Can this fast notebook save Apple?

Apple is in the throes of what Silicon Valley calls a corporate comeback campaign. The Performa name is dead and buried. With an advertising campaign to promote what is being billed as the fastest notebook computer in the world, Apple is attempting to dispense with all those vague empowerment messages we've yawned over for years and, instead, paint a picture of a resurgent company with leading-edge technology. Despite the recent doom and gloom about its future, Apple's new range offers some cause for excitement.

The star of Apple's comeback tour is the new PowerBook 3400, a lightning fast PowerPC with a 603e processor (240MegaHertz), built-in Ethernet, hot-swappable expansion bay modules, Apple Location Manager and a stunning four-speaker sound system. The 3400's speed, coupled with an exceptional 12.1-inch active-matrix SVGA screen, makes it the first portable that can be considered a complete and viable desktop replacement. Expansion capabilities are good, allowing the 3400 to accept a variety of add-ons such as CD-Rom drives, additional hard drives, magneto-optical drives, Zip drives, etc. Previous expansion modules from the PowerBook 5300 and 190 series can also be used with the 3400. There are also two slots for PC cards, supporting two Type II or one Type III card, and the 3400 allows you to "hot swap" modules while the system is running rather then shutting down the system prior to the removal or addition of a module.

As mobile multimedia machines, the 3400s excel with a new, uniquely integrated four-speaker sound system, 16-bit stereo audio, PCI video controller with hardware acceleration, VGA connector for 16-bit video out, Zoomed Video support and software-based MPEG 1 decompression. General performance is enhanced with industry standard PCI architecture, Direct Memory Access, faster EDO (Extended Data Output) RAM and lithium-ion batteries that promise two to four hours of normal use and around two hours with CD-Rom.

The PowerBook 3400 is the first product to use System 7.6 and comes bundled with software such as the Apple Internet Connect Kit, ARA, Claris Organiser, Web Whacker, etc. A new feature called Apple Location Manager provides a simple system setting switch for different work locations so your PowerBook will automatically re-configure printers, networks, modems, etc, for wherever you happen to be working on start-up.

The 3400 series comes in four configurations (from 180 to 240 MegaHertz) with prices ranging from Pounds 2,849 to Pounds 4,099. For once, Apple seems to have its prices in line with comparable Pentium notebooks. However, in the performance stakes, the 3400 leaves the rest of the competition standing.

For more price-conscious markets, Apple has also launched a new 1400 series (running at 117 to 133 MegaHertz), complete with expansion bays capable of supporting CD-Rom drives etc. Prices start at Pounds 1,649 and there are four configurations. As a mobile solution, the new PowerBooks offer one of the best incentives yet to go on the road. And if Apple can actually manage to sell these new PowerBooks in any quantity, they could drive them a long way down that road to recovery.

* Apple's education outlet is Xemplar. Tel: 01223 724724

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