Apple answered many of its critics with the latest Titanium PowerBook G4, revving the processor to 1GHz and adding the company's DVD burning SuperDrive. The added features on the PowerBook makes the buying decision more difficult than ever before.
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I've been using a PowerBook for years and Apple's portable computer has always had a place in my work. While traveling, the PowerBook has been a workhorse with enough speed to satisfy my needs while covering Macworld Expos and a variety of other shows and events.
When at home, the PowerBook has always been a staple in my workday after I was done the heavy work on my desktop G4 system. The Titanium, while powerful, never really stacked up that well in features to the desktop systems, but breaking the 1GHz barrier and adding the SuperDrive may have changed that for many people considering a purchase of Apple equipment. The 1GHz system is certainly fast enough to handle the everyday needs of most business users that rely on Microsoft Office to get their spreadsheets done, work on Word documents and check email or make PowerPoint presentations.
The added speed also helps with applications for the creative professionals that use Photoshop, Illustrator or offerings from other companies like Corel. I didn't find that much of a difference using any of these applications when creating or manipulating graphics on the PowerBook 1GHz compared to the dual 1.25GHz Power Mac G4. The place you will see the difference is in intensive CPU applications. People in the biotech industry using BLAST or similar applications will want to opt for the desktop system and take advantage of all the dual processors have to offer.
Apple has blurred the lines between their high-end portable systems and desktop systems to the point that it may be difficult to decide which machine to purchase. Both configurations have their pros and cons, but even those are becoming less with each subsequent release.
The thing I like the most about the newest PowerBook is that I don't feel I'm sacrificing anything to get portability -- the biggest reason people purchase a laptop in the first place. I always had the feeling when using a PowerBook that I was giving up a significant amount of power in order to be able to roam on a wireless network and have the convenience of taking my work with me wherever I go. Obviously, when I travel that's not an issue because then the PowerBook is the fastest machine you have, but at home or at the office, I was glad to get back to my desktop and the noticeable improvement I felt when using it.
The other thing that kept me going back to my desktop machine was the SuperDrive. Having a DVD burner on your desktop computer is nice and Apple makes it very easy to for consumers to connect a digital camcorder and burn their own DVDs. Having this same technology available on a PowerBook is amazing.
I can now transfer video of my son and daughter's Christmas concert, add a few clips from the holidays, compile it in iDVD and burn a disk all without leaving my favorite chair while watching a movie on the television. That may not seem like much, but it allows me to share the composition of the DVD with my wife without having to constantly call her downstairs to the desktop where I used to make the DVDs.
Taking this a step further, professionals can now author DVDs while on a plane or in a hotel room using a PowerBook. This greatly improves things for filmmakers, albeit using the pro versions of Apple's applications, Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro.
I find the Titanium PowerBook to be a tough computer -- while I don't purposely abuse my portable, I don't have it to just sit and look pretty on a desk either. When I'm on the road at an Expo, the PowerBook is put through its paces, sometimes being knocked around more than what most users would do, but I haven't seen any ill effects on the paint or casing.
I haven't seen any great increase in AirPort reception in the new PowerBook and this is an area that Apple really needs to improve on with the Titanium. While the reception for a wireless network hasn't diminished from the last generation PowerBook, it's still not at the level of the iBook or the older black PowerBooks G3s.
I do find the fan comes on more often in the 1GHz PowerBook and it runs a little hotter than the 800MHz version, where they made significant improvements in dissipating the heat. The new PowerBook definitely isn't as hot as the original Titanium, but it is noticeably hotter than the previous generation.
I would also like to see Bluetooth included in the machine instead of using the D-Link Bluetooth adapter. With a desktop machine, it didn't bother me to use a USB port and have the adapter sticking out the back, but with the Titanium I am always afraid I'll break it off by inadvertently hitting it while it's plugged in.
Overall the 1GHz Titanium PowerBook has more to offer pro users and consumers than ever before. The addition of the SuperDrive and the speed boost will give many buyers cause to reflect on whether to purchase a desktop or a PowerBook the next time they upgrade their machine.
This story, "Hands on with the 1GHz PowerBook" was originally published by PCWorld.