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The Sex Appeal Is Real - A Review Of The G4 PowerBooks, With New Performance Numbers

by David Engstrom

5-29-01
Rating | Benchmarks | Comparison | Discussion |

Apple broke the mold when they designed the Titanium G4 PowerBooks. They are a sharp departure from the PowerBooks that preceded them, not only in design and materials, but in the underlying technology that powers them. Gone is the curvaceous but bulky Pismo PowerBook enclosures. Out is the is the staid G3 processor and heavy black plastic casing.

In its place is a light, thin titanium encased computer with clean lines and great attention to detail. From its smoky translucent keyboard to the two-toned metallic case and the gorgeous, sharp, and incredibly wide screen, the PowerBook G4 oozes quality. And that is just on the surface! Underneath the hood, a G4 processor and faster cache speed, easily smokes the performance of earlier PowerBooks in applications written to take advantage of the new processor.

Where the previous Pismo could be considered the Volvo of PowerBooks; solid,powerful, reliable, and with a nod towards design, the Titanium PowerBook is the Porsche; sleek, stylish and ready to hit the road as fast as you want to take it.

It is easy to see why these PowerBooks have been such a hit for Apple. They have that "Got to have it" pull. They also must have been tremendous fun for the Apple engineers to design because they were allowed to add so many little touches that give the G4 PowerBooks such personality, in the most understated way.

Set Up And Documentation: These G4 PowerBooks are easier to setup than the iMacs, and they come with somewhat better documentation. Setting up is simply a matter of


PowerBooks G4/400 & G4/500 Facts at a Glance

  • G4 (7410), 400 or 500 MHz
  • Bus Speed: 100 MHz
  • L2 Cache: 1 MB, backside @200 or 250 MHz
  • Installed RAM: 128 or 256 MB (1 GB Max)
  • RAM Slots: 2, 144-pin
  • Min RAM Speed: 8 ns PC100 SDRAM
  • Installed VRAM: 8MB (Max 8 MB)
  • Drive: 10 or 20 GB Ultra ATA/66
  • Optical Drive: DVD -ROM
  • Networking: 10/100Base-T, Airport
  • Slots: Airport, 1 PC/CardBus
  • Additional Ports: 1 FireWire, 2 USB, Modem, headphones, S-video out, monitor (VGA, dual monitor support), IR port
  • Display: 15.2" TFT screen (1152x768 resolution)
  • Weight: 5.3 pounds
  • Battery Life: 5 hours (low power mode)
  • Supported Mac OS: 9.1 or later
  • Introduced: 1/01
  • Discontinued: -
  • Initial Retail Price: $2,599 (400 MHz), 3,499 (500 MHz)
  • Current Price
Notes:

PowerBook Upgrade & Troubleshooting
Discussion Forum

unpacking the machine (biggest job here is removing the plastic sheeting that protects the screen), plugging the power cord into the round "Yo Yo" like adapter, unrolling the amount of cord you need to run from the adapter to the back of the PowerBook, and pluging in the connector. Hit the metallic power on/off button in the upper-right hand corner of the machine and the PowerBook is brought to life.The PowerBook also comes with a short phone cord for plugging the internal modem into a phone jack and a short S-video to composite video cable that allows the PowerBook to broadcast video out to a TV, for example.

The first thing that you are confronted with on screen,after the initial boot, is a window forcing you to register your new PowerBook with Apple. This is, to say the least, annoying, if you don't want to register at that moment, or indeed ever. This assistant program will not let you go any further until you have added the vital information it is after. The only way out for you is to quit the program using the Apple+Q key combo. At that point though, you are left with a PowerBook that does not have the basic settings to, network properly and to allow you to cruise the Internet with ease. You can hunt around for the individual setup assistants (found in the Utilities Folder), but Apple really should make this easy for those that don't want to register the PowerBook immediately..

The manual that comes with the PowerBook is sparse, but covers setup, the basic features of the machine and how to install additional memory (a breeze) or a Airport card for wireless networking (a real pain). The manual also has a very cursory overview of the main software features that come with the computer - Sherlock, iTunes, iMovie etc. There is much more extensive online help (online meaning on the computer), built in the PowerBook, that can be accessed through the Help menu.

One thing to note, when you initially use your PowerBook, is that it is important to calibrate the battery the first time you use it. This entails plugging in the adapter, fully charging the battery, then using the PowerBook on battery power alone until it is fully drained, and finally charging it up fully with the adapter once again. If you follow this procedure your battery will reward you with a long, robust life.

Features: The PowerBook is packed full of them. On the hardware side the Books come with a slot loading DVD drive, which worked flawlessly, the usually ports; 2 USB, one FireWire port (space constrictions prevented two), 10/100 BASE-T Ethernet, IR & modem. There is also an external monitor port (for dual monitor support) and S-video out so you can watch DVD movies on the TV, for example. All ports are found on the back of the PowerBook - except for the sound out port which is conveniently found on the left-hand side. The ports are covered by a thin titanium flap when not in use.

Internally the PowerBook has 56K modem, PC/CardBus and AirPort slots and tinny sounding speakers, one of which has a built in microphone. I really like the soft-touch responsive keyboard. However one problem I had with it was that the the ends of my calloused fingers would sometimes catch on the underside of adjacent keys. This didn't really cause a problem with the accuracy of my typing but I was afraid that a callous finger tip might rip one of the keys off.

The new PowerBooks sport a "mega-wide" 15.2 inch TFT screen with a native resolution of 1152 x 768. The Titanium also supports resolutions of 1152 x 768, 896 x 600, and 720 x 480 at a 3:2 aspect ratio. At a 4:3 aspect ratio, it supports resolutions of 1024 x 768, 800 x 600, and 640 x 480.

Aside from the usual software that comes installed on an Mac; Internet browser, email program, QuickTime, fax software etc., the PowerBooks come with DVD playback, iTunes (for playing MP3s, CDs and connecting to Internet radio stations), and iMovie (Apple's consumer level movie editing software). iTunes is a lot of fun. Not only does is come with gobs of pre-loaded MP3s, but also has dozens of preset radio stations from almost every music genera (Celtic rock anyone). If you insert one of your CDs iTunes will search a database on the Internet and list all the song titles along with their playing times, in the iTune's window. Pretty slick... pity that the speakers are of such low quality.

Performance: In the performance arena these G4 PowerBooks rock. It is amazing how faster graphics & drive performance really makes a high-speed DSL connection to the Internet come alive. My main work machine is a 20th Anniversary Mac with a G3/500 upgrade card and a 10 GB IBM drive. Using it to surf the Internet through the DSL connection, I thought was pretty fast .... until I took the PowerBooks out for a spin in CyberSpace. The Web just dances onto the PowerBook screen. This is largely due to the faster rendering going on in the PowerBook rather than faster download times (though there may be some effect there as well). Finder performance is also much more responsive and snappier than the TAM, although the TAM probably has equal raw processing power in most ordinary tasks.

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On applications that can take advantage of the Velocity Engine (altivec instructions) of the G4, the PowerBooks really come into their own, trouncing previous G3 machines. In the QuickTime encode test for example the PowerBook G4/500 showed around a 100% speed improvement over a similarly clocked G3. If you are doing the kind of heavy multimedia work that the G4 is designed for, you will be pleased with the extra performance the chip will give you.

Apple claims a battery live of 5 hours for the PowerBooks. We devised two schemes to testing this claim. One was running, completely off the battery, a DVD movie repeatedly as long as we could. The second was just to use the PowerBook as we normally would a desktop, doing our daily work, and not taking advantage of any of the PowerBook's many energy conservation features, again completely off the battery. Running a DVD movie requires a lot of energy and we were able to eke out a little over 2 hours of life from the battery. This was enough to finish the movie and have perhaps another half an hour to 45 minutes to do other work. On the second, general computing test, we managed to get 3 hours and 45 minutes out of the battery. Obviously Apple's claim of 5 hours of battery life is meant to cover only light usage incorporating all the PowerBooks energy saving features. If you turn down the brightness of the screen (one of the biggest energy consuming components), set the drive not to spin down (you use as much electricity spinning your drive up as you do with having it spin continuously for 20 minutes), and adjust some of the processor's energy conservation settings, you should be able to get close to 5 hours out of your battery. However this is only if you are doing light word processing or other similar low resource intensive tasks. If you are going to be rendering a 200 MB Photoshop file or edit that iMovie as you listen to your MP3 collection, during a transcontinental flight, be prepared to run out of juice over the heartland.

Problems: Installing Apple's Airport card, which allows for wireless communication between computers, is a pain, requiring the complete removal of the back of the PowerBook. Although Apple says you can do this yourself (it is detailed in the manual), if you are not mechanically inclined you should have a professional do this ... you will sleep better at night. Apple should devise an easier way to add an Airport card to the G4 PowerBooks. It shouldn't be any harder than attaching a PC card.

We also had a problem with Airport performance itself. Airport wireless range is suppose to be up to 150 feet. We installed an Airport card in each of the PowerBooks and used one of them as a software Base Station connected to the Internet by way of Ethernet and a DSL modem. The second PowerBook could connect to the Internet wirelessly this way but our range was no greater than 20 - 25 feet, and even then the strength of the signal was only about 60%. This was a little disappointing, as we had, had visions of roaming around the whole building, accessing the Internet from any room. As it was we were limited to the adjacent room and no further.

From monitoring Airport talk in various online troubleshooting forums it seems clear that Airport performance is a bit of a hit and miss thing .. some people getting excellent coverage and others not. We used the same Airport cards in some iMacs, where they performed very well. We tried several things to improve performance. Changing the channel frequency in the Airport control panel of the PowerBook acting as a software Base Station, helped increase the range somewhat. We also decided to install an Airport card in an iMac and use that as a software base station. This improved things quite a bit, allowing us a range of about 40 feet, still well under the 150 feet potential. It was suggested to us that the interference may be from the Titanium casing of the PowerBooks themselves. Metal is one of the obstacles that is suppose to hinder Airport communications, among other things. Also a software Base station is not suppose to have as great a range as a hardware one.

It would be nice if the speakers produced better sound than a cheap FM radio. It is a good bet that most people will use headphones to listen to anything other than alert sounds coming from their PowerBooks. Unlike the situation portrayed in the Apple commercial, most airline passengers do not appreciate hearing your sound files blaring out from PowerBook speakers ... especially low quality ones.

A couple of non-problems. About a month or so ago it was bandied about on several Macintosh sites on the Web, that the PowerBooks G4s had several serious problems. One was that the screen was too close in contact with the keyboard when closed. This, it was stated, caused indentation marks on the screen. Neither of our PowerBooks exhibited this problem. So either it was fixed by Apple or it never was a real issue .... perhaps someone did not have their keyboards seated properly. The second problem was that if you pinched the casing or lifted the PowerBook solely from the corner that contained a spinning CD, the CD would scrape against the top inside of the case. This is true, however you would have to be kind of thick-headed to pinch the case at all, let alone in this area. Also, when you lift a PowerBook you usually need to lift it from both sides, preferably with the lid closed and the drive spun down. Spinning hard drives do not like to be bumped or jerked around ... it gives them a bad head day. As far as we are concerned neither of these are a design flaw, or flaws at all.

Conclusions: The G4 PowerBooks are a lot of fun. They are light, powerful and have a design that continues to grow on you the more you use them. It is hard to find fault with them. The Airport performance is a bit of a problem it's true, and it would be nice if there was a DVD/CD-RW combo drive option. But these are things that will undoubtedly find their way into future versions of the machine. The 500 MHz machine is a bit pricy. Though it did seem noticeably snappier than the 400 MHz in basic computer tasks, we are not sure that this, 128 MB of extra RAM and 10 more GB of hard disk space, justifies the $900 premium.

Below, we outline the major differences in the PowerBook lineup and compare it to the previous generation. For a comparison of all PowerBooks, visit our PowerBook pecifications and Features Page.We also welcome your questions or comments on our PowerBook discussion thread below.

Machine: PowerBook G4/400 PowerBook G4/500
MSRP: $2,599 - Check current prices & bundles $3.499 - Check current prices & bundles
Rating: (5 possible) (5 Possible)

Hits:

Light, show stopping design, powerful, good battery life Light, show stopping design, powerful, good battery life, noticeably faster than the 400 MHz model
Misses: Only 128 MB of RAM, Airport range limited, tinny sounding speakers Pricey, Airport range limited, tinny sounding speakers
ZoneBench Score: 128.6 148.6
The ZoneBench score above represents an average of all of the scores below as well as a few other unpublished tests. The ZoneBench base score is based on a Blue & White G3/350 which receives a score of 100


"Real World" Tests

The tests below are from our suite of real world application tests. These tests feature a diverse selection of applications commonly used by the Mac community. The test suite was designed to render an accurate and well rounded picture of a machine's performance. All of the tests below (with the exception of the Quake III & Cinebench 2000 tests) were timed with a stopwatch. The times are then converted to percentages relative to our base Blue & White G3/350 machine which is set to 100%. For all scores, higher numbers are better. Absolute scores for most tests can be found below this section.

Finder Tests

 

 

 

AppleWorks 6 Tests

 

Quake III Tests
These scores are relative. Actual frame rates for all machines below this section.

 

 

Photoshop 6 & Other Data Crunching Tests

 

 

 

 

 

 

Encoding/Decoding Tests

 

 

 

Actual Scores - In Seconds except for the Quake and CineBench 2000 scores

Machine

Finder Copy
(Folder)

Finder Copy
(Large File)

AppleWorks 6.0.4
Scroll

AppleWorks 6.0.4
Search & Replace

Analog Code Analysis

Quake III
Fastest Setting

Quake III
High Quality Setting

PowerBook G3/266 22.51 24.20 97.34 23.25 63.01 15.1 2.8
Stock B&W G3/350 20.73 24.59 68.45

17.69

49.94 37.6 FPS 19.4 FPS
PowerBook G4/400 16.24 18.78 62.26

13.45

41.38 47.9 17.4
PowerBook G4/500 14.86 19.16 59.77 10.93 33.69 57.1 17.2
Machine

CineBench 2000
Ray | Shade

SoundJam 2.5.2
MP3 Encode

QuickTime 4.1.2
Encode
(Sorenson 2X CD)

StuffIt 6
Decompression

Photoshop 6.0
Launch

Photoshop 6.0
AltiVec Filters

Photoshop 6.0
Non-AltiVec Filters

PowerBook G3/266 3.49 | 2.27 121.34 1382.6 29.41 27.41 139.88 365.37
Stock B&W G3/350 4.58 | 3.88 92.63 1,046.23 21.89 12.81 99.41 258.76
PowerBook G4/400 5.24 | 4.9 58 476.51 19.24 14.03 54,52 225.31
PowerBook G4/500 6.63 | 5.78 45.16 365.78 16.84 14.33 46.84 192.77

Current PowerBook Reviews & Information

Model/Mhz Bus Speed
(Mhz)
RAM
(MAX)
Graphics Support Expansion
Slots
Hard Drive
Optical Drive
 Connectivity & Communication  Screen Price Information

"Titanium" PowerBook G4/500/250/1MB

(Winter 2001)

100 MHz

256 MB
(1GB Max)

8MB

ATI Rage Mobility 128 - 2x AGP

1 CardBus slot

20GB Ultra ATA 66
(30GB BTO)

DVD-ROM

56k V.90 modem
10/100 BT Ethernet
AirPort slot
Infrared Port
2 USB Port
1 FireWire Port

15.2" TFT Active Matrix
DealZone
Reviews & Information

| Reader Reviews | Titanium Central | LowEndMac | MacAddict| | Macworld UK | Macworld | MacInTouch | BareFeats | PR Newswire | PowerBook Central | The MacJunkie | Seattle Times | Business Week | Macworld UK | The PowerBook Zone (1) | The PowerBook Zone (2) | c|net | Macintouch | PowerBook Zone | Apple | MacNN | SfGate | Mac-Upgrade | Right on Mac | PowerBook Source | PowerBook Source | About.com | MacOpinion | MacDirectory | MacCentral | MacUser UK | MacintoshGuy | LowEndMac | MacCentral | MacProf | BareFeats | TidBits | Macworld UK | MacDiscussion | AppleLust | MacOpinion | LowendMac | LowEndMac | Macworld | Macworld | EveryMac | MacAddict | MacOpinion | | Go2Mac | Macworld | Go2Mac | Go2Mac | ZD/Net | C/Net | PC Magazine | AppleLinks | Orlando Sentinel | Canada Computers | MacObserver | MacOpinion | LowEndMac | Go2Mac | Go2Mac | Macworld | MacJunkie | PowerBookZone | | | | | BusinessWeek | Houston Chronicle | MacJunkie | Macworld | MacOpinion | | IT | CreativePro | PC World | Applelinks | Applelinks | Applelinks | Applelinks | The PowerBook Source | MacOpinion | Applelinks | Applelinks | MacOpinion | MacOpinion | EveryMac | BusinessWeek | FCW | IMG | Macworld | | ABCNews | DigitalProducer | BareFeats | IMG |

 

"Titanium" PowerBook G4/400/200/1MB

(Winter 2001)

100 MHz 128 MB
(1GB Max)

8MB

ATI Rage Mobility 128 - 2x AGP

1 CardBus slot

10GB Ultra ATA 66
(30GB BTO)

DVD-ROM

56k V.90 modem
10/100 BT Ethernet
AirPort slot
Infrared Port
2 USB Port
1 FireWire Port

15.2" TFT Active Matrix
DealZone
Reviews & Information | Reader Reviews | Titanium Central | LowEndMac | MacAddict | Macworld UK | Macworld | MacInTouch | BareFeats | PR Newswire | PowerBook Central | The MacJunkie | Seattle Times | Business Week | Macworld UK | The PowerBook Zone (1) | The PowerBook Zone (2) | c|net | | Macintouch |PowerBook Zone | Apple | MacNN | SfGate | Mac-Upgrade | Right on Mac | PowerBook Source | PowerBook Source | About.com | MacOpinion | MacDirectory | MacCentral | MacUser UK | MacintoshGuy | LowEndMac | MacCentral MacProf | Macworld UK | TidBits | MacDiscussion | AppleLust | MacOpinion | LowendMac | LowEndMac | Macworld | LowEndMac | LowEndMac | Go2Mac | Macworld | EveryMac | LowEndMac | LowEndMac | MacAddict | MacOpinion | || LowEndMac | Go2Mac | Go2Mac | Go2Mac || AppleLinks | Orlando Sentinel | Canada Computers | MacObserver | MacOpinion | LowEndMac | Go2Mac | Go2Mac | Macworld | MacJunkie | PowerBookZone | | | | BusinessWeek | Houston Chronicle | MacJunkie | MacOpinion | | Voelker | MacOpinion | MacOpinion | MacOpinion | EveryMac | BusinessWeek | FCW | IMG | Macworld | ABCNews | BareFeats | IMG | |
 

G3/500/200/1MB

(February 2000)

100 128 MB
(512 MB)

8MB

ATI Rage Mobility 128 video controller

1 PC

12GB Ultra ATA/66


6x DVD-ROM

56k v.90
10/100 BT Ethernet
AirPort slot
Infrared Port
2 USB Ports
2 Firewire Ports

14.1" TFT
Reviews & Information Reader Reviews | MacSpeedZone | MacSpeedZone | about.com | TidBits | PowerBookZone | MacAddict | Go2Mac | Go2Mac | CNET.com | IGM | |
 
G3/400/160/1MB

(February 2000)

100 64 MB
(512 MB)

8MB

ATI Rage Mobility 128 video controller

1 PC

6.0GB Ultra ATA/66


6x DVD-ROM

56k v.90
10/100 BT Ethernet
AirPort slot
Infrared Port
2 USB Ports
2 Firewire Ports

14.1" TFT
Reviews & Information Reader Reviews | MacReviewZone | MacSpeedZone | MacSpeedZone | IGM | about.com | BareFeats | TidBits | PowerBookZone | MacAddict | Go2Mac | Go2Mac | CNET.com | Bare Feats | IGM | |

 



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