Rewriting the Book

When you look at Apple's new Titanium PowerBook G4, your first instinct may be to compare it with its predecessor, the PowerBook G3. But Apple would like you to measure it against subnotebooks - such as the Sony Vaio - instead.

That's because Apple considers the new laptop to be more than just an upgrade to its venerable PowerBook line. It's a shot across the bow of makers of subnotebooks - tiny laptop computers that lack the functionality of a full-bodied portable. With the PowerBook G4, Apple seems to be saying that you can have a slim laptop without sacrificing power.

"We have the most powerful notebooks in the world," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said. "But (Sony) has the (sex appeal). We want both."

The result is a PowerBook that comes in two standard configurations - a 400MHz model that sells for $2,599 and a $3,499 500MHz version. Both PowerBooks, which should be shipping by the time you read this, feature 8MB of graphics RAM, an ATI Rage Mobility 128 chip, two USB ports, and one FireWire port.

More important, the PowerBook's G4 processor comes equipped with Velocity Engine, allowing it to render, encode, and calculate faster than a G3 can - provided you're running an application that's been modified to take advantage of it. It remains to be seen whether a G4 processor can run cool enough to not overheat a PowerBook -- a model we got our hands on in January was quite hot to the touch.

Gone is the heavy, black plastic of the old PowerBook, replaced by a sleek, silvery titanium case. Just an inch thick, the PowerBook G4 also includes a 15.2-inch wide screen format display -- by far the largest display ever seen on an Apple portable.

The differences between the new PowerBook and the old models are stark (see "More Power, Less Book"), but compare the new PowerBook with Sony's Vaio Z505, and things get tick tight. The Vaio has a smaller display than the PowerBook and a thicker frame, for roughly the same price. But the Vaio also weighs 3.75 pounds, noticeably lighter than the new PowerBook. In any event, Apple's full performance computer in a sleek, slender package can give any subnotebook on the market a good fight -- and it leaves laptops in its own weight class on the canvas.

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