Apple’s new laptops offer solid choices for the high and low end. Mac Advisor hed: iBook or TiPB? dek: Apple’s new laptops offer solid choices for the high and low end. by Dennis Sellers
It’s been my pleasure to test-drive both Apple’s Titanium PowerBook (TiPB) and totally revamped iBook. The former is the hands-down winner, though it should be, since it’s a lot pricier than the latter. When you compare bang for the buck, they’re pretty evenly matched. Each has its pros and cons.
If money is no object, by all means, buy the top-of-the-line TiPB. If money is the overriding concern, go with the iBook. If other factors (size, performance, etc.) figure into the equation and you’ll be using your laptop for specific tasks, you need a side-by-side comparison. That’s what I’m here for.
If screen real estate is vitally important, the TiPB can’t be beat. The TiPB’s 15.2-inch wide-format screen is tops in the industry. It sports a native wide-screen resolution of 1,152-by-768 pixels, and it snaps to other lower resolutions without a problem. It’s great for watching DVD movies; even letter-box movies fit this screen. Note that the shape of the screen does not fit all applications perfectly. Its width-to-height ratio is 3:2, compared to the more common 4:3. Unfortunately, movies reformatted to fit standard screens, some applications (such as Virtual PC), and many games don’t know what to make of this ratio. The result is black bars almost an inch thick on either side of the screen.
The iBook’s screen is nothing to sneeze at, either. It features the first 1,024-by-768 resolution 12.1-inch display in its class. That’s a vast improvement over the maximum 800-by-600 resolution of the original iBook, though it may be a strain on older or weaker eyes. You can lower the screen resolution to compensate if this is a problem. However, all lower resolutions have to be created with “pixel interpolation” (small pixels pretending to be big ones) so the results can be a bit blocky.
Power vs. economy
When it comes to sheer power, again, the TiPB takes the lead, providing a sweet balance between power, price, and portability. It comes equipped with ATI’s RAGE 128 Mobility chip, configured with 8 MB of SDRAM video memory on a 2x AGP interface (the same configuration as previous Apple portables). PowerBooks generally render 3D graphics in games slower than their desktop counterparts, resulting in lower frame rates. But as laptops go, the TiPB is a great game system.
Though it can’t measure up to the TiPB in sheer performance, the iBook has more graphics oomph than you’d expect. It has the same 8MB of SDRAM video memory as the TiPB. Unlike its ancestors, the new iBook offers RGB video out, which lets you use a special monitor-cable adapter to drive an external monitor, though the monitor has to mirror what’s on the iBook screen. And like its ancestors, the new iBook can output composite video through a different adapter cable.
The iBook runs at 500MHz like the TiPB. However, it uses a G3 chip instead of the Titanium PowerBook’s newer G4. Admittedly, for most everyday chores, many users won’t notice the difference. The consumer portable has a 66MHz system bus compared to the TiPB’s 100MHz–though, again, this will make little difference to some users.
What will make a difference to just about all users, at least in the long run, is the iBook’s teeny hard drive. The standard 10GB hard drive is just too darn small for avid music or video collectors, and it’ll cost you an extra $200 to move up to a 20GB hard drive. Also, the entry-level iBook comes with a paltry 64MB of RAM, the bare minimum you’ll need for most real-world usage. Upgrading here is essential, and it will cost you.
Because of its smaller screen and tamer motherboard, one battery will make the iBook run longer than the TiPB (presuming the same tasks are performed), which makes it the preferred choice for users who spend more time running business applications unplugged.
The TiPB’s built-in stereo speakers are nothing to write home about, but the tinny sounding ones on the iBook are worse. Whichever portable you choose, invest in a nice set of headphones. With good headphones, the sound quality on both the iBook and TiPB will rival that of a home stereo.
The iBook also lacks a PC-card slot, something its big brother has. The TiPB sports a single Type I/Type II PC Card and a CardBus slot with an eject button. This gives the Titanium PowerBook the edge in expandability.
Another surprising area in which the pro machine beats the consumer portable is that you can add a handle to it. Previous incarnations of the iBook sported a very convenient handle for easy transport. The new model has abandoned the handle, and Apple doesn’t include a bag. And while the PowerBook has never come with a handle, a third party, Cyber3, now offers a nifty Tile ‘N Tote handle that can be easily installed on a TiPB.
Otherwise, when it comes to life on the road, the iBook gets the nod. It’s much thinner and lighter than the original iBook. Its pearly white polycarbonate case isn’t as slim at 1.35 inches as the inch-thick TiPB, but is smaller overall. It’s also slightly lighter: 4.9 pounds compared to the 5.3 pounds of the TiPB.
Both Apple laptops seem pretty durable, though both have cases that show scratches and fingerprints easily. The TiPB has a covering that pivots to cover the various ports (USB, FireWire, modem, Ethernet, etc.) and it can be broken off in a moment of carelessness. The iBook has no such cover; its ports are there for all the world to see.
While I like this design, others have complained that all the ports and connectors are on the side of the iBook, meaning that power line and modem cable can’t easily be kept out of sight. However, according to Apple, the laptop had to be designed that way because the bottom of the screen drops down when it’s opened into the area where cables would normally be connected. This is also the reason why it may be impractical, if not impossible, for third parties to make an attachable handle for the iBook.
Another advantage the iBook has when it comes to portability is that it doesn’t get as hot. The G4 processor puts out a lot of heat–more than the iBook’s G3 chip–so the bottom of the case can get pretty warm. And titanium is a better heat conductor than polycarbonate, so the G4’s heat is more readily apparent on the TiPB.
The iBook also offers a couple of surprising advantages over the TiPB. The latter doesn’t come in a configuration with a CD-RW drive, while the iBook does. In fact, it comes in “flavors” that include a combo DVD and CD-RW drive, although by the time you read this, Apple could have added new PowerBook configurations.
With the high-end iBook model packing a drive that can play DVDs and read and write CDs, Apple is offering a high-end feature at a very competitive price. The iBook’s drives are of the old “pop-out” design while the TiPB has a slot-loading design. While the latter is more impressive, there have been reports of CDs and DVDs getting stuck in the drives, most likely due to the ultra-slim design of the TiPB. That’s not a concern with the iBook.
Also, the iBook has what seems to be a sturdier, more solid keyboard. The TiPB keyboard tends to flex a bit, especially when keys in the middle are struck. Neither keyboard has a forward-delete key, something I sorely miss as a writer.
There have been some concerns about memory upgrade issues on the new iBook. Some erroneous reports have stated that you can’t take advantage of a 512MB upgrade because the technical specifications outlined on Apple’s help files and Web site are inconsistent with the actual requirements. However, Ted Landau, founder and director of content for MacFixIt.com, the respected site for help with Mac technical issues, said that a 512 MB RAM upgrade should work fine if you get one from a reliable dealer.
Both the consumer and high-end models share some of the small drawbacks. Both have fixed (not swappable) drives. To me, that’s no problem, with the proliferation of USB and FireWire plug-and-play products. But some folks miss it.
Neither the TiPB nor the iBook lives up to Apple’s claim of five hours of battery life. Slightly under four hours is about the best you can expect, though watching your average DVD movie will put quickly put the kibosh on a battery. You can use the Energy Saver software to whittle 100MHz off of the processor speed, which will add a few extra minutes of battery life.
Here’s a good general guideline for buying an Apple portable: Buy the Titanium PowerBook if you use a laptop as your main computer, if you build Web pages, or if you edit video. You’ll appreciate the bigger screen and faster processor. It’s also the best for running Mac OS X and playing high-end computer games.
If you use your laptop mainly as an occasional supplement to a desktop model, the iBook will work just fine, especially if you’ll be using it mainly to write, surf the Internet, and do e-mail. It’s also adequate for computer games that don’t require top-of-the-line graphics performance. Thanks to its DVD and read/write CD drive offerings, the iBook is also a great fit for those who want to use it as a portable combination of productivity tool and entertainment center.