Apple revamps 15in PowerBook, adds Bluetooth

Price cuts too

Apple has given the mainstay of its portable line, the 15in PowerBook, an overhaul at Apple Expo in Paris. Rather more than just a speed bump, the PowerBook gets its first serious redesign since the introduction of the Titanium three years ago.

This also represents Apple's first reply to Intel's $300 million Centrino marketing campaign, and also a response to something that didn't exist three years ago: an abundance of relatively low-cost, well-designed and… whisper it… stylish Wintel notebook PCs. The Titanium's industrial design stood out from the pack when it was introduced, but it's much less differentiated now, when a feature-packed Vaio or a Fujitsu can be picked up for under $2000.

So how has Apple responded? Answer: by bifurcating the 15in line and lowering prices.

Squeaking in at $1999 is the basic 1GHz model, only with aluminium in place of the titanium casing, DDR333 memory, USB 2.0 and FireWire 800. Its well-heeled sibling, at $2599, features a faster processor (1.25GHz), more memory (512MB vs 256MB) and a larger hard disk (80GB vs 60GB)… and the illuminated keyboard that debuted in the 17in leviathan back in January. Then again, the keyboard is available (in English and Spanish) as an option from Apple's online store for just $69 more.

The previous 15in pricing strategy maintained two models at around the $2300 and $2800 price points. Apple has sacrificed the Level 3 cache. Some software publishers are adamant that the L3 cache makes a dramatic difference to performance: Connectix says L3 is paramount in improving performance of its Virtual PC x86 emulator. But design judgements are much more complex than that; and the absence of an L3 cache does not necessarily imply worse performance. Real-world tests will tell us soon enough.

Apple has revamped the 12in and 17in PowerBooks, too, cutting the price of the latter model to $2999, and bumping up the specs across the line with the low-end model now sporting a 1GHz processor and the giant a 1.33GHz G4. The 12in model gets a SuperDrive DVD-R option, and mcuh-improved Nvidia GeForce FX Go 5200 graphics. Both models now offer USB 2.0.

The presence of 512KB of L2 cache on all models shows that they are indeed powered by Motorola's new 130nm PowerPC 7457 chip, as anticipated.

Belatedly, Apple has finally introduced a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse ($69 a piece), although some might be disappointed that it didn't use the occasion to introduce its patented 'rotary' mouse, which according to documents filed with the USPTO, has a circular scroll dial. Logitech has championed wireless peripherals for over a decade, but these have more utility now that the personal computer is used for watching home entertainment.

Cash-strapped Mac users who don't want to leave the couch might consider Sailing Clicker or Romeo as alternatives: both allow you to control (and script) the Mac using a Bluetooth phone. ®