Tools of the Trade

Dan Knight's TiBook

Dan Knight - December 2001

When I saw Steve Jobs unveil the titanium-clad PowerBook G4 at the January Macworld Expo, it seemed to be practically everything I could have wanted in a PowerBook. I'd kinda hoped for a 1280 x 960 display and knew that the 1024 x 768 display on recent PowerBooks (WallStreet, Lombard, and Pismo) just wouldn't cut it for someone used to using a 19" monitor at 1280 x 1024.

It wasn't until I got to the Apple section of the floor that I learned the resolution of the TiBook's "megawide" display - 1152 x 768. A bit less than I was used to, but enough more than the earlier 'Books. When I got home I set my resolution to 1152 x 870 and quickly became comfortable with it. I told my dealer I wanted one, and it looked like the wait could be 2-3 months.

At the time, I was using a SuperMac S900, a model discontinued in June 1998 when Apple failed to renew Umax's clone license. The S900 was a big, expandable, loud computer. I'd upgraded the CPU and had a 333 MHz G3, had well over 100 MB of RAM, installed a 15 GB IDE hard drive and controller card, replaced the ixMicro Twin Turbo card with an ixMicro Ultimate Rez, dropped in USB and an ixTV card, and was pretty satisfied with performance. But I had agreed with Charles Moore for some time that portables are the logical computers for most users. Apple just hadn't created the right one for me - yet.

Then came the TiBook. My dealer called on January 31, the day their first shipment arrived. I picked mine up, becoming one of the first PowerBook G4 users on the Mac Web. For the first week I posted daily updates about my experiences with the new computer, the new OS (9.1), static electricity, heat buildup, etc. I was very impressed with my new tool.

I bought the "entry-level" 400 MHz model, since that was faster than my current computer at home and as fast as the one I used at work. I figured 400 MHz was plenty of performance; I have no regrets at saving the $900 difference between this model and the 500 MHz one. I still find 400 MHz plenty fast for my purposes.

Memory was getting cheap, so I picked up a pair of 256 MB modules at about $75-80 each. That was cheap in February, although not by today's standards. I turned off virtual memory, making Quicksilver (as I christened my TiBook) even faster.

Configuring Quicksilver

As I've recommended doing for years, I partitioned the 10 GB hard drive into a 7+ GB primary partition (which still has 1.4 GB free), a 2 GB emergency partition (big enough for adding OS X at some point), a 36 MB partition for browser caches, and a 256 MB partition for backing up my Web files.

I installed the OS on both the primary and emergency partitions, making it easy to boot from the emergency partition or copy damaged system files when problems arise. I also bought AppleCare, which provided me with a copy of TechTool Pro. Between that and an updated version of Disk Warrior, I was pretty well covered on the emergency utilities front.


I used Clean-Install Assistant to help me integrate the system utilities and preferences from my SuperMac on my TiBook. This is an absolute must program if you ever migrate to a new Mac.

I have all my favorite essential utilities installed: Default Folder, Copy Agent, SmoothType, iMacolor, MenuChoice, and PopChar Lite (alas, no longer available). I moved over all my favorite fonts and disabled Apple's font smoothing so SmoothType could do its thing. I've also purchased QuicKeys 5.0, a phenomenally powerful utility I became addicted to years ago.

I'm still using almost all of the applications I've had for years: Claris Emailer 2, Claris Home Page 3, FileMaker Pro 3, Microsoft Word 5.1a, Photoshop 4, Mizer (discontinued), BBEdit Lite 4.6. I do have a more recent version of GraphicConverter, but probably not the latest one. For compatibility with my wife's iBook, I do have AppleWorks 6 installed, and I'm also using Internet Explorer 5.1 and the most recent version of iCab, as well as a fairly recent edition of TextSoap. The only new application is MYOB Account Edge, which my wife and I each use for our businesses.

Believe it or not, I use almost every single one of these programs almost every day, with the exceptions of FileMaker and Word.

Oh, and one more: ramBunctious, an incredibly versatile and quick RAM Disk program that can mirror changes to a disk image on the fly, at specified intervals, or at shut down. I keep all my active Web pages on a 128 MB RAM disk for lightning fast access.

I recently picked up Norton SystemWorks 1.0, which includes Norton Utilities 6.0 and Norton Antivirus 7.0. Needless to say, NAV didn't find a single virus on my TiBook, but I do have it scanning just to play it safe. I ran NU 6.0 for the first time earlier this week, found the usual complement of "minor" problems, fixed them all, and then ran Speed Disk, defragmenting my hard drive for the first time since I got my computer in January. It took forever, but everything runs better than ever now.

Other Hardware

The TiBook has an AirPort card for Internet access at the Macworld Expo - one of those great perks they began putting in the press room this past year.

Because the TiBook can get pretty darn hot, I always run it on a Podium CoolPad, which also raises the back about 1/2" to create ventilation and a better typing angle. (Ergonomic purists may wince, but it works for me.)

To the right of Quicksilver is a Contour Unipad, a large mousepad with a gel wrist rest. On the Unipad is a Contour MiniPro optical USB mouse. I used to love the old full-sized Contour UniMouse, but the ball would get dirty, tracking would stick, and using it just grew frustrating over time - which is true of every ball-based mouse I've ever used. I'm now so comfortable with the small MiniPro that I wouldn't want to go back to a full-sized mouse.

I have an Epson Stylus Photo 870 on the TiBook's second USB port, and a Formac FireWire CD-RW drive on the FireWire port. We have an ethernet network so my wife, the kids, and I can all share the HP LaserJet 2100TN as well as Internet access via cable modem.

My other accessory is a Willow NL-11 case that holds the computer, power supply, several Willow NL-11 caseCDs or DVDs, the mouse and mousepad, and even the Podium CoolPad. It's a very nice case that protects the equipment, tilts the TiBook to help prevent overheating, and actually lets you compute with the case open on your lap. Very nice.

I would like to get one of those USB lights for computing in the dark.

Looking Back

The first Mac I used was a Plus. So was the first one I owned. It was comfortable under System 6, but grew sluggish with System 7. A 16 MHz Brainstorm upgrade solved that, and it's still a nice computer. I used it from early 1990 or '91 until June 1993, when I sold it and bought a Centris 610. The 20 MHz 68LC040 seemed incredibly fast compared to my boosted Plus and the IIci I used at work.

That computer lasted five years, to be replaced by a SuperMac J700, which evolved into the S900 mentioned above. Along the way I went from an 8 MHz 68000 to 16 MHz, then to a 20 MHz LC040, then a 180 MHz 604e, subsequently replaced by a 250 MHz G3 and then a 333 MHz one. Now I'm happy as a clam with a 400 MHz G4.

Looking Forward

When I bought the TiBook, I planned on getting three years of use out of it. I bought AppleCare, and I want to get the full three years out of that, too. I already have 512 MB of memory, of which I've dedicated 128 MB to a RAM disk and still never seem to run out of memory despite running up to a dozen programs at a time.

I do anticipate going OS X sometime in 2002, but I'm in no hurry. Getting rid of the OS 9 lockups and crashes will be nice, but at this point little that I use besides AppleWorks, iCab, Internet Explorer, and GraphicConverter is X-ready. But as OS X improves, so does the classic environment. To gain X's stability and only have to reboot the classic environment now and then may make the change worthwhile, but I'm still holding out for a better reason to spend $129.

In less than a year Apple has replaced my entry-level 400 MHz PowerBook with a 550 MHz model, made the combo drive standard, doubled the standard RAM, and still reduced the price. In two years, Moore's Law anticipates a 1.4-1.6 GHz entry-level PowerBook - and that could be conservative, considering the rumors that 1.2-1.6 GHz G5 chips are just around the corner.

But my TiBook suits me - it's already low-end, runs plenty fast for my purposes, and has a great screen. A combo drive would be nice, but it's far from necessary. I don't anticipate needing more than 512 MB of RAM, although I may eventually replace the 10 GB hard drive with a faster, higher capacity unit. No rush, though.

In short, my 400 MHz PowerBook G4 is the right tool for my work, and I have it customized to work just the way I like it. That complacency means I'm not rushing into OS X, let alone a newer, faster PowerBook - and that doesn't bother me in the least.

Late 2002 Update

A couple months ago, I replaced the stock 10 GB hard drive with a faster, larger hard drive - a 5400 rpm 20 GB IBM Travelstar - mostly so I'd have room for Mac OS X. The drive has two partitions: 4 GB for my design work and 16 GB for everything else. At this point, about half that space remains free.

I am using OS X 10.1.5 a few times a week - mostly for iTunes 3 (much nicer than 2 thanks to playlists). Some things about Claris Home Page, the WYSIWYG HTML editor I work in constantly, are very sluggish in classic mode, so I still find OS 9 far more efficient for my day-to-day work.

I no longer use a RAM disk, because ramBunctious didn't work properly in OS X when I first made the transition. With the faster hard drive and its larger buffer, giving up the RAM disk wasn't much of a loss.

I have added the Logitech Cordless Elite Duo keyboard and mouse to my setup and really love typing on this keyboard and having a wireless mouse. Tip: I use rechargeable NiMH batteries in the mouse, which saves the expense of buying new batteries every 2 weeks or so.

And I'm still essentially happy with my 400 MHz G4. The larger screen of this year's TiBooks is something I'll get when I replace this computer in another year or so. More speed and the ability to burn CDs without an external drive will be nice, but except for Home Page in classic mode, I'm very happy with the performance of this computer. LEM

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