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PowerBooks catching up

Apple has a new notebook set for introduction in February that should push Apple back into the forefront of portable PC technology.

While Macworld Expo will likely focus exclusively on Apple Computer's (AAPL) plans for its new operating system, it has a new cutting-edge notebook set for a debut in February that should push Apple back into the forefront of portable PC technology and offer up stiff competition to Intel-processor-based notebooks.

Apple is expected to introduce the PowerBook 3400, code-named Hooper, in time for Macworld Expo in Tokyo, Japan, according to sources close to Apple. Macworld Expo in Tokyo will begin on February 19th.

The 3400 will feature a 200-MHz 603e processor--faster than the fastest notebook based on Intel chips--as well as other high-end features such as a PCI bus and an extra-large LCD screen, according to sources who have seen preproduction versions of the notebook. The 3400 is also expected to be offered with a 603e PowerPC processor running at 180 MHz.

By comparison, Pentium-based notebooks from companies such as IBM, Compaq Computer, and Toshiba are expected to top out at speeds of 166 MHz. If Apple makes its spring deadline, this could give the Apple notebook platform a head start in producing next-generation notebooks.

Apple has already said that it will produce faster Powerbook 1400s next year, including a 133-MHz 603e version in January. So far though, supply of the PowerBook 1400s hasn't been able to keep up with demand. Users will likely find long waiting lists for Hooper as well.

The 3400 motherboard is expected to feature a PCI bus and 64-bit memory and video paths. The PCI bus is a high-performance data path for components such as video chips and is now used on almost all of Intel's new Pentium-based notebooks.

Hooper is also expected to get the largest screen ever for a Mac notebook: a 12.1-inch active-matrix color display with 16-bit color. The system will also come with a 1.3GB or 2GB IDE hard drive. The current PowerBook 1400 has only an 11.3-inch screen and 1GB hard disk, but the new model's feature set will be on a par with Intel-based notebooks.

Hooper may also feature CD-ROM drives as fast as 12X, although current preproduction units have a 6X CD-ROM, sources said.

The model also has two Type-II PC Card slots and a built-in 33.6-kbps modem/Ethernet network port that automatically detects whether the connection is for a phone jack or for an Ethernet network.

Another first for an Apple notebook is the expected appearance of Zoomed Video support, which is becoming more common with top-line Intel-based notebooks. Notebooks with Zoomed Video have a direct connection between the PC Card and the screen's video chip, which results in high performance for applications that use full-motion video. Zoomed Video allows users to see video at 30 frames per second at 640-by-480 pixels.

Other multimedia features include four speakers and 16-bit sound with stereo in-out ports. A version of System 7.6 is also expected to ship with Hooper, sources said.

The new PowerBook is not expected to begin shipping until the second quarter of 1997.