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The Northern Spy: May 2001

    We've got a PowerBook 540C that's been all over the world on trips to standards meetings. It turned heads many years ago on a European junket, but despite 12M of memory, a 1.2G hard drive and a Power PC 117MHz processor upgrade, a machine of this vintage can't do more than walk programs like PowerPoint any more. The thrashing back and forth to the virtual memory gets on one's nerves, and the audience becomes inclined to snicker--until I point out that in the Mac world something this old still runs up-to-date operating systems and programs. That quiets them down some, 'cause they're not used to such largesse.
    Well, I settled on a new Titanium, and ordered a 500MHz model with 512M of memory and AirPort card installed. I briefly hoisted the order when rumours of new machines came to the Northern Spy, but when the stories turned into iBook replacements and the stronger-faster-better TiBook got postponed till later in the summer, we went ahead and bought.
    Been testing this one now for a couple of weeks, which is why the quiet here (teaching duties contribute to time consumption as well.) I'm pleased to say I got a good one: the battery doesn't fall out or lose contact; flexing the case doesn't short circuit the mother board, no bad pixels; and CD's enter and exit the drive without getting stuck. Unfortunately, I do have the trackpad sensitivity problem (one finger rigid on the pad, move a second above it by a centimeter, and the pointer dances.)
    Still though , the experience has been good. Booting, file opening, and browsing are noticeably faster than on my 300G3 goosed 8600 desktop.
    There was some weirdness. I partitioned the drive using the Apple Drive Setup utility and began experimenting with new modes of working. Quickly discovered the partition mounting settings could not be changed unless I booted from the CD. Also discovered that using the TiBook as an external FireWire drive on my 8600 and accessing the partitions from it produced various crashes. Dismounting a partition mounted that way finally damaged it badly, and even though good old DiskWarrior brought it back, I decided to go with the superb and rock-solid Intech drivers (as on everything else we own), so I nuked the TiBook and started over. No problems at all, now, and I can set the partition mounting options as I wish.
    Next Project (for a later report): Set up and test the AirPort, and get FireNet working. However, that has to await my return from WWDC, which will consume the next report here in a few weeks' time.
    The bottom line: The TiBook is Apple's biggest winner in years. It has major cool factors, is lightweight, and boasts the fastest response and largest screen real estate of any portable I've seen. Drawbacks: It needs a slightly thicker skin, perhaps ribbed for additional strength. The keyboard could mark the screen unless you insert a sheet of paper between the two. The trackpad needs work, and so do Apple's disk drivers. In increaing order of wishful-thinkingness, TiBooks could use a superdrive, if one could be slimmed down. And how about twin 733MHz processors, a folding full-size keyboard and 21 inch screen in the same size package? But that's tomorrow. Today, a TiBook's still worth buying. Well done, Apple. Go for that other 95%.
    --Rick Sutcliffe
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