Light Is Right: Apple's PowerBook G4

By Carla Thornton, PC World |  Hardware

Coolly elegant, yes, but the G4 isn't for everyone. Apple touts the G4's PowerPC G4 chip as the first microprocessor capable of supercomputer-class, gigaflop speed. But only a handful of high-end graphics and video editing applications currently are optimized for the chip (most of them from Adobe Systems). According to Apple, a 500-MHz PowerBook G4 outperforms a Pentium III-850 laptop by 30 percent, and the predecessor PowerBook G3 by 60 percent in some processor-intensive Photoshop operations, but users won't see much difference in everyday business applications. In our informal tests, it seemed just as fast as a PC laptop.

However, I had trouble getting a DVD-ROM movie to play uninterrupted when I tried to work on another application at the same time, which isn't a problem on other notebooks. Also, the battery life falls far short of Apple's claim of 5 hours when the G4 is called on to work hard, such as when playing the DVD movie. Our unit pooped out 2 hours into Gladiator.

The G4 packs an industry-standard ATI Rage Mobility video card, but it comes with only 8MB of dedicated video RAM, which is skimpy for serious multimedia professionals. The notebook's sound quality is merely so-so, and it has no external volume control.

The PowerBook G4 includes no productivity software, unless multimedia mavens want to count IMovie 2, a consumer-level video editing application, and the new ITunes jukebox app; Apple does not include its AppleWorks office suite. Free telephone support ends after 90 days and the warranty after one year, a miserly package compared with the lifetime support and 3-year warranties offered by many PC vendors.

For graphics or video pros who work all day in an application optimized for its processor (go to Apple's site for a complete list), the PowerBook G4 should make a sleek, powerful portable editing studio (especially if you're a Mac fan). But most office applications will run just fine on a less glamorous, less expensive notebook.

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