Low End Mac’s Compleat* Guide to the Dual USB iBook G3

When Steve Jobs introduced the white dual-USB iBook in May 2001, he described it as “amazing”. I had to agree. In the context of the time, it was amazing that they were able to pack all that good PowerBook stuff into a package with about one-third less volume than the PowerBooks 5300 and 1400 – and sell it for US$999.

12" Dual USB iBook G3This machine had an almost full slate of PowerBook bells and whistles: Apple upgraded the 12.1″ display from the clamshell iBook’s 800 x 600 pixel (Super VGA) resolution to the then-recent PowerBook standard of 1024 x 768 (XGA).

The Dual USB iBook was one of Apple’s longest production laptop form factors, being built in two physical sizes (12″ and 14″) and a variety of CPU clock speeds and equipment specifications in both G3 and G4 versions. By my count there were at least 17 different models, and that only takes into account clock speed/bus speed/screen size variations. If you factor in optical drive variants, the number jumps to well over two dozen.

If this is confusing to me, as one who has closely followed and written about each new model development, it has to be almost inscrutable for the average user shopping for a used iBook. And then of course there are the original clamshell iBooks, which we have addressed in its own Compleat Guide.

In this Compleat Guide, we will address the Dual USB G3 models. First, an overview of the various configurations:

iBook 500 MHz (May 2001)

12.1″ 1024 x 768 display, 500 MHz G3e PPC 750cx processor, 66 MHz system bus, 10 GB hard drive, 64 MB or 128 MB RAM soldered to motherboard and upgradeable to 576 MB or 640 MB, ATI Rage Mobility 128 graphics accelerator with 8 MB VRAM and AGP 2x support for 3D graphics, choice of CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, CD-RW, or Combo (CD-RW/DVD-ROM) optical drives. There is a reset button to the upper right of the sound out port.

iBook 500 MHz Late 2001 (October 2001)

Base CD-ROM model continued with few changes except for a larger, 15 MB hard drive and a new, smaller AC power adapter.

iBook 600 MHz Late 2001 (October 2001)

Adopted a 100 MHz system bus, a 600 MHz G3 750cx processor with 256 KB on-chip cache, standard 128 MB of RAM, and 20 GB hard drive with the Combo drive model (30 GB optional). Plain CD-RW model dropped later in the year. Uses a Rage Mobility 128 video card with 8 MB of VRAM and AGP 2x support for 3D graphics – the same setup that the Pismo and first generation Titanium PowerBooks used; it won’t support Quartz Extreme.

iBook 12.1″ Dual USB 500/600 MHz (January 2002)

Mac OS X version 10.1.2 preinstalled as the default OS, as well as Classic Mac OS 9.2.2. Most everything else carried over from the October 2001 machines.

12" Dual USB iBook G3iBook 14″ Dual USB 500/600 MHz (January 2002)

The big news for the iBook at Macworld Expo in January 2002 was the introduction of the 14″ iBook model featuring the same 14.1″ 1024 x 768 display that had been used in the G3 PowerBooks in a larger, one pound heavier case, 256 MB RAM, 20 GB hard drive, Combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) drive. Otherwise the same as the 12.1″ models.

iBook Dual USB 600/700 MHz (May 2002)

On May 20, 2002, Apple updated the iBook with faster G3 processors at up to 700 MHz, double the on-chip level 2 cache, a powerful ATI Mobility Radeon graphics processor and larger hard drives, making them the oldest iBooks that will support Quartz Extreme. These iBooks ran up to 35% faster than previous models in CPU performance tests and featured a new video-out port that supported VGA output, as well as S-video and composite video with optional adapter. The base CD-ROM model had a 600 MHz G3 750fx processor with 512 KB of L2 onboard cache and a 100 MHz system bus plus a 20 GB hard drive. The high-end 12.1″ machine and the 14″ model got faster 700 MHz PowerPC G3 750fx processors with 512 KB of L2 onboard cache. The ATI Mobility Radeon graphics controller with 16 MB RAM and AGP 2x provides minimum support for Quartz Extreme graphics acceleration in Mac OS X 10.2 “Jaguar”. Also new was a different video connector, and the reset button was removed, replaced by holding down Ctrl-Opt-Shift-power.

iBook Dual USB 700 MHz ‘Opaque’ (November 2002)

In the November 2002 revision, Apple put a bit more distance between the base 12.1″ CD-ROM model and its pricier Combo drive siblings, giving it a pure white opaque polycarbonate plastic case instead of the “crystal” case all Dual USB iBooks had come with up to then. The Opaque model got the 700 MHz 750fx chip from the preceding high-end models and also got the ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 with 16 MB of VRAM and 2x AGP support from the previous generation Titanium PowerBooks, which provides full Quartz Extreme support at the standard 1024 x 768 screen resolution. The 700 MHz Opaque iBook came with a 20 GB hard drive.

iBook Dual USB 800 MHz (November 2002)

The November 2002 800 MHz iBook models retained the “Crystal” case, got a 100 MHz speed bump from their predecessors, retained the 16x8x24x Combo drive and 30 GB hard drive, and got ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 graphics accelerators 32 MB with VRAM and 2x AGP for full Quartz Extreme support.

iBook 800 MHz ‘Opaque’ (April 2003)

The April 2003 iBook revision bumped the base “Opaque” CD-ROM model to 800 MHz, doubled its video RAM to 32 MB on the Radeon 7500 graphics card, and increased the standard hard drive capacity to 30 GB.

iBook 900 MHz (April 2003)

The last iBook G3 revision came in April 2003, when the high-end iBooks got a 100 MHz clock speed bump to 900 MHz, making them nominally a bit faster (for non AltiVec optimized tasks) than the 12″ 867 MHz G4 PowerBook that had been introduced in January. They also got a 40 GB standard hard drive. Otherwise, specifications remained the same as the November 2002 models.

14" iBook G4That should help sort things out somewhat, although it may still be a puzzler for iBook newbies (or even not-so-newbies) to determine the precise identity of, say, a 600 MHz or 700 MHz iBook advertised on eBay or in the classifieds. Apple’s naming conventions – if you can even call them that – are horribly vague (and continue to be in the Macintel era) and seem to be deliberately perverse, or at least obfuscatory. I suppose that there is a reason, however misguided, for Apple wanting to blur and obscure the differences among its various models – a policy that afflicts both laptop and desktop lines.

It was bad enough with the four-and-a-half family variants of machines designated PowerBook G3, although the distinctions were clarified in the vernacular by popular application of the machines’ development code names: Kanga,WallStreet, PDQ, Lombard, and Pismo. This has also been done to a degree, although less popularly, with the Titanium PowerBook variants such as Mercury, Ivory, etc.

However, the iBooks never benefited from similar nicknaming. “IceBook” was used, but generically, not in reference to any particular version or configuration. The clock speed numbers are your best shot, but they are far from precisely definitive. Does an iBook 700 MHz have the old Radeon graphics card (May 2002) or the more powerful Radeon 7500 (November 2002)? The “Opaque” designation and distinctive pure white appearance of the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, and 900 MHz entry-level models help a bit, but even that is a subtle distinction for the uninitiated.

12" iBook G3How hard would it have been to give each iBook version a proper name? Too logical and sensible for Apple, I guess.

There are two different video-out ports on these iBooks, each requiring an adapter cable. The RGB output port supports VGA monitors and video mirroring but not monitor spanning. You can connect to regular monitors as well as RGB devices like projectors. However, if you want to use the AV out (Composite/RCA video) jack for connecting to a TV or VCR through an adapter cable or use your headphones in the same port (not simultaneously), you’ll have to purchase an adapter. The jack accepts a special mini-plug with an additional contact ring that carries the composite video output signal. An adapter cable with separate RCA-type connectors for stereo audio and composite video outputs is available. The RGB video output cable is included. Display resolutions supported are 640 x 480, 800 x 600, and 1024 x 768 pixels.

The iBook doesn’t have a PC Card slot or an infrared port. There is, however, a built-in omnidirectional microphone, and it has two stereo speakers instead of a mono one. Battery life under normal use is up to 6 hours.

With Dual USB iBooks, newer is better, at least speed- and performance-wise. The later a model you get, the faster it will be, and the video support will be more robust, as well as the hard drive capacity greater. The other significant considerations are optical drive configuration and screen size.

On the other hand, the original, 500 MHz units may well have been the best bet for reliability among the G3 models. However, my own 700 MHz “Opaque” iBook G3, which statistically was one of the very least reliable Dual USB models, has given no real trouble in a gazillion hours of service since I bought it five-and-a-half years ago, and currently is doing a fine job as my wife’s computer. Your mileage may vary.

12" iBook G3If you’re shopping for a used iBook, aside from the price and condition of the individual machine, a major consideration should be OS X performance (if you’re serious about running OS X). All iBooks are supported up to Mac OS X 10.4.11Tiger, and all Dual USB models shipped with OS X installed, but to provide what I consider satisfactory performance on an iBook you need at least a 700 MHz processor with a Radeon video card and 16 MB of VRAM in order to support Quartz Extreme. That means the higher-end May 2002 models or later. OS X 10.4.11 runs very nicely on my wife’s machine.

There were so many of these machines sold that it is truly a buyers’ market in used and reconditioned Dual USB iBooks, generally in the $100 (or less) to $300 range [2008], and one of these babies in good shape is a lot of computer for that much money. The Dual USB iBook always offered amazingly good performance at a great price.

12" Dual USB iBook G3Indeed, the Dual-USB G3 iBook performs surprisingly well against its early G4 successors for many tasks, with the exception of applications that are optimized to take advantage of the G4’s AltiVec engine (such as Apple’s own iApps and Photoshop). The G3 models had a higher standard of finish aesthetically, and perhaps better build quality in general. If you are not a heavy user of AltiVec-optimized software, you probably won’t miss G4 power a whole lot, and you will benefit from the G3’s lower heat-generation and lower power consumption. For other duties of the sort that many people use computers for – Web surfing, email, word processing, and spreadsheets – the old G3 still acquits itself very respectably.

There really isn’t much of a performance spread separating the 700 MHz to 900 MHz iBook that are equipped with ATI Radeon (Mobility or 7500) graphics accelerators. More significant choice issues are optical drives, hard drive capacity, and video RAM. The last G3 revisions, which bought the entry-level and higher-end iBooks to 800 MHz and 900 MHz respectively, were equipped with Radeon 7500s and 32 MB of VRAM, which in my estimation is a more important factor, at least with OS X, then the 100 MHz difference in clock speed. With 640 MB of RAM installed and the IBM Power PC 750fx chip’s good sized, speedy, L2 cache, even a 700 MHz iBook is a pretty decent performer.

Appendix: Dual USB iBook Specs

Late 12" iBook G3All Dual USB iBooks have a 1024 x 768 active-matrix display, a lithium-ion battery for up to 6 hours of work in the field, two USB 1.1 ports, one FireWire 400 port, a tappable trackpad, stereo speakers, a built-in microphone, 16-bit stereo sound, support for Apple’s original AirPort Card, 10/100 ethernet, a built-in 56k fax/modem, and support for an external VGA or composite monitor (with an adapter).

The 12″ models measure 11.2″ x 9.1″ x 1.35″ (285 x 230 x 34 mm) and weigh 4.9 pounds (2.2 kg) with battery. The 14″ iBooks are 12.7″ x 10.2″ x 1.35″ (323 x 259 x 34 mm) and weigh 5.9 pounds (2.7 kg) with battery.

Specifications are listed only when they are different from the preceding model. You can also view this data in a tabular format on Low End Mac’s Guide to G3 iBooks.

12″ iBook G3/ 500 MHz (Mid 2001)

  • 500 MHz PowerPC 750cx (G3) with 256 KB onboard cache
  • 66 MHz System Bus
  • 64 MB or 128 MB of RAM soldered to logic board
  • Maximum RAM: 576 MB or 640 MB by adding 512 MB module
  • 10 GB hard drive (20 GB optional)
  • CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, CD-RW drive, or optional Combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) drive
  • ATI Rage Mobility 128 graphics accelerator with 8 MB of SDRAM
  • VGA and composite video output

There were four separate original 500 MHz iBook models, distinguished by their RAM and removable media drive configurations:

  1. 64 MB SDRAM, 24x CD-ROM drive
  2. 128 MB SDRAM, 8x DVD-ROM drive
  3. 128 MB SDRAM, 8x4x24 CD-RW drive
  4. 128 MB SDRAM, 4x4x6x24x Combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) drive

12″ iBook G3/500 MHz (Late 2001)

  • 128 MB of RAM soldered to logic board
  • Maximum RAM: 640 MB by adding 512 MB module
  • 15 GB hard drive
  • 24x CD-ROM
  • smaller, lighter power adapter

12″ iBook G3/600 MHz (Late 2001)

  • 600 MHz PowerPC 750cx (G3) with 256 KB onboard cache
  • 100 MHz System Bus
  • 20 GB hard drive
  • 24x CD-ROM, 8x DVD-ROM, 8x4x24 CD-RW drive, or 4x4x6x24x Combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) drive

14″ iBook G3/600 MHz (Early 2002)

  • 4x4x6x24x Combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) drive

12″ iBook G3/600 MHz (Mid 2002)

  • 600 MHz PowerPC 750fx (G3) with 512 KB onboard cache
  • 24x CD-ROM
  • 20 GB hard drive
  • ATI Mobility Radeon graphics controller with 16 MB RAM and AGP 2x

12″ iBook G3/700 MHz (Mid 2002)

  • iBook ports700 MHz PowerPC 750fx (G3) with 512 KB onboard cache
  • 128 MB or 256 MB RAM
  • 20 GB or 30 GB hard drive
  • 24x CD-ROM or 4x4x6x24x Combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) drive

14″ iBook 700 MHz (Mid 2002)

  • 30 GB hard drive
  • 4x4x6x24x Combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) drive

12″ Book G3/700 MHz (Late 2002)

  • 20 GB hard drive
  • CD-ROM optical drive
  • ATI Radeon 7500 graphics controller with 16 MB RAM and AGP 2x

12″ & 14″ iBook G3/800 MHz (Late 2002)

  • 800 MHz PowerPC 750fx (G3) with 512 KB onboard cache
  • 128 MB or 256 MB RAM
  • 30 GB hard drive
  • 4x4x6x24x Combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) drive
  • ATI Radeon 7500 graphics controller with 32 MB RAM and AGP 2x

12″ iBook G3/800 MHz (Early 2003)

  • 128 MB RAM
  • 30 GB hard drive
  • CD-ROM optical drive
  • Maximum 640 MB RAM

12″ & 14″ iBook 900 MHz (Early 2003)

  • 900 MHz PowerPC 750fx (G3) with 512 KB onboard cache
  • 128 MB or 256 MB RAM
  • 40 GB hard drive
  • 4x4x6x24x Combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) drive

* No, it isn’t a typo. Compleat is a legitimate, albeit archaic, spelling for complete. As Kenneth G. Wilson says in The Columbia Guide to Standard American English: “This obsolete spelling of the adjective complete suggests an air of antiquity that seems to please some of those who name things….” We find that fitting for Low End Mac’s Compleat Guides to “obsolete” hardware and software.

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