Apple G4s could sleep their way to success

Could a "hibernation" feature be the killer feature of future G4 laptops?

Thursday's launch of translucent-packaging specialist Apple's new G4 in the UK was pretty run-of-the-mill stuff on the surface, mirroring last week's US launch.

But reading heavily between the lines, and employing a little judicious licence, can we expect some far more interesting developments for Apple's iBook consumer laptop customers as a result of some of the technology G4 brings to the party?

David Harrington, manager of Apple's hardware technology group gave some insight into a future "hibernation capability" the company is readying for the G4. "We will be putting up hibernation onto the G4, which will offer power savings and a quicker boot. In the future, you need never really shut off your computer."

While this is an interesting development it is one the PC world has been playing with for some time. Most recently Intel took the normal Windows suspend facility a step further and created the "Instantly Available" feature, supported by the 810 AGP chipset. This powers down the PC's power -- except that supporting the RAM -- and can stay in that state indefinitely. BIOS and OS both need to be ACPI-compliant (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface), which basically means running Win 98 or Win 2000. Suspend and restore take about three seconds apiece.

Very cool, undoubtedly, but this speed is merely convenient at the desktop and is not the golden selling point it would be on a laptop. Instantly Available on small Windows machines could rival "instant-on" PDAs for market share. But, due to power consumption and heat-dissipation, Intel cannot port these chips to laptops.

Which brings us back to David Harrington and the iBook.

Apple naturally wanted to keep future issues for laptops quiet at this briefing -- naturally because it was, after all, the G4 launch. Equally, hibernation support was a future announcement, and was glossed over briefly.

But we did get this: "I'd rather wait until G4 hibernation is a reality before talking in detail, but wake-up from hibernation should take around 10, 15 seconds. What's your boot-up time now? A minute? A minute and a half? I wouldn't want to guess, but depending on your spec, that's a pretty good improvement."

And this: "We have been touting the PowerPC for years as designed from the ground up to be better [than the Pentium] both in size -- they're much smaller than Intel's chips -- and in power -- they run at around 7-10 watts, compared to 20 watts. That's why we use the same chips in our desktop computers that we do in our laptop computers."

Hang on! A 10 second boot, "instant on", six-hour battery life, Apple iBook to put the wind up the PDA market, anyone?