Apple PowerBook 15-inch Widescreen Notebook Review (pics, specs)

by ernest Reads (80,395)

by Ernest Yung, Nottingham England

Overview and Introduction

Apple PowerBook 15-inch front view (view larger image)

Like most international students studying abroad for university, a notebook is almost essential (it is possible to buy a desktop, but during holidays, when most students return home, it can become a problem and huge drawback). This will be my main (and only) laptop, so a powerful desktop replacement would be needed, but portability is also an issue. Although I will rarely be carrying this around, carrying a 10lb brick in addition to luggage while traveling from university to home is a great hassle.

The Apple PowerBook G4 15-inch (released end of summer this year) provides both power and portability. The machine I choose has the following specs:

  • 15 inch PowerBook 
  • Processor 1.67 Ghz PowerPC G4
  • Memory 512MB PC2-4200 DDR2 SDRAM (upgraded to 1.5GB)
  • Display 15.2-inch (diagonal), 1440 x 960 resolution, TFT widescreen
  • Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 with 128MB of DDR SDRAM and dual-link DVI
  • Video out DVI, VGA, S-Video and composite
  • Audio Combined analog and optical digital line-in, combined analog and optical digital line-out, stereo speakers, microphone
  • Hard disk space 80GB Ultra ATA/100; 5400rpm
  • Slot-loading optical drive 8x Superdrive (DVD+R DL/DVD RW/CD-RW)
  • Ethernet Built-in 10/100/1000BASE-T (Gigabit)
  • Wireless Built-in 54-Mbps AirPort Extreme (Wi-Fi 802.11g); built-in Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR
  • Modem Built-in 56K V.92 modem
  • Keyboard Full size, illuminated with ambient light sensor
  • Expansion One FireWire 400, one FireWire 800, two USB 2.0 ports, and Type I/II PC Card slot
  • Weight 5.6 pounds
  • Footprint 13.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Thickness 1.1 inches

Reasons for buying

I have used PCs almost all my life, and have never owned a Mac. I also own an HP DV1000 laptop that I purchased 3 months ago, but wanted something that had more performance and the aesthetics of a PowerBook was definitely appealing. My department in the university has three computer labs (two PC and one Mac). The Mac lab had recently upgraded to iMac G5, and after using them a few times, I had decided that I definitely needed a Mac in my life.

Where and How Purchased

The PowerBook was purchased on the Apple online store on Friday 4th November and arrived on Monday 7th November. With the education discount, the PowerBook ran for about $1,780. (original price $1,999) I ordered online and received free shipping. I also rang the Apple line to see if there were any offers, there were none at the time, but the operator was kind enough to offer priority shipping if I ordered over the phone (although I can not imagine how much faster the PowerBook could have arrived).

Build and Design

Apple PowerBook 15-inch model top view (view larger image)

The 15″ PowerBook is a marvel to look at. The aluminium frame and minimalist design provides aesthetic pleasure to the eye. In my opinion there isn’t another notebook on the market at the moment that can quite match the look and feel of this notebook. The 15″ PowerBook is a balance of portability and performance. Weighing in at only 5.6 lbs and only 1.1-inch thick, it may not be considered a featherlite laptop but given its configuration it is definitely worth the extra weight. It has its own ambient light sensors and automatically adjusts the brightness of the display as well as the beautiful keyboard illumination.

The notebook feels very sturdy and well built with no screen flex.

Screen

Apple PowerBook 15-inch model front view of screen (view larger image)

One of the main reasons that I bought this notebook was that it had recently been updated (with the upgraded screen a main marketing point). With a 1.3 million-pixel display at a resolution of 1440 x 960, it has 26% more pixels than its predecessor. The screen is ideal for watching DVDs as a lot of movies are now coming out in a widescreen format. As noted before, the notebook is equipped with light sensors that automatically adjust the screen brightness level. The screen is very clear, sharp and bright, and no dead pixels could be found. Overall, there is a lot of space to open a few documents or programs at the same time, and the screen is very good.

The ambient light sensors on the PowerBook control screen brightness and keyboard backlighting (view larger image)

Speakers

The speakers are about as good as any other notebook speaker there is. The speakers are on either side of the keyboard and can get quite loud. Like most notebook speakers, they lack a great deal of bass.

Processor and Performance

The PowerBook came with a G4 processor running at 1.67Ghz. All tasks are very responsive and comparable to my HP DV1000 which has a Pentium Centrino 1.86Ghz processor if not faster. The Mac OSX is very fast compared to Windows XP. The hard drive is 80Gb and 5400rpm. The basic PowerBook comes with 512Mb of RAM, but I decided to buy an additional 1Gb stick of RAM from www.crucial.com which had good prices and delivered in two days. The additional RAM makes this machine lightning quick on all tasks, and there have been no problems so far.

Benchmarks

It is very difficult to do benchmark tests that can compare Macs and PCs as there are very little programs that can be used on both platforms, the program Super Pi that calculates Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy is one program available for each platform, but it is questionable how valid results are as a true comparison benchmark:

 Notebook  Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million
 Apple PowerBook (1.67 GHz G4)  2m 35s
 Dell Inspiron 9300 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 30s
 Asus Z70A (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 IBM ThinkPad X41 (1.50 GHz Alviso Pentium M)  2m 40s
 IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M)  2m 23s
 Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6GHz Dothan Pentium M)  2m 10s

From these results, it seems that the Apple PowerBook is much slower than some other machines, particularly because it seems like all of the newer machines can break 2 minutes. However, it seems to me that the Mac version of this program is not quite the same as the PC version. Compared to other laptops, the PowerBook seems much faster and rarely ever lags. The results of this test puzzles me quite a bit

Keyboard and Touchpad

The PowerBook keyboard is full size, but doesn’t have a lot of depth. However, it is very responsive and easy to use. It is relatively quiet, and the keys light up depending on the surrounding lighting. There are also a lot of useful keys on the keyboard including the volume control, screen brightness and disc eject key. The Apple keyboard is slightly different, but easy to get used to. My only complaint is that there is no delete’ key, although after a while it is easy to get used to the fact that pressing the apple key and backspace simultaneously serves the same function.

The touchpad is very easy to use. It is particularly useful that scrolling can be accomplished by using two fingers instead of one (works both horizontally and vertically). This proved to be very useful and getting an external mouse was not essential even if using the PowerBook for long periods of time. The Touchpad only comes with one button, and although this was an initial concern of mine, I have grown accustomed to using the ctrl + click’ arrangement. This was quite easy to use, and was no problem.

Input and Output Ports

The PowerBook comes with quite a few ports on either side. On the left is the power connector, a phone jack, a USB 2.0 port, a lone-in/microphone jack, a headphone jack and a PC Card Slot. On the right is a DVI monitor output port, a S-video connector, a gigabit Ethernet jack, a Firewire 800 port, a Firewire 400 port, a USB 2.0 port and a security slot. My main complaint in this area is that there are only 2 USB slots. I have an iPod, an iPod shuffle, a camera, an external mouse and quite a few gadgets that use USB slots. There is definitely enough space to put more USB slots, and one or two more would be a definite plus. Additionally, a lot of new laptops are coming with media card readers. These have proved to be very useful (with my HP DV1000), and it would be nice if Apple could include this in future models of the PowerBook.

Apple PowerBook 15-inch model right view (view larger image)

Apple PowerBook 15-inch model left view (view larger image)

Apple PowerBook 15-inch model under side view (view larger image)

Wireless

The wireless capabilities of this machine is one thing I am not satisfied with. The PowerBook came with an airport extreme card which supports the WiFi 802.11g standard. I use wireless quite a lot and the reception on this machine is not very good. In my house, it can only detect three signals, whereas my HP DV1000 can detect 6 at a minimum and as many as 8 at certain times while in the house. However, connecting to a wireless network was relatively easy and there were no problems. The iBook is much better with wireless range and the aluminum casing of the PowerBook has been known to interfere with the wireless signal, so this can not really be helped. It is a compromise with the aesthetic appeal of this notebook.

Battery

The battery life of the newest PowerBook models have been advertised at 5.5 hours. Whereas I never achieved quite as much as this amount, basic application use (internet with wireless internet) has an average life of about 3.5 hours before another recharge is needed. Watching a DVD will last just under 3 hours, and this is more than sufficient with most movies. The battery life of this machine is quite acceptable although with labour intensive applications the bottom can get quite hot and uncomfortable if used on the lap.

Operating System and Software

The operating system that the PowerBook comes with is the Mac OSX v. 10.4 (tiger). It is incredibly easy to use and operated very quickly compared to Windows. Expose is incredibly useful and definitely better than any function that Windows XP offers. In addition, the Force Quit’ function is a marvel to work with. Compared with the ctrl-alt-delete’ function that Window uses, this actually works without any problem. Tiger is very easy to use, and the switch from Windows was much easier than expected.

Customer Support

I have not needed to use customer support at this time, but when I called in to ask about the details of the PowerBook prior to my purchase, the telephone operator was nice and sincere.

Complaints

The PowerBook isn’t perfect, and there are some problems and areas that can be improved upon. Fist of all, the wireless is below satisfaction. The main benefits of having a notebook is the wireless capabilities, and this notebook performed poorly in this category. Secondly, there are only 2 USB ports, and more would definitely appreciated. Furthermore, a media card reader slot, although not entirely essential, would be greatly appreciated. Finally, the price is quite steep. This is definitely a luxury notebook, but most would argue that it is definitely worth its price.

Praises

On the other hand, there is a lot about this laptop that deserves praise. First off, the general appearance is just magnificent. The attention to detail is unbelievable, and aesthetics incredible. The switch from Windows to Tiger was really easy, and I firmly believe that Tiger is a superior operating system. The screen and graphics capabilities is definitely a plus and watching DVDs a joy.

Conclusions

Overall, this notebook is thin, light, beautiful and a powerhouse. Given the high price tag, I don’t expect everybody to be able to afford this, but if they can, I urge them to get it. It is definitely a magnificent machine that is well worth the money. Anybody worried about the switch to Mac should not worry as it was real easy, and I can’t imagine myself turning back.

Pricing and Availability: Apple PowerBook G4 15-inch


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