12.1" iBook G4 1.2GHz, 14.1" iBook G4 1.33GHz, 14.1" iBook G4 1.33GHz

Introduction

Apple’s update to its iBook G4 consumer Mac laptop range at first appears minor, and on closer inspection is perhaps even less eye-opening. It does, however, show that the company is squeezing back on the options you have when choosing a non-PowerBook portable.

Previously, there were five iBook options. The latest range is effectively two basic models, with a slight twist: a single 12.1-inch iBook, running at the previous top-end speed of 1.2GHz; and a souped-up 14.1-inch model at 1.33GHz that also has a SuperDrive option. That said, all models now have AirPort Extreme WiFi built-in as standard – previously a £59 option. Bluetooth can be added at purchase time for an additional £35. Disappointingly, Bluetooth can be fitted later only with a similarly priced but annoying dingly dangly dongle taking up one of the two USB slots.

Performance improved but stalling
With Motorola’s PowerPC G4 processor line virtually stalled at a top-end of 1.5GHz (available in both the 15-inch and 17-inch PowerBooks), there’s little room for manoeuvre on performance differentiation.

As expected, the new 12-inch 1.2GHz G4 iBook turned in numbers comparable to the old 14-inch 1.2GHz G4 iBook we tested back in our July issue – and the 10 per cent bump to 1.33GHz for the new 14-inch iBook nudged performance up about as much you’d anticipate.

The ever-closer similarity with the PowerBook on speed poses a problem for Apple, but the pro laptop will still win-out in many laptop users’ minds.

There’s a 9 per cent difference between the 1.33GHz PowerBook G4 and the similar speed iBook G4. That’s not enough alone to justify the £500 price difference, but the pro laptop does boast other benefits. It has a larger, widescreen display (capable of 1,280-x-854 pixels compared to the iBook’s 1,024-x-768), yet weighs a fifth of a kilo less than the consumer model.

Its 64MB of video RAM and ATI Radeon 9700 is clearly superior to the iBook’s 32MB Radeon 9200. Macworld’s tests prove that the PowerBook can muster at least a 58 per cent higher frame rate – especially important to gamers, but of significant value to other, more creative applications. DVI-based dual-display support is critical for many pro users who keep a large external display back at base – the iBook can only mirror its screen content, while the PowerBooks can spread out onto another monitor. The 15-inch PowerBook also offers Gigabit Ethernet networking, which is handy if you transfer large files around frequently, but isn’t a deal-breaker for most iBook consumers.

Don’t forget that Apple is ultra-stingy when it comes to memory. You’ll need more RAM almost immediately. Shop around for the best prices, and aim for at least 512MB – which will cost around £35 for an extra 256MB. 256MB are built-in as standard, with just one slot for you to fill – so buy big to start with.

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