Prior to today’s announcement of all-new dual G5 desktop machines, I spent some serious time considering the purchase of a 15″ G4 1.5-GHz PowerBook. Now I don’t know what to do.

It’s not like the PowerBook G4 isn’t a great machine or that there are G5 PowerBooks anywhere on the horizon. If Apple’s recent statements on the subject can be believed we won’t see a G5 PowerBook until mid- to late-2005 at the earliest.

The problem is that for the roughly $2500 a suped-up 1.5-GHz G4 PowerBook costs, you can buy a suped-up Dual 2-GHZ G5 desktop. I love portability as much as the next fellow, but the performance difference we’re talking about here is monsterous. Even if you assume that the G4 and G5 chips are comparable (which they sort of are except that the G5 has an extra AltiVec unit), that’s 2.5 Gigahertz of extra speed in the desktop unit. (I currently run a G3/500 PowerBook named Trinity. The speed difference between the G4 PowerBook and the Dual G5 2-GHz desktop is like 5 Trinities.) Plus the desktop bus speed is 1-GHz versus the PowerBook’s 167-MHz bus. The PowerBook is out and out destroyed in a raw power analysis. The G5 is also a 64-bit chip, which should mean that it scales forward as Apple moves its operating system to a 64-bit architecture. (The G4 is a 32-bit chip.)

All of which isn’t to say the if you need a PowerBook it’s a bad time to buy one. Indeed, Apple just revved the lineup and at least one trustworthy buying guide says now is a great time.

It’s just that with so wide a disparity, I have a hard time justifying anything other than a G5 desktop. Too much of what I want to do is bound up in speed and power, and these days it’s really only Apple G5 desktop units that deliver it. Surely there are worse problems to be had than figuring out which computer to buy, but as one who frequently casts a lusty eye toward Apple’s portable line-up, it’s a conundrum.