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 applicatations. But the Apple PowerBook G3 managed to make even a cynic such as myself sit up and take notice of its 400-megahertz 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 an array 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 1/2 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 pops open when you press the release button. The 14.1-inch active-matrix display can show millions of colors at resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels. 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 6-gigabyte 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. 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 64 megabytes of RAM, which is inadequate for a notebook aimed at power users. Although RAM can be expanded to 384 megabytes, I would expect a high-end system to come standard with at least 128. 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 512-kilobyte 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 8 megabytes 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 the users ahead of many PC notebook users lugging around Pentium IIs.
Apple's notebook for power users
Apple Computer Inc.
Phone number: 1-800-538-9696
Web address: www.apple.com
+ Long battery life
+ Excellent graphics rendering
- 400-megahertz processor rather slow
- Only 64 megabytes of RAM standard
Features and configuration: B
Benchmark performance: A-
Note: Processor 14 percent faster, disk 3 percent slower and graphics almost three times as fast compared with a 300-megahertz G3 desktop system, according to ZD's MacBench 5.0.