Apple's Laptop Cheetah
by John Henshall
'Think different' is the advertising slogan which tells us that Apple Computer can't talk English proper. Fortunately, despite rumours of their impending demise, Apple can still talk computer proper.
Put simple - I mean simply - Apple's new PowerBook G3 laptops are the fastest on Earth. Bar none. A recent test by BusinessWeek found Apple's new gem ran Photoshop 5.0 over three times faster than the fastest portable Pentium: an IBM ThinkPad 600 with a 266 Mhz Pentium II processor.
If you only do word processing, spread sheets and boring old accounts this hardly matters, but if you live and breathe digital imaging a new PowerBook G3 could save a third of the life you spend at the computer. In fact, it could get you a life by giving you time to do other things.
The definitive Powerbook G3 has a 1024 x 768 pixel 14.1 inch 24 bit colour LCD screen which virtually bursts out of the sides of the lid, a 292 megaHertz G3 (third generation) PowerPC processor, 192 megabytes of RAM and an 8 GigaByte hard drive. It has a built-in 56K modem, Ethernet, SCSI, PCMCIA card reader, 20x CD-ROM, 44.1kHz stereo audio in and out, S-video and XGA monitor outputs. Two hot-swappable bays - one at each side - can take two Lithium Ion batteries, a floppy disk drive, CD-ROM, DVD video player, Zip drive or extra 4 gigabyte hard drive. Of course it will also run Windows 95 like a Virtual PC. With the DVD drive you can watch your own choice of in-flight movie whether in flight or on the train. We don't have the DVD package yet, but we can watch 'Forrest Gump' and 'Four Weddings and Funeral' on CD-I discs.
We bought two PBG3s: one for me, one for my colleague, Dave. They are the fastest computers we own, bar none. The phenomenal 14.1 inch screen is only very slightly smaller than the viewable area of a 16 inch monitor and is much sharper and completely flat. The case is black and curvy with a stylish Apple logo in white crystal. Two inches thick, it is 12.75 inches wide by 10.5 deep - 5 x 32 x 26.5 cm - and weighs just under eight pounds, 3.5 Kg.
Of course it isn't quite perfect. The bottom of the case acts as a heat sink: it doesn't get warm, it gets hot, but at the speed this flyer is going the heat would be understandable due to friction alone. Instead of the standard 3 pin 'kettle' (IEC) mains connector, the power cord has a new type of 3 pin socket. I'm trying to find a back-up, to insure against the day when I accidentally leave it somewhere. For me the biggest omission is the absence of a FireWire interface, so I can't connect my Sony DV Camcorder or one of the new Kodak DCS cameras. A third-party PCMCIA CardBus card is expected within the next two months but Apple really should already have built this into a machine of this calibre, which has just about everything else. Interestingly, Sony make a FireWire DV adapter for PC, which would run under Window 95. Finally, a single docking connector could enable power, SCSI, Ethernet, phone line, mouse, monitor, video and audio connections all to be made at once - not that we connect them all at once.
The PowerBook G3 is changing the way I work. It is a powerful alternative to any desktop machine and when I'm in the studio it connects into the network in seconds. On the road the relief is greatest. Transporting desktop machines and heavy monitors is a thing of the past. This is the state-of-the-art high-end computer which proves that Apple remains at the leading edge. It's a real joy to work with.
This article first appeared in "John Henshall's Chip Shop", July/August 1998.