Hands on with the 700MHz iBook

I'm a big fan of Apple's iBook line, and the latest 700MHz model only increases my affection. Despite the fact that it only has a G3 processor, the iBook is more than acceptable for anyone using it for word processing, e-mail, Web surfing and the occasional game.

The iBook runs Mac OS X fast enough for me -- and I use an iBook for a week at a time when I'm on the road. The G3 runs cooler than the G4 chip and doesn't consumer battery life as quickly.

In fact, the 12-inch iBook, with an extra battery, may be the perfect computer for roving reporters who hoof it from meeting to meeting, as I do at Macworld expos. (I consider the 12-inch model Apple's subnotebook, though the company doesn't like that designation.) Plus, iBooks are more rugged and have better AirPort reception than their big brothers, the lust-inducing Titanium PowerBooks.

When Apple updated the iBook line a few months ago, it took everything nice about the products (including their stylish "ice" design) and upped the ante. The notebooks were updated with faster PowerPC G3 processors (now running at up to 700MHz), double the on-chip level 2 cache, a more powerful ATI Mobility Radeon graphics processor, and larger hard drives. The video RAM has been increased from 8MB to 16MB, a nice boost for Photoshop scrolling and 3D gaming. How well it functions under the upcoming Mac OS 10.2 and Quartz Extreme remains to be seen -- though Apple says the iBook will run "Jaguar" just fine.

The portables also now feature a new video-out port that supports VGA output, as well as S-video and composite video with optional adapter.

Apple claims that the new iBook runs up to 35 percent faster than previous models in CPU performance tests such as encoding a song from an audio CD into an MP3 file using iTunes. That "feels" about right in my day-to-day use.

The 12-inch model is a great choice for anyone who requires ultra-portability. But spring for the 700MHz model rather than the low-end 600MHz.

The bigger iBook's top resolution -- 1,024 x 768 -- isn't any higher than that of the smaller iBooks, but the extra two inches does offer a great deal of extra screen real estate. The bigger size also accommodates a bigger battery. Apple claims that it will run up to six hours, but four hours of normal use is more reasonable. But note that the larger screen and bigger battery makes for a much heavier portable: 5.99 pounds compared to the 4.9 pounds of the 12-inche model.

Unless you need a supercomputer-on-the-go, the iBook should serve you well. If you're into videography, high-end graphics work or hardcore gaming -- or if money is no object -- the Titanium PowerBook is for you. For the rest of us, the little, durable iBook may be all the portable Mac we need.

The US$1,799 iBook includes: a 700MHz PowerPC G3 processor with 512K on-chip level 2 cache; a 14.1-inch (diagonal) active-matrix TFT display; 256MB SDRAM; a 30GB Ultra ATA hard drive; and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo optical drive. The $1,499 model includes: a 700MHz PowerPC G3 processor with 512K on-chip level 2 cache; a 12.1-inch (diagonal) active-matrix TFT display; 128MB SDRAM; a 20GB Ultra ATA hard drive; and a DVD- ROM/CD-RW Combo optical drive. The $1,199 iBook comes with: a 600MHz PowerPC G3 processor with 512K on-chip level 2 cache; a 12.1-inch (diagonal) active-matrix TFT display; 128MB SDRAM; a 20GB Ultra ATA hard drive; and a CD-ROM optical drive.

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