notebook as thin and light as the PowerBook is extremely difficult," said David Moody, Apple's vice president of worldwide Mac product marketing, in an interview.

The new models will begin to be available later this week online, in Apple's retail stores and through other retailers.

At the top of the line, Apple's 17-inch PowerBook sells for $2,699 and includes a faster, 1.67GHz processor, a 100GB hard drive, the 8X DVD burner, an ATI Technologies Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics card with 128MB of video memory, and support for Apple's 30-inch external Cinema Display monitor. A twist is that Apple's DVD burner, which it dubs the SuperDrive, now touts the ability to work with both DVD+R and DVD-R media. For a long time, Apple supported only DVD-R drives.

The 15-inch model comes in two standard models. The $2,299 version offers the 1.67GHz processor, an 80GB hard drive, the 8X DVD burner and the Radeon 9700 with 64MB of video memory. A $1,999 version features a similar setup, but with a 1.5GHz processor and an optical drive that can burn CDs and read, but not burn, DVDs.

The smallest of the PowerBooks, the 12-inch model, also comes in two varieties, both with 1.5GHz processors and Nvidia GeForce FX Go5200 graphics cards with 64MB of video memory. The higher-end model comes with the DVD burner and an 80GB hard drive and sells for $1,699. The entry-level version at $1,499 has a 60GB hard drive and a combination drive that burns CDs and reads DVDs.