With Apple launching the latest MacBook Air, I feel a bit nostalgic thinking about my favourite Mac of all times, the 12-inch PowerBook G4. Sold in multiple versions from 2003 to 2006, the smallest PowerBook ever from Apple was a feat of design and engineering, barely surpassed today.

I have one still today and I can’t help but trying it out once in a while, and when I do I always think “it’s so cute.” It’s stuck with Mac OS X 10.5 and the G4 processor is like a pocket calculator compared to the Intel processors in today’s Apple portables, but there’s no denying the PowerBook’s charm.

It’s funny but I could be walking by a coffee shop even today, and if I see a PowerBook 12-inch- yes, they are still in use- I stop and talk to the owner and we swap war stories about the computer. For some reason, that particular Mac has more emotion and sentimental value attached to it than any other I know of. Perhaps it was because, at the time it was sold, it was so much smaller than anything else that it created a cult-like following. If that’s the case, count me in, I’m a card-carrying member of that cult.


My 12-inch PowerBook has 1.25GB of RAM, which is the maximum it can have, and a PowerPC G4 running at 1.5GHz. For those who are unfamiliar with Apple’s history in processors, the PowerPC family, jointly created by IBM and Motorola, was what Apple used before they switched to Intel in 2006. It’s of an altogether different architecture than Intel’s processors so, generally speaking, software that runs on a PowerPC Mac doesn’t run on an Intel Mac and vice versa.

A hard drive of 80GB may not sounds much today but considering there’s only 128GB in the new MacBook Air the PowerBook compared favourably. Where it really bests the Air is in optical drive since it has a SuperDrive DVD-R/CD-RW. That obviously contributes to its larger size too as well as weight. Also in terms of ports, the small PowerBook delivered a lot. How about 2xUSB 2.0, Firewire 400, Ethernet, Sound-out, Microphone, Mini-DVI, and Modem? Not bad at all.

Even though the graphics in the PowerBook weren’t much to brag about, it did have a dedicated card for it, which is more than can be said for today’s MacBook Air. The display resolution of 1,024 x 768 left a lot to be desired though. All of this was packed into a small computer weighing in at 2.1kg. Apple rated the battery life as five hours, which, funnily enough, is the same as what Cupertino says about the new MacBook Air.

At the time, the PowerBook sold from $1,499, $500 more than where the MacBook Air starts off at today. Even though I’m sure I’ll fall in love with the 11.6-inch, the PowerBook has something of a mystery and charm about it, which will be hard to surpass. Perhaps in another five years or so we can return to this topic and see what we think of the 11.6-inch Air. I seriously doubt it has created the same following as the 12-inch PowerBook has.