Compal to build 15.4in PowerBook

PowerPC 970 or 7457?

Claims that Apple is updating its 15.2in PowerBook was strengthened today when sources said the company has signed Taiwanese notebook manufacturer Compal to produce just such a machine.

The sources, cited by DigiTimes, say Compal will start shipping 15.4in PowerBooks in the second half of the year.

Compal is a logical choice for the Mac's production. It already produces 15.4in wide-screen laptops for Dell and HP, making it the leading manufacturer of notebooks with this screen form-factor. And it already has a relationship with Apple, producing the 17in PowerBook.

Taiwanese manufacturers Quanta and Asustek are currently manufacturing the 15in and 12in models, respectively.

DigiTimes' sources don't specify which processor the computer will use, however, so there's little here to settle whether it will be powered by IBM's upcoming 64-bit PowerPC 970, Motorola's upcoming MPC7457, or even an anticipated G3-class CPU with AltiVec, also from IBM.

Recent rumours have highlighted the 970's role, and many Mac watchers are eagerly anticipating Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in just over a week's time for hints about new Macs or even an official launch. In the past 970 speculation has centred on desktop Power Macs, but of late more rumours are surfacing which highlight a portable role for the processor.

A "second half" ship schedule isn't much help either: both the 970 and the 7457 are scheduled for volume production during Q3 and Q4, though the 970 is likely to appear first, if official pronouncements are anything to go by.

An update to the ageing 15.2in PowerBook has been expected since late last year. January's launch of 12in and 17in models - but no comparable 15in PowerBook - led to claims that Apple delayed the arrival of the new 15in model while stocks of the old version dwindle. However, the company hasn't offered price cuts as an incentive until fairly recently (so far as we can recall). Apple also cut the price of the 12in model, suggesting that this may be in line for a refresh too.

It's possible that Apple would seek to offer different processors with different PowerBooks - 970 for the 15in, G4 for the 12in and 17in - but traditionally it hasn't done so. When it moved up to the G4 in both the pro desktop and notebook lines, it did so across each range, and we'd expect the same with a shift to the 970, whether its dubbed the G5 or whatever. Our gut feeling is that PowerBooks will stay with the G4, and it's the desktops that will be equipped with the 970. Again, traditionally, the desktop line has been fitted with new CPUs ahead of the notebooks.

That said, 2003 is Apple's 'year of the notebook', so the priorities may have changed. But with the imminent release of QuarkXPress for Mac OS X, not to mention Final Cut Pro 4, the focus of the moment is on professional markets. And this naturally favours the introduction of massively faster pro desktops. ®

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