What's the Best 'Book for My Needs: MacBook, MacBook Pro, iBook, or PowerBook?
- 2006.05.25 - Tip Jar
A few days ago I wrote an essay, Picking the Right Laptop in 2006, and in that essay I recommended an Mac for those users not forced to use Microsoft Windows for one reason or another. All of the basic advice relates to PCs as well as Macs regarding size, weight, and performance, but once the decision is made to go with a Mac, it might seem difficult to decide which one.
Where PCs tend to fit neatly into the various categories, Macs tend to blur the lines. Take the large desktop-replacement systems. In the PC world, these are huge, thick and extremely heavy.
Apple's 17" MacBook Pro and its PowerBook G4 predecessor are also huge, but they are barely an inch thick and weigh less than 7 lbs. Apple's 15" MacBook Pro and PowerBook G4 are under 6 lbs and also only an inch thick.
The recently discontinued 12" PowerBook G4 is quite tiny, about the overall size of most ultralights, but thicker at 1.2" and comparatively heavy at 4.6 lbs. The just-introduced MacBook confuses things even more, with size just begging for travel, but a 5.2 lb. weight that is heavier than the 12" PowerBook and 12" iBook it replaces.
Finally, if you really want an ultralight, you're simply out of luck, as Apple doesn't make one.
Where does this leave the Apple laptop buyer today?
Again, that depends on who you are and what you want. For the artists out there who want large screens and don't mind the bulk, the 17" MacBook Pro is quite possibly the most powerful and capable portable computer ever offered for sale (calling it a laptop is a real stretch). From the stunning screen to the powerful Core Duo processor, it just doesn't get any better than this. The fact that these machines are thin and light enough to actually move around (careful to not bang-up that humongous case) is just icing on the cake.
Want something a little more manageable but still need serious horsepower? The 15" MacBook Pro is for you. The same processors and graphics as the 17", only with a smaller, slightly lower resolution screen make for a convenient size that travels fairly well.
Both MacBook Pros also satisfy those users who absolutely must run a Windows application (or want to play Windows games) through Apple's Boot Camp beta software. With Boot Camp, not only can a MacBook Pro or regular MacBook boot Windows XP, they are actually rather fast by Windows PC standards.
Of course, if you want the beautiful aluminum casing, the slim and lightweight handling, and those gorgeous wide screens, but want to or need to save money and need neither ultimate horsepower nor the ability to run Windows, an older PowerBook may be the perfect compromise.
As an attorney, I don't do very much video editing or graphics work, but I spend a lot of time writing motions and briefs. A wide, high resolution screen really helps here, as I can look at two documents side-by-side.
While the MacBook Pro models are faster, the applications I use - mostly MS Word and Safari (Apple's browser) just don't benefit enough to make my day any easier on the newer Intel Macs than it is on the slower PowerPC Macs. For that reason, I returned the 15" MacBook Pro that I bought (the early noisy model - they are quiet now) and bought a refurbished 15" PowerBook G4. Sitting on my desk doing basic office-productivity type work, there really is no difference between the two.
Do you need something smaller? This is where things get interesting. With the large 15" and 17" models, you buy the new Intel models if you want the latest or have the money and find a leftover PowerPC model if you want a bargain or need to run an older app in Classic mode, which the Intel models don't support.
For the road warriors out there, things became a lot more difficulty last week with the introduction of the MacBook, a 13.3" widescreen laptop with a polycarbonate case like the old iBooks had.
The MacBook really is a replacement for three models: the 12" and 14" iBooks and the 12" PowerBook, though the latter is more a function of pricing than market position. At 5.2 lbs., the MacBook is heavier than the 12" iBook and 12" PowerBook, making this the first time in five years that Apple doesn't have a laptop for sale at under 5 lbs. It's also wider than either of the 12" models, though is thinner than both and runs the same (claimed) six hours on its battery.
The MacBook is a delightful computer, especially the overpriced black model ($150 premium over an identically configured white one). They are delightfully thin, and the black matte case feels even more professional than the aluminum cases on the Pro models.
The white ones, however, look and feel just like the iBooks did, which is to say they look rather cheap. Of course, at $1,100 for the white 1.83 GHz model, it is cheap, and that's a very good thing.
When shopping last year, the 12" iBook wasn't in the running for my dollars on account of its cheap looks and, more importantly, the cheap feel of the keyboard. The white MacBook, while still looking cheap, sure doesn't feel it, with a firm and solid keyboard that is a delight to type on, though a bit strange at first.
Today, I'd likely buy a white MacBook rather than spend more for the black one. Last time I spent the extra for the 12" aluminum PowerBook over the much cheaper 12" iBook.
The 13.3" screen neatly cuts the 12" and 14" iBooks in the middle, and for many users it will be more versatile than either. You get slightly more vertical resolution (800 vs. 768 pixels) and a whole lot more horizontal (1280 vs. 1024) in a format that makes DVD movies a dream.
I'd prefer to stay with a matte screen, but there are those who like the glossy and have valid reasons for their preference. Whether you prefer matte or glossy, the size is right, and as glossy screens go, this is one of the best. Colors are extremely vivid, and blacks are really black, something that conventional matte LCDs often have trouble with.
Many people, myself included, complained about the new MacBook using integrated graphics (like the Intel Mac mini does). As an iBook replacement, I have no problem at all with integrated graphics, but as a 12" PowerBook replacement, I find it disappointing. Dedicated graphics - somewhere below the mighty X1600 GPU of the MacBook Pro and above the GMA 950 used in the MacBook - would have been a great way to inexpensively add real value to the black MacBook's premium price. A black MacBook with a 64 MB or 128 MB X600 GPU would easily fetch $1,599 and make the black model more than a vanity purchase. I would have bought such a black MacBook on introduction day.
I digress, the MacBook is, in my opinion, an extremely fitting replacement for both the 12" and 14" iBooks.
Okay, I'll admit it now, I'm a 12" PowerBook fan, and I have been since that model's introduction in 2003. I've owned and used 12" PowerBooks since the 1.0 GHz Rev. B model and still do. The 12" PowerBook does everything I need it to do for productivity, with the only "feature" missing for me being the ability to use Boot Camp and play Windows games.
If the new MacBook were smaller and lighter than it is, I'd live with the integrated graphics. After all, the ancient Nvidia card on even the last 12" PowerBooks wasn't much to write home about and is likely equaled by Intel's latest and best integrated graphics.
Where the MacBook fails as a 12" PowerBook replacement is the size and weight - it's more than a half pound heavier and has an extra inch in width.
The MacBook is quite probably the best small Mac yet....
The 12" PowerBook is great on the tray table of a coach airplane seat, and the MacBook will work there as well (same height with screen open), but the extra width will crowd you a bit (not enough to matter much).
Weight is the real killer, especially when you go beyond the laptop and look at the AC adapter, which is also larger and heavier, and the batteries, which last an hour longer (claimed) but are also larger and heavier.
This is nitpicking. The MacBook is quite probably the best small Mac yet, it's just not a direct replacement for the 12" PowerBook's niche.
If you're always on the go and want the smallest and lightest Mac you can get, the 12" PowerBook is still the champ. If you're willing to carry a little more weight, you'll enjoy your DVD movies in widescreen glossy pleasure on the new MacBook.
Either way, both are outstanding portables. Just think of the MacBook as the new iBook and consider the 12" PowerBook as a dead-end.
And who knows, maybe Apple has something upcoming for us 12" PB fans.
Andrew J Fishkin, Esq, is a laptop using attorney in Los Angeles, CA.
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