Apple's original PowerBooks, launched in 1991, were among the most advanced laptops available, and quickly became best-sellers. More recently the company has been left behind by manufacturers such as Compaq and Toshiba with IBM-compatible computers that are smaller, more powerful and better designed. Apple's laptop problems became acute last year when the company launched desktop machines based on the new PowerPC processor. These outpaced any previous Macintoshes, but there was no laptop equivalent: PowerBook sales stalled.

Now the PowerBooks are back with the 5300, which offers workstation performance. There are several enhancements, such as infra-red networking, a removable hard disk, a neat, charcoal-grey case and a battery life of three to five hours. But it is the raw speed that impresses most. The basic PowerPC 603e chip runs at 100 MHz, faster than many Apple desktop machines. This power means that for the first time, it is realistic to buy an Apple laptop - and possibly any laptop - that can carry out power-hungry tasks such as desk-top publishing and photograph manipulation. Power Mac optimised software, including Adobe's Photoshop and Pagemaker, runs exceptionally smoothly.

Apple's big problem is of course that its operating system is not the same as that of the far more common PC. It is tackling this by making its machines as PC-compatible as possible. For example the 5300 has PCMCIA card slots rather than the Mac-specific ports of its predecessors; these are used for add-ons such as modems.

More important, the extra power of the PowerBook means it is possible to run a software emulator such as SoftWindows, which in effect turns the machine into a PC. This should prove useful for anyone who has to work with different clients, some running Windows applications and some working on Macs. An Apple weakness can thus be turned into a strength - no PC laptop can run Mac software. It may mean that Macs are not as individual as they used to be, but they are more useful.

PowerBook 5300 series, from pounds 1,595 excluding VAT; colour models from pounds 1,999 to pounds 3,175. Apple Computer: 0800 127753.

STEPHEN PRITCHARD

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