Apple unveils Powerbooks, Duos

REVIEWS

November 02, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

Apple's new PowerBook portable Macintoshes are case studies of computer mechanics and design.

For years there weren't any portable Macs from Apple. Then came the PowerBooks in 1991. The Model 100 was made by Sony and was expected to attract students. It died on the market, too feeble for most users, lacking even a floppy drive. The Model 140 had a fine keyboard, good speed and a built-in trackball. But the 140's screen wasn't as bright and readable as the faster 170. Unfortunately, the 170 cost a pile.

Now we have the 1992 PowerBooks: the 145, 160 and 180. (Actually, Apple introduced the Model 145 a few months earlier, but let's pretend it came out with the rest.) They're joined by the PowerBook "Duos," models 210 and 230. The PowerBook Models jTC 100, 140 and 170 are off the market.

All of the new portables have built-in hard disks and room for an optional internal modem. They have a built-in trackball and a solid, durable construction.

The greatest differences between the models are those between PowerBooks and Duos. PowerBooks weigh about 7 pounds; Duos about 4. PowerBooks are about 2 inches thick; Duos just over 1. PowerBooks have built-in floppy disk drives; Duos do not.

To move files in and out of a Duo you can buy an external floppy drive, or connect the Duo to another Mac through a special cable, or buy a "dock" that adds a floppy drive. In fact, the docks are the major innovation with the Duos and of all this year's PowerBooks.

A "dock" is where the portable comes home to plug in. A Duo without a dock has only a serial port and a space for an internal modem. The MiniDock adds standard Mac ports -- serial modem, serial printer, RJ-11 modem, locking (for security), sound-in, sound-out, SCSI, video, ADB (Apple Desktop Bus, for keyboards) and power. Within the larger Duo Dock is room for a hard disk, two slots for plugging in circuit boards, a math co-processor socket, room for more memory and a power supply. The Duo Dock is the size of a desktop Mac, such as the IIsi or IIci. You slip your Duo into the slot in front.

The MiniDock will cost about $600; the full Duo Dock close to $1,100. The external floppy is $200, and the adapter for it (if you don't buy either dock) is $135 more. I don't know if this type of docking scheme will work well. Unfortunately, you can't know either, because the MiniDock won't ship until some time in November, and the Duo Dock not for at least a month after that.

At $2,499, the 145 is the least powerful of the lot, though it is a more complete and potent system than the now extinct Model 100. (These prices assume the computer is equipped with 4 megabytes of RAM and an 80-megabyte hard disk). The $2,789 Model 160 and the $2,249 Model 210 run at the same speed (with a 25MHz chip). The $3,869 Model 180 and the $2,609 Model 230 are faster, running at 33MHz.

The PowerBook 180 is the most potent in processing speed, screen and price. It has a math co-processor, making it faster than any of the other '92s, and also faster than last year's best Model 170 (but not a lot). The display is an active-matrix gray scale, which is better than the screens on the other models.

The Duo 210 is a lot like the 160; the 230 is like the 180 (though it doesn't have the 180's math processor or its active-matrix screen). However, the Duos can take up to 24 megabytes of RAM, while the 160 and 180 are limited to 14 megabytes.

Unlike the PowerBooks, the Duos use nickel-metal hydride batteries that Apple claims last from 2 to 4 1/2 hours, about 50 percent longer than PowerBook batteries.

So for 1992 the PowerBooks 145, 160 and 180 are really just minor upgrades to the Models 140 and 170 of last year for about the same price.

(Phillip Robinson writes computer books and magazine articles and has worked as a technician, engineer, manager and analyst. He is eager for questions, suggestions, and argument and can be reached at P.O. Box 1357, Sausalito, Calif. 94966-1357, on MCI Mail, and at (415) 331-3973.)

* On a scale of one to four, with one indicating poor and four indicating excellent, here's how the product rates:

Performance.. . ...... 3

Ease of use.. ........ 3

Value................. 3

Overall........ ...... 3

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