Apple bumps PowerBooks to 1.67GHz, lowers price

Apple on Monday announced a modest speed bump to its line of PowerBook G4 laptops, increasing the high-end processor from 1.5GHz to 1.67GHz. That's not all: The refreshed laptop line gains 512MB of standard RAM, faster graphics, faster hard drives and 8x "SuperDrives," as well as standard 802.11g-based wireless networking, Bluetooth 2.0 and two patent-pending technologies -- the scrolling TrackPad and the Sudden Motion Sensor.

Two fingers now scroll with the TrackPad

With the scrolling TrackPad, PowerBook users touch two fingers to the TrackPad instead of just one to quickly scroll through long documents or pan within the window.

"The new TrackPad looks just like the old one, but it works differently," said David Moody, Apple's vice president of worldwide Mac product marketing. "If you touch two fingers to the pad when you reach the edge of the window, it will scroll horizontally or pan vertically within the window."

For users who find the new scrolling feature unnecessary or unwieldy, Apple has added a a new Keyboard & Mouse System Preferences option to deactivate it. And this isn't just a software change, according to Moody -- it's a physical difference in how the TrackPad works.

Sudden Motion Sensor protects hard drive from damage

Sudden Motion Sensor technology is designed to help protect the PowerBook's internal hard drive -- a tri-axis accelerometer determines if the notebook is accidentally dropped.

"Our system senses if the PowerBook has been dropped and parks the disk drive's heads and locks them before the PowerBook hits the floor," said David Russell, Apple's senior director, portables and wireless.

"This system is unique to the PowerBook itself -- it's built in to the motherboard." As a result, Apple isn't dependent on any specific hard disk drive manufacturer, Russell told MacCentral.

Backlighting boosted, Dual-Link DVI available

What's more, all 15- and 17-inch PowerBooks now feature backlit keyboards that are now up to 10 times brighter than previous models. "We're using a whole new technology to illuminate the bottom side of the keyboard," said Russell. "The benefit here is that the keyboard lighting works more effectively in lower light conditions. Also, it's a different method of illumination. The difference in battery life with new system is negligible."

Fifteen and seventeen-inch PowerBook G4 models are now available with 1.67GHz G4 processors paired with ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics processors with either 64MB or 128MB of dedicated graphics memory. All models now ship from the factory with 512MB of 333MHz DDR SDRAM and 5400RPM hard disk drives. SuperDrive-equipped systems now ship with 8x DVD+/-RW/CD-RW optical drives, in place of the 4x drives previously used.

The 17-inch model now features Dual Link support through its Digital Visual Interface (DVI) monitor connector, to support Apple's 30-inch Cinema HD Display. The Dual Link interface can also be specified as a $100 build-to-order option on the 1.67GHz 15-inch model -- that also boosts the 15-inch's VRAM to a total of 128MB.

Also new on the 17-inch model is a combined optical digital input/audio line-in minijack, similar to the one included on Apple's AirPort Express wireless networking hub. You can connect the PowerBook to either an optical digital or analog audio source through the new jack.

AirPort Extreme standard, new Bluetooth 2.0 and RAM

All PowerBooks now ship with AirPort Extreme networking built-in, enabling them to work with IEEE 802.11g-compliant 54Mbps wireless networking. Apple also claims to be the first notebook maker to integrate Bluetooth 2.0 on its computers -- Bluetooth 2.0, or Enhanced Data Rate (EDR), works at up to three times the speed of previous Bluetooth implementations, or up to 3Mbps, and is backwards-compatible with Bluetooth 1.2 devices.

"We're the first company to create a computer system with Bluetooth EDR that's been qualified by the Bluetooth Qualification Review Board," Moody told MacCentral.

Apple is breaking new ground as a Bluetooth EDR-equipped device vendor -- other Bluetooth-equipped peripherals on the market today like PDAs, cell phones, printers and other devices use the slower Bluetooth 1.2 specification, which operates at one-third the speed of Bluetooth 2.0. Apple envisions its support of Bluetooth EDR as opening up new opportunities for Bluetooth vendors, however.

"We've always thought that Bluetooth was the equivalent of wireless USB," said Russell. "It's a great peripheral connection strategy, and we want higher-speed peripherals to connect to the Mac."

Not only has 512MB been made standard on all shipping models, but the the 512MB populates a single RAM slot on 15-inch and 17-inch systems. Previously, 15-inch and 17-inch PowerBook owners who ordered their systems with 512MB pre-installed at the factory would find the two SO-DIMM slots occupied by two 256MB memory modules. Now, one SO-DIMM slot remains open -- simplifying the process of upgrading to up to 1.5GB of RAM. Both 15-inch and 17-inch PowerBooks can be upgraded to 2GB of RAM; 12-inch models keep their one SO-DIMM slot configuration with memory upgrades available to 1.25GB.

Prices dropped on most models

"Most PowerBook configurations are now $100 to $200 less than before," said Moody. Apple will make the new PowerBooks available later this week through The Apple Store and through Apple's retail stores and authorized resellers.

Updated PowerBook Family

Model Processor Installed RAM/Maximum RAM Hard-Drive Capacity Optical Drive Graphics Processor/RAM Price
12-inch PowerBook G4 with Combo Drive 1.5GHz 512MB/1.25GB 60GB DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo drive Nvidia GeForce FX G0 5200/64MB $1,499
12-inch PowerBook G4 with SuperDrive 1.5GHz 512MB/1.25GB 80GB 8X SuperDrive Nvidia GeForce FX G0 5200/64MB $1,699
15-inch PowerBook G4 with Combo Drive 1.5GHz 512MB/2GB 80GB DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo drive ATI Mobility Radeon 9700/64MB* $1,999
15-inch PowerBook G4 with SuperDrive 1.67GHz 512MB/2GB 80GB 8X SuperDrive ATI Mobility Radeon 9700/64MB* $2,299
17-inch PowerBook G4 1.67GHz 512MB/2GB 100GB 8X SuperDrive ATI Mobility Radeon 9700/128MB and dual-link DVI $2,699

*128MB SDRAM and dual-link DVI available as $100 built-to-order option.

Updated 8:50AM 01/31/05: Details about specific models and features added.

Updated 10:55AM 01/31/05: Comments and further details from Apple added.

Updated 12:35 PM 01/31/05: Chart added.

Subscribe to the MacWeek Newsletter

Comments