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Apple Speed Bumps Laptops; Lowers PowerBook Pricing

Apple Speed Bumps Laptops; Lowers PowerBook Pricing

by , 9:30 AM EDT, April 19th, 2004

Apple Computer has upgraded its entire line of iBook and PowerBook laptop Macs with a jump in speed on its high-end PowerBook to 1.5 GHz from a 1.33 GHz Power PC G4, the company announced Monday.

The primary differences between the new and previous models is an increase in processor speeds, AirPort Extreme 54 Mbps 802.11g now standard on all models, a 4x instead of older 2x SuperDrive, a change in the high-end PowerBook models to the faster ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics processor and a jump from a 40GB hard drive to a 60GB model in both of the 12-inch PowerBook units.

Apple did not add any additional configurations to either laptop family - five models of PowerBooks and three models of iBooks. All the models are available immediately, the company said.

PowerBook boosts

The entire line of PowerBooks has been updated, the company said.

Both the 15-inch and 17-inch PowerBook G4 now offer up to a 1.5 GHz PowerPC G4 processor and the ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics processor. In previous models, the high-end models came with either the Radeon 9600 Pro or NVIDIA GeForce FX Go 5200. For customers who want the highest graphics performance, the 1.5 GHz 15-inch model and 17-inch PowerBook can now be custom configured with up to 128MB of graphics memory for $50 more.

The 17-inch, 1.5 GHz PowerBook will retail for US$2,799 and the 15-inch, 1.5 GHz PowerBook unit will go for $2,499. The new prices reflect a $200 and $100 price drop from older models, respectively.

A 15-inch PowerBook model with a 1.33 GHz G4 processor is also available, but with a Combo drive, 256MB of 333 MHz DDR SDRAM, the ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics processor and a 60GB Ultra ATA/100 hard drive for $1,999.

New low-end, 12-inch PowerBook models come with a 1.33 GHz G4 processor, NVIDIA GeForce FX Go5200 graphics processor and a 60GB Ultra ATA/100 hard drive. One model comes with a SuperDrive for $1,799 and the other comes with a Combo drive for $1,599.

New to the 12-inch PBs is an increase in main memory to 333MHz from 266MHz. Apple confirmed to The Mac Observer that the two new models have a faster, 167MHz system bus, up from 133MHz.

iBook boosts

The company also announced updates to its prosumer line of iBook models, bumping G4 processor speeds from 1GHz to 1.2 GHz and moved the entire iBook line over the 1.0 GHz threshold for the first time.

Other than faster G4 processors, the new models can now hold up to twice as much DDR memory (1.25GB maximum) as previous models and now feature 512KB of on-die L2 cache, up from 256KB. The graphics processor on the new iBook models was not upgraded and remains as the ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 graphics with 32MB of dedicated DDR memory.

In a positive step, Apple will now offer an optional 4x DVD-burning SuperDrive on the 14-inch iBook model only, for an additional $200.

The 1.2 GHz, 14-inch G4 iBook model comes with a Combo drive, 256MB of DDR SDRAM and a 60GB hard drive for $1,499. The mid-range model, the 14-inch, 1.0 GHz G4 iBook, comes with a Combo drive, 256MB of DDR SDRAM and a 40GB hard drive for $1,299.

Rounding out the line, is the 12-inch, 1.0 GHz G4 iBook model with a Combo drive, 256MB of DDR SDRAM and a 30GB hard drive for $1,299.

The Mac Observer Spin:

These are more or less the updates that most people have been expecting. Minor boosts in processor, still using the G4, better video cards...to be honest, these aren't updates to write home about, though we like the price drops. Other good points include the addition of the SuperDrive to the iBook, the larger hard drives, and the increased RAM capacity in the iBook. We particularly like the 128 MB option in video card memory on the 15" and 17" PowerBooks. All are much needed improvements, and help better position Apple competitively.

Interestingly, it's the iBook line that has the biggest increase in power in percentage terms. Being able to drop MHz as a speed measurement should help already outstanding iBooks sales. Note, however, that Apple had a record quarter in the March quarter with the iBook, its slowest machine in terms of clock speed; that's a somewhat amazing feat, a point we didn't make at the time. That suggests that Apple is indeed able to market beyond the MHz Myth, at least at the consumer level.

We're not so sure that's the case at the pro level, however. With Motorola's continued failure to move the G4 forward in any significant way, Apple is in a bit of quandary until and if a G5 is ready for a portable, and that is one of customer expectations. Certainly these new updates will make anyone who has been waiting for the next rev stop waiting, but it's not the kind of compelling update that Apple needs to see a massive wave of pro customer upgrades.

All that said, Apple's portable line stacks up nicely against the Wintel camp's in every segment except the low end. All of Apple's offerings are price competitive when you compare the entire package -- size, weight, ports, screen size, style, bundled software, and other features -- but for significantly less, you can get a big, heavy, and ugly computer from Dell, or one of the other Wintel makers.

Obviously, for most folks, that trade off is worth it: Cheap = Good Enough, and Apple simply isn't addressing that market. Even the iBook, Apple's putative low-end, is sleeker, more stylish, with more software and other features than the vast majority of Wintel offerings. For those looking to spend less than a grand, however, there is no Apple options, outside of refurb units.

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