The 'Book Page

New iBooks a Better Value?

Dan Knight - 2000.09.14 - Tip Jar

One year ago Apple began selling the original iBook. It had just adequate power, about 10% slower than the then-current iMac (Rev. C). Both the iBook and iMac shipped with 32 MB Indigo iBookof memory, had 24x CD-ROM drives, and worked well at 800 x 600 resolution.

Apple positioned the iBook as "the iMac to go," and it was. You paid a bit more for the convenience - $1,599 for the iBook vs. $1,199 for the iMac - but you gained portability and AirPort.

In comparisons to Windows laptops, we found the iBook an excellent value. And compared to the PowerBook G3 at 333 and 400 MHz, it was an exceptional value.

The New iBooks

One year later, are the new iMacs equal, better, or worse values?

Both the new iBook and new iBook Special Edition share 64 MB base memory, a 10 GB hard drive, FireWire, ATI Rage Mobility 128 with 2x AGP, a 66 MHz system bus, video output, and all the features of Lime iBookthe original iBook. Both also use the new IBM PowerPC 750CX processor, a version of the G3 that has an on-chip 256k L2 cache. (For more on the 750CX, read PowerPC 750CX.)

The second edition iBook runs at 366 MHz, just over 20% faster than the original. Exactly how that will translate into performance remains to be seen. According to IBM's benchmarks, the 366 MHz 750CX should outperform the 366 MHz G3 with 512k backside cache used in the original iBook Special Edition. We'll have to wait for someone to benchmark the new iBooks, but I suspect the new iBook will outperform the old iBook SE.

The second edition iBook SE runs at 466 MHz, nearly as fast as the 500 MHz PowerBook. Performance should be excellent, Graphite iBookalthough the PowerBook is likely to edge out the iBook SE because of a faster processor, faster system bus, and 1 MB backside cache. Like the PowerBook, the new iBook SE has a DVD-ROM drive.

The New iBook Value

Those are the features - the kind of data you'll find all over the Mac Web today. The question is value: do the new iBooks represent as good a value as the original did one year ago?

At the entry level, Apple has doubled memory, included a much larger hard drive, added FireWire and video output, and improved the video subsection. The 366 MHz 750CX (or G3e, for enhanced) will probably perform about one-third better than the old iMac's 300 MHz G3 with 512k 02.5 backside cache. All this for $1,499 - $100 less than the earlier model.

This is obviously a better value than the just-discontinued iBook, but we should also consider Moore's Law, which projects about 50% more capability every year. Doubled memory and the huge hard drive definitely go beyond that level, although processor performance may fall a bit short of that goal. FireWire and video out are icing on the cake. In the final analysis, I'd call the new iBook a slightly better value today than the original was one year ago.

The new iBook Special Edition costs just as much as the old one, which was introduced in January with a 366 MHz processor. Both Special Editions shipped with 64 MB of memory, so the new model is not a better value in that respect. However, the 10 GB hard drive in the new model is over 50% larger than the 6 GB drive in the first iBook SE, giving the value edge to the new model. In terms of CPU performance, we'll probably see the new model benchmarking about one-third faster than the old one. Considering it's only eight months since the first iBook SE shipped, that's just a bit ahead of what Moore's Law would predict.

Looking at all that, I'd judge the new iBook Special Edition a slightly better value than the old model - but we left out new features. Once you factor in video output, FireWire, and a 6x DVD-ROM drive, the new iBook SE is definitely a better value today than the older iBook SE was in January.

Should You Buy One?

Over a year ago we looked at the Mac market and decided that my wife should budget for an iBook for her business. She was used to a PowerBook 150, so the 800 x 600 screen would seen spacious, and the 300 MHz G3 would seem lightning fast. We ended up getting a spectacular deal on a PowerBook G3 (WallStreet) Special Edition, the 233 MHz one with a backside cache and the same 12.1" screen as the iBook.

For most people most of the time, especially those on the go, the iBook's 800 x 600 display is all they need. The six-hour battery life (rated a bit optimistically, but still as good as it gets) is a winner, as is the handle that makes transporting the iBook so easy. At US$1,500, I don't believe there's a better laptop value than the new iBook.

Unless you want to watch DVDs or feel the need for a graphite case, the new iBook SE offers just a bit more speed (25-30% more) at a $300 higher price tag. I think I'd like being able to watch movies, but believe investing in more memory would do more to improve overall performance with several applications open than a faster processor with only 64 MB of memory. (You can buy 256 MB of memory for the iBook for under $300.)

If I were buying a field computer, I'd consider the indigo iBook a leading contender. But if you have "road warrior" leanings - and I do - you may not want to settle for the iBook's small screen. In that case, be ready to ante up another $1,000 for the 400 MHz PowerBook or wait in hopes of something even better in January.

Of course, you could wait another year for an even better value, but just think of all the portable fun and productivity you'd miss.

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