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Review: Apple's ultrathin PowerBook G4

Apple's Powerbook G4 comes with iMovie software that allows you to create your own movies  
PC World

(IDG) -- The PowerBook G4 from Apple might be the right portable studio for churning out your next video opus. This well-designed notebook features an extra-wide screen, high-speed ports, and video-editing software -- all in a sturdy, lightweight titanium case.

I looked at a $3499 shipping unit equipped with a 500-MHz PowerPC G4 processor, 256MB of SDRAM, a 20GB hard drive, a 15.2-inch screen, a fixed 6X DVD-ROM drive, a built-in 56-kbps modem, and a network adapter.

The G4's screen, with an unusual native resolution of 1152 by 768 pixels and a 3:2 aspect ratio, accommodates large application windows side-by-side. To manage this feat, the 5.3-pound notebook's 1-inch-thick, titanium-and-carbon-fiber case extends an inch wider than standard. It's the lightest laptop we've seen that carries a 15-inch screen.

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Apple is touting this model, equipped with a PowerPC G4 chip, as the first laptop that is capable of supercomputer-class gigaflop speed. Only a handful of high-end graphics and video-editing applications currently are optimized for the chip, however.

On the front of the G4, the self-loading DVD-ROM slot noiselessly accepts discs; unfortunately, you can't swap out this drive for any other type of internal drive, and you can't connect drives externally unless you buy relatively cumbersome USB or IEEE 1394 (FireWire) versions. To reach the outside world, the notebook has an IEEE-1394 port, two USB connections, an ethernet port, and built-in wireless networking circuitry. (The last requires a $99 AirPort card.) The G4 packs an industry-standard ATI Rage Mobility graphics card with only 8MB of dedicated graphics RAM.

I had trouble getting a DVD-ROM movie to play without interruption while I tried to work on another application at the same time. And when the G4 works hard, its battery life falls far short of the 5 hours Apple claims: My G4 pooped out 2 hours into Gladiator.

The PowerBook G4 could be right for a graphics or video pro. But most office applications will run fine on a less delightful, less costly notebook.

Buying Information

PowerBook G4

  • PRO: Striking looks; mega-wide screen; powerful processor boosts speed in some applications.
  • CON: Limited graphics RAM, poor DVD-ROM performance.
  • VALUE: Big screen, strong processing, and understated chic -- at a very steep price.
  • List price: $3499

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