Value added Macs
IntroductionApple has recently upgraded its entry-level consumer Macs – adding faster chips, improving graphics processors, and dropping prices on the iBook and eMac ranges. While the aluminium PowerBooks and flat-panel iMacs grab all the glory, there’s a heck of a lot of value in these Mac models. For many people they offer sufficient performance and capabilities at some amazing price points. iBook: consumer laptop
We've been screaming for a G4 iBook for years, and in January Apple delivered us effectively just that - in the shape of the 12-inch PowerBook G4. And the shape of the tiny PowerBook is very similar to that of the iBook. The ports are similar, and the motherboard has the same basic build. Both have 12.1-inch screens (with the option of a 14.1-inch on the iBook) with 1,024-x-768-pixel resolution, two USB and one FireWire 400 port, 10/100BaseT Ethernet, 40GB-60GB hard drives, and a maximum RAM capacity of 640MB. Both weigh a fraction over 2kg. The PowerBook earns its pro status most significantly with its G4 processor - a much spunkier performer than the iBook's G3 on applications that have been optimized for it, such as graphic-design tools, video-editors, music creators, and even iPhoto. Macworld's speed-test table on the next page demonstrates the power of the G4 over the G3: The PowerBook is nearly twice as fast at optimized work in Adobe Photoshop, and noticeably quicker at iMovie rendering and encoding MP3s in iTunes. That said, the new iBooks - with speedier 800MHz and 900MHz G3s - aren't that much slower at even the low-level optimized apps. And the difference will be negligible on the mainstay of consumer tasks: word-processing, Web browsing, email, etc. Even G4-optimized iPhoto runs perfectly smoothly on G3 Macs of this speed. The iBook is Apple's only G3 machine left in the line-up, but it's capable of running most consumer applications and even 3D games - the new iBook now boasts 32MB of video RAM on its ATI Radeon 7500 chip. The G4 PowerBook is certainly much faster, but the iBook's perky performance will satisfy most consumer-level users. In addition, the 12-inch PowerBook boasts an S-Video port for connecting to an analogue TV. To display an iBook's multimedia projects on a TV requires a £15 video adaptor or AV cable. Both iBook and 12-inch PowerBook lack a DVI port to link digitally to a LCD screen; instead relying on an analogue VGA port. The pro laptop can be connected to an external display for dual-display (desktop spread across both screens) and video-mirroring modes. The iBook, on the other hand, can mirror only its standard resolution on an external screen. The 14.1-inch iBook has a larger viewing are than the 12-inch iBook and PowerBook, but can display no more pixels - so icons and text appear larger, but no more can be displayed. The iBook also lacks the DVD-R SuperDrive option available on the PowerBook, and has earlier 11Mbps AirPort wireless technology compared to the PowerBook's 54Mbps AirPort Extreme. While made of plastic compared to the anodized aluminium of the PowerBook, the iBook is built for the knockabout arena of the schoolyard and campus common room with a tough, robust polycarbonate case. One failing of all the iBooks is lack of pre-installed memory. Both 12-inch models ship with just 128MB of RAM - the absolute bare minimum for OS X. We recommend you up this to as much as you can afford - which is a lot of memory at today's online prices. It'll cost about £100 to get it to its max at 640MB, or £55 to 384MB. visit Crucial Technology (www.crucial.com/uk) or Buffalo Technology (www.buffalo-technology.com). iBook: Macworld's buying advice
The iBook is certainly cheaper than the PowerBook (£500 at the entry-level), and so represents the best deal for people who don't require a machine for heavy-duty professional graphics programs or video editors. If you do need to use such applications, or think you might in the future, go for the G4 PowerBook. Apple has cut the price of the 12-inch PowerBooks by £100, but the improvements to the iBook make them real bargains - see the table for full details. The entry-level iBook has a CD-ROM drive, which means that you'll have to buy an external CD-RW drive (round £100) if you want to burn CDs. Its 30GB hard drive might turn out to be a little poky if you make a lot of iMovies or import all your CDs to iTunes. If you're unlikely to import hundreds of CDs, 30GB should be fine. The next model up, with DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive costs £250 more. It's worth the extra cash if you want to burn CDs and watch DVDs on your iBook. It is also faster at 900MHz, and boasts a 40GB hard drive. The 14-inch iBook has the combo drive, 900MHz G3, and 40GB hard disk, and costs £150 more than the combo 12-inch. The larger screen is nice, but displays no extra pixels. The downside, apart from the larger price-tag, is its weight (half a kilo heavier) and less-compact size. Unless you're hard of sight, we'd recommend the smaller iBook. eMac: CRT consumer desktop
Unlike the iBook, the eMac is not on a different performance level to its consumer or professional rivals. Its G4 chip, now at the landmark 1GHz level, is pretty much equal to the top-end LCD iMac. Take a look at the speed chart, and you'll see that the GHz eMac and iMac scores are nearly identical. One area that the iMac clearly beats the eMac is in our Quake III frame-rate comparison. Clearly, the iMac's NVidia GeForce4 MX graphics processor (with 64MB of video RAM) outpaces the eMac's 32MB ATI Radeon 7500. Hardcore 3D gamers should consider the iMac in this instance. The most obvious difference between these two machines is the screen. The iMac features a beautiful 15-inch or 17-inch Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) flat-panel monitor that is suspended on a strong adjustable neck. LCD screens don't have any flicker, and so are easier on the eyes if you're sat in front of the computer for long periods of time. And the iMac's adjustable screen means you can rotate it rather than your neck, shoulders and back to get the best height, depth or angle for you. The eMac has a cathode-ray tube (CRT) screen, which is bulkier and physically less flexible. As a CRT, there's some flicker - which can cause eye strain if the refresh rate is too low. The eMac, however, does high rates: 90Hz and 100Hz at 1,024-x-768 pixels, and a reasonable 75Hz at its maximum 1,280-x-960. At this resolution the eMac beats the 15-inch LCD iMac's maximum 1,024-x-768, but isn't as impressive as the 17-inch iMac's 1,440-x-900. However, there's a £450 price difference between the DVD-R GHz eMac and DVD-R GHz iMac. The hard-drive capacity is the same, at 80GB. The only specification differences are the iMac's superior video card (see above) and a pair of Apple Pro Speakers included in the top-end iMac's price. If you can afford the extra cash, the iMac does warrant serious consideration. But the new eMacs are very close in features and performance, with a sharp, albeit CRT screen. And the prices are remarkable. Like the iBooks, the eMacs lack a decent amount of memory: the CD-ROM and Combo models also pathetically equipped with 128MB. See above for advise on stocking up on memory. An extra 512MB will cost you just £50 - unless you buy it from the Apple Store, which will charge you £95 for just an extra 256MB. eMac: Macworld's buying advice
Don't think of the eMac as an ugly duckling. Sure, its shape isn't as curvy as the original G3 CRT iMac - but it's smarter, and actually takes up less desk-space despite its 17-inch CRT compared to the old iMac's 15-inch. The 17-inch G4 iMac is a real beauty, though... At the entry-level, £649 (including VAT) is a great, nay amazing, price for a 17-inch screened G4 Mac. The 800MHz chip is fast enough even for Photoshop work, and the 40GB hard drive is sufficient - unless you plan on owning (and filling) a 30GB iPod. As it ships with a CD-ROM drive, you'll have to add an external CD-RW drive if you want to burn discs. The 1GHz DVD-ROM/CD-RW eMac costs £799, and has a healthier 60GB disk. This is a far better choice for iTunes and iPod use. The SuperDrive model costs £200 more, and in addition to the DVD-R, you get an 80GB hard-drive. If iMovie is your thing this top-end eMac is the best of the CRTs. As it's so evenly matched in performance and features, your decision between eMac and iMac will come down to (1) budget and (2) how much you fall in love with the iMac's floating LCD screen. Wrestling between 1 and 2 may take some time, so get to an Apple dealer to see both in the polycarbonate flesh. Take a look at the £999 15-inch G4 iMac, as well. You might find this an acceptable compromise, if you don't mind the smaller screen. Accessorize
If you use your iBook - or any laptop - as your desktop computer as well as road-companion, you can easily add accessories to make it more ergonomic. Unless you prefer the laptop's touchpad, adding a mouse and/or an external keyboard is likely to improve your input speed, hand movement and posture. You can buy mice and keyboards from several manufacturers, including Apple (Pro Keyboard and Mouse, £46 each) and Microsoft (optical scroll-wheel mice from £20). MacAlly's Ice range of accessories work well with the all-white iBooks. The rfMouseJr is a wireless optical mouse with scroll-wheel and three buttons. Wireless mice are a great way to free the front of your desk from wire clutter, but can eat batteries at an alarming rate. Luckily, like Logitech's MX700 (£49; November 2002; /8.3) the rfMouseJr (£39: /8.0) includes a recharging dock. It isn't as large as Logitech's cordless mouse, and (like Microsoft's beige mice) will soon take on the colour of your newsprint-stained hands or syrupy sandwich fillings. It is an improvement on Apple's scroll-less one-button number, but the MX700 is sturdier and less prone to mucky pawprints. MacAlly also has a full-size IceKey keyboard (£52; /7.5). It has the same keys as Apple's Pro Keyboard, but is slightly chunkier. Again, I'm not sure that white is the greatest choice for input devices, but it looks nice next to the iBook. If you use the iBook or PowerBook's screen as your main display, it helps to angle your laptop to reduce neck strain. MacAlly's IcePad (£25.50; /7.8), pictured top, raises the laptop and slants it (at five possible angles) for more-ergonomic viewing and typing. Foldable, it's light enough to travel with you in a laptop bag. Also portable - though possibly more brittle - is MacAlly's IceStation (£16.95; /8.6), pictured bottom, which slants a laptop at almost 90°. Obviously, you can't use the laptop's input devices at this angle, so you'll need to add mouse and keyboard as described above. The portable's screen is raised to eye-level, which is good news for neck and shoulders. The IceStation also makes a nifty book/magazine stand. McAlly (www.macally.com) products are distributed in the UK by AM Micro (www.ammicro.co.uk; 01392 426 473). New super-protective laptop bags for 12-inch iBook/PowerBook and 17-inch PowerBook
Almost as soon as our roundup of PowerBook cases in Macworld's February 2003 issue, Apple unveiled new 12-inch and 17-inch models. Brenthaven won top points for its bags' protective capabilities - impressing with a padded removable inner sleeve - and now has versions of its backpack (£119; /8.5) and shoulder-case (£109; /8.6) for the new mini and maxi PowerBooks. Both cases are constructed of super-tough ballistic nylon, and have plenty of compartments and quick-access pockets for mobile phones, PDA, etc. While the 12-inch iBook and PowerBook are ideal portable companions, weighing in just over 2kg, the giant-screened 17-inch PowerBook (reviewed Macworld June 2003) may scare-off the weak-limbed at 3.1kg. A comfortable weight-bearing case is therefore essential. Even the 17-inch PowerBook feels pretty portable in the Brenthaven's special bags, which are excellent in this regard, and so offer comfort and protection: the two most important aspects a laptop case should boast. Cases available from the Apple Store (0800 039 1010); prices include VAT.