iBook G4 800MHz 12-inch, iBook G4 933MHz 14-inch, iBook G4 1GHz 14-inch


At a glance, the new iBook G4 notebooks look almost identical to their predecessors, but beneath their unchanged ice-white covers, they’ve undergone a major upgrade. If you’re in the market for a mobile Mac at a bargain price, you no longer have to settle for last year’s standards. In terms of core processing and connectivity technologies, this overhaul brings the low-end laptops in line with the rest of the Mac family. Specifically, the new iBooks move up not only from the G3 processor to the G4, but also to a next-generation memory system. On the wireless front, they’re the first iBooks to support AirPort Extreme (802.11g) networking (a £79 option), as well as Bluetooth connections (a £35 option) to compatible phones, wireless keyboards and mice, and other devices. (Plan ahead if you want Bluetooth: it’s available only in built-to-order options.) While the single FireWire port is still the old FireWire 400 flavour (1394a), the two USB ports now support version 2.0 of that standard, enabling much faster data exchange with USB 2.0 external drives, cameras, card readers, and scanners. The built-in optical drives are now slot-loading; the easily damaged trays of previous iBooks are gone. And of course, the new models come with Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther). Same look, same weight The last makeover of the iBook line, back in May 2001, included a dramatic redesign: the flamboyant colours and bulky curves of the original clamshell iBook gave way to cool white and rectangular lines – the same styling later adopted for the iPod. This time, Apple’s industrial designers opted to stick with that distinctive look (See “New look”). The 2001 overhaul also resulted in iBooks that were almost two pounds lighter than the clamshell models. Unfortunately, that’s another dimension that has scarcely changed: the entry-level version, with a 12-inch display, still weighs 4.9 pounds, while the two models with 14-inch screens weigh 5.9 pounds. And the new iBooks continue to deliver excellent battery life. We couldn’t match Apple’s promise of as much as six hours per charge, but in moderate use, we got more than four and a half hours with the default Energy Saver settings. Good, better, best?
Apple is offering three iBook G4 models in retail outlets and as standard configurations at the online Apple Store. In the past, the company generally offered two models with a 12.1-inch screen and only one with a 14.1-inch display. This time it has reversed that ratio: only the entry-level, £849 model, with an 800GHz G4 and a 30GB hard drive, has a 12.1-inch screen. The other two versions, a £999 model with a 933MHz processor and a 40GB drive, and a £1,199 version with a 1GHz G4 and a 60GB drive, have the larger screen – and the extra space and weight it requires. Before you choose, remember that the larger-screen models don’t actually display any more data than their smaller-screen siblings: all three models are limited to a resolution of 1,024-x-768 pixels. The difference is in the size of the pixels. When you squeeze that many into a 12.1-inch display, they have to be pretty small, and as a result, some people – especially those with vision problems – may find small type and other fine details hard to decipher. If you’re in that category, the 14.1-inch models may be worth the extra cost and weight. If you can easily read small type – and don’t mind a slightly slower processor and smaller hard drive – you might want to opt for the 12.1-inch screen. You’ll save money and come away with a notebook that’s noticeably easier to haul around. There’s another change in the iBook line: a CD-RW/DVD-ROM (Combo) drive is now standard in all three models – even the lowest-priced option, which in the G3 generation came with a CD-ROM drive. (If ordering through Apple’s Web store, you can downgrade the 14-inch models to CD-ROM and save £80; this option isn’t currently available for the 12-inch model.) All versions come with 256MB of RAM. In one sense, that’s a welcome, if belated, step. Given today’s low RAM prices and the demands of OS X, there was no good excuse for continuing to offer 128MB as standard equipment in most configurations. The problem is that the new models have only half their memory soldered to the logic board; the other 128MB come in the form of a DIMM occupying the single RAM slot. If you want to add memory – as many users surely will – to get the most out of OS X, you have to throw away the 128MB DIMM to make way for a larger one. If ordering from Apple’s Web store, you can avoid the issue by upgrading up front to 384MB of total memory, for £40, or 640MB, for £120. Officially, 640MB is the maximum the new iBooks support, but some suppliers (such as www.transintl.com) are offering 1GB units, boosting total memory to 1,152MB. Architectural enhancements
Compared to the G3, the chip that powered all previous iBooks, the G4 processor not only runs at higher clock speeds but also adds AltiVec (also known as Velocity Engine), a special feature that speeds up some routines commonly used by graphics, multimedia, and cryptographic applications. In addition, the iBook G4’s new logic board uses a faster flavour of RAM (266MHz double data rate synchronous DRAM, also known as DDR266 or PC2100) and connects it to the processor via a faster bus (133MHz, up from 100MHz in the previous iBook generation). The net effect is a welcome speed boost over the old G3 iBooks – even though the version of the G4 chip Apple uses in the new models has only 256K of on-chip Level 2 cache, half the amount in the version of the G3 used in the previous iBooks. This speed increase ranges from modest in some operations to dramatic in others, particularly with software that uses AltiVec. In our benchmark tests, the 1GHz iBook G4 outscored the fastest previous iBook, which featured a 900MHz G3, by about 21 per cent overall. But if you look at the individual tests that score is based on, the improvement is much more substantial in some cases: rendering an iMovie and encoding a song in AAC format are 30 per cent to almost 40 per cent faster on the 1GHz G4. The iBooks are still the slowest Macs on the shelf – even the fastest model lags behind the eMac and the base iMac and PowerBook configurations, although all of those systems also have 1GHz G4s. At least the gap has narrowed, and while the speed of the new models won’t knock anyone’s socks off, they don’t feel as if they’re constantly labouring under OS X’s demands, as older and low-end G3 iBooks did.
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