Who needs a PC notebook? Try an Apple PowerBook G3

Who needs a PC notebook? Try an Apple PowerBook G3

By John Breeden II

GCN Staff

The Apple PowerBook G3 would make a good travel companion for your power users.

Notebook computers seldom impress me, aside from a few models built around the Intel Pentium III processor.

Apple's stylish iBook is too underpowered to run advanced applications on the road. But the Apple PowerBook G3 managed to make even a cynic such as myself sit up and take notice of its 400-MHz PowerPC G3 processor, long battery life and slim, stylish design.

With a single lithium-ion battery'a heavier model has two batteries'the PowerBook G3 is supposed to have up to five hours of running time. The standard model weighs in at 6 pounds.

Under the GCN Lab's battery of torture tests, which disable power management and spin hard drives and DVD-ROM or CD-ROM drives nonstop, the PowerBook's battery conked out after 2.5 hours.

That's enough juice for a hard-working user to fly from Washington to Las Vegas, minus takeoff, landing and lunch. With two batteries, unplugged service time could double.

The case literally pops open when you press the release button. The 14.1-inch active-matrix display can show millions of colors at 1,024- by 768-pixel resolution. An Apple logo cut into the back of the LCD shines when the display is on, even with the notebook closed. That's a handy warning for users who tend to mess with the power management features.

My test unit had a 6G hard drive, more than enough to load even the largest applications.

According to the Ziff-Davis Business Operation's MacBench 5.0 benchmark, the drive ran only 3 percent slower than a desktop PC G3 drive.

Box Score ''''''''

PowerBook G3

Apple's notebook for power users

Apple Computer Inc.;

Cupertino, Calif.;

tel. 408-996-1010


Price: $3,499

+ Long battery life

+ Excellent graphics rendering

' 400-MHz processor rather slow

' Only 64M of RAM standard

Features and configurationB
Benchmark performanceA-

Processor 14 percent faster, disk 3percent slower and graphics almost three times faster than on a 300-MHz G3 desktop system, according to ZD's MacBench 5.0.

The overall grade comprises scores for three factors: usability (60 percent), features and configuration (20 percent), and performance (20 percent). For benchmark information, go to www.gcn.com/gcnlab/

That's outstanding performance from a notebook. It goes to show that Apple put a lot of thought into the PowerBook's overall design.

The system does fall short in two areas, however.

It comes standard with only 64M of RAM, which is inadequate for a notebook aimed at power users. Although RAM can be expanded to 384M, I would expect a high-end system to come standard with at least 128M.

You can use virtual memory, making the hard drive serve as backup memory cache, but I have seen this practice hurt performance, so I never activate it on a Mac.

The PowerBook G3 makes up for some of its memory shortfall with 512K of backside Level 2 cache, a dedicated 133-MHz, 64-bit backside bus and a 66-MHz system bus. Sometimes, though, there is no substitute for a heaping helping of RAM.

The other disappointment is processor performance. The 400-MHz PowerPC G3 in my benchmark tests could barely eke out a 14 percent gain over a 300-MHz G3 desktop computer system the lab tested. I expected at least a 25 percent gain.

Although the processor was a bit anemic, the graphics performance blew me away. The unit came with 8M of video memory and a built-in 2-D/3-D ATI Rage LT Pro video controller, which supports video playback through the DVD-ROM drive.

The system scored 2,955 on the MacBench graphics test, making it nearly three times as fast at graphics rendering as the 300-MHz G3 desktop system.

The PowerBook G3 also shone at communications. Its 56-Kbps modem performed at close to maximum speed, and it had a 10/100Base-T Ethernet port as well as a PC Card slot and two Universal Serial Bus ports.

If Apple users tweak the basic configuration options a bit, the PowerBook G3 can catapult them ahead of many PC notebook users lugging around Pentium IIs.

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