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PowerBook G4 vs. iBook

Monday, August 18th, 2003 · 19 Comments

powerbookG4.jpg Within the next few weeks, Jen and I plan to begin production of my Dad’s next book, a new version of 100 Faces of Marin. I am a Mac man at heart (and logged 4 years doing tech support and sales in the Apple Computer Store at Vassar), so I’m thrilled that this project gives us an excuse to buy a new Mac. My 7600/120 just isn’t up for the task these days… and my PowerBook 520c hasn’t been started in years.

I’ve been out of the Mac game for an embarrissingly long time (bet you couldn’t guess by my old-school Mac references, huh?), so I’ve been soliciting input lately from my Mac-savvy friends and would appreciate input here, too. Our primary need is for a machine on which to do production work in Photoshop and Quark. Laptops are more convenient and are great for watching DVDs on planes, so we’ve ruled out desktops. So the choice now is between the following two machines from the Apple Store:

PowerBook G4 867MHz/256MB/40GB/Combo/E/12″TFT – Refurbished $1,399.00
iBook 900MHz/128MB/40GB/Combo/E/56K/12″TFT – Refurbished $1,149.00

(I’m a big fan of refurbished electronics. It’s a great way to save a couple hundred bucks.)

So the question is: Should we go for the iBook, or fork out the extra money for the G4? Higher resolution on external monitor will be an important factor, and the G4’s S-video output is just a kick-ass feature. Image processing aside, the speed (and running OS X) should be pretty much comparable, yes? I am, however, leaning toward the G4.

Please share your thoughts and recommendations. Thanks in advance. I appreciate it.

Tags: technology

19 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mike Brown // Aug 19, 2003 at 3:49 am

    I would go for the 12″PB G4 over the iBook – but max out the RAM. Don’t forget the PB also comes with Bluetooth built-in – lovely if you have lots of contacts to synchronise with your cell!

  • 2 Ricky Thakrar // Aug 19, 2003 at 4:52 am

    Hiya Gabe,

    I thought the G4 was a 64bit processor but the website claims its 128bit! If this is the case, definitely the G4 for an extra $300 odd.

    Most application start-ups should technically be instantaneous with a 128bit processor. Best of luck either way – let me know how it goes!

  • 3 Jentle // Aug 19, 2003 at 5:07 am

    Hello, Jen-Friend-of-James here…

    I have a G4 Powerbook, and darlin’, let me *assure* you it’s one purchase I’ll NEVER regret.

    Go for it, the Powerbook rocks.

  • 4 adam rice // Aug 19, 2003 at 6:37 am

    Get the best computer you can afford. In fact, you might consider holding out for a 1 GHz 15″ unit. Speed for the G4 will be better than the G3; speed for a 1 GHz machine will obviously be somewhat faster than for an 867 MHz. If you’e going to be doing Photoshop work, speed is, obviously, important.

    Whatever you get, load it up w/ 512+ MB RAM.

  • 5 Jim // Aug 19, 2003 at 8:04 am

    First up, the G4 is NOT a 128-bit processor, it’s not even a 64-bit processor. It’s a 32-bit processor. Apple’s marketing is a bit misleading here, but the Velocity Engine of the G4 does 128-bit vector processing, which isn’t exactly the same thing.

    Regardless, my vote is for the 12″ powerbook. The G4 will easily surpass the performance of the G3, especially for work in applications like Quark and Photoshop. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the 12″ powerbook supports monitor spanning, just mirroring, which is a bit of a bummer. Your machine won’t be obsolete as quickly.

    A few caveats. The 12″ powerbook gets hot, quickly. Too hot to hold on your lap after an hour or so of normal use.

    Especially if you’re going to buy refurbished, get Apple care. It will cover your machine for an additional 2 years beyond the warranty and is definitely worth the price. Although, it effectively negates the cost savings of buying refurbished, but you should have Apple care anyway. If cost is an issue, you should be able to purchase Apple care any time before the original warranty expires, so you may be able to delay that a bit.

    The more RAM the better. Get as much as the thing will hold.

    Quark is a crappy application put out by an equally crappy company. Consider switching to In Design from Adobe, especially since you’re going to be running OS X.

    You might wait until the end of the month. The rumor mill is all abuzz with talk of new laptops in the pipeline — it would be a shame to buy a new machine today only to have it update and cheaper in a week. Rumors can be a bit dubious, but has been a WHILE since the powerbooks were updated, so it makes sense. More here:

  • 6 shreyank // Aug 19, 2003 at 8:47 am

    I can’t live without my iBook 600, but if I needed to work on some heavier apps like photoshop I would probably get a more powerful computer. If you really want the machine to be portable then get a 12″ or 15″ powerbook. But if you want pure power than get a new G5 desktop.

    And I agree with Jim- wait until they have refreshed the powerbook line before buying.

  • 7 gabe // Aug 19, 2003 at 10:57 am

    thanks so much, everyone, for the great input! it’s looking as though the G4 is clearly the way to go.

    it also looks like i may be able to get a better price on the refurbed G4 once the new 15″ and 17″ powerbooks are announced (possibly this week):

  • 8 Matt // Aug 19, 2003 at 4:27 pm

    Yes I recently chose the PowerBook over the iBook largely based on people telling me that the G4 was significantly better than the G3. Also, the PowerBook does support spanning which is a feature I really like. As others have suggested, I maxed out the RAM at 640 MB. So far I am very pleased with my choice.

  • 9 MacFan // Aug 20, 2003 at 7:03 am

    G4 all the way. The added performance is well worth the extra couple hundred bucks… and I’d get one 512 DIMM shipped with the Powerbook and max out the rest of the RAM with a trip to

    Much cheaper than going through apple for the RAM, and you’re getting the same stuff. Just installed 15 DIMMs in the office and everyone is thrilled.

  • 10 Jordan // Aug 23, 2003 at 8:36 am

    The one thing that jumps out at me is the RAM. If you’re doing Photoshop image work, the 128MB on the little iBook is going to make you unhappy very quickly. Just imagine if you ever wanted to run Virtual PC… that’s 64 ram for the VPC and 64 for you machine… and that’s NOTHING!

    I’m usually running my G4 with around 300 MBs of RAM used up. So even at 256, you’ll probably get a little swap (but not a big deal). Still, I’m generally doing java development, and those Photoshop images (if they are high quality) just suck away memory.

    Someone else also mentioned the heat of the PowerBooks, and I’d forgotten about that. My 17″ gets REALLY hot. You can keep it on your lap, but it’s quite toasty and you can’t set it on open skin if you’re wearing shorts without starting to smell roasting flesh.

  • 11 Mike Steinbaugh // Sep 1, 2003 at 1:18 pm

    Hi Gabe,

    I live in Mill Valley and am looking forward to the new edition of 100 Faces of Marin. Let me know when it’s available! Nice site by the way.

  • 12 Matthew // Sep 27, 2003 at 5:47 pm

    Just wondering how goes the Powerbook a month into owning it? I’m itching to buy one but holding off until some L3 (i need it for videoediting) is in the offing.


  • 13 Thomas // Jan 23, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    Just read your article with great interest and noticed many suggestions to max out the RAM and a suggestion to purchase Apple Care. Something to watch out for, when purchasing RAM memory be careful that your purchases from sources other than Apple (such as at Crucible as someone suggested) do not void your Apple Care contract. Many such contracts restrict use of parts and components to own-branded or “verified/tested” parts. Enjoy your Powerbook!

  • 14 Mark // Feb 1, 2004 at 8:06 am

    I’m about to consider the same decision: 1.25 G4 15 inch Powerbook vs. 1G 14 inch iBook. I’m worried about the heat up by the hands (I’m heat intolerant) and concerned about poor wireless reception and battery performance. Has the latch problem been solved? But I REALLY want the backlit keyboard for my working in the dark (can’t touch type). I currently am using my original Wall Street G3 and still love it but want to move to X, especially for Safari, since my Netscape 7 is VERY slow. Did you get the Powerbook?

  • 15 danny // Feb 12, 2004 at 4:26 am

    ibooks are very underpowered. the lag of switching between applications or reading a pdf file can be annoying – even when you max out the ram.

    as an ibook user, i would suggest a powerbook.


  • 16 Brioan Miller // Feb 16, 2004 at 11:48 pm

    Get the Powerbook!! I have a 12″ and a 17″ and I am super happy with both. I use the 17″ as a desktop and the 12″ as my portable.The ibooks are slower and you can’t burn DVD’s with them and no Bluetooth. If the use of an external monitor is your only concern you can enable Desktop Spanning on an iBook with a program that will run within OSX called: Screen Spanning Doctor. It will also enable Clamshell mode. Overall the iBooks look nice and the G4’s run better than ever but I would stick with the Powerbooks.

  • 17 gabe // Feb 20, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks very much for all the input! I did go with the 12″ PowerBook and am very happy with it. I just recently updgraded the RAM to 640mb, so it’s like having a whole new machine.

    For anyone considering between the two, definitely go for the PowerBook if you want the faster machine. And upgrade the RAM. It makes a HUGE difference.

  • 18 kathy // Mar 4, 2004 at 8:51 pm

    I am considering a new mac up from a G3 beige 266 to an ibook 12″ or powerbook 12″. Would love to have a bigger monitor, but $$$. . .How does the speed compare going from a desktop 266 to a 800 ghz ibook and is there a big difference then to the 1Ghz powerbook? Also the slower spin speeds on all the powerbooks and ibooks concerns me as I have 7200 spin speed hds, both Windows and a new 120 Gb in my G3 266 machine. I think they are faster definitely. Too many decisions.

  • 19 gabe // Mar 5, 2004 at 3:31 pm

    Hi Kathy-

    You’re going to LOVE the improvement in speed when you upgrade. You’ll notice a huge difference whether you go with PB or iBook. Either way, I’d
    recommend RAM upgrade…that makes the biggest difference. I don’t think you’ll notice the spin speeds in the laptops.

    As for the difference between the two, it really depends on what you’ll be doing. If you do a lot of production work (layout/Photoshop/movies/etc.)
    then you’d be better off with the PowerBook. I’d recommend checking the refurbs on Apple’s site. That’s what I did and it’s an easy way to save a
    couple hundred bucks. I’ve always gone refurb.

    Good luck!