January 29, 2005

Powerbook G5: Tantalizing and yet Dubious Signs



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PblineApple is now overdue for an update to their laptop Powerbook line: usually new versions of the line come out every seven or eight months at most, and this is month nine since the last release. Usually a new release is just a speed bump, that is, the computers feature a slightly faster processor and little else that has changed. Once every few years the computer changes more significantly, changing in form or basic design, or adding new features. And every three or four years there is a huge jump, one to a completely new processor, like the jump from the G3 to the G4 in 2001, when they changed from the rounded black encasing to the slimmer, square-but-sleek titanium enclosure--and, of course, got the much better G4 chip.

The G5 chip has been out there for some time, but like the G4 chip, it did not go into the Powerbook line quite some time (and may not yet). It took a year and four months for the G4 to appear in a Powerbook after first appearing in a PowerMac (desktop) model. Well, the G5 was introduced about a year and four months ago, so isn't it time for a G5 Powerbook? Whatever the case, a new Powerbook release is imminent: reports starting in France and now spreading indicate that the current Powerbook line has been EOL'd, or end-of-life'd--in other words, Apple is no longer restocking the current models, a proven sign that a new model release is imminent. But what model? A G5?

Not so, say many: the G5 is a blazing chip, and not just in speed: it also introduces significant heat radiation--something the Powerbook G4 was infamous for, but for the G5 to an even greater degree. Apple has been developing a liquid-cooling system to handle the heat in smaller case designs, but the word on the street is that Apple is not ready to release such a laptop--unless the beast weighs 8 pounds and is three inches thick, so they say. Instead, rumor sites are reporting that the next model will be a speed-bumped G4, at speeds of 1.5 and 1.67 GHz, maybe with a bigger hard drive, better video memory and new Bluetooth built-in. Some whisper about the Powerbook going dual-processor, or that the chip will be dual-core. But few indeed expect the new Powerbook to be a G5.

Nevertheless, there are tantalizing bits and pieces of news floating around out there that Apple may shock everyone. The first report came about two weeks ago in a journal called DigiTimes, which featured a report from Taiwan that certain factories there had received orders to produce Powerbook G5s and, strangely enough, iBook G5s as well. Some thought it to be a typo, but the iBook information noted that they would be producing the "iBook/iBook G5," noting a clear difference between the G4 and G5 iBook. According to the report, both iBook and Powerbook G5 models would start shipping in "2Q 2005." Many doubted the story, however, not just because of the heat problems in the G5 and common reports that the G5 Powerbook is way off still, but also from the idea that a Powerbook and iBook G5 would start shipping at about the same time--it took almost three years for the G4 to make it to the iBook after the Powerbook got the chip.

So the collective community settled back and more or less disregarded the article as a non-starter. But then, just a day or two ago, The Register reported that one of their readers pointed them to a literally tiny clue that the Powerbook G5 might be real and imminent: on Apple's own web site, on the page for the Powerbook, the source code for the page revealed a miniscule, single-pixel blank image used to count how many people access the page. These one-pixel-images are often employed and are named after the devices featured on the page. The filename for this image: apple_g5_powerbook.gif. Within an hour after the image was sighted and reported, Apple yanked it off the page, replacing it with a "g4" pixel, but the damage was done: rumors started flaring that this was yet another infamous Apple accidental leak, like when images of the then-new Power Mac G5 release were featured on Apple's pages the night before the product was officially announced--only the images, the text still reflected the older models.

This kind of thing happens fairly often, in fact; when preparing for a new model release, a great number of changes have to be made in advance for the web sites, and sometimes things slip through--images are accidentally renamed and replace others, bits of advance work are mistakenly published.

Or, of course, it might have been an honest typo--the difference was just between a "4" and a "5" in the code, after all.
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But then, another strange clue appeared: someone found that on the French-Canadian Apple web site, on a page for--oddly enough--a discontinued model of an Apple monitor (the 17-inch Apple Studio Display, replaced almost three years ago), there appeared a mention of the Powerbook G5--look near the bootom of the page, under the last paragraph, titled "Configuration requise": "L’Apple Studio Display nécessite un Power Mac G5 avec un connecteur ADC ou un PowerBook G5 avec un port DVI vers ADC Apple...." Translated, it means, "The Apple Studio Display requires a Power Mac G5 with an ADC or a PowerBook G5 with a DVI port and an Apple DVI to ADC Adapter."

The English version of the Canadian page has no such mention of the Powerbook G5. Some say that this new page also represents a typo--but the page previously said "G4," and was probably not completely rewritten--which means that someone actively changed "G4" to "G5." In addition this is now the second "typo" for a "Powerbook G5" on Apple's own web pages in as many days, and such typos have not been happening before now. It is beginning to look more and more like the usual leaking of bits of info as a flood of Powerbook G5 web page code changes well up behind the corporate secrecy dam. And Apple has completely surprised everyone before.

So when will we know? Barring the release of even more evidence before an official announcement, we are likely to be informed by Apple of what's cooking in their famous Tuesday announcement, when they often reveal new stuff coming out. And of course, an announcement is not the same as an actual release--even if a Powerbook G5 is announced in four days, it might not actually ship until March, April, or even May (which would fall into the second-quarter range mentioned by DigiTimes).

For me, that would mean a new computer on my desk maybe a month after units first ship. The delay would be to let others be guinea pigs, as new processor releases often have first-generation bugs, and if I read that the bugs are significant enough, I will be able to hang in there long enough for the first revisions to come out, likely by next January.

Posted by Luis at January 29, 2005 02:51 PM
Comments

Luis,

I agree the omens are very tantalizing... let's hope you're right. I'll also be holding back on my long awaited purchase to see if there are any issues with the new G5s. However, I think the only thing worse than buying too soon is buying "too late". I bought my Pismo only 6 months before the G4s came out. Man, that sucked! But then again, I love this machine!!! What mac(s) are you using now? I remember you told me you often used the HP printer with your Windows PC.

BTW, I got around my OCR problem in the end. I found the mac version of the OCR software that came with my printer "somewhere" online and it works nicely. I don't feel guilty at all because I don't think it's right to only offer it to windows users if a mac version is also available. What do you reckon?

Oh, and one more thing. After seeing the photos you've taken with your new canon digicam, I've also been considering it. However, the 5MP Lumix DMC FZ20 with its 12x optical zoom is also beckoning. Do you have any final advice before I head to kakaku.com with my credit card on hand???

Cheers!

PS. Keep sticking it up Bush!!!

Posted by: Andrew at January 29, 2005 06:32 PM

Andrew:

I would probably wait only a month or so after the original release, enough time for eager beavers to be all over the machine and discover its issues. If it has too many flaws, I's wait until early 2006 when a likely revision would be released.

The model I'm using now is the Titanium G4 800 MHz DVI model, about three years old (this coming April). It holds up very well, but I am looking forward to a major speed increase... I still use the HP All-in-one with the PC, and I have a small, cheap-but-good Canon printer at school for exclusive Mac use.

I agree in basic principle if not in strict accordance with the law on the OCR matter; I'd be more inclined to call it an ethical no-brainer if the printer was advertised as coming with OCR but no outstanding mention that there was no Mac version.

As for the camera, it would be a tough choice. An extra 2x zoom would be nice, and the 5MP is especially good if you want to print large photos (like 8x10), or if you just want the extra pixels as an extension of greater zoom. This is probably a great camera for someone wanting to do something closer to professional photography without paying thousands of dollars, and is less of a casual snapshot camera.

However, there are some down sides: the price (at least in the U.S.) is about $150 to $200 more than the Canon PS S1-IS [I just checked, the difference in Japan prices is 46,000 vs. 65,000]; the memory card is SD, not CF, meaning it'll be more expensive (cost maybe 30%+ more) and won't have as large capacities as CF has (CF usually has 2x to 4x larger capacity cards); it appears not to have full-size video (though it does have full-speed, 30fps), meaning lesser quality on your TV; the design is a bit bulky and front-heavy. Also, Canon has a better general reputation than Panasonic for digital cameras.

You should test it versus the Canon for some intangibles, too--how do the menus fare for you personally? Is the zoom lens easy to use, and just as important, is it quiet? Both have good image stabilization and manual controls, though the Panasonic has a max 8-second exposure while the Canon has 15 seconds, which might mean little to you if you do no night-time time exposure work. Also, the Canon has time-lapse, which I have not tried out yet actually.

Essentially, you will be paying an extra 20,000 yen for the 12x zoom rather than the 10x zoom, and for the extra megapixels, which mostly are useful for large-print paper photos. If either of these is important to you and you don't mind spending extra, it sounds like a killer camera, and certainly is a crowd-pleaser.

I would carefully compare the two side-by-side, making a list of features and drawbacks important to you for each camera, and of course get some store-time with both models, testing out the heft and feel, the reaction and ease-of-use, the interface style and menu layout before rushing out with that credit card.

Posted by: Luis at January 29, 2005 07:09 PM

I switched the graphics card in my PowerMac G5 the other night, and I was struck again by the amount of space and the number of fans dedicated to cooling this thing. True, it is a dual processor model, and it is more than a year old, so significant advances could have been made since then. But I think a G5 PowerBook is still a ways off yet.

I mean, the ease with which G5 can be mis-typed instead of G4 could easily explain all of this should be enough to dismiss the rumors out of hand. And if a G5 PowerBook were released, it probably wouldn't have an ADC port. Apple not longer makes displays with ADC connectors, and no one is more ruthless than Apple about discarding legacy technologies.

I agree with this person that you're likely to see a dual-core G4 PowerBook before you see a G5 PowerBook. The dual-core G4 would be more expensive than the G5 (indeed, the single-core G4 is more expensive than the G5), but it could be put in the PowerBook now--I don't think the G5 could. Because the G5 is both higher-performance and cheaper than than the G4, it's significant that they didn't put it in the Mac Mini. They're just not able to put it in a small form factor yet, and they won't be for a while.

Posted by: Morgan at January 29, 2005 10:53 PM

I switched the graphics card in my PowerMac G5 the other night, and I was struck again by the amount of space and the number of fans dedicated to cooling this thing. True, it is a dual processor model, and it is more than a year old, so significant advances could have been made since then. But I think a G5 PowerBook is still a ways off yet.There are several reasonable possibilities, including a G5 clocked down to a speed slow enough so that new cooling technologies could bridge the gap; also it could be a different chip than the one you have and yet still be in the G5 category. I don't think anyone could rule it out entirely, and until these 'typos' I would have agreed with you--it seems like it is too soon. But...

I mean, the ease with which G5 can be mis-typed instead of G4 could easily explain all of this should be enough to dismiss the rumors out of hand. And if a G5 PowerBook were released, it probably wouldn't have an ADC port.Granted, a typo is possible, but two within Apple within a few days, just before we know a new model is coming out, with no G4-to-G5 typos for months before? Even just two such typos, with this timing, are somewhat much to ask for. It could still be typos, but it doesn't look like it.

As for the ADC port, that is not what the page said. It read, "PowerBook G5 with a DVI port and an Apple DVI to ADC Adapter."

Posted by: Luis at January 30, 2005 12:01 AM

Both good points (I missed that the ADC was referring to the adapter). But I wonder why then Apple didn't put a G5 in the Mac Mini.

Posted by: Morgan at January 30, 2005 12:30 AM

I'm guessing Apple didn't G5 the Mac Mini primarily because it was making a low-cost Mac. And for a desktop machine, the Mac Mini is about as tightly packed as you could get it; adding a G5 would mean adding bulk in the cooling system.

Posted by: Luis at January 30, 2005 12:36 AM

...the Mac Mini is about as tightly packed as you could get it; adding a G5 would mean adding bulk in the cooling system.
Right, which is why I'm suspicious of their ability to put a G5 in a laptop, which would have to be less than half as thick (say 1.0 to 1.2 inches, as compared to 2.5 inches for the Mac Mini).

Posted by: Morgan at January 30, 2005 02:10 AM

Oh, and unlike the Mac Mini, a laptop would have to have a monitor, a keyboard, and a mousing device.

Posted by: Morgan at January 30, 2005 02:12 AM