Jobs Shows PowerBook G5s, Units to Ship April 1

2005 – Apple stunned analysts, Mac users, and PC pundits by pre-announcing the PowerBook G5 this morning – just two days after unveiling improved G4 PowerBooks.

The Rumor Mill

“If the customers want it, we’re going to give it to them, no matter the technological challenges,” said Steve Jobs when demonstrating the new G5 models to the tech press.

The PowerBook G5 will be available in three configurations, internally known as Baby Bear, Mamma Bear, and Papa Bear.

Cool Baby Bear

The darling of the PowerBook G5 is the minuscule 12″ model, which is exactly the same size and weight as the current 1.5 GHz 12″ PowerBook G4. Spec for spec, it matches the model announced on Monday in all but a few factors.

The CPU is the most obvious difference – Baby Bear sports a PowerPC 970FX (G5) CPU in the same 1″ thin enclosure as current PowerBooks. How did Apple do it?

Well, it was “the mother of all thermal challenges,” and Apple engineers knew there were several ways of dealing with CPU heat. In the case of the 12″ PowerBook G5, they avoided heat issues by running a 2.0 GHz processor at 1.2 GHz.

Coupled with a 600 MHz memory bus – 3.6x as fast as the 167 MHz bus in current PowerBooks – and a broader memory path, the 64-bit CPU will generally outperform a G4 at the same clock speed.

12-inch PowerBook G5

The 12″ PowerBook G5 will be black.

It’s not about clock speed,” said Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design guru, “it’s about marketing. Even if the PowerBook G5 was no faster than the PowerBook G4, people will buy it simply because it’s a G5.” Tim Cook, Apple’s VP of Worldwide Sales and Operations, continued the thought. “If Intel could market the less efficient Pentium 4 on GHz alone – well, and those strange adds with the aliens – Apple can market a PowerBook on the strength of the G5 CPU. It’s not rocket science. People want the latest, greatest stuff, and right now that’s the G5.”

In another design departure, the new PowerBooks will use black anodized aluminum instead of the shiny brushed aluminum look of the G4 series. Even the power LED that pulses during Sleep will be black – it uses a black light LED. Disaster Area would be proud.

The 12″ PowerBook G5 will be available with 512 MB RAM, an 80 GB hard drive, and a Combo drive for $1,999. A SuperDrive model will sell for $200 more.

Hot Mamma Bear

The 15″ PowerBook G5 has the same footprint as the 15″ PowerBook G4 along with the same “megawide” display and backlit keyboard. And that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.

Realizing that 15″ PowerBooks sell to a more serious audience than the more portable 12″ models, Jobs insisted that the middle model had to have significantly more horsepower. “If it’s not as fast as the slowest Power Mac G5 we’re selling, we’re not going to sell it.”

The Mamma Bear model runs a G5 processor at the same 1.8 GHz as the entry-level Power Mac G5, and that creates a lot more heat than the 1.2 GHz CPU in the Baby Bear ‘Book.

The 15″ PowerBook marks a return to the thicker designs of the past, and it’s just a bit thicker than the “Pismo” PowerBook G3 from 2000. At 1.8″ thick, Mamma Bear also weighs quite a bit more than any 15″ ‘Book Apple has ever produced.

Much of the 6.7 pound weight comes from the cooling system, as does the thickness.

In a radical departure from traditional laptop design, Apple moves the CPU from the base to the display. Even running the 2.5 GHz G5 at 1.8 GHz, this computer generates a lot of heat, and it’s easier to dissipate it from a vertical surface than from a horizontal one that may be sitting on a desk or table. (An Apple insider also said the did this to avoid burnt laps and possible sterility issues.)

The base contains the battery, keyboard, scrollable trackpad, hard drive, all the ports, and either a Combo drive or SuperDrive. The lid holds the logic board, backlit display, and four very small cooling fans that can kick in as necessary. (As with the Power Mac G5, the fans are pretty quiet and will run only as fast as necessary to provide sufficient cooling.)

The top of the 15″ PowerBook G5 is a fairly thick cast aluminum piece that’s meant to act as a passive heat sink, which is adequate in and of itself to keep Momma Bear cool during Sleep and when used in Reduced Power mode.

Speaking of which, Reduced Power mode runs the 15″ ‘Book at the same 1.2 GHz as the 12″ model, trading performance for battery life and a cooler running CPU.

The 15″ PowerBook G5 will ship with 512 MB RAM, a 100 GB Serial ATA hard drive – the first in an Apple laptop – and a Combo drive for $2,499. The SuperDrive model will cost $200 more.

Big Papa Bear

Apple’s second heaviest portable ever – still trailing the Mac Portable‘s 15.8 lbs. – is the 17″ PowerBook G5. This monster has the same footprint at the 17″ PowerBook G4, but it’s over twice as thick and over twice as powerful.

Like Mamma Bear, Papa Bear has its brains behind the display, not in the base, but unlike Mamma, Papa has two brains. Dual 2.5 GHz G5 CPUs – underclocked to 1.8 GHz – provide plenty of portable computing power in a 2.2″ thick enclosure.

An unnamed Apple source noted Papa Bear was “the father of all thermal challenges.”

Tipping the scales at a bit over 12 lbs., the 17″ PowerBook G5 has a much more deeply ridged heat sink top cover to aid with cooling a pair of CPUs. As with the 15″ model, passive cooling is adequate for Sleep and Reduced Power modes. It’s also adequate with a Energy Saver setting that turns off one CPU while running the remaining one at 1.8 GHz.

Depending on the task, users may find one or the other Reduced Power setting gives them better performance, and users can switch modes on the fly.

Expect sticker shock – to get dual G5s, that humongous 17″ display, active and passive cooling systems, and everything else into Papa Bear, you have to pay the price. The 17″ PowerBook will retail for $3,999 with 1 GB of RAM, a 160 GB ultra-thin 7200 rpm 3.5″ Serial ATA hard drive, and an 8x SuperDrive.

Battery life has not yet been projected for the new models.

Quipped Jobs, “We told people we could rise to the thermal challenge. All we had to do was think different about compact, lightweight, powerful PowerBooks.”

Although announced today, the G5 PowerBooks won’t reach Apple Stores, online dealers, national chains, or the remaining handful of authorized Apple dealers who aren’t suing Apple, until April 1.

This should allow everyone to sell out of the new G4 models before the Three Bears make them obsolete.

– Anne Onymus