Apple updated its PowerBook line Monday, but as we expected this is a "speed bump" release: minor changes only.

There is some good news for digital audio users:

  • Faster processors at radically lower prices: US$1699 for a
    PowerBook means laptop musicians finally have an affordable option, and
    1.5 – 1.67 GHz processors should be just fine for running Logic, Live,
    and more.
  • Optical digital audio in and out: Via a stereo TOSLINK
    connector, as on the Power Mac G5; with external equipment increasingly
    digital this means your PowerBook can be a self-contained audio studio
    even without an interface. Just connect a USB microphone like the new
    Blue Snowball, and you're good to go. Or an Apple audio interface —
    hey, where is that thing, anyway?
  • Faster hard drive: 5400 rpm still isn't up to par for
    multichannel audio recording, but for simple tasks it's still going to
    be nice. And thanks to the generous I/O options . . .
  • Best-in-class I/O: Onboard Bluetooth 2.0, two USB 2.0 ports, FireWire 400 and 800, plus Gigabit Ethernet — how many PCs have those specs? I've used each of these for various live music tasks.
  • Brighter backlit keyboard: Automatic backlighting is great
    for performance, but it hasn't been standard and it hasn't been bright
    enough; it's now 10x brighter (says Apple) and standard on all models,
    even the $1699 model. Sweet.
  • Scrolling trackpad: I love this feature on my PC. Okay,
    digital audio angle — uh — now you can scroll through your Reason
    rack! There! (It's curious that Apple hasn't offered this before as the
    trackpads on older PowerBooks had the physical ability; likely this
    means Apple has finally rewritten the antiquated legacy ADB bridge
    driver that enabled those trackpads to work.)

Bottom line:
Apple still has the PC world beat when it
comes to
luxury extras, though if you're a Windows lover you can still gloat
about your processor performance-to-price ratio in the laptop space;
this isn't yet the "go to and unleash credit card debt right
now" upgrade CDM is waiting for. If you've got a Titanium 400 or 500 or
older machine, though, now may be the time to upgrade. (Hit read more
for — somewhat dubious — buying advice.)

CDM buying advice: if you've been itching to upgrade an older
machine or waiting for a juicier Apple to make the switch, you're
obsolence proof at the moment. Yes, there will be something better
later on, but that's always true; this machine will satisfy nearly all
digital musicians and has plenty of luxury extras at a bargain price.

But if you currently have a previous-generation Aluminum PowerBook or
even late-model Titanium, you're best off waiting: Apple has a history
of prepping speed bump releases just before a major update.
Conventional wisdom still says new-generation G4 or even dual-core G4
laptop, either of which could deliver a more significant performance
boost, by the end of the year. And all these features will be great to
have when that model does come out.

(Oh, by the way, don't take my buying advice TOO seriously — none of us have actually seen this model yet!)

Excuse me, I'm back to making my 1Ghz PowerBook beg for mercy as I
throw more lavish convolution delays with 20s reverb tails at it.