The 'Book Page

The New 'Books

Dan Knight - 2001.10.17 - Tip Jar

Back in May, I noted in Real World Depreciation that a new computer "loses anywhere from 40% to 50% of its value the first year," yet the IRS believes they should be depreciated at 20% per year. According to my calculations, my $2,599 PowerBook G4/400 would be worth $1,500-1,600 in January 2002, not the $2,080 figure the IRS insists on. (Club Mac is currently blowing out the old TiBook 400 for $1,725.)

I went a step further and said that the real world value of my TiBook would be somewhere around $1,000 in January 2003 - a far cry from the $1,560 value IRS depreciation would claim for it.

Apple helped prove my point yesterday by releasing two new PowerBooks and a faster iBook. And we're not even going to bother asking the value question - all of these are better values than the models they replaced.

PowerBook G4/550

The computer that best proves my point is Apple's new "entry level" TiBook, which runs at 550 MHz PowerBook G4(37% faster than my G4/400), has a 20 GB hard drive (twice as large as mine), and a better graphics section for $2,199 - $400 less than the PB G4/400 sold for in January. Other improvements include gigabit ethernet and a more compact, square power adapter.

Refurbished G4/400 TiBooks had already dropped below $2,000 before release of the new model, so there's no way mine is worth anything close to the $2,080 depreciated figure the IRS believes in. With nearly nine months of daily use, I'd have to put the current value of my 'Book (not counting the memory upgrade, which has dropped in value even faster) at $1,800 tops.

But we're not here to bemoan Moore's Law or deride the IRS (well, not too much); we're looking at the new PowerBook. In typical Apple fashion, they make no mention of which G4 chip the new 'Books use, only that it has an integrated 256K L2 cache. This is in contrast to the old TiBook, which had a 1 MB level 2 cache running at half CPU speed.

What remains unknown at the moment is whether Apple using the same PowerPC 7450 CPU found in the Power Mac G4 or the lower power consumption 7440. Both include the 256K L2 cache, but I'm guessing Apple is using the latter to keep power drain down.

The next question is how the G4 inside the new TiBook compares with the G4 used in the old TiBook. It's the old tradeoff of cache size, cache speed, and CPU architecture. I'm sure sites such as Accelerate Your Mac, Bare Feats, and Macworld will provide those answers as soon as they can lay hands on the new models.

Regardless of exact performance figures, the TiBook 550 is an excellent value. It almost makes me regret buying my TiBook 400 in January.

PowerBook G4/667

While the TiBook 550 offers a nice step up from the older PowerBook G4, the TiBook 667 seems to offer more of everything: a faster bus, a faster CPU, a larger hard drive, and twice as much memory. On top of that, the AirPort card that the rest of the world pays $99 for comes free with this PowerBook.

Both TiBooks have a build-to-order (BTO) option that replaces the DVD drive with a CD-RW unit for $100. It's too bad there's no combination CD-RW/DVD drive that fits the TiBook yet, since road warriors would then be able to do backup and watch DVDs on the road. Maybe next revision....

Another BTO option is a 48 GB hard drive. Although Apple's site doesn't say so, the only drive we know of is the 5400 rpm IBM TravelStar, which is faster and quieter than the typical 4400 rpm laptop hard drives.

At $2,999 including AirPort, the TiBook 667 is an impressive value if you don't find the 550 MHz model fast enough for your needs.

iBook (600 MHz)

In our haste to post new iBook profiles yesterday, we got two things wrong. The entry-level iBook remains at 500 MHz with a 66 MHz bus, retains the $1,299 price, and now includes iBook128 MB of memory and a 15 GB hard drive. Also, Apple has not discontinued the CD-RW option for the iBook. We've updated our profiles to reflect this.

The entry-level 500 MHz iBook is essentially a revision of the old model; we want to look at the new 600 MHz iBook. Not only is the CPU faster, so is the bus. Between a 20% faster processor and a 50% faster bus, the new iBook should hold its own against the TiBook 550 for anything that doesn't use the G4's Velocity Engine.

The three iBook configurations are value-priced at $1,499 with DVD, $1,599 with CD-RW, and only $1,699 with the combination CD-RW/DVD drive. The last price represents a $100 drop from the old iBook with a Combo Drive. As we said earlier, there's no question that all the new models are better values than the ones they replaced.

The DVD and CD-RW models include a 15 GB hard drive, while the Combo Drive machine ships with 20 GB. You can build-to-order with a 15, 20, or 30 GB hard drive, and if you want to save a little money, you could get a Combo Drive iBook with a 15 GB drive and save $50. (It's too bad Apple doesn't offer the high capacity, high performance 48 GB drive with the iBook.)

As with the TiBook, Apple doesn't specify with version of the G3 is used in the new iBook. Although the previous iBook used the PowerPC 750CX, we suspect this may be the 750CXe or possibly even IBM's just-announced 750fx.

Closing Thoughts

We remain frustrated with Apple's failure to go beyond the G3 and G4 labels and specify anywhere on their site just which version of the G3 and G4 are being used inside their computers. This goes for desktops as well as portables. Although not of interest to the average user, there's no reason to withhold this information from tech savvy Mac users.

If you don't need the extra speed provided by the new models, there's no time like the present for buying a discontinued TiBook or iceBook at a bargain price. That said, I believe the new iBook provides a significantly better value than a close-out price on the old iBook, assuming you can even find one.

The TiBook 400 remains a good value at close-out prices in the sub-$1,800 range, but given the choice between roughly $2,000 for the TiBook 500 and $2,200 for the new TiBook 550, the new model is the better value.

It's a shame nobody makes a combination CD-RW/DVD drive that fits the TiBook. Give it time. Someone will eventually make one.

Although the fast, quiet 48 GB drive for the TiBook is tempting, Apple gets a $400 premium (vs. the 20 GB drive in the TiBook 550) for a drive that sells on the open market for about $350-400. Weighing the time involved to swap out drives, the small difference in price, and the potential value of the pulled 20 GB hard drive, it's pretty much a wash whether you do it yourself or have Apple install the drive. From a convenience standpoint, the build-to-order option wins hands down.

Apple has improved some excellent portables that were already good values, making them more attractive than ever. At these prices, they're not only great portable computers, but also compelling alternatives to iMacs and Power Mac G4s for anyone who might ever have a reason to use a Mac on the go.

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