To me, it’s this simple: Anyone who needs a secondary Mac (a backup, if you will), a subcompact Mac, a rugged Mac portable, or a budget laptop is a prime candidate for an
iBook. Those not constrained by budgets or size requirements should go for the Titanium PowerBook, which is definitely cooler and more prestigious than its smaller cousin.
The iBook has a few things going for it that the PowerBook doesn’t: better battery life, a tougher case and, in the 12-inch versions, true portability. Apple recently updated the iBook, and I’ve been test driving a new 800MHz model with a 12-inch screen for a month. I’ve found it to be eminently usable, though the consumer laptop is the sluggard in Apple’s product line with a G3, rather than G4, PowerPC chip.
Still, the G3 runs cooler than the G4 and is more than adequate for most business uses (word processing, spreadsheets, Internet surfing and e-mail), casual gaming, and watching DVDs. You’ll not want to run graphic intensive apps or the most processor-intensive games on an iBook.
Rugged as it is the PowerBook isn’t as durable as the iBook. Press on the backside of the screen and you can see “indentations” on the front of the display. Press on the iBook’s polycarbonate plastic casing and you see nada — well, except for fingerprints. Plus, the iBook also packs an interior protected by a magnesium frame and a hard drive that’s rubber-mounted.
That ruggedness is nice when you’re a roving reporter running from meeting to meeting, as I will be at next month’s Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco. Or when I’m shuttling my son and daughter to various sporting events, I’m a lot more comfortable tossing an iBook into the back of the car than I would be a US$2,000-plus PowerBook.
Physically, the revamped iBooks are pretty much identical to all iBooks released since May 2001, though there are some minor tweaks (for instance, the logo is printed in Apple’s new corporate typeface).
The new iBooks have beefed up their processing speed by 100MHz. Just as important is the more capable graphics cards. They now use the ATI Mobility Radeon 7500, the 3D graphics chip; the iBook 700MHz has 16MB of dedicated VRAM, while the 800MHz model has a sweet 32MB.
The ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 graphics processor, especially on the 32MB systems, really helps the iBooks to take advantage of Quartz Extreme, which uses the graphics engine to relieve the PowerPC processor of screen calculations to improve overall system performance and make the graphical user interface more responsive. The better graphics processor makes a noticeable difference when using Mac OS X.
The iBook offers RGB-video out, which lets you use a special monitor cable adapter to drive an external monitor — though the monitor has to “mirror” what’s on the iBook screen. Like its predecessors, the new iBook can output composite video through a different adapter cable.
The iBook has no cover over the ports, which some folks don’t like. However, I like this design because it’s faster and easier to plug in peripherals. Admittedly, no cover means that dust can get into the ports, though I’ve never experienced any problems with this.
The iBook isn’t expandable (it has no PC-card slot, for instance), but it isn’t meant to be. Most users will find whatever add-ons they need in the form of FireWire and USB peripherals. But if expandability is a key need when you’re on the road, rule out the iBook.
The Apple consumer portable comes with a great assortment of software, including iPhoto, iMovie 2, iTunes 3, AppleWorks, Internet Explorer, Mail, World Book, Deimos Rising, and more.
Finally, I like the fact that the iBook battery is secured by a screw (which you can turn with a coin or screwdriver), which seems more secure than the latch of the PowerBook.
I do have some gripes about the iBooks, however. Apple is very skimpy with the memory. The entry-level machine and the 800MHz 12-inch model (at $1,299 my favorite of all the configurations) only come with 128MB of RAM. That amount is workable, but certainly not desirable. Plan on adding another 128MB (or more) to your iBook.
The $1,599 14-inch, 800MHz model (great for those who find the 12-inch screen just too tiring on the eyes) comes with 256MB, which is more reasonable. Also, Apple’s service and support is skimpy: 90 days of toll-free technical service and one-year of hardware service. Of course, you can purchase the AppleCare service warranty for three years — if you’re willing to spring $249.
If you don’t need the lightning-fast performance of a PowerBook G4, the iBook, at about half the price, is a very attractive alternative.