posted by Assad Maseed on Wed 19th Nov 2003 17:14 UTC
IconI had been keeping a watchful eye on the developments in the Apple world ever since Steve Jobs’ revamped company revealed the first fruity iMacs in the mid-90s. Mac OS 8 and 9 never really appealed to me, and Windows ran all my games and software, so I never thought about making a switch any time soon. Then one day I met Unix for the first time in my life.

Part I: The path to Apple

The Unix I met was Linux, Red Hat Linux 6, to be precise. Learned Linux on Red Hat 6.0 for a few months, then went on to Slackware Linux and then to the BSDs and Solaris. Although I ran one flavor or derivative of Unix or the other ever since I learned Linux, my main OS had always been Windows, mainly because of games and some programs that I needed. My favorite operating system has always been FreeBSD, though. Then came Mac OS X, and I said to myself, "a BSD with the world’s most beautiful GUI, what more could I want?" Despite the urge to get a Mac with OS X, I kept on using my x86 and UltraSPARC hardware. At one time, I had 8 computers running at the same time in my small studio apartment with operating systems ranging from Windows 2000 Pro to Slackware Linux to all three free BSDs and Solaris 8/9 SPARC. I learned a great deal about the different versions of Unix by exploring all *nixes that I had installed on my personal network, but I soon got tired of it. I sold all the excess hardware and kept a Windows computer and a FreeBSD server.

Click for a larger version Then one day, a friend wanted to sell a used 500Mhz G3 iBook and the price was affordable, so I bought it. The iBook came with Jaguar and it ran decently. I played with it for about a month and really loved it, but then I decided to sell it for the lack of a good office suite other than AppleWorks. There was no sign of OpenOffice.Org for the Mac and I could not afford Microsoft Office. I purchased a Dell Latitude CPxJ 650 with the money I got from the iBook sale. When I opened the box and picked the Dell laptop up, my heart sank. The build quality was terrible. It was a big, heavy, noisy plastic monstrosity of a laptop that was running Windows 98SE. I was feeling really stupid at that time and the Dell went on eBay very soon thereafter. But it did not stop there; the laptop bug had bitten me. I looked around desperately for another laptop and after hearing some good words about a friend’s ThinkPad, I got myself a refurbished T21 off of eBay. A MUCH better laptop than the Dell, I used the T21 for a while. Dual-booting Windows XP and FreeBSD, I was happy, until a design flaw in the ThinkPad started to cause system crashes and disk corruption. I upgraded the hard drive of the T21 to a faster 5400RPM model with a whopping 16MB of cache. The new hard drive ran hotter than the original one, but the problem was that the memory in the ThinkPad T21 was located directly above the hard drive, and when the hard drive heated up, it used to heat the RAM with it, and that caused crashes. I ran hardware diagnostic utilities and it crashed while testing the RAM; then I let the machine cool off before I resumed testing, and guess what? The memory passed the tests with flying colors when the system was not running hot. Despite these problems, I kept on using the T21 while at the same time actively searching for a replacement laptop. My first consideration was an R series ThinkPad. The R series ThinkPads are relatively cheap; they are also of a slightly higher build quality than the $600 Dell plastic monsters. My second choice (second choice because of the price) was the 12" PowerBook, but the cost prohibited its purchase. Just as I was about to lose hope, Apple released new iBooks with G4 CPUs. It was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned. Small, light, high quality, slot-loading CDRW/DVD combo drive equipped, AirPort Extreme (WiFi 802.11g) capable laptop that comes with Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, the BSD derivative with perhaps the most visually appealing computer user interface in the world. I placed an order with Apple and they gave me a shipping date, but when that shipping date arrived, they pushed the shipping date further back by another seven days, so I cancelled my Apple Sore order and picked a 12" iBook G4 from a local Apple reseller.

Part II: iBook G4 Review

As most Mac followers are aware, the iBook G4 does not look much different than the older G3 based white iBooks that succeeded the clamshell variety. I will, however, point out the few differences between the G3 500Mhz iBook I had, the G3 models I've seen at different stores and this new 12" G4 one.

1. Slot loading drive instead of the tray loading kind.

2. Opaque off-white keyboard instead of the semi translucent bright white one on the G3. I don’t know whether the opaque keyboard is specific to the new G4s or has already been introduced in the G3 line, but I think even the feel of the keyboard on the G4 is different. The keys feel more solid and there is not much "bounce" in the keyboard, as was the case in my old iBook.

3. The gap under the LCD now says ‘iBook G4’ instead of just ‘iBook.’ Just a small cosmetic change, but worth mentioning, nevertheless.

Other than the above physical changes, the iBooks have not changed in appearance.

A lot of people probably are wondering if the iBook G4s are faster than their G3 predecessors. I cannot answer this question and back the answer up with benchmarks, as I don’t have a G3 iBook to pit against my G4 iBook, but I can testify to the fact that after playing around with G3 iBooks of different speeds, ranging from 500Mhz to 900Mhz, I can safely say that the new iBook ‘feels’ considerably and noticeably faster than any other iBook that I’ve tried. Panther has most certainly helped the better speed and responsiveness of the G4 iBooks, but attributing the speed gains of the G4 iBooks solely to Panther is neither fair nor smart. Apple has given quite a few enhancements to the G4 iBook line. Following is an outline of the hardware upgrades that the iBook G4 received:

1. PowerPC G4 CPUs with speeds of 800Mhz (12"), 933Mhz and 1.0Ghz (both 14"). CPU cache is 256KB, compared to 512KB that came with the G3 iBooks’ CPUs, but that should hardly be a cause for concern. Apple has confirmed that the CPU in the new iBooks is indeed a real G4 with Velocity Engine and not just an enhanced G3.

2. A system bus of 133Mhz.

3. The iBook G4 now comes with 256MB standard, 640MB Max capacity PC2100 DDR266 RAM. I wish the max was 1GB, but I guess Apple needs to keep a distance between iBooks and PoweBooks. Also, I wish the minimum RAM was 128MB because I upgraded to 640MB after I purchased the iBook and now the 128MB SODIMM that came with the iBook is wasting away.

4. ATI Radeon 9200 AGP 4x with 32MB DDR video RAM. Decent gaming performance at 1024x768 in Quake III.

5. Airport Extreme and Bluetooth ready.

6. Slot loading CDRW/DVD combo drive is now part of the base model standard. Kind of noisy, but not annoying or unbearable.

The iBook can be attached to an external monitor using the included VGA cable, but the iBook can only do mirroring and not spanning of the desktop. You can also connect the iBook to a TV using the optional composite S-Video cable.


With a 5+ hour battery life (possibly 6 hours), the iBook is a mobile user’s dream come true. The 12" iBook is light and slim and can fit into even small book bags. With internal wireless card and antenna, there are no PCMCIA WiFi card antennas sticking out of the side of the iBook. Apple has added a large WiFi antenna to the back of the LCD screen in the iBooks, not only does this measure enhance signal strength, it also hides the antenna gracefully. If an x86 laptop with such qualities is sought, one can easily expect to spend at least close to $2000 USD on a laptop with an Intel Centrino CPU. Pentium 4 M and Mobile Athlon XP based laptops are not very mobile due to their power-hungry and excessive heat producing nature. Batteries are drained within a matter of half an hour and not only that, they run very hot, hot enough to require three fans and they still burn your lap. The iBook is also the quietest laptop I have used to date. The only thing that I can hear while using it is myself breathing and typing. Another plus point is the inclusion of Panther with the package. So a laptop with all these qualities, starting at $1099 is worth every penny, and more.

First Apple Problems:

The only problem that I’ve had since I bought the iBook G4 was related to the recent patches that Apple released for Panther. I applied the two early security patches before they became part of the 10.3.1 package. After I applied the patches, the iBook would not sleep properly. Once I closed the lid, opening it back up would mean booting from a shutdown state! Then it got worse, it would not even wake up from sleep. I got worried and rummaged around and, looking for a solution. A friend who already owns a G3 iBook also helped me with finding the solution, which was to reset the PMU (Power Management Unit) by pressing a key combination. I did that, turned the iBook on and thankfully it booted up and the sleeping problems went away after that.


If you love Unix, and need a laptop that is light, durable, high-quality, quiet, has a long battery life, comes with OSX 10.3 Panther and is sheer eye-candy inside and out, then the new iBook G4 is the way to go. My only wish is that Apple should have increased the RAM capacity from 640MB to 1GB, but 640MB is also more than enough for almost everything one would use the iBook for.

More pictures of my iBook here.

About the author:
My name is Assad Khan, I am 23 years old and I love Unix, networking, computer hardware and photography.

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