All Macs In-Depth Tests
Fun, Sleek & Practical - A Review Of The G3 iBooks, With New Performance Numbers

by David Engstrom

8-3-01
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 combination drive

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 CD-RW/DVD-ROM
  • 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 resolution)
  • 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
  • Current Price
Notes:

iBook Upgrade & Troubleshooting
Discussion Forum

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 roll.

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 speed.

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.

Below, we outline the major differences in the iBook lineup and compare it to the previous generation. For a comparison of all iBooks, visit our PowerBook pecifications and Features Page.We also welcome your questions or comments on our PowerBook discussion thread below.

Machine: iBook G3/500/500/256K With Combo DVD/CD-RW drive
MSRP: $1,799 - Check current prices & bundles
Rating: (5 possible)

Hits: Excellent price/performance ratio, sturdy, high screen resolution, great styling, easy to upgrade to wireless networking

Misses: Performance hobbled by small L2 cache and 66MHz System bus, trackpad touchy, could use more installed RAM, limited expansion
ZoneBench Score: 98.8
The ZoneBench score above represents an average of all of the scores below as well as a few other unpublished tests. The ZoneBench base score is based on a Blue & White G3/350 which receives a score of 100

"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.

Finder Tests

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Encoding/Decoding Tests