Mac Musings

The iBook 2004 Value Equation: Good Deals All Around

Daniel Knight - 2004.04.20

Last week Apple speed bumped the eMac from 1.0 GHz to 1.25 GHz, incorporated USB 2.0, upgraded video, and included a 4x SuperDrive while dropping the price of the top-end eMac by US$100. We called it a stunning value, a far better deal than the just-discontinued models at $100 less.

You'd think Apple would be content to rest for a while, but instead the introduced improved iBooks and PowerBooks yesterday - a total of five (or seven, depending on how you count different speeds of the same 'Book) updated models at once. The slowest Mac made today is the 1 GHz 12" iBook G4, and the fastest portable Macs are the 15" and 17" PowerBook G4 running at 1.5 GHz, the fastest speed ever for a G4 processor.

Since this is Low End Mac, we'll begin with the lower cost, lower end, consumer and education iBooks.

The iBook 2004

The new iBooks both include 256 MB of memory on the logic board, twice as much as previous models, and Apple now officially supports 1 GB memory modules (they were available for earlier iBooks, but not approved for use by Apple) so maximum RAM is now 1.25 GB, twice as much as recent iBooks.

The G4 processor itself is a better version with a 512K level 2 cache, twice as large as in last year's iBooks. And it's now possible to install a Bluetooth module inside the iBook instead of plugging one into a USB port.

The system bus remains at 133 MHz, and the new iBooks use the same ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 chipset as last year's model. The displays on both continue to display at a 1024 x 768 native resolution.

12" iBook Value

Last year's entry-level iBook ran at 800 MHz, so right off the bat we've got a 25% boost in processor speed with a 1 GHz CPU. Factor in the larger L2 cache, and the new 12" iBook should be a bit more than 25% faster than its predecessor on CPU-bound tasks.

Size, weight, and just about everything else are the same as last year's 12" iBook. The price remains at $1,099, and remaining inventory of the iBook G4/800 is selling for $100 less. With a 20% slower CPU and less motherboard RAM, a 9% difference in price seems small, and we can't recommend buying a new 800 MHz iBook G4 when compared with the 1 GHz model.

The value equation is a bit better for refurbished G4/800 iBooks, which a quick check finds selling for $849 to $929. Here the savings more than make up for the difference in speed, and factory refurbished Macs have the same warranty as new ones, so don't hesitate to buy a refurb if you don't need the higher speed of the 1 GHz iBook.

14" iBook Value

Last year's 14" iBook was available at 933 MHz and 1 GHz speeds; for 2004 Apple simplifies things by offering speeds not nearly as close together - 1.0 and 1.2 GHz. At $1,299, the 14" 1 GHz iBook G4 has the same list price as the 933 MHz model while offering 7% more CPU speed. Factor in the 512K level 2 cache, and the new 14" iBook is a bit faster yet.

The 1.2 GHz iBook G4 offers 20% more CPU speed at the same $1,499 price as last year's 1.0 GHz model.

New to the iBook line is a SuperDrive configuration, which is only available for the 14" models. The 4x SuperDrive adds $200 to the price, making the 14" iBook a remarkably affordable way to edit digital vide and then master and burn a DVD.

In terms of value, close-out prices on the 933 MHz iBook are around $1,249, and the 2003 1 GHz model is going for $1,279 to $1,349. It's a no-brainer that the new 1 GHz model at $1,299 is a better value than either. In terms of performance, the 20% faster CPU in the 1.2 GHz iBook easily justifies the $200 (a bit over 15%) difference in price, so if you need the speed, you're not paying a premium price to get it.

Looking at refurbished 14" iBooks, the 933 MHz model goes for $999, while the 1 GHz version sells for $1,149. On a strict price basis, either is a better value than a new 1 GHz 14" iBook G4, and the 933 MHz model at $150 less than the 1 GHz 2003 model stands out as quite the bargain.

iBook 2004 Value

Comparing new 2004 iBooks to close-out 2003 models, it simply makes more sense to buy the new models. Comparing features - especially CPU speed - and price, the new iBooks are the better value.

Comparing new 2004 iBooks to refurbished 2003 iBooks highlights the true value of refurbished Macs. Unless you need the speed of the 2004 models, refurbished 2003 models represent an excellent value while supplies last. On a MHz per dollar basis, the 12" G4/800 is a standout, but if you want or need the larger screen, the 14" G4/933 offers 17% more speed at an 18% difference in price. That's a great value for a large-screen iBook.

The really tough value comparison will be between the SuperDrive 14" iBooks at $1,499 and $1,699 vs. the SuperDrive 12" PowerBook G4/1.33 GHz at $1,799. With the extra processing power and aluminum case, the 12" PowerBook will be real competition for those looking for a portable video editing and burning system.

We'll take a closer look at the 12" PowerBook G4 and the other new PowerBooks tomorrow.