Benchmark:Apple PowerBook N7633LL/A


Apple Appeal



PowerBook N7633LL/A

($3,499)

Apple Computer, Inc.

1 Infinite Loop

Cupertino, California 95014-2084

(800) MY-APPLE

www.apple.com



When Apple built FireWire jacks into their new PowerBook laptop computers, combined with plenty of RAM and hard drive space they made a high-powered, portable video editing workstation. Lets take a look to see what it can do.


At the Core

The PowerBook we tested sports a G3 500MHz processor. It also has 128MB of RAM and a 12GB ATA-66 hard drive that is fast enough to handle DV. All of this computer hardware is tucked into a laptop case that is very similar to the cases used by past PowerBooks. While this PowerBook may look like last years model, a couple of things inside put the real power in this years laptop incarnation.

First, Apple upped the speed of the bus of the computer (the speed at which the processor can communicate with the RAM) from 66MHz to 100MHz. Second, they increased the on-chip cache memory to 1MB, the same amount that desktop server chips use. Both of these improvements make this PowerBook a chapter ahead of past models.

On a side note, the inclusion of built-in FireWire ports comes at the exclusion of the built-in SCSI (Small Computer Serial Interface) port. So if you want to hook fast external hard drives to your PowerBook, youll have to get a SCSI card to fit in the PCMIA (Personal Computer Memory-Card International Association) slot or use an external FireWire or USB drive. Too bad they couldnt have kept the SCSI as well as the FireWire or at least provided an IDE (Integrated Device Electronics) out to hook an external IDE RAID to the laptop for some cheap storage for video projects.


Just Add Software

One thing you might notice about the new PowerBook is that it is not a turnkey editing workstation. Yes, it does have the necessary FireWire ports built-in and ready to go, but the PowerBook doesnt come with editing software unless you purchase it in a bundle from a vendor or order it from the Apple Web site and specify Final Cut Pro as an option. Youll need to add another $1,000 or so if youd like to buy the laptop as a ready-to-edit turnkey system. You can use whatever Mac-compatible editing software youd like on the PowerBook, but for our review, we used Apples own Final Cut Pro (see the 10/99 issue of Videomaker for our review).

Installing Final Cut Pro on the laptop was pretty much the same as putting it on a desktop computer, and the whole process took only minutes. With any computer that you plan to use for editing, youll want to shut down all the unnecessary little programs (drivers, extensions and control panels) that may be running. For example, if you arent going to be using a network, turn off the network support extensions and control panels.

For our tests, we shut off services such as multiple user support, remote access, the modem, Internet, file sharing, AppleTalk, TCP/IP and Web sharing. By turning off these services, we were able to free up another megabyte or two of RAM and decrease the demand on the CPU (Central Processing Unit).

After making the adjustments to the machine and installing the editing software, we were finally ready to get down and capture some video. For our test, we connected a Canon GL1 Mini DV camcorder to the FireWire port. Using the built-in FireWire made capturing with the new PowerBook a snap. We just opened Final Cut Pro, went to the capture screen and batch captured away, enjoying full machine control.

This PowerBook has a couple of other integrated features that make it ideal for video editors. We were pleased with the relatively large 14-inch color LCD monitor thats large enough to organize and clearly view an editing project. It also sports a rockin DVD-ROM drive that plays both DVDs and CD-ROMs. This is essential so video editors can load additional software applications like Adobe After Effects and capture music from CDs.

It has an S-video out jack so you can connect an NTSC monitor or TV to it and take advantage of the Macs dual screen control. This enables you to essentially span your desktop over two monitors. This is very useful and cool, especially if your timeline is extremely long and your desktop is cluttered. The S-video out also allows you to connect an S-VHS VCR so you can make VHS dubs.

On the downside, there was one thing about using the PowerBook laptop as an editing station that we didnt like: the touchpad. It takes a while to get used to and we found it not to be as comfortable to use as a mouse. If you dont love to finger scroll, youll need to get a USB trackball or mouse to use.


Editing on the Go

Why would you want to use a laptop for your editing? For some people, the idea of having to do all of their computer-based editing in a darkened computer lab is restrictive. With a laptop, you can load your clips and make your cuts, transitions and titles wherever you feel inspired. With your new-found mobility you can edit at the coffee shop or make titles at the theater. Travelers will especially appreciate the ability to work on airplanes. With a PowerBook, you can edit your vacation video during the time that you usually spend waiting at the airport and sitting in the plane (the FCC would like us to remind everyone to raise their tray tables and not edit during takeoff and landing though).

For real mobility in editing, the PowerBook G3 500MHz will be tough to top. By combining Apples popularity in the video editing world, with the solid reputation of its PowerBook series of laptops, these machines should be popping up in the field everywhere. The addition of the built-in FireWire will make the PowerBook particularly attractive to video editors. When the price drops, capturing and editing video on the go will become hugely popular.

TECH SPECS

Apple Computer

PowerBook N7633LL/A

Processor G3 500MHz 1MB L2 Cache

RAM 128MB (512 max)

OS Mac OS 9

Drives 12GB ATA-66 Hard Drive (currently 18GB max), removable DVD-ROM

Monitor 14.1-inch TFT active-matrix LCD

Sound 16-bit

Capture Card Built-in FireWire

Video Card 8MB ATI RAGE Mobility 128-bit

A/V Inputs and Outputs FireWire x2, USB x2, mini stereo in, mini stereo out, VGA, S-video out

Other Inputs and Outputs Ethernet, phone modem, infrared (IrDA), power

Included Accessories AC adapter,

TEST RESULTS

strengths

  • Built-in FireWire
  • Lots of RAM
  • Faster than other PowerBooks
  • S-video out

    weaknesses

  • Must buy editing software separately
  • Touchpad is less than ideal for video editing
  • No built-in SCSI

    summary

  • The Apple PowerBook is a full-fledged editing station that makes editing on the go easy, fast and fun.
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