The Usefulness Equation

12" G4 iBooks and PowerBooks Are Mac Netbooks: Cheap and Powerful Enough

- 2009.02.05 - Tip Jar

The second that Apple made the announcement it was going Intel, it was only a matter of time before PowerPC was phased out.

Did I look down upon this decision? Yes, I did.

Why? Well because one of the hooks of Macs of the time was the difference in architecture. With Windows machines, it was the same bland co-op of Intel, AMD, or VIA.

With PowerPC Macs, it was a rare mixture of hardware. It could be found in far fewer machines by comparison. After some initial research, I was hooked, to say the least. So when Apple announced they were abandoning the PowerPC architecture, I was a bit disappointed.

Fast Forward a Bit

I love my MacBook and MacBook Pro. Now that they've accumulated a few past generation models, I've gained some more respect for them. Maybe the Intel switch wasn't such a bad thing after all. Additionally, OS X has maintained it's stability and gained improved abilities with the Intel Macs. It's performance really blossomed atop the dual-core Intel architecture.

I was walking down the street by my house when I spotted a man with a scraggly beard and severely needing a shower. He was holding a large sign that said, "The end of PowerPC is near."

My response was simple: "Not in the slightest, my friend."

Realistically, PowerPC is at an end in terms of updates. It's pretty solid to say that OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" will phase PowerPC out of the latest and greatest operating system builds.

But does that mean my iBook G4 won't perform well in Tiger anymore? Not in the slightest.


My iBook G4 sits next to me while I type this on my MacBook. It's happily chugging along, processing some shell scripts. It's 1.33 GHz G4 processor is no slouch. It's ability to play streaming media, stream music from any of my servers, and run multiple Terminal windows with remote connections is more than adequately suited.

My 12" iBook, in comparison to an ASUS Eee PC (a common Hackintosh itself) is not large. Although roughly 1.5 Eee PCs can fit within the iBook, it's still fairly light, and my favorite feature is it's full figured keyboard. For me, typing on the Eee PC is clumsy at best.

Xbench results, G4 iBook vs. MSI Wind netbook
A 1.33 GHz G4 holds its own against a 1.6 GHz Atom in most tests.

Just in regards to laptops (12-inchers, if we want to maintain the definition of a netbook), the G4s have officially become netbooks. There was a comparison recently done between an MSI Wind Clone and a 1.33 GHz G4 iBook (images above and below adapted from that article). The iBook held it's own in terms of daily performance and had twice the battery life compared with the netbook's standard 3-cell battery. Don't forget, however, that iBooks run much slower system buses and a previous generation of RAM.

Battery life, G4 iBook vs. MSI Wind netbook
The iBook G4 has over twice the battery life of a base netbook.

Now, for the juicy part, the part you've all been waiting for. Price comparison.

I'm using the 12" 1.33 GHz iBook as my base price point for the G4s.

  • The cheapest I could find an iBook G4 without going to eBay was $417 (1 GB RAM, 40 GB hard drive, Combo drive).
  • The cheapest I could find a 1.33 GHz PowerBook G4 without going to eBay was $579 (1.25 GB RAM, 60 GB hard drive, Combo drive).
  • The cheapest I could find a baseline MSI Wind was $435 (1.6 GHz Atom, 1 GB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, webcam, 6-cell battery, no optical drive).
  • A comparably powered ASUS Eee PC comes to $440 (1.6 GHz Atom, 1 GB RAM, 120 GB had drive, webcam, 6-cell battery, no optical drive).

The comparison is close, with the iBook and PowerBook lacking the larger hard drive and webcam available on the most modern notebooks and netbooks. However, the iBook and PowerBook have the largest screen and keyboard, almost as much battery life as the netbooks with 6-cell batteries, and come with Bluetooth. The PowerBook unfortunately goes for much more due to it's aluminum case and relative rarity.

All in all, 12" iBooks make great netbooks. They can be found for relatively cheap, are modestly powered, and well suited for the purpose. Additionally, they're very backpack friendly. And who could forget a touch-typist friendly keyboard.

They've said that the (official) end of PowerPC is approaching. I say nay, just another chapter in the legacy. LEM

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