The High-Res PowerBook Value Equation

Already this month Apple updated the iMac and introduced the video iPod. And yesterday they introduced the first Macs ever with dual-core CPUs and improved PowerBooks. We’ll look at the new PowerBooks today and save the Power Macs for tomorrow.

Overall Changes

All PowerBooks now come standard with SuperDrives. The 12″ PowerBook G4 remains otherwise unchanged except for a US$200 price reduction. There is a build-to-order option for those who want to save some money and have a Combo drive.

The 15″ and 17″ PowerBooks now come standard with a dual-layer 8x SuperDrive and higher resolution displays. Again, those who want to save a little money can have Apple configure them with Combo drives.

There is no change in CPU speed, although Apple has phased out the 1.5 GHz 15″ PowerBook.

Bigger, Better ‘Books

The 15″ and 17″ PowerBooks run at 1.67 GHz, have higher resolution displays, and now use 533 MHz DDR2 memory (although on a 333 MHz bus). Battery life on both models improves by one hour as well.

15″ PowerBook G4 HR

The only difference you’ll once you start using the new 15″ PowerBook is a 1440 x 960 display – the same resolution as the previous 17″ model. The 15″ PowerBooks had used 1280 x 854 displays for years, and this puts them on a level playing field with most 15″ widescreen Windows models.

17″ PowerBook G4 HR

If you thought 1440 x 960 was impressive on a 17″ laptop, you’ll be even more impressed with the new 17″ PowerBook‘s new display – 1680 x 1050.

The Value Equation

15″ PowerBook G4

The new 15″ 1.67 GHz PowerBook G4 retails for $1,999 with a dual-layer SuperDrive. Online dealers are selling the single-layer SuperDrive model for $1,899. Although CPU speeds are identical, the faster memory bus in the new model will give it an edge – not to mention that higher resolution screen.

The 1.5 GHz Combo drive model is available for $1,699. If you don’t need a SuperDrive, you only lose 10% in speed and save $200-300 compared with the SuperDrive models. A good value.

If you do want or need a SuperDrive, ask yourself whether you want a dual-layer drive or not. That’s the biggest difference between the new and old models. The new model is a better value primarily due to the higher resolution display and improved battery life.

17″ PowerBook G4

The new 17″ 1.67 GHz PowerBook G4 retails for $2,499, and the model it’s replacing is selling for $200 less. With the faster memory bus, higher resolution screen, longer battery life, and dual-layer SuperDrive, the new one is probably worth the extra $200.

What About Refurbs?

We’re firm believers in refurbished hardware. Apple sells them with the same one-year warranty as new, but they also sell them at a significant savings. Here’s how things stack up at the Apple Online Store today:

12″ PowerBook G4

The 12″ 1.5 GHz Combo drive model sells for $1,299 refurbished, and the SuperDrive version goes for $1,449. For the extra $100 saved, the refurbished Combo drive model is the winner. At just a $50 discount, we can’t see any reason to buy a refurbished SuperDrive model.

15″ PowerBook G4

The just-discontinued 15″ Combo drive model sells for $1,699 refurbished, which is the same price online dealers are charging for new stock. The same holds for the 15″ SuperDrive model. Apple had better slash some prices if they want to move out the refurbs.

17″ PowerBook G4

We have the same situation as with the 15″ PowerBook – Apple is selling refurbs for the same price online dealers are asking for brand new product. No compelling reason to pick refurbs without a discount.

Overall Value

For the first time since 1998, when Apple released the PowerBook G3 Series II at 233-300 MHz to replace Series I at 233-292 MHz, we’re seeing new PowerBooks that essentially run at the same speed as their predecessors. That’s thinking different, and it’s evident that Apple isn’t using clock speed as the selling point.

The 12″ PowerBook gains a dual-layer SuperDrive. That’s it, along with a $200 price reduction compared with the previous SuperDrive model. It’s definitely a better value.

Higher up the food chain, the 15″ and 17″ models gain dual-layer SuperDrives, longer battery life, a faster memory bus, and higher resolution displays. There’s also a $300 price reduction on the 15″ PowerBook vs. the previous SuperDrive model, and the new 17″ retails for $200 less than its predecessor.

Not only is Apple improving value, but my moving the 15″ and 17″ models to higher resolution screens, they are making them more competitive with Windows laptops. Smart move!

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