G4 iBook Terrific, but Not Perfect

by Derrick Story

I've been catching up on what's happened since I took off for the mountains ten days ago with the steering wheel for a 1990 VW Vanagon in one hand and a digital camera in the other. After reading about iTunes for Windows, new Belkin devices for the iPod, and (finally) G4 iBooks, I'm thinking I should take off for another week just to see what else Steve will announce while I'm gone.



All this new stuff sounds great, but I want to focus on the G4 iBooks for a minute, especially the 12" model, which I think is still one of the most distinctive computers Apple produces. I'd be surprised if you haven't read the tech specs yet, so I'm going to jump right in to fray.



First of all, I'm pleased about the G4 processor in the 12", but I would have liked a 1 GHz option to complement the 800 MHz offering. I know Apple is trying to keep distinction between the PowerBooks and the iBooks, but I don't think throttling down the speed is the answer. Some people like aluminum, and others like impact-resistant polycarbonate plastic. Let's have all of the notebooks run as fast as possible and let the customers sort out which models best suit their needs.



I'm really happy to see the slot-loading optical drive added to the iBooks. And I'm not particularly distressed that there isn't a SuperDrive option for the iBooks. This is an area where it makes sense to differentiate the iBooks from the PowerBooks.



Still only one slot to expand RAM? Ack! That needs to be changed. Limiting the iBook to 640 MBs of RAM is a shame that could easily be fixed. But two USB 2.0 ports... excellent. You only get FireWire 400 (instead of 800 also), but I don't think that's a problem at this stage of the game.



AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth options keep the iBook at the forefront or wireless connectivity. And the ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 with AGP 4X is a nice touch, although I was disappointed to see that the s-video connector is an optional item ($19). I think that should be in the box along with the VGA adapter that Apple still provides as standard equipment. After all, if you're going to use your iBook as a DVD player, you're more likely going to watch movies on a television monitor than a computer screen.



One other thing I want to mention. You can upgrade the standard 30 Gig hard drive to 60 Gig for an additional $75. Don't even think twice about this one, just do it. As digital cameras continue to feature bigger sensors, and online music becomes easier to acquire, that hard drive space is valuable real estate.



So aside from the minor quibbles about the single RAM slot, optional s-video adapter, and only one processor offering, I think the iBook will continue to be an excellent option for those who need a light, rugged, network-savvy laptop. Not everyone likes metal. And I think those who prefer plastic should have powerful choices too. This latest offering is definitely a step in the right direction.



The starting price is $1,099 US. I recommend that you upgrade the RAM (to 640 MB), hard drive (to 60 GB), and add the AirPort Extreme card and s-video adapter, bringing the "real world" price to $1,442. That's a lot of computer for the money, especially keeping in mind that it comes loaded with Panther.



36 Comments

anonymous2
2003-10-23 05:45:56
possible lack of velocity engine
As another site pointed out, the Apple tech specs do not mention specifically mention that the iBook's G4 has the velocity engine. However, if you look at the powerbooks' specs, Apple specifically mentions "PowerPC G4 processor with Velocity Engine." The dual G4's specs also specifically mention the Velocity engine as well.


Also, during the iBook BTO, Apple is not clear whether the Bluetooth module is INTERNAL or EXTERNAL (i.e. plugs into one of the USB slots). The Learn More option has not been updated for the new iBook.

anonymous2
2003-10-23 06:18:50
The main iBook page says Bluetooth built-in
From www.apple.com/ibook:


"... plus optional AirPort Extreme wireless networking and optional built-in Bluetooth wireless peripheral connectivity as well as conveniently located FireWire, USB 2.0 and Ethernet ports the iBook gives you astonishing performance in a stunning design."


2nd or 3rd paragraph down from the top.

anonymous2
2003-10-23 06:42:10
video/monitor out
My biggest gripe with the iBook is the fact that it still only does video mirroring, rather than being able to extend the desktop onto a second display. Oh well.. I guess that's just another feature to help differentiate it from the PB's. I'm off to continue pining for a 12" PB. :)
anonymous2
2003-10-23 06:42:58
The main iBook page says Bluetooth built-in
"_optional_ built-in Bluetooth"....
anonymous2
2003-10-23 06:44:22
possible lack of velocity engine
It's actually not the same processor that's in the G4 desktops and powerbooks. From what I've read it's more like a G3 core + AltiVec.
anonymous2
2003-10-23 06:53:02
No "Velocity Engine"...
...for the G4 iBook? Is this really true? After a year of delaying a portable purchase, suddenly Apple releases an iBook that can do some medium duty Photoshop work, only to discover some rumor that it doesn't have a vector processing unit. Apple should clarify this so that users won't be sucked into buying something that consumers assume is the full deal (everyone I talked to automatically assumes that all G4s have the VPU built-in).
anonymous2
2003-10-23 07:12:43
Don't buy RAM from Apple!
Derrick, show your readers some love. They can save a bundle by getting the RAM themselves and skipping Apple's 100% markup on the stuff. Agree about upgrading the hard drive, though.
derrick
2003-10-23 08:38:59
RE: Don't buy RAM from Apple!
Well, I think you're overstating the difference a bit. The 512MB upgrade from Apple runs $150. If you go to a respected RAM dealer, such as Crucial Technology, it costs $139.99. RAM prices are fairly volatile, so I'm sure you could find so different pricing if you look around. For me, I'd rather pay the $10 bucks to have the iBook arrive fully loaded. That's not exactly what I'd call tough love ;)
derrick
2003-10-23 08:40:20
RE: No "Velocity Engine"...
I haven't seen anything definitive either way on this. So I wouldn't jump to conclusions until we're sure.
anonymous2
2003-10-23 08:42:05
No "Velocity Engine"...
No, it is *not* true. The G4 *by definition* has the vector processing instructions. Any boneheaded rumors to the contrary are nonsense.
anonymous2
2003-10-23 09:14:57
Facts
The PBs are differentiated by dual-monitor support (plus DVI now), extra RAM capability, SuperDrive, automatic (not 'optional') internal Bluetooth...
The 12" PB still doesn't support FW800, so that's not a difference at all. The S-Video adapter is optional for it too, so this isn't different between the PB and iBook.
I'm just happy to see that G3s are now no longer in the lineup at all!


phoffman
2003-10-23 09:41:16
Slot-loading is not a feature
I have heard that the slot-loader is a very common repair for the PowerBooks. I'm really bummed that it will be the only option on the new iBooks. I'd really like to hear why they did that, other than the "coolness" factor.
anonymous2
2003-10-23 11:42:59
RE: No "Velocity Engine"...
The tech specs page now says it has the Velocity engine. Check out the link in Derrick's story.
anonymous2
2003-10-23 11:44:50
from Apple tech specs
Technical Specifications


Processor and memory


800MHz, 933MHz or 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor with Velocity Engine and 256K on-chip level 2 cache running at full processor speed



133 MHZ system bus



256MB of PC2100 (266MHz) DDR SDRAM (128MB built-in and 128MB in SO-DIMM slot) with support for up to 640MB

anonymous2
2003-10-23 12:08:05
1GHz 12" iBook may not be possible
Derrick, you mention that you would have liked to see a 12" iBook with a 1GHz processor. Pure speculation on my part, but, if the iBooks are not using the 7447 model CPU, then the CPU they are using may not be able to remain cool enough in the 12" iBook enclosure. I am sure that Apple wanted to maintain some sort of difference between the 12" PowerBook, but I suspect that more engineering than would have been economically feasible would have been necessary to shoehorn a 1GHz proc into the plastic case.
derrick
2003-10-23 13:22:12
1GHz 12" iBook may not be possible
Yes, of course that crossed my mind too. But since we see a 1 GHz in the 12" PowerBook and the 14" iBook, I'm thinking that it is possible, but maybe not at the price point that Apple wants for this machine.


That being said, my real point is that I think the iBook has earned the right to be considered a legit alternative to PowerBooks for those who like a different form factor and maybe not all of the goodies such as a PC card slot. Yes, you can get a stripped down iBook for cheap, but if you want a little muscle, that should be an option too.

derrick
2003-10-23 13:23:29
RE: from Apple tech specs
You're mixing the specs here for both the 14" and 12" iBook. This discussion is about the 12" iBook.
derrick
2003-10-23 13:28:01
RE: Slot-loading is not a feature
This is a complaint that I didn't anticipate :) You may be correct about a higher failure rate in slot-loading PowerBooks. I don't know either way. I have two slot-loading PowerBooks, and I love that feature. I think they are easier to use in tight spaces, and it's nice knowing that I'm not going to accidently jar the tray and rip it out of the computer.


So I guess we have to allow for personal preference here. But I think slot-loading in iBooks is a plus.

derrick
2003-10-23 13:30:17
RE: Facts
I agree. We were overdue for G4s in iBooks. They are great machines and deserve a processor worthy of their design.
anonymous2
2003-10-23 14:00:34
video/monitor out
Ah, but there are OpenFirmware hacks to help out with that...


http://www.macosxhints.com/article.php?story=20030727112641398

anonymous2
2003-10-23 14:20:40
Don't buy RAM from Apple!
This isn't a good rule of thumb. You should definitely shop around for RAM and consider the BTO option. When I bought my PB G4 last jan/feb, the 512 chip was 99 bucks, better than any outside vendor at the time. Right now it looks like Apple's price is higher than the outside valuation, though.
anonymous2
2003-10-23 14:22:30
possible lack of velocity engine
Maybe they didn't when you wrote, but they certainly do now:


Technical Specifications


Processor and memory


800MHz, 933MHz or 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor with Velocity Engine and 256K on-chip level 2 cache running at full processor speed

anonymous2
2003-10-23 14:35:13
G4 with Velocity Engine
Apple must have noticed the 'net discussion of whether the iBook has velocity Engine or not., as the latest iBook specs page now clearly states G4 with Veleocity Engine...
anonymous2
2003-10-23 19:59:11
video/monitor out
Has anybody tested this out on the 12" iBooks?
anonymous2
2003-10-23 19:59:50
video/monitor out
Sorry, I meant the G4 iBooks.
anonymous2
2003-10-23 21:04:37
RE: Facts

Oh please, if the app isnt designed for altivec then there is little difference in speed. How much faster is a browser going to be?


Given Apple's penchant for utilizing AltiVec then it may be of great advantage though.

anonymous2
2003-10-23 21:08:30
possible lack of velocity engine

It's a 7455 exactly like the previous incarnation of Powerbook.
anonymous2
2003-10-24 01:21:52
RE: Slot-loading is not a feature
Slot loading is also good for not exposing internal components to the elements. Tray loading always felt flimsy and breakable to me.
anonymous2
2003-10-24 16:33:53
Don't buy RAM from Apple!
Any warranty implications to 3rd party RAM?
anonymous2
2003-10-24 16:39:04
Rubber chiclet keyboard -- forget it
I was excited about the iBook until I configured mine just like Derrick and got to $1,442. That is only a little over a "$129 Panther upgrade" from a PowerBook.


Make sure you go to an Apple store and try out the ridiculous, kiddie keyboard. Press the G key. Watch in amusement as the R,T,Y,H,N,B,V, and G keys also go up and down with the G key (in the center of the others if you don't have time to look down right now at your keyboard). This might impress your friends in study hall, but anyone reading this forum should only consider the PowerBook and its full-travel keyboard.

anonymous2
2003-10-27 17:02:44
video/monitor out & Others
A few things. Check xlr8yourmac.com for a confirmation of the OF mod working for video spanning, not just mirroring. Hooray! Secondly, the bluetooth is internal, that is why it's BTO only, not available as a user upgrade (check dev docs, plugs into one of three USB 1.1 internal ports, other for modem, other disabled for power reasons). Thirdly, the CPU is linked as the 7457, as from the dev docs, http://e-www.motorola.com/webapp/sps/site/
prod_summary.jsp?code=MPC7457&nodeId=018rH3bTdG8653. But is it reported as a 7455 in a user's Xbench report on xbench.com, check under unidentified systems.


My 2c, I got one, 800 will be ample for the size. The hard drive upgrade for 67$ is a no brainer, but I opted to install an 80gig IBM Travelstar which is queiter and much faster, for 250$ though. For all the haters, keep waiting until you get your perfect laptop, it's coming, check the rumor sites!
custuden14@hotmail.com

anonymous2
2003-10-29 10:51:43
G4 iBook keyboard
Apparently the keyboard still flexes when a key is pressed. This is annoying, but not the end of the world to me; I have a Dell notebook whose keys don't flex, but whose shift, alt and ctrl keys often don't make contact and I have to press them several times to get the desired result.


A few months after I got this Dell (I won it, otherwise I'd already have an iBook) I had to have a tech come in and replace the keyboard. It worked better for awhile, now it's back to acting up.


I guess it's one of the prices you pay for notebook computing as opposed to desktop. I think there's little use for desktops anymore, except for high-end work or gaming - if I were in L.A. or San Diego right now, I'd much rather have an iBook than to schlep around a G5 during evacuation.

anonymous2
2003-10-30 07:32:54
RAM installation
Is installing 3rd-party RAM yourself feasable on the new iBooks? On a tight budget, $200 for maxing out the RAM seems a little high.
anonymous2
2003-11-02 17:16:45
G4 with Velocity Engine
Dude, as it says at apple.com ALL G4 iBooks (and powerbooks for that matter) have a velocity Engine =)
anonymous2
2003-11-04 05:56:02
video/monitor out
Worked on my g4 ibook last night. A little scary since the messages are in German and you have to answer Ja or Nein. But it did in fact work.
anonymous2
2003-12-18 06:05:52
RAM installation
Search RAM ibook G4 ... you will get a stick of 512MB for between $100 and $150