A Guide To The Aluminum PowerBook G4s

It’s hard to believe, but the Aluminum PowerBooks have been around now for nearly 2 1/2 years, which makes them a “mature product” by historical measure. For some comparative context, the WallStreet G3 Series PowerBook was in production for a year; the G3 Lombard for just eight months; and the G3 Pismo for 11 months.

However, Apple has been trending toward the longer production lifespans for its computer products in recent years. The original metal-skinned PowerBook, the Titanium G4, had a 30-month production run in four distinct revisions and seven CPU speed ratings. It looks like at least some of the Aluminum PowerBook models might match or exceed that.

Why aluminum? Well, despite the TiBook's lengthy production tenure, titanium didn’t turn out to be an ideal material for laptop cases. For one thing, it had to be painted to prevent tarnishing from contact with skin oils and dirt, and there were paint adherence problems and a tendency to chip easily. Titanium itself, while amazingly strong for its weight, proved prone to fatigue around the TiBook’s screen hinges, and easily damaged in bumps and falls.

Aluminum, on the other hand, is more rugged (at least in the context of laptop cases), can be given a non-paint anodized finish, and is cheaper than titanium, making it an all-round superior choice for this purpose. Personally, I think polycarbonate plastic makes more sense than metal for laptop housings. But Steve Jobs is apparently in love with metal aesthetics, so aluminum it is, and the AlBooks have at least been more robust and rugged than the TiBooks were.

They have also proved to be pretty reliable in general. Aside from the “white spots” issue that plagued displays on the early production 15" AlBooks (Apple quickly stepped up with a replacement program), some reports of case warpage and latching problems probably due to heat distortion of the metal cases, and troubles with the new scrolling trackpads on the latest revision PowerBooks (still reportedly not completely resolved), there have been no major widespread problem areas associated with the Aluminum G4 PowerBooks.

The aluminum PowerBook comes in three sizes, like the bear family in the classic childrens’ story. Papa Bear is the formidable 17" PowerBook, with the largest display screen available in a laptop computer and G4 power ranging from 1 GHz to 1.67 GHz. The 17-inch widescreen's 1.3 million pixels offer the same viewing area as a 19-inch CRT monitor, with 1440-by-900 resolution in a widescreen, 16:10 aspect ratio. At one inch thick, 15.4 inches wide. 10.2 inches deep, and weighs 6.4 pounds, it's the heaviest PowerBook since the WallStreet, with the biggest footprint, and it’s really more a portable desktop substitute computer rather than a true road warrioring machine. It doesn’t fit especially well on airline seatback trays, for instance.

The 17" PowerBook has been a very dependable computer, with no widespread problem areas aside from the scrolling trackpad issue mentioned above. As such, it’s a good candidate for purchasing used, and I’ve seen examples of the initial 1 GHz model selling in the $1700.00 range. Even a brand new, 1.67 GHz 17" PowerBook is an impressive value at $2699.00, especially when you consider that 500 MHz TiBooks and Pismos sold for $3500.00.

The 17 incher’s backlighted keyboard is very cool, but it would have been nice if Apple had decided to utilize more of the expansive area available to incorporate a full, 105-key keyboard. In general, though, the 17" Aluminum PowerBook is an impressive and very desirable piece of work.

Mama Bear is the mid-sized 15" Aluminum PowerBook, a slightly younger design than its 17” and 12” relatives, but thematically very much a member of the family. Introduced at Paris Macworld Expo in September, 2003, eight months after the other two aluminum models debuted, the 15" machine was a direct replacement for the similarly-sized TiBook. It got off to a bit of a rough start with the aforementioned “white spots” display problem, but has subsequently proved to be a good, dependable computer.

The 15" PowerBook strikes a balance between the comfortable portability of the 12" machine and the screen size and full-tilt boogie feature set of the 17” incher. Like the respective bear family proportions in the nursery tale, many will find the 15" AlBook “not too big; not too small; but just right.”

Unlike the 17" model, the 15" PowerBook is available in two price-point configurations -- a basic model with some of the high-end PowerBook features left out and a slightly slower processor at what has to be considered a bargain price of $1999.00. And a premium unit with most of the feature set of the 17" machine in a less-bulky package at $2499.00.

Baby Bear is the delightful little 12" PowerBook, which shares the styling theme of the bigger AlBooks, but has much in common with the 12 inch iBook in terms of internal engineering, and is built by Apple’s iBook supplier, Asustek, as opposed to the 15 inch and 17" models which are made for Apple by Quanta. It also shares some of the iBook's limitations, such as no PC Card slot, no Gigabit Ethernet, no FireWire 800, no backlit keybord, and adapters are required for S-video, VGA, and DVI video output.

The 12” PowerBook has a conventional aspect ratio (1024 x 768) display instead of the widescreen proportions of the 15 inch and 17" units, and is the smallest, lightest portable computer Apple makes.

Introduced with the 17" AlBook in January, 2003, the Baby Bear PowerBook was a runaway instant hit and continues to sell well. The original, 867 MHz models tended to run pretty hot, but the 12" PowerBook has proved to be an admirably reliable machine, and is a good candidate for used purchase, with prices for the early 867 MHz models now in the $900.00 range. Note, however, that maximum RAM capacity in these early 12-inchers is just 640 MB.

Like the 15" machine, the 12" PowerBook is available in two price-point configurations, the main difference being a DVD-burning SuperDrive in the high-end model.

The Aluminum PowerBook Family has been offered enough revisions, sizes, clock speeds, and equipment configurations now to be a bit confusing to potential purchasers, so to help with that, here is a concise guide to the various Aluminum PowerBook models.

Aluminum PowerBook G4 12" 867 MHz (January, 2003)

PowerBook G4 12" Aluminum 867 MHz (January, 2003)
Active-matrix 12.1" color display (1024-x-768)
256MB DDR, expandable to 640 MB
Lithium Ion battery (up to 5 hours use)
tappable trackpad
3 built-in speakers and microphone
10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet
Built-in 56k Fax/Modem
VGA video output supports dual display mode and video mirroring (S-video-out requires included adapter)
16-bit stereo sound input/output
a slot-loading Combo drive (DVD-ROM/CD-RW)
40GB hard drive standard
One FireWire Port
Two USB ports
PowerPC 7410 (G4) 867 MHz
133 MHz System Bus
1 MB Level 2 cache
audio line-in and audio line-out ports;
NVIDIA GEForce graphics card with 32 MB of VRAM,
16-bit CD-quality stereo input/output Sound
AirPort ready with integrated antennas and card slot
Weight: 4.6 pounds

Aluminum PowerBook G4 12" 1 GHz (September 2003)

At Macworld Expo Paris in September, 2003, The LittleAl got a speed bump to 1 GHz with 512 MB L2 cache, a mini Digital Video Interface (DVI) port, USB 2.0, and, an audio line-in jack.

PowerBook G4 12" Aluminum 1 GHz (September 2003)
Active-matrix 12.1" color display (1024-x-768)
256MB DDR, expandable to 1.25 GB
Lithium Ion battery (up to 5 hours use)
tappable trackpad
3 built-in speakers and microphone
10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet
Built-in 56k Fax/Modem
VGA video output supports dual display mode and video mirroring (S-video-out requires included adapter)
16-bit stereo sound input/output
a slot-loading Combo drive (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) or SuperDrive
40GB hard drive standard
One FireWire Port
Two USB 2.0 ports
PowerPC 7457 (G4) 1GHz
133 MHz System Bus
1 MB Level 2 cache
audio line-in and audio line-out ports;
NVIDIA GEForce graphics card with 32 MB of VRAM,
16-bit CD-quality stereo input/output Sound
AirPort ready with integrated antennas and card slot
Weight: 4.6 pounds

Aluminum PowerBook G4 12" 1.33 GHz (April 2004)

In April, 2004, the 12" PowerBook got another speed bump to 1.33 GHz, and came standard with AirPort Extreme 54 Mbps 802.11g pre-installed, an NVIDIA GeForce FX Go5200 graphics with 64MB of VRAM, and a larger 60GB hard drive. Other specs.remained as before.

Aluminum PowerBook G4 12" 1.33 GHz (April 2004)
a Combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) optical drive;
256MB of 333 MHz DDR SDRAM;
AirPort Extreme wireless networking and internal Bluetooth;
DVI, VGA, S-video and composite video support;
two USB 2.0 ports and FireWire 400; and
a 60GB Ultra ATA/100 hard drive.

Aluminum PowerBook G4 12" 1.33 GHz SuperDrive (April 2004)
a 4x SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW) optical drive;
256MB of 333 MHz DDR SDRAM;
AirPort Extreme wireless networking and internal Bluetooth;
DVI, VGA, S-video and composite video support;
two USB 2.0 ports and Firewire 400; and
a 60GB Ultra ATA/100 hard drive.

PowerBook G4 12" Aluminum 1.5 GHz (January 2005)

With the latest 12" PowerBook G4 revision in January, the LittleAL got 5400 RPM hard drives, 8x SuperDrives on SuprDrive-equipped models, standard 512 MB memory, a scrolling TrackPad and a Sudden Motion Sensor.

PowerBook G4 12" Aluminum 1.5 GHz ( January 2005)
512MB of 333 MHz DDR SDRAM, expandable up to 1.25GB;
a 60GB (5400 rpm) Ultra ATA/100 hard drive with Sudden Motion Sensor;
a slot-load Combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) optical drive;
NVIDIA GeForce FX Go5200 graphics with 64MB of video memory;
DVI, VGA, S-video and composite video support;
AirPort Extreme 54 Mbps 802.11g WiFi fast wireless networking and internal Bluetooth 2.0+EDR;
Ethernet 10/100BASE-T and 56K V.92 modem;
two USB 2.0 ports and Firewire 400; and
a scrolling TrackPad.
Suggested retail price of $1,499

PowerBook G4 12" Aluminum 1.5 GHz SuperDrive ( January 2005)
512MB of 333 MHz DDR SDRAM, expandable up to 1.25GB;
an 80GB (5400 rpm) Ultra ATA/100 hard drive with Sudden Motion Sensor;
a slot-load 8X SuperDrive (DVD±RW/CD-RW) optical drive;
NVIDIA GeForce FX Go5200 graphics with 64MB of video memory;
DVI, VGA, S-video and composite video support;
AirPort Extreme 54 Mbps 802.11g WiFi fast wireless networking and internal Bluetooth 2.0+EDR;
Ethernet 10/100BASE-T and 56K V.92 modem;
two USB 2.0 ports and Firewire 400; and
a scrolling TrackPad.
Suggested retail price of $1,699

Aluminum PowerBook G4 15" 1 GHz/1.25 GHz (September 2003)

The original 15-inch Aluminum PowerBook G4 weighs in at 5.6 pounds, and sports a raft of high-end features including AirPort Extreme (1.25 GHz model), Bluetooth, FireWire 800, USB 2.0 and Gigabit Ethernet, the backlit keyboard with ambient light sensors for working in low-light conditions such as airplanes and design studios (optional on the low-end machine), and a 1 GHz or 1.25 GHz G4 processors with 512k of on-chip level 2 cache.

PowerBook G4 Aluminum 15" 1 GHz (September 2003)
Active-matrix 15.2" color display (1280-by-854)
256 MB SDRAM, expandable to 2GB
Lithium Ion battery (up to 4.5 hours use)
tappable trackpad
2 built-in speakers and microphone
1 PC card slot
10/100/1,000 Base-T Ethernet
Built-in 56k Fax/Modem
S-video-out
16-bit stereo sound input/output
SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW) optical drive
60GB hard drive standard, with up to 80 GB optional
One FireWire 400 Port
One FireWire 800 Port
Two USB 2.0 ports
DVI, DVI to VGA adapter, S-video port
audio line-in and audio line-out ports
Maximum RAM 2 GB (512 MB standard)
PowerPC (G4) 1 GHz
167 MHz System Bus
512 K on-chip cache
AT ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 with 64 MBDDR SDRAM graphics memory
16-bit CD-quality stereo input/output Sound
AirPort enabled with integrated antennas and pre-installed AirPort Card
Weight: 5.6 pounds

PowerBook G4 Aluminum 15" 1.25 GHz (September 2003)
Active-matrix 15.2" color display (1280-by-854)
512 MB SDRAM, expandable to 2GB
Lithium Ion battery (up to 4.5 hours use)
tappable trackpad
2 built-in speakers and microphone
1 PC card slot
10/100/1,000 Base-T Ethernet
Built-in 56k Fax/Modem
S-video-out
16-bit stereo sound input/output
SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW) optical drive
80GB hard drive
One FireWire 400 Port
One FireWire 800 Port
Two USB 2.0 ports
DVI, DVI to VGA adapter, S-video port
audio line-in and audio line-out ports
Maximum RAM 2 GB (512 MB standard)
PowerPC (G4) 1.25 GHz
167 MHz System Bus
512 K on-chip cache
AT ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 with 64 MBDDR SDRAM graphics memory
16-bit CD-quality stereo input/output Sound
AirPort enabled with integrated antennas and pre-installed AirPort Card
Weight: 5.6 pounds

Aluminum PowerBook G4 15" 1.33 GHz/1.5 GHz (April 2004)

In April, 2004, 15" AlBook got its first upgrade and speed bump, with the new models clocked at 1.33 GHz and 1.5 GHz. Other changes were 512 MB of RAM and an 80 GB hard drive standard on the 1.5 GHz model, an ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics controller operating on the AGP4x bus with 64 MB of video RAM, with 128 MB of video RAM optional on the 1.5 GHz configuration. The 54 Mbps AirPort Extreme was now standard in both models.

PowerBook G4 Aluminum 15" 1.33 GHz (April 2004)
Active-matrix 15.2" color display (1280-by-854)
256 MB SDRAM, expandable to 2GB
Lithium Ion battery (up to 4.5 hours use)
tappable trackpad
2 built-in speakers and microphone
1 PC card slot
10/100/1,000 Base-T Ethernet
Built-in 56k Fax/Modem
S-video-out
16-bit stereo sound input/output
SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW) optical drive
60GB 4200 RPM hard drive standard, with 80 GB 5400 RPM optional
One FireWire 400 Port
One FireWire 800 Port
Two USB 2.0 ports
DVI, DVI to VGA adapter, S-video port
audio line-in and audio line-out ports
Maximum RAM 2 GB (256 MB standard)
PowerPC (G4) 1.33 GHz
167 MHz System Bus
512 K on-chip cache
An ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics controller operates on the AGP4x bus with 64 MB of video RAM
16-bit CD-quality stereo input/output Sound
54 Mbps AirPort Extreme standard in both models
Weight: 5.7 pounds

PowerBook G4 Aluminum 15" /1.5 GHz (April 2004)
Active-matrix 15.2" color display (1280-by-854)
512 MB SDRAM, expandable to 2GB
Lithium Ion battery (up to 4.5 hours use)
tappable trackpad
2 built-in speakers and microphone
1 PC card slot
10/100/1,000 Base-T Ethernet
Built-in 56k Fax/Modem
S-video-out
16-bit stereo sound input/output
SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW) optical drive
80 GB 4200 RPM hard drive standard, with 80 GB 5400 RPM optional
One FireWire 400 Port
One FireWire 800 Port
Two USB 2.0 ports
DVI, DVI to VGA adapter, S-video port
audio line-in and audio line-out ports
Maximum RAM 2 GB (512 MB standard)
PowerPC (G4) 1.5 GHz
167 MHz System Bus
512 K on-chip cache
An ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics controller operates on the AGP4x bus with 64 MB of video RAM
16-bit CD-quality stereo input/output Sound
54 Mbps AirPort Extreme standard in both models
Weight: 5.7 pounds

Aluminum PowerBook G4 15" 1.5 GHz/ 1.67 GHz (January, 2005)

The 15" PowerBook got a fairly major revision at the end of January. The hard drive spec. was bumped to 5400 RPM, and SuperDrives to 8x, plus a couple of completely new features — a scrolling TrackPad and a Sudden Motion Sensor. Unfortunately, there have been widespread problems reported with these new trackpads, which have been partly but not completely dealt with in OS 10.3.9. Also enhanced is the backlit keyboard which is up to 10 times brighter than previously. Processor speeds are now 1.5 GHz and 1.67 GHz with ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics processors and 64MB or 128MB of VRAM

PowerBook G4 Aluminum 15" 1.4 GHz (January 2005)
512MB of 333 MHz DDR SDRAM, with one open memory slot, expandable up to 2GB;
an 80GB (5400 rpm) Ultra ATA/100 hard drive with Sudden Motion Sensor;
a slot-load Combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) optical drive;
ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics with 64MB video memory;
DVI, VGA, S-video and composite video support;
AirPort Extreme 54 Mbps 802.11g WiFi fast wireless networking and internal Bluetooth 2.0+EDR;
Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000BASE-T) and 56K V.92 modem;
two USB 2.0 ports, FireWire 400 and 800;
a scrolling TrackPad; and
illuminated keyboard with ambient light sensor.
Suggested retail price of $1,999
PowerBook G4 Aluminum 15" 1.67 GHz (January 2005)
512MB of 333 MHz DDR SDRAM, with one open slot, expandable up to 2GB;
an 80GB (5400 rpm) Ultra ATA/100 hard drive and Sudden Motion Sensor;
a slot-load 8X SuperDrive (DVD±RW/CD-RW) optical drive;
ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics with 64MB video memory with Dual Link DVI functionality;
DVI, VGA, S-video and composite video support;
AirPort Extreme 54 Mbps 802.11g WiFi fast wireless networking and internal Bluetooth 2.0+EDR;
Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000BASE-T) and 56K V.92 modem;
two USB 2.0 ports, FireWire 400 and 800;
a scrolling TrackPad; and
illuminated keyboard with ambient light sensor.
Suggested retail price of $2,299

The 1.5 GHz, 15-inch PowerBook has a suggested retail price of $1,999,

Aluminum PowerBook G4 17" 1 GHz (January, 2003)

The original 17" PowerBook debuted at Macworld Expo San Francisco in January 2003.

PowerBook G4 17" Aluminum 1 GHz (January, 2003)
Active-matrix 17" color display (1440-by-900)
512 MB PC2700 DDR SRAM expandable to 1 GB
tappable trackpad
built-in speakers and microphone
10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet
Built-in 56k Fax/Modem
VGA video output supports dual display mode and video mirroring (S-video-out requires included adapter)
16-bit stereo sound input/output
slot-loading SuperDrive
60GB hard drive standard
One FireWire Port
FireWire 800 port
Two USB ports
PC Card slot
built-in Bluetooth
PowerPC 7410 (G4) 1 GHz
166 MHz System Bus
1 MB Level 3 cache
audio line-in and audio line-out ports;
NVIDIA GEForce graphics card with 64 MB of VRAM
16-bit CD-quality stereo input/output Sound
Fiber-optic backlit keyboard with ambient light sensor activation
"Lithium Prismatic" battery
AirPort Extreme based on the 802.11g standard
Weight: 6.4 pounds

Aluminum PowerBook G4 17" 1.33 GHz (September, 2003)

In September, 2003, the 17" PowerBook got a 1.33 gigahertz Motorola 7457 processor, but elimination of the 1 GHz machine's level 3 cache. However, the 512 MB level 2 cache configuration doubled the BigAl's former 256 MB level 2 cache capacity.

Other changes included bumping the standard hard drive capacity to 80 GB, replacing the Nvidia GeForce video accelerator with an ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 video card with 64 MB DDR SDRAM, and upgrading the USB ports to USB 2.0.

PowerBook G4 17" Aluminum 1.33 GHz (September, 2003)
Active-matrix 17" color display (1440-by-900)
512 MB PC2700 DDR SRAM expandable to 2 GB
tappable trackpad
built-in speakers and microphone
10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet
Built-in 56k Fax/Modem
VGA video output supports dual display mode and video mirroring (S-video-out requires included adapter)
16-bit stereo sound input/output
slot-loading SuperDrive
80GB hard drive standard
One FireWire Port
FireWire 800 port
Two USB 2.0 ports
PC Card slot
built-in Bluetooth
PowerPC 7457 (G4) 1.33 GHz
166 MHz System Bus
512 MB Level 2 cache
audio line-in and audio line-out ports;
ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 video card with 64 MB DDR SDRAM
16-bit CD-quality stereo input/output Sound
Fiber-optic backlit keyboard with ambient light sensor activation
"Lithium Prismatic" battery
AirPort Extreme based on the 802.11g standard
Weight: 6.4 pounds

Aluminum PowerBook G4 17" 1.5 GHz (April 2004)

In April, 2004 the 17" PowerBook was speed bumped again to 1.5 GHz. Other changes included a build to order option of an 80 GB 5400 rpm hard drive, an ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics controller operating on the AGP-4x bus along with 64 MB of DDR video SDRAM. An ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 with 128 MB memory was available as a build to order option, and the computer has a built-in 4x SuperDrive.

PowerBook G4 17" Aluminum 1.33 GHz (September, 2003)
Active-matrix 17" color display (1440-by-900)
512 MB PC2700 DDR SRAM expandable to 2 GB
tappable trackpad
built-in speakers and microphone
10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet
Built-in 56k Fax/Modem
16-bit stereo sound input/output
80GB hard drive standard, build to order option is an 80 GB 5400 rpm hard drive
One FireWire Port
FireWire 800 port
Two USB 2.0 ports
PC Card slot
built-in Bluetooth
PowerPC 7457 (G4) 1.33 GHz
166 MHz System Bus
512 MB Level 2 cache
audio line-in and audio line-out ports;
DVI, VGA, S-video and composite video support
ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics controller operates on the AGP-4x bus along with 64 MB of DDR video SDRAM. An ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 with 128 MB memory is available as a build to order option
4x SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW) optical drive
16-bit CD-quality stereo input/output Sound
Fiber-optic backlit keyboard with ambient light sensor activation
"Lithium Prismatic" battery
AirPort Extreme wireless networking and internal Bluetooth
Weight: 6.9 pounds

Aluminum PowerBook G4 17" 1.67 GHz (January, 2005)

Along with the rest of the PowerBook range, the 17" PowerBook got a substantial upgrade at the end of January. The hard drive spec. was bumped to 5400 RPM, and SuperDrives to 8x, plus a couple of completely new features — a scrolling TrackPad and a Sudden Motion Sensor. Unfortunately, there have been widespread problems reported with these new trackpads, which have been partly but not completely dealt with in OS 10.3.9. Also enhanced is the backlit keyboard which is up to 10 times brighter than previously.

The 1.67 GHz PowerPC G4 processor is standard on the 17-inch PowerBook, as is an ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics processor with 128MB of VRAM, and Dual Link support to drive Apple’s 30-inch Cinema HD Display as an external monitor.

PowerBook 17-inch 1.67 GHz (January 2005)
512MB of 333 MHz DDR SDRAM, with one open slot, expandable up to 2GB;
a 100GB (5400 rpm) Ultra ATA/100 hard drive and Sudden Motion Sensor;
a slot-load 8X SuperDrive (DVD±RW/CD-RW) optical drive;
ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics with 128MB video memory;
DVI (Dual Link for 30-inch support), VGA, S-video and composite video support;
AirPort Extreme 54 Mbps 802.11g WiFi fast wireless networking and internal Bluetooth 2.0+EDR;
Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000BASE-T) and 56K V.92 modem;
two USB 2.0 ports, FireWire 400 and 800;
optical digital audio input and output;
a scrolling TrackPad; and
illuminated keyboard with ambient light sensor.