The 'Book Page

iBook, Wintel Laptops Compared

March 2, 2000 - Dan Knight - Tip Jar

One nice thing about getting PC Magazine in the mail every couple weeks: it helps me compare the Mac world with the PC world. On the high MHz front, we're taking a beating, although there's a lot more to computing than megahertz.

But Apple's ace in the hole is the iBook, one of the least expensive portable computers on the market today. This article will walk us through the Wintel laptops selling for under US$2,000 in the March 7, 2000 issue of PC Magazine and models found on those company's web sites. (Note that a lot of these specs came from company web sites, since they list minimal data in their ads - often forgetting important things like size and weight. Unless otherwise noted, these models have an 800 x 600 SVGA display.)

IBM ThinkPad i Series 1541

At $1,999, this one just squeaks into our price range. It's $200 more expensive than the iBook SE. Like the iBooks, it has 64 MB of memory, a 6 GB hard drive, a 12.1" active matrix screen, a 24x CD-ROM, and a 56k modem. Unlike any Mac, it has a 466 MHz Mobile Celeron processor. Standard software includes Windows 98 Second Edition (SE) and Office 2000.

The ThinkPad is a very attractive black machine with no touchpad. Instead it uses small pointer built into the keyboard. IBM's site notes travel weight at 7.5 pounds (vs. 6.6 pounds for the iBook), but I can't find dimensions anywhere.

Compared to the iBook SE with a 366 MHz G3 processor at $200 less, the ThinkPad 1541 takes second place.

IBM ThinkPad i Series 1421

IBM also has a less expensive line starting at $1,499. For $100 less than the iBook, you get half the memory, a bit more weight than the 1541 (7.8 pounds), and a 13" "High Performance" screen replaces the TFT active matrix display of the iBook and ThinkPad 1541. The Mobile Celeron 466 probably offers similar power to the iBook's 300 MHz G3, but 32 MB really isn't enough for Windows.

For value, I'd rate the 1421 and iBook a tie.

Gateway Solo 2150CS

The $1,599 Solo falls somewhere between the original iBook and the Revision B (64 MB RAM, 6 GB hard drive), shipping with a 12.1" active matrix display, 32 MB of memory, a 4.3 GB hard drive, a 24x CD-ROM, a 56k modem, and ATI Mobility graphics. Software is Windows 98 SE and Microsoft Works Suite, not Office.

The Solo runs a 433 MHz Celeron, which is in the same performance ballpark as the G3/300. But at the same price as the iBook, the Gateway loses out due to less memory and a smaller hard drive.

Gateway Solo 1100

This is Gateway's inexpensive laptop, selling for just $1,199! It uses a regular color screen instead of the superior active matrix screen - something common on less costly Wintel laptops. However, it does offer the same 433 MHz Celeron as the Solo 2150CS, the same 32 MB of memory, and a marginally larger 4.8 GB hard drive. Weight matches the iBook, and it's a bit smaller.

Believe me, I was surprised to find a laptop at this price. It makes me wonder if Apple could trim several hundred off the iBook's price by using a less expensive display. Then again, Apple has used dual scan passive matrix screens in the past and abandoned that technology.

The Solo 1100 looks like a lot of laptop for the money, but the Gateway site makes no mention of memory upgrade options. That's a serious problem. (Gateway does offer memory upgrades for the 2150CS.)

Fujitsu LifeBook B Series

Now here's a laptop that thinks different! The Fujitsu weighs less than half what the iBook does at about 3 pounds, has a 10.4" touch screen TFT display, and even includes a 10/100 ethernet port. I'm sure the keyboard is a bit on the cramped side, but with prices starting at $1,799 (64 MB RAM, 6.4 GB hard drive), it's an attractive alternative to the bulky Apple offerings.

The 400 MHz Celeron offers a bit less performance than the G3/300 in the iBook, but speed isn't the selling point here. If only something this small and light ran the Mac OS!

Fujitsu LifeBook E Series

From the compact to the desktop replacement - the LifeBook E Series uses a 14.1" XGA (1024 x 768) active matrix display just like the PowerBook. The least expensive configuration has a 450 MHz Celeron processor, 64 MB of memory, and 6 GB hard drive. At $1,999, it's more expensive than the iBook SE, yet it offers a larger screen, less weight (6.0 pounds), and even wireless mouse support.

Performance should be comparable to the iBook SE, yet the huge screen merits comparison with the $2,499 PowerBook (whose 400 MHz G3 would blow any 450 MHz Celeron into the weeds). I'd call it comparable in value to the iBooks.

Dell Inspiron 3800

The features are starting to sound familiar: 12.1" TFT display, 32 MB of memory, a 4.8 GB hard drive, 24x CD-ROM, RAGE Mobility video, and a 433 MHz Celeron processor. At $1,499, it costs less than the iBook and offers similar performance. But the iBook has more memory and a larger hard drive.

The iBook wins this comparison.

Compaq, Toshiba, NEC, Sony

These brands were mentioned or had ads, but didn't make the cut. None of the Compaq models were under $2,000. The NEC ad had no price or URL (what, don't they want us to visit their web site?). And although Toshiba was featured in a CDW ad, I didn't see anything approaching this price range. I didn't see the Sony Vaio in this issue.


First off, I'll admit that some of these Wintel laptops look like excellent values. If I only had $1,200 and wasn't a confirmed Mac user, that Gateway Solo 1100 would merit consideration. Still, 32 MB is just adequate for Windows 98 (or Mac OS 8.6) and it may not be expandable.

In the $1,499-1,799 range, some models offer comparable base features and similar performance with the iBook and iBook SE. The first drawback for the Mac user is Windows, but for 85-90% of buyers, that's not a big deal.

However, the iBooks have standard features you don't always find in Wintel laptops: incredible battery life (another thing you'd be hard pressed to find in Wintel ads or web sites), 10/100 ethernet, AppleWorks (which pretty much killed Microsoft Works on the Mac), and even a choice of colors. Then there's the iBook's trump card: AirPort. Add a $100 card that fits inside the computer, which already has an antenna, instead of spending twice that for a PC Card.

The Fujitsu LifeBooks are the only interesting alternatives to the iBooks: the B Series because of its small size, light weight, and touch screen, and the E Series for offering a 14.1" TFT display at under $2,000.

When all is said and done, thanks to the recent boost in memory and drive size, along with the addition of a faster model, the iBooks holds their own against Wintel laptops in the $1,499 to $1,799 price range.

Still, I'd love to see Apple offer something like the LifeBook B Series. Just imagine a PowerBook Lite with a touch screen, tiny footprint, and weighing just three pounds.

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