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The Macintosh Powerbook G3

December 7, 1998
by Alex Zavatone

These things ain't cheap.

And I think it's for a reason.

For those of you who know me, my 1971 Datsun 240 Z was my baby, my 1987 BMW steroid mobile was my baby. I now have a new baby. It is going to be surgically attached regardless of how it affects my dating. It is a Powerbook G3. It is a good thing.

First of all, the configuration:

Cost: $3299.00 from Outpost.com. Ouch.

So specs are great, but is it really worth it? Point 1: A 14.1 inch LCD screen running at 1024 x 768 is just as good a s a 21 inch CRT and it is way easier on the eyeballs and the lines that CRTs put under them. It also has that nice "wide screen effect". Point B: a 266 G3 is 25% to 50% faster than my 8500/233 604e. re: fast, it is fast enough to run Virtual PC as "useable speeds" like that of my old p133 - Not great but very useable. Even on OS 8.1, apps just run smoother, ESPECIALLY the modem drivers. Getting on the net is very zippy after you get the modem configured correctly. Much smoother than the 56k modem on the 8500.

There is also the liberating factor of this machine. Laptops are supposed to be slower than desktops - but the g3 is the fastest machine I've got. It does weigh in at 8 pounds, 0 ounces but the office is where you take it. I'm in the local snooty coffee shop now. If you've seen my apartment, you'll understand just how liberating this is.

Versatility is also a big factor here. When stuck in SFO, I've got my office if I want to use it. I've also got 20 odd Mpeg 3's and headphones if I want my own personal boombox. Director 6 is fast enough to test on when running under Virtual PC. Develop on the mac and test on the PC - all on the same box. The docking bays are wonders of nature. Want 2 batteries? Just pull your current devices and plug the extra one in. Want a zip drive, floppy or DVD? Just pull the right device out and plug the new one in. Want a zip drive and a CD or a floppy and a CD while it's plugged in? Just pull the battery and slide the floppy or zip drive in to the left most port. Modularity is a big thing here.

But there's more to the versatility of this little baby. The S-video out makes this a perfect demo machine and the trackpad becomes easy to use after a few days. Just 3 days after I got the G3, a rush job for a Portuguese Cork Company and a very busy Saturday made the usefulness of the S-Video out very apparent. So apparent that my client went out and purchased another G3 powerbook for demo use in Europe. A machine that provides a compelling reason to drop 3.25 thou is a good thing. The NTSC and PAL support for video means you plug in the video out to the TV and restart the mac. Then select the resolution in Monitors & Sound and you've got at least 640 x 480 support at millions of colors on the TV. Easy as that. The only improvement here would be to mirror the video on the internal LCD, though there is a PCMCIA card available with that feature.

Games? Ya, I'm guilty. Myth and Quake play very well on this machine but I'd really recommend plugging in a mouse over using the trackpad. In fact, Quake plays a pixel doubled 510 x 384 at 21fps and 42 fps at a doubled 320 by 240. No 3dfx card though. Maybe a PCMCIA Voodoo II is in the works but for the sake of productivity, I hope not.

Battery life seems decent at about 2.5 hours per charge and the battery seems to recharge pretty fast - about 1 to 2 hours is generally all I need to hit a full charge. The control strip also has many features to support the battery life & use but to find a charge, you can just press a button on the side of the battery and see the remaining charge with an LED Display. Nice touch.

Note to Self: when writing review articles on a laptop, do not enter a seedy bar and expect to work without attracting much attention.

A total coolness factor has to go to the infrared networking. A few nights ago, a fellow G3 powerbook owner and I decided to try it out at the local coffee shop. 500kps with no connecting cables is just way high on the coolness factor. Plus you can disconnect any other powerbook owners from snooping on your machine by blocking the signal with your hand - or a pint of Guinness. Total fun and possibly even useful on rare occasions.

With all that's good about the G3, what is less than great besides the price? Simply put, this is a great platform to start from. Most of shortcomings can be fixed with a few purchases, like more memory, a zip drive and a PCMCIA video mirroring card. The LCD is great but it's definately not top of the line and in my case is brighter than it should be, except at its lowest setting. the lower part of the screen is brighter than the top but it is not serious. Also the more you work with the machine, the more you notice the bunk pixels. Apple used to have a maximum of 3 bad pixels per screen and that may still be true. The more you work with the machine, the more they are noticeable. A quick way to find them when the machine is new is to launch Director and create two screens, one all black and one all white. Switch between the two and note the locations of the bad pixels. Note if more are mysteriously created during the first few weeks.

Another factor affecting my machine is that when closed, the keys tend to rub on the screen and already some key edge scratches are noticable when the screen is off. Not a big issue yet. One area that does need improvement is the modem config software and the modem software itself. There is a known bug that G3 internal modems won't redial after sleeping and though a patch is supplied, I haven't worked it out completely. That's not really bad but the G3 that was taken to Europe refuses to understand the phone connect signal from AOL's POP in Portugal. Bearing in mind that Apple support in countries that are not the USA is not always what you need it to be, this can be a problem for overseeas travellers or purchasors.

Something that all laptops suffer from is that the display is too low to provide a proper viewing angle and this one is no exception. Those of us with stiff necks may have to pay extra attention to posture when working on this machine. Surprisingly, tilting the screen back to a 45degrees improves the viewing angle and color display and is easier on those of us with crunchy necks.

Summary: It may be because this is my first real laptop or that the keyboard feels so sweet but if you can afford one of the G3 laptops, I vote that you investigate getting one with enough memory and HD space to suit your requirements. Most of the other great functionality is built in to the base models. Even though this has been my most expensive computer purchase, I'm damn glad I got one when I did.

Reporting live from Blue Moon Pizza, the Grove and Daddy Paul's aka "one of the two seediest bars on Chestnut Street that still serves Guinness"...

A Director user since 1987, Alex (Zav) Zavatone has worked on the engineering teams for both Director and Shockwave, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Recent investigations find him developing foundation classes for Director with asynchronous process management and other life threatening activities. In its early days, he had something to do with this Internet thing known as "DOUG". A noted ne'erdowell, slacker and laggard, Mr. Zavatone is nonetheless is trusted by children, small animals and the elderly. In his spare time, Mr. Zavatone rehabilitates lame desert trout.

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