by David Engstrom
Rating | Benchmarks
| Comparison | Discussion
Fresh from reviewing Apple's new, elegant,
titanium G4 PowerBooks, I was prepared to be disappointed
by "Titanium JR". However, though Apple's plucky
new iBook isn't made of titanium and can't match the PowerBook
in terms of performance, the Apple's newest iBook has a beauty
and grace all of its own, wrapped in a sturdy economical package.
Covered in a tough icy white polycarbonate plastic
frosting, the iBook, when opened, looks a lot like a shrunken
down G4 PowerBook. Only the finish is silvery, the keyboard
is white and the screen hinge drops the display down almost
to the the level of the bottom of the iBook - instead of the
normal setup where the screen casing is flush with the top
of a laptop.
Aimed at primary & secondary education,
there is nothing childish about these laptops, gone are the
flashy colors and funky shape of the previous versions.
Where the elegance of the G4 PowerBook has almost
an unapproachable, slightly fragile quality , the iBooks feel
rugged, more down to earth, yet hint at lots of fun and a
definite maturity. You'll have a fling with the PowerBook,
you'll settle down with the iBook.
The iBooks come in 4 flavors varying only in
the amount of installed RAM, type of optical drive and, of
course, price. The models are as follows:
- $1,299 iBook G3/500/500/256k 64MB RAM with CD-ROM drive
- $1,499 iBook G3/500/500/256k 128MB RAM with CD-RW drive
- $1,599 iBook G3/500/500/256k 128MB RAM with DVD-ROM drive
- $1,799 iBook G3/500/500/256k 128MB RAM with CD-RW/DVD-ROM
iBook G3/500 Facts at a Glance
- G3 (750CX), 500 MHz
- Bus Speed: 66 MHz
- L2 Cache: 256K, on-chip @500 MHz
- Installed RAM: 64 or 128 (576 or 640 MB Max)
- RAM Slots: 1,
- Min RAM Speed: 10 ns PC100 SO-DIMM
- Installed VRAM: 8MB (Max 8 MB)
- Drive: 10 or optional 20 GB, Ultra ATA/66
- Optical Drive: CD-ROM or DVD -ROM or CD-RW or Combo
- Networking: 10/100Base-T, Airport
- Slots: Airport,
- Additional Ports: 1 FireWire, 2 USB, Modem, headphones,
composite video out, monitor (VGA, mirroring)
- Display: 12.1" TFT XGA active-matrix screen (1024x768
- Weight: 4.9 pounds
- Battery Life: 5 hours (low power mode)
- Supported Mac OS: 9.1 or later
- Introduced: 1/01
- Discontinued: -
- Initial Retail Price: $1,299 - $1,799
iBook Upgrade & Troubleshooting
Set Up And Documentation: Apple makes it easy
to set up and get started on all of their computers. The iBook
is no exception. A two page pictorial pamphlet visually guides
you through the 4 steps you will need to take to get your
new iBook up and running; plug power cord into the same yo-yo
type adapter that also comes with the G4 PowerBooks, plug
the adapter into the iBook, if you want to access the Internet,
plug either a telephone cable or Ethernet cord into their
respective ports, hit the power-on button and, after the approximate
60 seconds the iBook takes to boot up, you'll be ready to
During the initial startup, you will be encouraged,
forcefully encouraged, to register your new Macintosh with
Apple. If you want to use the setup assistants that guide
you through the process of getting your iBook ready for networking
and accessing the Internet, but don't want to be forced to
register your machine immediately, hit the command key and
the "Q" key at the same time. This will quit the
automatic registration program and bring you to the desktop.
(You can always activate registration later using the program
found in your Apple Extras folder),
The Mac OS, Internet and Airport assistant applications
can be found in Applications:Utilites:Assistance Folder. They
are very helpful for configuring your new machine and should
definitely be used by the novice.
Adding an Airport wireless network card to the
iBook is a breeze, compared to the onerous procedure of adding
one to the G4 PowerBook. The PowerBook requires the complete
removal of the back of the PowerBook. On the iBook all you
need to do is remove the keyboard (literally a snap ... two
snaps actually), and the Airport slot is revealed. Connect
the iBook's built in Airport antenna lead to the Airport card,
slip the card into its slot, batten it down, replace the keyboard,
and you are ready to roam where you will - provided it is
within 150 feet of either a Airport Base Station or another
Macintosh acting as a Base Station.
Installing additional RAM is a little more involved,
but again is fairly easy to do. The iBook's single RAM slot,
is found directly under the Airport card housing. You will
use the same steps as with installing an Airport card, but
will need to remove the Airport card housing by undoing two
screws to get to the RAM slot. (I think we really need to
get away from using screws as fasteners inside computers,
they can fall down and easily get lost in the innards.) RAM
is installed in the same manner that has become the norm for
Apple computers, at an angle and then pressed into place.
You'll find, in box with the iBook, two pamphlets.
One gives you the rudimentary basics of the software that
is installed on the laptop and explains how to installed extra
RAM or an Airport card. The other document covers OS X, scratching
a little deeper but again nothing in depth. Someone wanting
to know more about all the capabilities of the iBook should
pick up one of the many, more comprehensive, books covering
the Macintosh platform.
Features: The new iBook's design borrows from
its big Titanium brother. It has been seriously slimmed down
from the previous iBook incarnation, 11.2" x 9.1" and just
1.35" thick! The previous iBooks measured 13.5" x 11.6" x
1.8" The new iBook has also dropped from just under 6.7 lbs
to 4.9 lbs.
The 10GB hard drive is rubber mounted, to help
withstand the jostling portables tend to go through, and to
make them somewhat resistant to the wear and tear that school
children can afflict on whatever passes through their hands
- and Apple is hoping that a lot of these iBooks get into
school children's hands.
The iBooks have the same graphics chip that
powered the previous iBook version and that also handle graphics
for the current PowerBook G4s. The screen is a bright XGA
active-matrix screen with a native resolution of 1024x768.
While the screen is still small at 12.1", the resolution
is a vast improvement over the last iBook version which has
a native resolution of 800x600. In effect you have a lot more
screen size because every thing is shrunk down. This may be
a problem for some of those with bad eyesight, but my aging
eyes had no problems. You can always adjust font size, if
reading text at the reduced size is a problem for you.
The A/V port introduced with the last iBook
is still present and allows you to connect external speakers/headphones.
You can also use this port to send out composite video to
the TV, for example, if you purchase an optional A/V cable
from Apple. Apple has added support for RGB monitors to the
iBook with a special port and cable that comes with the iBook.
However the iBook's RAGE Mobility graphics chip supports video
mirroring only, not dual monitors.
Like the previous iBooks, the current version
has one FireWire port, a 56K V.90 modem, 11Mbps AirPort slot
and 10/100 BASE-T Ethernet. However, Apple has added one USB
port, bringing the total up to 2.
The iBook continues to use IBM's 750CX processor
(an enhanced G3), which doesn't have an external L2 cache,
but an on- chip cache of 256K, running at full processor speed
- which is 500MHz.
The stock hard drive configuration of the iBook
is a 10GB ULTRA ATA, but you can get a 20GB one as a build-to-order
option. The iBook hard drive is also really quiet - you hardly
know it is there. In fact the iBook is almost completely silent
when in use. It has a fan, but either it did not come on,
or is just very quiet in operation - I never heard it.
All the iBooks, with the exception of the low-end
one that has the CD drive, have 128 MB of RAM soldered to
the logic board. The low-end iBook has only 64 MB. This currently
limits the low-end iBook to a maximum of 576 MB of memory.....
however, as we have seen in the past, memory chips become
denser over time and maximum limits tend to go north. The
other iBooks can currently take up to 640 MB of memory.
On the software side of things, all the iBooks
currently come with OS
9.x and OS
X pre-installed. Additional software includes: iMovie
2 - Apple's excellent consumer level video editing software,
iTunes - for downloading
and playing MP3s, CD's and Internet radio stations, AppleWorks,
Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, Netscape Communicator,
Palm Desktop, FAXstf - fax software, and the games Cro-Mag
Rally, Bugdom, and Nanosaur. If you have one of the iBooks
with CD-RW capability you will also find software that will
allow you to burn both music and data CDs. And if you have
one of the two iBooks that allow you to play DVD's, you will
find Apple's DVD Player software.
Performance: While the iBook is no slouch when
it comes to performance, it is hobbled by its small 256K cache
and slower System bus (the pathway between the processor and
main memory). Although the on-chip cache of the iBook runs
at full processor speed ( most other Macs have the backside
cache running at half of the processor speed), on most of
our tests, this did not appear to make much of a difference.
The size of the cache, and thus the ability to make more data
available at a faster speed, seems to be more of a factor,
than how much faster a smaller amount of data can be pulled
from the smaller cache chip found on the iBook. This was especially
evident in our search & replace and scroll tests which
were carried out on a large AppleWorks document.
In most of our tests the, iBook had a hard time
keeping up with the iMac G3/500MHz (FlowerPower), which has
the same on chip cache setup as the iBook, but has a faster
System bus. The PowerBook G4s, with both a faster System bus,
and 4 times the size cache, easily bested the iBook, even
though the cache on the PowerBooks runs at half the processor
As expected, in applications that take advantage
of the special processing enhancements of the G4 processor
in the PowerBooks, the iBook's G3 was just no match, and was
left far behind, eating the Titanium's dust.
In hard drive performance, and graphics tests
that didn't rely exclusively on the graphics chip, the iBook
also lagged behind its Titanium sibling. Only in the High-Quality
Quake test, which relies almost exclusively on the RAGE Mobility
graphics chip for processing and is the same chipset in both
the iBook and G4 PowerBooks, did the 500MHz iBook manage to
turn in basically the same score as the 500MHz Titanium PowerBook.
Subjectively, mousing around in the finder and
doing basic simple computing chores, I found the iBook less
fluid in performance than the PowerBooks. This is not to say
the iBook is slow, it isn't, it is just not the powerhouse
that the current PowerBooks are. But that is why you'll pay
$2,000 more for the 500MHz PowerBook.
We tested Airport performance by installing
an Airport card in the iBook and purchasing a hardware Base
Station and we set it up in another room in the building.
Internet access through our DSL connection and over wireless
Airport to the iBook from anywhere in the house, was very
good. However when sending large files files from the iBook
to another computer the Airport connection bogged down when
we were in a far off corner of the house, and the Airport
connection was weak. When we were in the same room as the
Airport base station, between 20-30 feet from it, sending
large files speeded up dramatically... up to 9 times as fast.
We decided to take Airport to the max, and went outside to
get as far away as we could from the Base Station. At 100
plus feet, we were still getting 60% of the performace of
our DSL connection.Getting good signal strengh can be a problem
inside some building as there are various things that can
sap the radio signal. Again sending a large file at this distance
to a computer inside the house was pretty slow. Still we were
very impressed with Airport.
During heavy use, many applications open, Airport
on etc, battery life yielded about 3 hours of computing time.
This was about 45 minutes less battery life than we got out
of the PowerBook G4. However the PowerBook was tested without
Airport being on, and perhaps Airport is a big drain on battery
power. In any case, if you take advantage of the many power
conservation options built into iBook, you should be able
to sustain battery life to somewhere between 4 to 5 hours.
Problems: The iBooks are great machines at a
great price but they are not perfect. As with most laptop
computers, the iBooks get pretty warm on the bottom of the
casing. But the iBook also gets pretty warm on the top as
well .... specifically under the left hand rest area. This
can be annoying, especially on hot days - I suppose if you
live in the Polar regions this might be considered a feature.
I also found the trackpad and clicker to be
too big. Together they occupied almost a 1/3 of the front
portion of the iBook, which is dedicated to the hand rest.
While I was typing, because of the cramped space, any slight
touch of the trackpad would send the insertion point careening
to some unwanted portion of the document. The solution to
was to turn off the Click and Drag functions of the trackpad
and use a mouse instead. Still I don't think that the trackpad/clicker
combo needs to be quite as large as Apple has engineered it.
I had no problem with these functions turned on, when typing
on the G4 PowerBook, but the PowerBook has much more wrist
rest real estate.
The third problem, and this is not a biggie,
was that the iBook we were testing, was slightly off balance
when the screen was open. That is, with the screen opened,
the body of the iBook rose ever so slightly from the left
front corner opposite the battery. This was hardly noticeable,
but the iBook did rock a little when lifting my hands from
and replacing my hands onto the wrist supports. The weight
of the battery in the front right-hand side kept that corner
of the iBook firmly anchored to the table. Light weight I
guess has its disadvantages.
Conclusions: The iBooks
are great little laptops. It is easy to see why Apple is having
a hard time keeping up with demand. The price/perfornace ratio
is excellent and it hard to believe that Apple packed so many
features, kept the quality of the fit and finish up to their
exacting standards and were able to bring them to market at
the price points they have. Apple's last entry level notebook
type computer was the 2400/180.
Released in mid-1997 it cost $3,500 and its performance and
features would be considered miniscule by today's standards.
The entry level iBook, packed with new features, cost $1,300
- $100 less for education buyers.
We are giving the iBook with the Combo CD-RW/DVD-ROM
drive 4 1/2. This was the unit we had for review. It gets
knocked a bit because of its higher cost. Though we did not
have the other iBook versions in hand for testing, they are
identical except for differing optical drives, and, in the
case of the low-end modle, having only 64MB of RAM. For those
on a budget we would give the iBook with the CD-ROM drive
a perfect 5. The iBook with the DVD drive would be our best
buy and also receive a prefect 5. It is very reasonably priced
and great for those on the go who want DVD movie entertainment
during the down periods. The iBooks with CD-RW capability
receive slightly lower scores, 4 1/2 each. Though reasonably
priced, they are more expensive, and if you already have CD-RW
capability on your main machine (assuming that the iBook will
not be your main machine), you need to ask yourself if you
really need portable CD burning capability.
outline the major differences in the iBook lineup and compare
it to the previous generation. For a comparison of all iBooks,
PowerBook pecifications and Features Page.We also welcome
your questions or comments on our PowerBook discussion thread
"Real World" Tests
The tests below are from our suite of real
world application tests. These tests feature a diverse
selection of applications commonly used by the Mac community.
The test suite was designed to render an accurate and well
rounded picture of a machine's performance. All of the tests
below (with the exception of the Quake III & Cinebench
2000 tests) were timed with a stopwatch. The times are then
converted to percentages relative to our base Blue & White
G3/350 machine which is set to 100%. For all scores, higher
numbers are better. Absolute scores for most tests can be
found below this section.
AppleWorks 6 Tests
Quake III Tests
These scores are relative. Actual frame rates for all machines
below this section.
Photoshop 6 & Other Data Crunching Tests