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Faster, Beefier Components Make New Mac Laptops Standout

TMO In-Depth Report - Faster, Beefier Components Make New Mac Laptops Standout

by , 4:00 PM EDT, April 19th, 2004

While on the surface Monday's announcements of new, updated Mac laptops might look like just your normal, run-of-the-mill 'speed bumps', a number of hardware refinements together with prices drops are proving that consumers are getting more bang for their buck.

Cases in point, in addition to faster processors...

  • An upgrade to 802.11g from 802.11b on all Mac laptops.
  • 15- and 17-inch PowerBooks with the faster ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics processor.
  • The iBook can now hold up to twice as much DDR memory (1.25GB maximum) as previous models.
  • Faster 4x speed SuperDrives instead of 2x.
  • 64MB of video RAM dedicated across the PowerBook entire PowerBook line.
  • 512KB of on-die L2 cache on iBooks, up from 256KB.
  • A jump from a 40GB hard drive to a 60GB model on both of the 12-inch PowerBook units.
  • An increase in main memory to 333MHz from 266MHz on 12-inch PowerBooks.
  • A jump from a 133MHz system bus on 12-inch PowerBooks to 167MHz.

And to make the added features even more enticing is the ability to not raise prices, but in the cases of two models - the 15- and 17-inch, 1.33 MHz PowerBooks - cut prices US$100 and $200 respectively. All this at a time with component prices are going up on memory and even hard drives.

According to Apple, better, faster products with equal or lower pricing isn't done with smoke and mirrors.

"Our cost reductions are coming as a result of our own designs," Dave Russell, Apple's senior director of portables and wireless, told The Mac Observer, Monday. "So much of this product is of our own design from the enclosure down to the inside. Over time, we're able to have our own economies of scale and cost reductions within our designs both on the logic board as well as the design itself. We get smarter and better about how we design those things.

"We have not had cost reductions in hard drives and displays," he said. "In fact, for the most part, we've seen cost increases across the board. Display prices are going up, memory prices have been going up dramatically month-to-month. So, we're really happy to be to do some cost reductions that are turning into price reductions for our customers..."

"You could think of it as where we didn't have Airport Extreme built into our PowerBooks, prices stayed the same and where Airport had been built in, we've taken the prices down. So basically, Airport Extreme comes for free in the PowerBook line now and not having to do any cost increase because of it."

Laptop timing is key

Apple last re-vamped its iBook line last October and PowerBooks last September, showing a six and seven month life cycle for Mac laptops, respectively. Russell would not say that customers are seeing a faster and shorter life span of laptops to entice a consumer appetite for portables, but did admit education buyers do play a factor in some announcements.

"I think our time to market in the iBook is perfectly timed with the education season which usually kicks off in April and goes all the way into summer to about October or so," Russell said. "Schools really like to purchase things at the end of their budget year which typically end on June 30th. So this is a busy time of the year and we think we're hitting the 'nail on the head' with the iBook line in education being upgraded at this time."

17-inch PowerBook delayed until May

Russell said the delay until May on the new 17-inch Powerbooks should not be misconstrued as an issue with a component shortage.

"Honestly, this has nothing to do with not having enough parts for something important on the 17-inch PowerBook," Russell commented. "We're just trying to get everything ramped up in product. Some stuff is just available now and some will be available shortly."

SuperDrive option a customer demand

Apple will now offer an optional DVD-burning SuperDrive on the 14-inch iBook model only for an additional $200, and Russell said that decision was because of customer demand.

"This is something our customers were asking for," he said. "Also, we think that with the applications in the iLife suite, people will want to burn projects, so it just makes sense to offer this option."

Laptop optimism reigns

Portables are doing great business at Apple," Russell said. "The last two quarters in a row, notebooks made up 40% of our CPU shipments at Apple. That's almost double of what the rest of the (PC) industry is doing between the ratio of notebooks to desktops...Our notebook business has never been stronger and I think this quarter is going to be even better than you might anticipate with the new designs."

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