Power(Book) up, roll film, edit and go

Apple Computer Inc.’s new PowerBook 500 raises the features ante for mainstream users and gives video editors a portable platform with more power and convenience than its predecessors. And now you can even integrate your Apple notebook into your wireless network – with some effort.

I tested a US$3,499 shipping model carrying a new 500-MHz PowerPC CPU, a 14.1-inch TFT screen, a 12GB hard drive, a 6X DVD-ROM drive, and an Ethernet port and a modem. New features (besides the CPU) include 2X AGP graphics with 8MB of video memory, and two FireWire (IEEE 1394) ports, which digital video equipment commonly employs for high-speed data transfer.

I used a Canon digital video camcorder and Apple’s US$999 video-editing application, Final Cut Pro, to capture and edit movies. The hardware dropped no video frames when capturing, and the powerful software was reasonably easy to use. The PowerBook’s standard RAM (128MB), however, is barely enough to run Final Cut Pro with virtual memory turned off, as the app recommends. For serious editing, upgrade to 256MB (US$160). Unfortunately for users who aren’t editing-savvy, the easy-to-use iMovie – which Apple bundles with iMacs – isn’t available with the PowerBook and isn’t sold separately.

The newest PowerBook is compatible with Apple’s 11Mbps AirPort wireless networking product. The US$99 networking card is easy to set up, as are the PowerBook and the $299 external Base Station, the first time – but not if you try to change the configuration: The three apps crashed repeatedly when I tried to convert the Base Station from a dial-up to a network connection. A 90-minute call to tech support finally solved the problem. Apple is working on a new version of the software.

But for portable, professional-quality video or just plain powerful computing this PowerBook cooks.

Review Box:

PowerBook 500

Supplier: Apple Computer

Cost: US$3,499

Pro: Fast, mobile video editing platform

Con: Wireless networking set-up can be difficult to modify