The Practical Mac

The Value of a Refurbished iBook with Jaguar

A 'Best of the Practical Mac' Column

- 2003.01.21 - Tip Jar

I made up my mind and moved full speed ahead toward my goal. I wanted to trade up from the trusty 'ol iBook/466. The 466 was still doing its job and doing it well, but the 10 GB hard drive was getting a little cramped, and the maximum screen resolution of 800 x 600 was no longer suitable for some essential tasks I needed to perform (to wit, running Civilization III).

I decided that the quickest and most affordable solution would be to put the old iBook on eBay and purchase a $799 refurbished iBook from the Apple online store.

I copied all the files I wanted to keep from the old iBook to my tangerine iMac (which I had previously upgraded with a 40 GB hard drive), reformatted the iBook's drive, and installed a fresh copy of OS X 10.1.5.

As an aside, I highly recommend you do this anytime you are selling a computer. I heard a story on NPR last week where a reporter had gone to several computer shops and bought used computers and hard drives. Over 50% of them had sensitive and/or personal data still on the hard drive. He even found one hard drive that had been taken out of an ATM and had all its information intact!

When you sell that old Mac, zap the hard drive and reinstall the OS. Merely erasing your personal information won't cut it. Besides that, there is a very real risk you will miss something - not necessarily from carelessness, but from the fact that many programs squirrel away data in out-of-the-way places and don't necessarily tell you what those are.

However, I should point out that while a format and reinstall will make your data unrecoverable from 99% of people who might purchase it, this method is still not foolproof. There are advanced tools and techniques that can be used to recover data even from a reformatted hard drive. If you have really sensitive data on your hard drive, there are products available that will erase all data on your drive so that it cannot be recovered.

Once I had the iBook ready, I took a digital photo, listed it on eBay, and waited for bids. I did not have to wait long. Within 48 hours, someone used "Buy It Now" to purchase my iBook for $799 + shipping. After receiving payment, I shipped out the iBook to its happy new owner. Armed with my $799 (less eBay and PayPal's cut) I was ready to upgrade my computing experience with a new iBook.

The Apple online store had the following refurbished iBook for $799 (and as of press time, they still do):

  • 600 MHz PowerPC G3
  • 512 KB L2 cache
  • 128 MB SDRAM memory
  • 20 GB Ultra ATA drive
  • ATI Mobility Radeon w/16 MB VRAM
  • CD-ROM
  • Built-in 56K v.90 modem
  • 2 USB ports
  • 1 FireWire port
  • 10/100 built-in ethernet
  • Built-in microphone and speakers
  • 100 MHz bus
  • VGA and composite video out
  • AirPort ready
  • Mac OS X + Jaguar upgrade

As quickly as I could click the "Buy" button, the iBook was mine! It arrived in about 4 days (free shipping even!). That was about a month ago. Having used it now for 30 days, I offer the following observations to assist any of our readers considering a related purchase:

  • The main difference between this iBook and the new one selling for $999 is the fact that this one has a 600 MHz G3 processor and the new one a 700 MHz G3.
  • Immediately after I purchased my iBook, I went to Other World Computing and bought an additional 256 MB of RAM. Including shipping, it set me back about $40. Don't even consider running Jaguar with less than 256 MB of RAM. The 384 MB that my iBook now has runs it very well. An upgrade to the maximum 640 MB of RAM is quite expensive, as the additional 512 MB RAM module costs a lot more than just twice what a 256 MB chip does. The iBook comes with 128 MB of RAM soldered on the board, so expansion is limited to one SDRAM slot.
  • Another note on RAM: My wife's PowerBook G4 has 384 MB of RAM. The other day, the 256 MB chip went bad, and I had to take it out. While we were waiting for a replacement, she had to continue using the PB. Running OS X (10.1.5) on the minimum required 128 MB of RAM was dog-slow. She termed it "painful" and "unacceptable." It ran more like a PowerBook 5300 (although thankfully it did not burst into flames). Remember the one universal truth: Buy all the RAM you can afford!
  • This iBook is extremely fast compared to the 466 MHz "clamshell" model it replaced. There are several factors contributing to this. The processor is obviously faster, but the addition of a mere 134 MHz of processing power is not solely responsible for the speed increase. The new iBook has a 100 MHz bus vs. 66 MHz for the old one. I believe Jaguar itself (vs. 10.1.5) helps the speed a lot as well. My suspicions about Jaguar were confirmed when I upgraded my tangerine iMac to Jaguar without upgrading anything else - the speed increased markedly. I did not time the bootup before I upgraded, but a subjective estimate is that Jaguar-equipped Macs boot in about half the time of the same Mac with a previous version of OS X. At any rate, suffice to say I was pleasantly surprised at the performance of my new iBook.
  • I bought the iBook/466 just under two years ago for $999, new. I added 256 MB of RAM to it at a cost of about $45. I sold it for $799. This is another advantage of owning Macs. No Windows PC is in the same ballpark with a Mac when it comes to holding its value. A friend of mine bought a new Dell laptop for $2,200. Six months later, the same laptop was selling new for $1,199. So what would his notebook have brought on the used market? Around $900. That is a decrease in value of almost 60% in six months. I was able to get a new (for all practical purposes - the refurb units carry the same warranty as new ones) iBook for a net cost of around $100, including the RAM upgrade, the PayPal and eBay fees, and tax. Try that with a PC.
  • I really like the size of the iBook. It could almost be classified as a subnotebook. The iBook/466 barely fit in a notebook bag due to its clamshell design. That was somewhat mitigated due to the 466's built-in carrying handle. But if you needed to carry a power cord or any peripherals, you pretty much had to take a bag along.
  • Apple claims up to five hours battery life. This is obviously greatly dependent upon how you are using the iBook. For instance, if you play MP3 CDs, you can expect much lower life. In my use, I have not gotten five hours out of the battery, but I have gone over four hours on more than one occasion. That is good by any standard. I don't have any hard evidence to back it up, but it appears to me that Jaguar does a better job of managing power consumption on portables than previous incarnations of OS X.
  • This iBook has the minimum amount of video RAM (16 MB) to support Quartz Extreme. Although 32 MB would be desirable, and Apple even says that "full functionality" of QE requires 32 MB, just having a video adapter and sufficient RAM to allow QE to kick in probably contributes to the speed increase as well. Quartz Extreme, in a nutshell, allows video data to be offloaded to the video hardware in raw form, where it is processed for display by the video processor. This frees the main processor for other functions. This is a great feature of Jaguar. If you plan on running Jaguar, I would not recommend buying a Mac that does not support Quartz Extreme.

Conclusion

Rarely have I been as satisfied with a purchase as I have with this one. A new iBook for $799 is an unbelievable deal. Even though this unit was refurbished, when I buy a Mac direct from Apple and it comes with the same software and warranty as a new unit, I consider it as good as new. Throw in the $200 savings compared to a new one, and it really becomes a deal!

I have installed some Mac-specific voice dictation software that I am trying out and will review in an upcoming article. The 20 GB hard drive gave me plenty of room to do this, and even though the manufacturer says the program runs better on a G4, I am getting acceptable performance from the G3.

If you are shopping for an iBook and don't feel constrained by having an optical drive that is only a CD-ROM, I highly recommend this iBook. Even if you are not able to get a refurb unit, the new 700 MHz iBook is an equally good value at $999. LEM

See our Week's Best iBook Deals for this and other iBook bargains.

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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