The fastest, most powerful notebook computer in the world was mine for a week - and when I gave it back to Apple, there was already another one, faster and more powerful (also, I may add, from Apple). Where are we going with this, and why? To be able to say, even for a short time, that one makes the world's most powerful notebook computer must be a thrill, surely. The macho chaps who used to buy the longest telephoto lenses for their cameras can now boast of megahertz and disk size (those of the hard variety, of course). For many, however, there is a problem with speed and power on the lap. It simply is not necessary for most people. Apple will correctly argue that its machines often appeal to a specialist group of computer users, the image manipulators who rule the world of desktop publishing, who need all the power they can get - and it is never enough. And Apple would be right. For the average person, however, all this power is of little use in today's computing environment. Perhaps one should say especially in today's computer environment. The Internet dominates almost everything people do today with a personal computer and much of what we define as powerful or speedy is dependent on factors over which we have little or no control. The speed at which we access the Internet is partly dependent on the speed of our modem and partly on the speed of the Internet service provider's modems. But it is even more dependent on the ability of the provider to configure its network and on the popularity of the sites we are interested in visiting. The Wintel lot are finding it difficult to 'push the envelope' because they have far less need of the power and speed than Mac people, but they do not want their followers to think they are not on top of the technology. In the world of colour image manipulation where the Mac reigns supreme, it is necessary to work with files that can be tens of megabytes in size. The colour depth is moving towards 48-bit and that means even bigger files. Those who are familiar with programs such as Photoshop will know that switching a file between RGB and CMYK (in other words, switching a file between the colour space of the monitor and that of the printing device) is a major effort. In the best of all possible worlds, all one would do is give the command and it would happen instantly. We do not yet live in such a world. The 3400 PowerBook, however, brings us closer to it. Apple can rightly pride itself on producing this machine, and those who need it will be thrilled indeed to have it. The emphasis here must, however, be on the need. This is not a cheap computer and it is quite heavy. Buying to do nothing but write notes and go on the World-Wide Web would be rather like buying a Porsche to do the shopping. Intel is going to have a difficult time trying to beat this because even if it can make its chips more powerful, it keeps enlarging the heat sink that cools the central processing unit and that does not fit in a notebook. It may be able to dream up some way of solving this problem but the simple truth is that Intel-based notebooks rarely need this kind of power. Apple may well continue to push its power advantage and photographers, designers and desktop publishing people will be happy indeed. The 200 MHz PowerBook that I returned already has been boosted to 240 MHz. Power is wonderful if you need it. Otherwise it can just be a childish comparison of sizes. That, of course, is exactly what macho means, is it not?