Retro Comparison: 12″ iBook G3/600 versus Titanium PowerBook G4/667

Originally published in 2002 by Steve Hildreth

BMW 750IL versus Subaru WRX. That’s the first thing that went through my mind when I was trying to think up something to describe the difference between a PowerBook G4/667/DVD and a 600MHz 12" iBook/Combo. I purchased an iBook/Combo last week ($1494 plus an optional 128MB of extra RAM & a free carrying case) and spent the weekend setting it up and using it. The iBook shipped with 128MB of RAM, Mac OS 10.1.2, and 9.2.2 installed, and sure enough, it booted into OS X, just as Steve Jobs promised in January.

My main workhorse has been a PowerBook G4/667/DVD since October, and it will continue to be so for quite some time. Before the TiBook, I used a Lombard PowerBook G3 for about three years. I purchased the iBook as a backup machine and to have something more portable than the PowerBook. For this reason alone I discounted the 14" iBook.

My first impression out of the box was that the iBook is wonderfully compact. An inch here and an inch there sure does make a big difference. I have an original PowerBook 100 floating around as an antique, and I’ve been longing for a more modern Mac of similar dimensions. The iBook isn’t quite as compact as a 100, but it’s close. For short trips and wandering around the house dodging small kids, it’s perfect. At 4.9 pounds, the iBook is 0.4 pounds lighter than my TiBook, but I can barely tell the difference.

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I installed an AirPort card and immediately discovered that my neighbor two houses down also has a wireless network. I’m amazed at the iBook’s AirPort reception. I can barely get two rooms away from my Base Station before the TiBook drops its connection (darn titanium metal), but the iBook has no such problems. The difference between the two is quite apparent. Note to Apple’s PowerBook Division: Get rid of titanium in the next PowerBook, or put the AirPort antenna outside.

Cramming 1024×768 pixels on the iBook’s 12.1" screen does make the text smaller and more difficult to read compared to the PowerBook’s luxurious 15.2" screen. I wouldn’t be comfortable viewing the iBook’s screen for 8 to 10 hours per day, but I also wouldn’t have purchased the iBook if it still had 800×600 resolution. I don’t mind using the 12" display for a few hours at a time, but I wonder why Apple didn’t include a 13" LCD–such that the edges of the LCD go right out to the edge of the lid, like on the PowerBook. My wife, whose eyes are much better than mine, doesn’t mind the size of the type nearly as much. Size notwithstanding, the display is bright and sharp, and mine had no dead pixels.

I’m not sure that I like having all the ports exposed on the left side of the laptop. One errant paperclip in your backpack, and that’s the end of the story.

The 600MHz iBook is fast. No doubt about it. In Mac OS 9.2.2, I’m used to things happening instantaneously on my PowerBook G4. Need to open a window. Bam! There is it. Open IE 5.1? Bam! It’s open. Mac OS 9.2.2 works as fast as I do on the PowerBook, and I can get things done in a hurry. The iBook doesn’t disappoint, either. In OS 9.2.2, it’s nearly as fast as the PowerBook G4 from a seat-of-the-pants standpoint. Don’t ask me for benchmarks–they’ll come later. But for basic Finder tasks, and for working with office and internet applications, the iBook can keep pace with the PowerBook G4.

Mac OS X is a slightly different story. Compared to OS 9, X is slower on either machine. I’ve been using X on the PowerBook more and more, and once I get my copy of Adobe GoLive 6, I may switch entirely, but I’m having a hard time leaving behind Mac OS 9’s speed and ease of use. To be frank, I work faster than OS X, and that can be frustrating at times. From a seat-of-the-pants standpoint, I wouldn’t say that OS X is significantly slower on the iBook, at least when using basic apps and internet stuff, and that surprised me, considering that it only shipped with 128MB of RAM. I chose to delete the extra ‘free’ 128MB of RAM MacWarehouse included. Other resellers also allow you to buy the iBook without their free RAM bundle. The $30-$40 RAM installation fee is almost as much as the cost of the 128MB RAM module itself, and I’d rather install a 512MB RAM module at a later time). That said, I do get to watch the spinning beachball much more on the iBook, and the click-pause, click-pause routine is a little more apparent. I’ll post a few unscientific benchmarks soon.

That brings us back to my initial impression. The PowerBook G4/667 is the BMW 750IL of laptops. Powerful, fast, luxurious, a little ostentatious, and large. It’s got more power (at least in Mac OS 9) than most of us really need. The iBook, on the other hand, reminds me of a Subaru WRX (or, if you want to stay with premium brands, an Audi S4). Stealthy, fast, and compact with a kick-butt-first-and-take-names-later attitude. You really can’t lose with either model.

I’ll have more comparisons later, so stay tuned. In the meantime, visit our Price Trackers, and pick up one of these hot little numbers yourself.

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