17in PowerBook a lot of computer

There's plenty of attention to detail in the design of the 17in PowerBook. It's a flagship product and presented as such.

There’s plenty of attention to detail in the design of the 17in PowerBook. It’s a flagship product and presented as such.

The first thing that stands out is the PowerBook’s amazing 1440 x 900 display. The cinema-scale format allows DVDs to be played widescreen, and is both vivid and easy on the eyes. Because the PowerBook has an ambient light sensor, the screen brightness is automatically adjusted to suit the light conditions — a neat feature that works well.

We were equally interested in the trickery hidden inside the PowerBook’s elegant aluminium case: 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, built-in Bluetooth, gigabit ethernet and a DVD-R/CD-RW drive. The 56k modem is almost an afterthought.

The PowerBook offers USB ports on both sides of the case, FireWire400 and 800, and DVI and S-video connectors (Apple also bundles DVI-to-VGA and S-video-to-composite video adapters).

The 1GHz G4 chip inside the PowerBook is well-suited to portables, as it is relatively cool and efficient, and the Nvidia GeForce4 440 video card keeps the display lively. We found the PowerBook to be quite quick enough for most uses; we were able to watch a DVD while the laptop was compiling lynx and updating perl, for example. In fact, the only time the machine felt less than completely responsive was when an 802.11 signal was unexpectedly lost.

However, 802.11 performance is much improved from earlier Titanium models, which had a reputation for poor Wi-Fi reception. Bluetooth also worked well; we were able to pair with a Sony Ericsson mobile phone and transfer the contents of the calendar and address book to the desktop. Once set up, synchronising was as simple as selecting a menu item.

The light sensor is responsible for another nifty trick, a backlit keyboard. We’d thought this would just be eye candy until we saw it in action — the muted blue colour is unobtrusive and useful in low light conditions. It’s a nice touch.

Apple has made great efforts recently to support several networking protocols, including NFS, SMB, AFP, WebDAV and FTP. Connecting to a corporate Windows network was straightforward. The server browser sometimes failed to retrieve the list of servers available, but we were able to connect by entering the server’s name.

It worked equally well connecting to Linux servers running Samba and Netatalk, and mounting WebDAV and FTP volumes on the desktop.

The 17in PowerBook is a lot of computer, which is both an appeal and a drawback. Although not ungainly, it’s large and expensive enough to be careful of when travelling.

Some people will find the larger screen allows them to get more use from a laptop than ever before. Others may find it a liability. If you need a large screen and a portable, it might be worth asking if you need them at the same time. The 17in PowerBook is about $100 less than the combined price of a similarly-equipped iMac and a 14.1in iBook, a less-glamorous but still useful Apple portable.

That’s a dilemma we’d like to have.

Pros: Speedy, well-designed, feature-packed

Cons: Too much notebook for some uses

Price: About $6840 ex GST

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