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New Powerbooks Are Out: No Big Whoop

February 1st, 2005

The new Powerbook line was announced today. Not only did the G5 Powerbook fail to materialize (as most expected but hoped otherwise), but even the second-best Freescale dual-core–or even single-core–G4 chip didn’t show up. Instead, the new Powerbooks out are relatively unremarkable upgrades, up to barely 1.67 GHz over the prior 1.5 GHz. A minor speed bump, at best. One can easily understand now why they didn’t want to mention these at the MacWorld Expo.

There are some other upgrades, as if Apple knew the CPU bump would be disappointing and so wanted to cram in as many small improvements as they could: a larger hard drive (up to 100 GB, over the prior 80 GB, but still spinning at 5400 RPM), an 8x Superdrive (I presume the prior model was 4x), more RAM (though 512 MB should have been standard for a long time now), faster Bluetooth, optical audio I/O, a faster graphics chip, and a hard disk drive drop-protection system which will protect the hard drive from a head crash in case of a sudden jolt or impact. There is also a new trackpad scrolling feature and a brighter keyboard backlight. None of these is exactly enough to blow your socks off, even with the $100 to $200 price drop over before, though all of them combined might be enough to impress some buyers just enough. In fact, the low-end Powerbook is just barely better than the high-end iBook, which is priced $100 lower; if the Powerbook doesn’t surge forward sometime soon, Apple will have to slow down the iBooks just so they don’t start to outshine their older brothers.

The Powerbook is still an excellent machine, but it’s just not all that more spectacular than it was a few days ago. A better deal, but not close to being enough to make me drop at least two and a half grand to replace my current Titanium 800 MHz DVI model–especially when it is apparent that a much faster model, a significant upgrade, is just around the corner. Just how far around that corner is another question: will we have to wait another 8-9 months for the next line to come out, and will it be a G5, a dual-core G4, or yet another minor speed bump. Some model turnarounds have come as early as 6 months after the prior release; others have taken almost a year.

This is the hard part about deciding when to upgrade–you never know when the right time is. I got lucky when I bought my own machine almost three years ago; it is still quite serviceable, and will do very well until the next big jump.

But, dammit, you just want to buy a new one!

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  1. LM
    February 1st, 2005 at 23:30 | #1

    I think apple took so long to release these Powerbooks because they are doing some “time management”… the next Powerbook (major) evolution should take quite some time before release.

    I did like the “small” improvements you mentioned but also 512 Mb standard, Bluetooth 2.0 and Airport built in…


  2. Matt
    February 2nd, 2005 at 01:10 | #2

    The right time to upgrade is immediately after Apple releases a new model of whatever system you’re interested in. Since Apple upgrades their computer so infrequently, you can usually feel pretty safe about buying the brand new model and know that it won’t be obsoleted in 3 weeks. Or, you can buy a leftover or refurb of what was yesterday’s top-of-the-line model and get a good deal.

  3. Luis
    February 2nd, 2005 at 01:37 | #3

    LM: you’re right on the extra upgrades (I am now adding those to the list–thanks), but they simply add to the list of bells & whistles. I’m far less tempted by the smaller add-ons than I would be by a real upgrade of the central chips. G5 or dual-core, a significantly faster frontside bus, on-chip controllers, greatly increased L2 cache–these would be significant. Increasing the add-ons really only serves to lower the price in a different way, so you don’t have to buy them separately–at best; otherwise, it’s just a matter of increasing the secondary assets, and only slightly. I mean, face it, the new additions are nice, but all of them combined would be hard-put to match the benefit of even one of the real improvements I listed above.

    And, when it comes down to it, all of those improvements will stay–Apple rarely de-features new models–and will be present on the real upgraded Powerbooks when they come out… whenever that will be.

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