My Turn – G4 and PowerBooks

A week ago I placed an order for two new computers: the new G4 400MHz PowerMac and a 400MHz G3 bronze keyboard PowerBook. With the new iMac and the now shipping iBook, Apple finally has a well-rounded stable of computers for every single type of computer user.

While I wish I could say the new G4 sat on my desk, it doesn’t. One of the designers in our graphic house has the machine on his desk. Of course, I’m the guy who orders all the computers, sets them up, and plays with them first. Meaning, of course, that I got a full five hours on the G4 fresh out of the box before anyone else got to use it.

My first impression: FAST. Yes, this is a very fast Mac. I talked to another IT guy from our company who claimed the 450MHz G3 was faster than the 400MHz G4. While I hate to disagree with my esteemed co-worker, I have to say he is wrong. This G4 not only out performs the G3s, but also it FEELS faster. In everything from opening windows, launching Illustrator 8.0.1, and saving a large file over the network, this G4 just seems much more responsive.

Love at first sight? Well, no. There are some problems I’ve encountered with the G4 which have made me somewhat skeptical of this new design, and whether it was perhaps rushed to market a little sooner than it should have. I also wondered why Apple bothered to release the G4 400MHz model, which is nothing but a G3 with a G4 chip inside, unlike the 450 and 500MHz models which incorporate the new SawTooth architecture. Now I know the reason: there was a production shortage of the faster CPUs and Apple decided this course of action–ship something now rather than accrue backorders and impatient customers–would be the better public relations, if not marketing, decision. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was the lesser of two evils.

The problems have been strange with the G4. For example, I could be running Adobe Illustrator 8.0.1 perfectly when for no apparent reason the machine will slow down. Click a menu and nothing happens for at least five seconds. Then everything is fine again for an hour, until the problem comes back. An Adobe Illustrator problem? Undoubtedly. The machine works fine with other applications, even when the problem is occurring right then in Illustrator. My solution? None yet, though I have not had much time to explore it further. I hope Adobe is aware of this and is working on a fix.

The biggest comment from other Mac users in our shop? The look of the G4. “Hey, I like the look of that much better than the G3s” I hear it all the time.


My Turn Picture 1When the G3 was first released, I really, REALLY liked how it looked. Different. Classy. Nice machine. Now, though, after seeing a blue and white G3 sitting next to a graphite and clear G4, I realize how muddy the G3’s color is in comparison. The G4 looks like power. It looks fast. Most important, it looks much more like a professional machine than the blue and white G3. Could some of this simply be the newness of the G4? Certainly. But people who have never been around Macs before have commented on the look of the G4, and how “smooth” it looks. These are people who don’t give a rat’s butt about Apple or computers in general, for that matter.

Something that really bugs me on both the G3 and G4s: the cheap CD tray. These things are about the cheapest piece of trash of a CD mechanism I have ever seem. If you’ve never opened a CD on a G3 or G4, you’ll be surprised the first time you do. They are VERY loud when the tray slides out, and the sound is very clunky and cheap sounding. In fact, the CD is the worst part of these machines, and I can’t believe Apple didn’t address this design with the G4. The brand new iMacs have a trayless CD/DVD player. What does “trayless” mean, you ask? Well, have you ever seen a car audio CD player, the newer ones where you just slide the CD a little and the player grabs the disc to load it automatically? That is trayless. I’ve wondered for years why the computer industry hasn’t rushed to embrace this simply technology. Well, at least the new iMacs finally have this feature. I only wish Apple had this option on the $6,498 top of the line model, not only the $999 model. Make sense? Oh, sure. You betcha.


My Turn Picture 2The PowerBook, on the other hand, is very hard to find fault with. This machine is pure elegance. I have a 520c PowerBook as well, and while that machine is dreadfully slow today, it is still one of the best-made PowerBooks Apple has ever produced. Sturdy, trusty, and small. I saw last year’s PowerBook “Wallstreet” models, most notably Adam’s, our webmaster, and one at work. While I really liked the machine, it just didn’t feel quite right to me. It wasn’t until I sat with this year’s PowerBook, the bronze keyboard G3, that I finally felt Apple got it 100% correct.

The slimmer design of the 1999 G3 PowerBook makes a big difference in comfort while typing. Hard to believe since it’s only a wee bit thinner, but it does make a big difference, at least to me. Though I still prefer a full-sized extended keyboard, this new PowerBook is really, really nice to type on. Likewise, the trackpad in the new PowerBooks are much more natural feeling in use, unlike the older trackpads on the 520, 5300, or any other PowerBook.

The display is adequate, though the new display on the iBooks look much sharper in comparison. Sharper and brighter. One of my only complaints with the PowerBook is that the screen is a little too dark at times. Adjusting the settings helps, but not always. In particular, darker scenes in many QuickTime movies lack details I see easily after connecting an external monitor to the PowerBook for an A-B comparison.

The DVD player is a nice addition, thought I don’t have much use for it. Perhaps on a long train or plane trip, this would be a handy feature. Otherwise, it has no use to me. The CD tray, however, could use some work. In particular, I hate the almost recessed CD eject button. I have to use the tip of my finger to push that button, when the flat part of my finger should be able to open the tray. I know the designers wanted to prevent inadvertent ejections, but I still feel Apple could make that button a little bigger in future designs. On the other hand, ejecting the CD tray and battery is simplicity itself. Lift the lever on the front of the machine, and out the CD player or battery pops. Very handy!

Another complaint I have is the fact that the screen gets very dirty, due to the fact that when you close the unit the screen actually touches the keyboard. I don’t like this, and wish there was some space between the two. I have heard others complain of this, including Bob McCormick here at My Mac. Hair, smudges, and dirt which were not on the screen before I closed the lid, are there after I open it again. I also wonder if, after time, the screen will actually acquire indentations from the keyboard? This worries me. The machines are still too new to know yet if this will be a problem. I love the fact that I can flip the screen up horizontally with the keyboard. When you do this, the PowerBook looks HUGE.

Yes, I talked about all the things I don’t like with the new G4 and the PowerBook 400MHz G3. This is what I do, complain about stuff that bugs me. Does that mean I don’t think you should buy either of these machines? If you have the money, both the G4 and the PowerBook are the very best computers on the market today. Apple has never made a better PowerBook, or a faster machine than the G4. Both work as advertised and work well. The problems I see with these machines can be explained simply enough: I expect perfection and always see ways to improve a great design. The new PowerBook is the BMW of the computer industry, while the G4 is the Lamborghini. Both are great machines, and you will love being the owner of either one.

Tim Robertson

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