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Backstage: Pimp My PowerBook!

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Thursday, April 7, 2005
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So you own an Apple PowerBook (or comparable but not quite-as-nifty laptop), and you’re looking to give it the Xzibit treatment? (Xzibit’s the rapper and host of MTV’s Pimp My Ride, for those unfamiliar with the TV show that turns beat up old cars into shiny new pimpmobiles.) We have a couple of suggestions.

The first is something we’ve been eyeing on the web site of Power Support for months: the Ergo stand. If you’ve ever seen Power Support’s serious metal stands for the iPod - and serious is the right word for them, given their sandblasted, all-steel bodies and $40-82 price tags - you’ll know why Ergo ($110) is an instant object of lust. There are versions made to fit different PowerBooks, iBooks, and non-Apple laptops, and we came to love Ergo after finding Rain Design’s iLap a bit disappointing.

You can see plenty more pictures by clicking on Read More, but suffice to say that we’re talking about a hinged design with two shelves - one for your laptop, one underneath to hold peripherals - that adjusts to wrist-friendly angles and just conveniently manages to reduce nasty laptop heating issues. It’s not a perfect stand for use on your lap - though we’ve tried and had generally good experiences with it in that position - but it’s virtually ideal as a desk-mounting solution.

Separately, we’ve been playing with and generally enjoying Altec Lansing’s XT1 USB-powered laptop speakers ($129.95, available for $85 and up), which throw a couple of extra speaker drivers at both the left and right sides of any laptop with a powered USB jack. They come in a nice reinforced fabric carrying case and include both retractable and fabric-coated USB cables, along with a fabric-coated cable to connect the speakers to each other, and a gold-tipped auxiliary stereo minijack cable that can conceivably connect the speakers to your iPod or a similar audio device.

There’s a lot of good news and only a little bad news on these: the good news is that they’re highly attractive, with a predominantly metalic front and side panel design and a glowing blue power light on the right speaker. They also feature integrated power and volume controls (on the side of the right speaker), and sound good in the same way that Altec’s portable iM3 and iM4 speakers sound good: good midrange and bass, not much treble. Since owners of small speakers (and users of built-in laptop speakers) so frequently complain about the absence of bass, the XT1s will likely give them exactly what they want and need - richer sound for enjoying music or movies.

More good news is that once they’re jacked into a computer - such as the PowerBook above - you can control the volume solely through the Mac’s volume panels. You’ll have to activate the controls through the Sound Control Panel, but they’ll work, and the built-in buttons won’t be necessary.

The bad news: since they’re USB-powered, they’re not overwhelming from a volume standpoint, and your likelihood of using USB-powered speakers with an iPod or similar device is pretty low. They’re also not standouts on clarity - a regrettable limitation of most portable speakers, but not of other non-portable speakers in the same price range. In other words, the XT1s are best for people who use their laptops on the go, and especially for PowerBook owners, they’re most pimpworthy in the looks and bass departments. Don’t forget to see our extra pictures of the XT1s by clicking on Read More.


















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Comments

1

I"m getting a PB soon, and I’m wondering, with the angled stand like that, how does it feel to type? I’ve been wanting a simple solution that lets me have the PB susupended over my MIDI keyboard osO I don’t have to swivel my chair between editting and playing.

And one more thing, how would a stand like that work with something like “Bookendz”? The idea of having a doxking station that would let me reconnect all of my wires at once when I go home is really attractive, so I’m wondering if It could somehow support those as well.

Anybody with experience give me a shout-out, plz!

Posted by Dan_B in Columbia, MO on April 7, 2005 at 8:58 PM (PDT)

2

i use an iCurve to raise the PowerBook, and have a BT kepboard and mouse, so i seldom type on the PowerBook whilst it’s on the stand, but it’s okay for short periods. with the space under the iCurve, i have a usb hub that allows all the extra connections i need….

http://img49.exs.cx/my.php?loc=img49&image=desktop08023yd.jpg

btw jeremy those XT1s look like mini versions of the satellites on the FX6021s, but i suppose it’s a nice form factor to take advantage of.

Posted by yinyang on April 8, 2005 at 4:29 AM (PDT)

3

Dan: The stand can be adjusted to any angle you prefer. You can actually see a few different angles in the shots above. It’s great to type on, and I do find myself playing with angles sometimes depending on the position I’m in. Re: Bookendz, haven’t tried it with that, but as you can see the back of the stand is entirely open. I’d only be concerned if Bookendz clasps the front corners of the PowerBook, because there’s a metal rim up there that matches the PB’s form factor and has a slot for disc loading.

Yinyang: They’re a -lot- smaller than the FX6021s, which we featured in the Buyers’ Guide. A lot smaller.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on April 8, 2005 at 7:37 AM (PDT)

4

Massive words of warning:

I’ve had the Ergo for three years, ordering mine from Japan for my 1GHz titanium.

Pros: It looks cool and allows the keyboard to slip under the setup nicely.

Cons: Everything else.  The heat from a powerbook causes the glue holding the plastic spacers/protecters to melt, so they fall off/slide over time.  The knobs meant to hold the powerbook’s position in place also loosen, so your laptop may come crashing down randomly if you bump your desk.  The metal is too soft and easily bends.  If you run into the previous problem with the laptop crashing down, it ends up bending the chassis itself.  I had to bend mine back out with a pair of pliers.

So, verdict: looks good, but the quality doesn’t justify the price tag.  If you’re going to be taking your laptop out of this structure often (i.e., taking it to work every day), you’ll find it really annoying.

Posted by octavecat on April 8, 2005 at 9:01 AM (PDT)

5

The Ergo you got three years ago may well be different from units shipping today (just as the PowerBook is). After five months of testing, we’ve had no metal bending whatsoever, no issues with the knobs (which though they loosen from their original highly taut positions are still entirely usable), and no problems with our PowerBooks. Which, by the way, run hot-ish - not as hot as yours perhaps, but hotter than 95% of the laptops sold.

We’ve talked to Power Support about the glue on the spacers. Never had any melting problems, but the spacers do get loose. They’ll likely remedy that.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on April 9, 2005 at 6:43 PM (PDT)

6

If you don’t need to put a keyboard under the display, the iLap works well - and is a much better, and more comfortable option for using in your lap.  Nothing is perfect given that eveyone is built differently, but both of these products seem to have their strengths based on your need for a desktop or flexible, multi use solution. I’ve had my iLap for 3 months and have no complaints at all, but I don’t use mine on an ongoing basis on the desktop.

Posted by runningman on April 22, 2005 at 3:54 AM (PDT)

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