Review: Apple PowerBook G4 17-inch
April 6th, 2003
In early April 2003, Apple's PowerBook G4 17-inch became commonly available. At 6.8 pounds, the new PowerBook boasts features such as a 17.0-inch widescreen display, standard SuperDrive (ability to burn DVD-Rs), integrated FireWire 800, Bluetooth, and 802.11g, and versatile built-in video support (VGA, S-Video, composite), all in an aluminum alloy enclosure.
What it has
What it doesn't have (compared to the current PowerBook G4 15-inch)
Configurations & availability
The PowerBook G4 17-inch is only available in one basic configuration. However, the Computer Connection does have a specially priced version of this configuration:
1.0 GHz/512 MB/60 GB/CD-RW/DVD-R 'SuperDrive'/17.0-inch/modem/ethernet/802.11b/g/AppleCare (PennKey authentication required)
The PowerBook G4 17-inch is Apple's first attempt at a modern full-size laptop - an entry into a space that has been occupied by laptops such as Dell's Latitude C840, Latitude D800, and Precision M50, IBM's ThinkPad A31p and ThinkPad R40 15-inch, and Sony's VAIO GRV600. The PowerBook G4 17-inch replaces Sony's GRV600 as the largest screen available on a laptop and Apple has managed to make it with less weight than the most of the laptops listed above, which range from 6.6 to 8.7 pounds.
While the17-inch's generous display size (the same display as an iMac/G4 17-inch) is ideal for presentations to small groups and many visualization-oriented applications, potential buyers should be aware that the sheer mass of the display makes it easy for it to fall forward or back with relatively slight movement. The size (157 cubic inches) and weight (6.8 pounds) of the case make the 17-inch significantly less portable than its 15-inch PowerBook counterpart (127 cubic inches/5.4 pounds).
The sound output from the PowerBook's built-in speakers is better than the output of most comparable laptops, but is not exceptional. However, a headphone/line-out jack exists which can connect to headphones or external speakers for better sound output.
The PowerBook G4 17-inch includes an integrated 802.11g-based AirPort Extreme card. This new card is backward-compatible with 802.11b wireless networks (Wi-Fi), and does support the greater throughput capability of the 802.11g protocol of up to 54 Mbps. ISC has not yet completed testing of AirPort Extreme or 802.11g-based wireless networks, though the technology looks promising and initial testing has been successful.
The PowerBook G4 17-inch is a reasonable choice for departments or individuals who need high-end, desktop-class processing in a portable configuration. The 17-inch PowerBook is a very capable presentation laptop. Its size makes it somewhat awkward for frequent portability; therefore it is good for occasional mobile computing.
Technical issues & recommendations
Information Systems & Computing (ISC) does not expect there to be significant hardware-related compatibility problems with the PowerBook G4 17-inch. However, the PowerBook will have the same software-related conflicts that any Mac OS 10.2.x-based workstation would have.
ISC has tested the PowerBook G4 17-inch for compatibility with University-supported hardware and software. The PowerBook G4 17-inch is compatible with the Network Applications Installer for Mac OS X version 10.2.x and Penn's supported network applications. Like other Power Macintoshes released in 2003, the PowerBook G4 17-inch does not have the ability to boot into Mac OS 9.x. However, support exists for running Mac OS 9.x-based ("Classic") applications from within Mac OS X. Support providers should be aware of this limitation if they have any Mac OS 9.x-based applications that must run natively.
In standard configuration, the PowerBook G4 17-inch meets ISC's Full-Size 'Desktop-Equivalent' Laptop Workstations. As always, support providers should be aware of the technical issues associated with any new workstation design.
--Kristen Zborowski, Vern Yoneyama, & John Mulhern III, ISC Technology Support Services (April 6th, 2003)
Information Systems and Computing
University of Pennsylvania
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