Mac Lab Report

A User's Comparison of the 12" iBook and 15" TiBook

- 2003.02.06

I recently received the TiBook that ordered a few weeks ago from some grant money, and I'm in the process of "switching" from OS 9 to OS X and transferring all of my files from several different computers to one. Having found carbonized equivalents for all of my OS 9 software - and native versions of most - I am now officially an "X" user and will only go back to 9 when using student computers in the classroom.

In the process, I've had a good opportunity to compare an older iBook 500 (dual USB) with the new 1 GHz TiBook.

Many people feel that Apple's product line is becoming muddied because the high-end iBook is approaching the low-end PowerBook, especially now that the PowerBook has been introduced in a "mini" version.

Clearly both machines are more than adequate for normal computing activities. In general, computer users always say get the fastest processor, the biggest drive, and the greatest amount of RAM you can afford to buy.

Obviously, a 1 GHz G4 is going to outrun a 500 MHz G3. I'm not equipped or knowledgeable enough to provide meaningful speed benchmarks for comparison between these machines. Since plenty of other sites perform such tasks, I'll concentrate on the usability and features seen between the machines.

Power supply

The new power supply for the PowerBook has a glowing ring around the plug that indicates whether or not the battery is charging. I understand this is standard on new iBooks as well. It's a real problem for those of us with the older iBooks, because when the plugs become loose - and they do - you can't tell whether or not the laptop is charging with the lid closed.

Video

The video out on the PowerBook uses a DVI connector. The video out on the iBook uses some weird little square doohickey that's less "standard" than the PowerBook's port. Luckily, the PowerBook is also equipped with an S-video out port, which worked just fine when I tested it. Both computers require an adapter to connect to a VGA monitor, which still puzzles me - Apple's dedication to proprietary and uncommonly used video ports refuses to die a peaceful death.

In any case, as many of you know, the PowerBook has "desktop extension" and "mirroring" video options, but the iBook has been crippled so that only "mirroring" is available. For whatever reason, the PowerBook has the clear advantage here.

Wireless

The iBook is the clear inner here. In my nonscientific home tests: The range is greater and the consistency of signal strength is greater for the iBook, undoubtedly because of the titanium frame on the PowerBook. Apple claims to have solved this for the new large and small aluminum PowerBooks, but it remains a problem for the TiBook.

Battery

The iBook wins. I can consistently get 3-4 hours out of a battery, even when using the AirPort wireless connection. The PowerBook seems to fizzle out after a couple of hours - three at the most if I turn off AirPort, turn off sound, and refrain from heavy hard-drive intensive activities. If you need battery longevity, get the iBook.

Temperature

The iBook wins on the bottom - it gets warm, but not uncomfortably so, like the PowerBook does. On the other hand, the PowerBook stays cool on top, where your hands are. Obviously, the iBook is more of a laptop, and the PowerBook more of a portable desktop, meant to be used on a table.

Responsiveness

OS X likes a faster processor, and it likes the G4 with its optimizations. Windows pop open quicker. The genie effect is smooth. Connections to my iDisk open faster. I imagine that would be true even if the clock speed were the same.

Sleep indicator

The iBook's sleep indicator shines through it's front edge near the lid latch. The PowerBook's indicator is a tiny LED in the rear of the lid. I like the iBook's indicator better; the LED seems kind of harsh in comparison. That's just a totally subjective impression. Both indicators do the job they're designed to do.

Scratch resistance

The iBook is plastic on the outside, painted white on the interior. Both computers have painted areas that can be scratched. I haven't had the TiBook long enough to scratch it up a lot, but it just seems as if the iBook will be more resistant to casual scratches. I have one with some paint flaking off, and the color match to the plastic base is so close you can hardly tell. Both machines look better than any of the colorized plastic machines the PC folks put out. Even with scratches.

Sturdiness

I think the PowerBook wins here; the iBook's central dropdown hinge is clever, but when you open the lid, it almost bends as you fight the hinge. The PowerBook's lid, although thinner, seems stronger and stiffer - probably due to the metal vs. plastic construction - and it just feels more solid overall.

Sound

The PowerBook's stereo speakers sound better than the iBook's tinny speakers. No contest.

Port Access

iBook ports are on the left side, open to the world; PowerBook ports are in the rear, covered by a lid (editor's note: Apple has moved the ports to the side in the new aluminum PowerBooks). I like the left side connectors much, better because you don't have to spin or lift the machine to plug stuff in, and if you're using a portable computer, you will be plugging stuff in. If I were left-handed, I don't know if I'd feel the same way. And I have never liked covered ports since the PowerBook 145b I used years ago; the covers break.

Weight

iBooks weigh less. What more is there to say?

The iBooks and PowerBooks each have their own advantages and disadvantages. For a typical user, the iBook will be the best choice due to the many advantages it - weight, AirPort responsiveness, and battery longevity. This leaves the PowerBook in the domain of professionals for whom a single feature, such as overall speed availability of the Combo drive or screen size, is more important than everything else.

Although there are many similarities, the differences are enough that a user with a clear vision of what they need can select the one most appropriate to their needs. If anything, Apple should make more of a marketing effort to point out the differences to help clear the muddy waters for the consumer.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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