iMac + iBook >= PowerBook?

by Chris Adamson

Related link:

MacMinute is reporting that Apple does not intend to release a new PowerBook before the holidays... yeah, so much for the PowerBook G4 update is imminent talk, huh? It's also an interesting side to the "Apple does not comment on unannounced products" company line... they do comment on an absence of products, especially if potential customers might be waiting for products that are not actually in the pipeline.

Well, all that said, I'm in a quandary. See, I just finished writing QuickTime for Java: A Developer's Notebook (yay!), and with a little free time, I'm itching to really get into Core Image / Core Video. However, my sad little 900 MHz G3 iBook doesn't have the GPU chops to handle CI/CV. I had been waiting for a new PowerBook, and the current line can handle CI/CV, but it's getting a little long in the tooth. Why Apple won't throw us a bone with a minor update - 7200 RPM drives would be nice - is probably immaterial.

With the "no new PowerBooks" announcement, I wondered "hey, they just released new G4 iBooks, maybe those can do CoreImage. I mean, Apple's not going to put out hardware that can't handle the cool features of the next OS X release, right?" Actually yes... yes they would. A quick check of the specs shows the iBooks with 32 MB Radeon 9200's... not among the cards supported by CI/CV.

So now I'm thinking... my home office is going to be done in a couple of weeks, and I don't travel that much, usually three conferences a year - O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference (yay!), ADHOC (yay!), and JavaOne (arguably more pleasant than elective dental surgery!) - so I could stop paying the portability premium and get into a G5 today.

Assuming I will need some kind of portable when I do travel, even if it means I can't code CI/CV on the road (well, can't test it anyways), let's tally up the options with street prices (yes, I'm in ADC, but let's leave the hardware discount out of the equation for now). We'll assume the cheapest desktop and iBook, and compare that to the mid-range PowerBook (my rationale being that I can stand a small screen on the road, but not as my primary development environment).

Option 1
17" 1.6 GHz G5 iMac $1299 $2298
12" 1.2 GHz G4 iBook $999
Option 2
15" 1.33 GHz G4 PowerBook $1999 $1999

I think it's surprising that for $300 more, I get two computers - each optimized for its environment (desktop vs. mobility) - and that the desktop G5 iMac is way ahead of where the PowerBook is going to be anytime soon in terms of CPU, bus speed, etc. As much as we've heard about how great the PowerBook line is and how appealing it is to junk the desktop in favor of having a laptop for everything, it comes up somewhat short against the rest of the Mac line right now.

What do you think? G5 iMac and (later) iBook, or G4 PowerBook today?


2004-10-20 07:51:24
add .Mac for sync too
With a .Mac account you get your contacts, appointments, mail, bookmarks etc. sync'd automatically between machines (and bluetooth phone), which is nice.

And with Tiger apparently adding to the sync possibilities, it's never been easier to have two machines on the go.

2004-10-20 08:28:44
Slightly different configuration
I'd like to propose a slightly different configuration for you, and get your reaction to it. Instead of the iMac + iBook, consider a PowerBook + an external monitor (and, optionally, external keyboard and mouse).

For ~$250, you can purchase a very nice 19" CRT monitor. When at home, you have lots and lots of desktop real-estate available -- if you purchase the PowerBook, as only the PowerBook allows monitor spanning (without hacking the iBook firmware and voiding your warranty). Furthermore, if you are feeling parsimonious, you can drop down to the 12" PowerBook. Doing so will save money on the PowerBook, give you a slightly-more-portable solution than the 15" without sacrificing computing power, and still avoid screen restraints. Add in a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and this arrangement is even easier to use.

Whaddaya think? Sound good, or am I missing something?

2004-10-20 09:01:36
I'd like to second this idea. At work, I have a 12" PB generally hooked to a 17" monitor, with a standard keyboard & mouse. I use the main screen for most things, and I have a small second screen if I need it, and a very portable laptop for travel.

A 15" screen might be a little better, even for travel (since I don't do work actually _on_ the plane), but my arrangement suits me just fine. I've never found the 12" screen too small to work on.

2004-10-20 15:20:20
firewire drive for video + internal HD upgrade
You might just upgrade your internal hard drive on your ibook and/or use an external firewire drive for video editing. Unless you truly are bottle knecked by the GPU. 32mb should cover most apps though . . . why aren't you going to use Final Cut Pro?
2004-10-20 15:22:19
firewire drive for video + internal HD upgrade
woops your approaching the video from a programmatic point of view (RE final cut pro) :-)
2004-10-21 08:56:39
Powerbook or Ibook/IMac combo
Well first of all java and quicktime looks cool, I havent done any quicktime programming for 4 years, Most of what i do now is java based so this book looks interesting!

With regards to your dilema I have the following to add


In the laptop world only 2 manufacturers IMHO produce good keyboards IBM with the Thinkpad range and more recently Apple with the powerbook range. Now if you do much typing (Programming for me !) then this is really important infact one of the most important considerations beyondbattery life. So a warning the IBook really lets the team down on the keyborad front, last one I tried was truly crap.. In fact my recent laptop purchase was a 12" Powerbook (maybe I'm biased) and have been really pleased with it. Having said that I dont cut video on it, although I might try.

I did however used to cut video as part of products I used to manage. What I used to like then with editing was a special keybard customised for the job (with the shuttle control stickers etc..). Thus you might want to look at getting a keyboard and customising as approriate. Also I found an external jog shuttle was really hand also (I guess you can still get usb type controls but it's been a while since I looked).
The idea of an external Firewire drive could also help alleviate your issues with the slow powerbook drive, but you might want to check with teh powers that be that capturing/editing using a firewire drive combined with maybe a dv camera also on firewire would work without adverse effects.

Just a few points worth considering
I will certainly take a look at the book


2004-10-21 08:57:27
Slightly different configuration

Well, let's do the math: add the $250 monitor to the $1999 PowerBook and we're at $2259... just $49 less than the price of the iMac and the iBook combined. And the PowerBook has a much slower CPU (1.33 GHz G4 vs 1.6 GHz G5), slower bus speed (167 MHz vs 533 MHz), smaller and slower hard drive (60 GB 4200 RPM vs 80 GB 7200 RPM). To be fair, the PowerBook has built-in Airport Extreme, and this arrangement does permit monitor spanning (not something I'm interested in, but it has its place).

Nevertheless, my point is that for a laptop to be a potential desktop replacement, it at least has to be close to its desktop equivalent, and right now, the graying PowerBook line delivers much less capability for much more money than the iMac and PowerMac desktops... so much so that a whole bottom-end laptop, the 12" iBook, can be squeezed in the margin

-Chris (invalidname)

2004-10-21 09:00:07
Powerbook or Ibook/IMac combo

Thanks, Al. I hope you like the book. It was a blast to write... except maybe for the QuickDraw and capture parts, which required a ton of research and experimentation, respectively.

-Chris (invalidname

2004-10-21 15:42:45
mind the GPU ...
.. I agree that two are better than one in this case. However, neither the iBook nor the iMac G5 have particularly powerful GPUs. They also lack video memory. So unless advanced features (3D, CG, ...) are not desired, this combination is a poor starting point.
2004-10-21 17:18:16
mind the GPU ...

Lemme do a fact check on the Apple pages... hang on a sec... (omitting some highest-end options)

PowerMac G5NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 Ultra with 64MB DDR SDRAM
iMac G5NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 Ultra with 64MB DDR SDRAM
PowerBookNVIDIA GeForce FX Go5200 with 64MB of DDR SDRAM, or
ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 with 64MB of DDR SDRAM
iBookATI Mobility Radeon 9200 with 32MB of DDR SDRAM

Is the Radeon Mobility 9700 (on the bigger PB's) really that much better than GeForce FX 5200? They both do CoreImage/CoreVideo, so it's a push for me.

-Chris (invalidname