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 Dr. Mac: iBook G4, PowerBook G4 Reviews

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  12-12-03 | This column originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.


iBook G4 vs. PowerBook G4: Which is Best?


By Bob LeVitus

Apple introduced the iBook G4 last October 22; since then, dozens of friends and readers have asked, “PowerBook G4 or iBook G4?

When the iBook had the older, slower G3 processor, I would reply, “it depends on what you want to do with it…” The iBook was a solid little notebook computer, but much slower than a PowerBook, and lacking several features found only in the more-expensive PowerBook line.

Today, with both the iBook and PowerBook lines sporting speedy G4 processors, things aren’t so simple and the line between the two product lines isn’t drawn as finely. For example, a 14-inch 1GHz iBook G4 costs $1,499 while a 12-inch 1GHz PowerBook costs $1,599.

Rather than compare individual models, let’s take a look at the differences between the iBook and PowerBook product lines:

First, the similarities: Both iBook and PowerBook lines have PowerPC G4 processors and DDR memory architecture. Both lines have active matrix TFT flat-panel displays, full size keyboards, and V.92 modems. But beyond that you’ll find differences both big and small.

The first big difference is the availability of Apple’s hot, DVD-burning SuperDrive. You can only get one in a PowerBook; they’re not offered in any iBook model. Which means that if you intend to use iDVD, Apple’s terrific DVD authoring solution, you’ll have to go with the PowerBook, because iDVD only runs on Macs with an internal SuperDrive.

The second big difference is in the display—PowerBook displays aren’t just physically larger, they also display more pixels. The 12-inch iBook and PowerBook and the 14-inch iBook have maximum resolutions of 1,024 x 768 pixels; the 15-inch PowerBook maxes out at 1280 x 854 and the 17-inch PowerBook delivers up to a whopping 1440 x 900. The point is: If you want more than 1024 x 768, you need a PowerBook.

The third big difference—and I have to admit, this is a big one for me—is that the iBook doesn’t support a second display. Understand that the iBook does offer VGA output, so you can connect an external display or projector. Apple even includes the little adapter cable. But the iBook external video support is limited to “mirroring,” so the external display or projector shows what’s on the built-in screen.

The PowerBook line isn’t limited to mirroring (though PowerBooks, of course, can mirror). That means you can add up to 2048 x 1536 additional pixels to your desktop by connecting an external display. Since I’m a big fan of two-display Mac systems, this one’s the deal-breaker for me. Even the 17-inch PowerBook doesn’t have enough built-in screen real estate for my tastes; the ability to use every pixel on my Cinema display with my PowerBook is crucial.

Other differences that may or may not matter to you include FireWire 800 or Gigabit Ethernet support, which are only available on (some) PowerBook models, but not the iBook line. And RAM capacity may be an issue for you—iBooks max out at 640MB; PowerBooks allow as much as 2GB.

So which do you buy? Heck if I know. I’ve had one of each—a 1.25GHz 15-inch PowerBook G4 and a 1GHz 14-inch iBook G4—here for the past month. They’re phenomenal notebook computers and I love them both to pieces.

If I had to decide between them tomorrow, I’d have to choose the PowerBook for the reasons I’ve outlined above. But the G4 iBook is incredibly sweet and aggressively priced; it may be the perfect notebook for you.

iBook G4 from $1,099
PowerBook G4 from $1,599

Bob LeVitus is a leading authority on Mac OS and the author of 41 books, including The Little iTunes Book and Mac OS X for Dummies, 2nd Edition. E-mail comments to [email protected].

Copyright © 2003 Bob LeVitus

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