Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/1594
A Month with a Mac - Part II: The Mobile Experienceby Anand Lal Shimpi on January 24, 2005 12:01 AM EST
- Posted in
The Aftermath of Part IBefore proceeding with this article, please read through the first Mac article, "A Month with a Mac article", to get a foundation for the purpose, perspective and background that led to this article. This article is very much intended to be a sequel and not something that will stand on its own. If you've never used Mac OS X at great lengths or haven't read through the positive and negative points of the Mac platform from a PC user's perspective (from the first article), go back and read Part I before continuing.
When I originally committed to doing a Mac section on AnandTech, I actually committed it to the readers before discussing it with the rest of AnandTech staff. So when it came time to implement it, the rest of the staff didn't see much of a place for Mac articles on AnandTech. It took a lot of convincing (as well as some executive privilege) for the establishment of the Mac section, and then came the publication of the first Mac article: A Month with a Mac: A Die Hard PC User's Perspective.
Within the first three days of publication, that little Mac article skyrocketed to becoming one of the all-time most popular articles ever published on AnandTech. The flood of emails that came in as a result of that article is greater than the response to any single product launch that I'd ever seen. Even to this day, I get tons of emails from users just now stumbling upon the article, searching for PC user experiences with OS X as folks contemplate trying out OS X for the first time, thanks to the release of the Mac mini.
Immediately after the publication of the first Mac article, I already thought about doing a follow-up. The scope of the first article was already quite massive and the depth was as thorough as I could be without writing a book on the experience, yet there was already so much more to cover.
Then there were the responses to the article - Mac users complained that I was being too harsh on the one-button mouse, PC users complained that I was being too positive on the OS, but then the vast majority of users actually provided some very good feedback, asking for more information in certain areas. In fact, I'd say that the Mac article resulted in the most positive email responses that I've had from an article to date. I introduced the original article by talking about how difficult of an article it was to write, but after the overwhelming response to it, a sequel didn't seem that difficult.
One problem with these types of articles is that they inevitably take much longer to put together, simply because there are no structured tests to run and analyze. Articles like this are very much about the experience, and to do the experience justice, it's truly something that you have to integrate into your daily routine for a while. Prior to the first Mac experiment, I'd used Macs at various stages in my computing life, but never actually trying to integrate them into my daily routine. Writing an article based on any of those experiences would have turned out very differently compared to what the first article ended up being.
The downside to these long-term subjective evaluations is that the hardware industry changes at a spectacular pace and a lot happened during and immediately after the publication of the first Mac article that changed things dramatically. Before diving into the focus for this article, I'd like to briefly touch on some of the hot items that have surfaced since Part I.
What's Changed Since Part I
Dual 2.5GHz G5Just like AMD and Intel, IBM also made the transition to 90nm with their PowerPC 970FX processor, or as it's known in the Apple world, the G5. The 90nm G5 allowed for a pretty impressive jump in clock speed, from the previous 2.0GHz limit to 2.5GHz. The 25% increase in clock speed per chip puts the G5 within striking distance of AMD, whose Athlon 64 FX currently tops out at 2.6GHz. Clock for clock, AMD does have an advantage over the G5 (thanks, in part, to the Athlon 64's on-die memory controller); however, in the GHz race, Apple is at least catching up despite not breaking any speed records. As I discovered in the first Mac piece however, pure performance extends far beyond the clock speed of the CPUs and, often times, rests on the shoulders of the OS. So, more important than the 2.5GHz G5's comparison to the Athlon 64 is its impact on performance in OS X - which is nothing short of positive.
Having tested the new $3000 G5 extensively, the speed bump to 2.5GHz actually does result in a much more responsive system. The 25% increase in clock speed translates into a very perceivable real world performance improvement, even actually taking my focus away from things like slow smooth scrolling, thanks to improvements in the overall responsiveness of the system. Also remember that because the FSB clock scales with CPU speed, you get much better CPU scaling on the G5 than you do with more conventional architectures. In the case of the 2.5GHz chips, effective FSB speed goes up to 1.25GHz, offering more bandwidth than even the Pentium 4's 1066MHz FSB.
Because of thermal density issues, the dual 90nm 2.5GHz G5 workstation is actually water cooled, which marks an interesting milestone for Apple - offering the first widely available, water-cooled, straight-from-the-OEM computer. The water cooling system on the new 2.5GHz G5 is interesting, but it doesn't make the system any quieter than the dual 2.0 that I used in the original Mac article. The rest of the new system remains the same, which makes me wonder if Apple's release of Tiger will showcase the introduction of a more widely updated system with much more than faster CPUs (e.g. PCI Ex-press graphics support). But, more on Tiger in a bit...
With the release of the dual 2.5GHz Power Mac, Apple has made some interesting changes to their workstation/desktop lineup. As I just mentioned, the high end still costs $3000, but the platform I reviewed in the first article has now dropped down to $2499 ($2299 with educational discount). Even at $2299, although system prices are getting more reasonable, it's still higher than what most PC users will consider. Things get very interesting when you look at the lower end of the spectrum, more specifically at the single and dual 1.8GHz Power Mac offerings. Priced at $1499 and $1999 respectively, the single and dual 1.8GHz Power Macs are finally getting into more reasonable price points. With Apple's student discount (which is available from their online store), the prices drop to $1349 and $1799 accordingly. At $1349, a single 1.8GHz G5 is a tempting offer to someone looking for a mid-range workstation, but how does the single CPU compare to the dual setup that I used in the first article?
For starters, the clock speed difference isn't tremendously noticeable - the difference is only 10% on paper and even less in the real world. I'd venture that the 1.8GHz G5s are about 5 - 6% slower than the 2.0GHz chips, at best. The biggest performance impacts here are: 1) memory size, and 2) the lack of two CPUs. Both 1.8GHz systems ship with a default of 256MB of memory, which unfortunately just doesn't cut it for OS X. Even if you're doing light multitasking, you'll find yourself bogged down by the CPU with only 256MB of memory. When I was testing for the first article, I found myself enamored with how quickly and how well OS X would use up whatever memory I threw at it, so I had no problem going from 512MB up to 6GB in the G5 for my original article. Since then, I've played around quite a bit with memory sizes and found that the sweet spot for OS X really is around 512MB; 1GB, if you are a heavier multitasker. But Apple's biggest mistake at the lower price point systems is to only offer a base configuration of 256MB of memory.
The next issue is going from two CPUs down to one. The strengths of OS X when it comes to multitasking are definitely still there regardless of how many CPUs you have. The fact of the matter is that OS X's multitasking strengths don't only come in its management of concurrent tasks that are eating up CPU time, but rather in its management and ease of accessibility of concurrent windows of applications. From that standpoint, the move down to a single CPU isn't a huge loss; however, you definitely notice the difference between one and two CPUs just as soon as you start performing multiple CPU intensive tasks at the same time. For example, the first time that you start up your machine, there are a handful of programs that you may want to open. Clicking on five or six icons and letting all of the programs start at the same time on a dual G5 vs. a single G5 is like night and day. The same comparison can be made on the PC side of things too, if you've ever gone from a dual CPU system down to a single processor one. Regardless, my recommendation at this point for trying out a OS X machine as a true work system would be a dual 1.8GHz unit with at least 512MB of memory.
iMac G5Also since my original experiment, Apple has released their new iMac G5 - effectively their new desktop line of G5 based systems. The styling of the iMac G5 is definitely a plus, but the highly integrated nature of the system is quite possibly the most attractive aspect of its styling. It's always nice not to have any cords on your desktop.
Internally to the iMac G5, you essentially have a compressed 1U server and if you've ever opened one of these puppies up, that's the first thing that will come to your mind. Even the two DIMM slots are slanted at a 45 degree angle, just like they are on 1U server motherboards. Essentially, all Apple did with the iMac G5 was take their Cinema Display and stick a 1U server motherboard on the back of it, obviously with better exterior styling. The end result is impressive, except for the fact that even the 20" iMac G5 only comes with 256MB of memory standard. By far, the slowest part of using the 20" iMac is dealing with disk swapping, but as soon as you put more than 256MB of memory in there, the machine becomes a pretty decently fast system (as it should for $1899).
The integrated GeForce FX 5200 Ultra isn't the best GPU in the world, which is a bit of a shame, since there's no upgrading it. The built-in 64MB of memory is good enough for smooth Exposé with mild mannered multitasking, but if you find yourself with tons of windows open, you're going to wish that you had an open AGP slot.
The monitors themselves are top of the line, as is usually the case with Apple's displays, with the 20" offering a good deal of real estate and the 17" being surprisingly decent as well. Personally, I felt cramped by even the 20" display's 1680 x 1050 resolution, but also remember that at the time, I was used to running two displays: a 23" and a 20" Cinema Display.
Of the three iMac G5 models, the mid-range $1499 17" 1.8GHz model is the one that I felt was the best overall value as it offered a slightly better system responsiveness than the 1.6GHz system while not being quite as expensive as the 20" unit. Obviously, with a system like the iMac G5, you're tied into the display, so the resolution better be something that you are comfortable with; otherwise, it's time for a new computer for you.
Mac miniThe more recently announced Apple's Mac mini has been turning some heads, even in the PC world. If the iMac G5 is basically a 1U server attached to a monitor, the Mac mini is basically a reorganized laptop without a monitor. If you take Apple's PowerBook G4 and remove the display, keyboard and mouse, you'll find that it's not too difficult to reorganize the motherboard, optical drive and hard drive in such a fashion that you'll be able to fit it into a 6.5" x 6.5" x 2" box. But price it at $499 and then finally, you'll be able to tempt some PC users over into trying it out as their second system.
The Mac mini is especially relevant to this article because a lot of the discussions about performance with regards to Apple's PowerBook will apply directly to the Mac mini, as the two platforms are very similarly configured.
For years, we've been telling OEMs that if they want to truly make an impact on the PC market, they need to do more than just put another ugly gray box in front of end users. Shuttle was the first to actually realize this and has profited tremendously because of it with their XPC designs. But even now, their XPC designs are becoming too conservative, especially when compared to something like the Mac mini. The styling elements and the extremely small size of the Mac mini are what will make the majority of the market consider it. Apple did a very good job of producing, essentially, the iPod of computers with the Mac mini.
For those of you interested in the Mac mini's performance, pay close attention to the performance sections of this article.
OS X TigerThe more I read about OS X Tiger, the more interested I become. The two main features that draw me to the update are Apple's system-wide, fully indexed search engine, called Spotlight, as well as the fact that in Tiger, every single pixel on the screen will actually be rendered by the graphics card. For the most part, in OS X Panther (10.3), all of the rendering work is done by the CPU, with some GPU accelerated compositing occurring. In Tiger, everything is done through the pixel pipelines of your GPU, increasing the dependency on a graphics card with fast memory access, as well as increasing the flexibility of some of the effects that you're able to do in the OS itself.
Given Tiger's reliance on very high GPU performance, I would almost expect Apple to celebrate its release with a new G5 platform - with PCI Express graphics. That may be a bit of wishful thinking, but anything is possible. Despite the fact that Apple does let a fair bit of information outside of their corporate walls, all of their partners are as silent as can be about sharing information out of fear of jeopardizing their relationship with Apple. The fear is understandable - it wasn't too long ago that ATI fell out of favor with Apple for pre-announcing a video card win with Apple at the time.
I've played around with betas of Tiger, none of which were terribly stable or polished for that matter, but the features demonstrated at Mac World do seem to be on the right track for making OS X an even more productivity-oriented OS.
The Premise for Part IIAt the end of the first Mac article, I came to the realization that what attracted me most to OS X was the way everything just worked the way that you'd expect it to. Prior to my OS X experiment, I had done things in reverse. I molded my usage patterns to the way Windows wanted them to work in order to get things done. What I realized with OS X was that not only did I find myself being more productive, but I noticed that one of the biggest strengths of the OS was in its window/task management. Regardless of how cluttered my screen was or how many applications I was running, I never felt bogged down. And where did I find myself bogged down more often than on my desktop? On my laptop, of course. The other big advantage (for Apple) in the laptop world is that laptop gaming is still something that's not too common. Other than using massive 17-pound desktop replacements as gaming machines, most people just don't use their laptops for gaming - which happens to be one of the biggest weaknesses of the Mac platform. So was it time to revisit the idea of using an Apple laptop?
When I originally went through the decision-making process of picking the platform on which to do the first Mac article, I arrived at the dual 2.0GHz Power Mac simply because it was the fastest thing available at the time. I had held Apple's PowerBook G4s before and I'd never been impressed with them simply because they weighed too much. I was used to thin and truly light notebooks. With the lightest PowerBook G4 weighing in at 4.6 lbs, I decided that Apple laptops were hardly my cup of tea.
The more I used the G5 desktop, the more I felt that I didn't need an Apple laptop as well - I was just fine switching between Windows and OS X as I moved between my desktop and my laptop. But then it came time to head to Taiwan for a week, a week where my only computer would be my extremely portable, ultra thin, ultra light 1.7lbs Sony X505/SP. That notebook defines portability. The motherboard in the X505/SP is about the size of a minidisc, and it weighs less than most paper notebooks, not to mention just about any laptop out there. Taking it on a plane isn't an issue - it has only a 2-hour battery life, but at 1.7lbs, you can't really complain. The only issue with the notebook is that it is a bit of a pain to type on the keyboard, and for a writer, that can be a problem.
So, I thought the trip to Taiwan late last year would be the perfect time to see how well one of Apple's PowerBook G4s would work out, from a PC user's perspective. But which one?
Apple makes five different PowerBook G4s: two 12" models, two 15" models and a 17" model. I figured my X505/SP already had the portability side of things down, so there was no point in going for a 12" system. The 17" was just obscenely big and I didn't need a desktop replacement, so I settled on a 15" model. The 1280 x 854 resolution was reasonable, but most importantly, I could get a 1.5GHz G4 instead of the 1.33GHz chip that was the highest offered in the 12" models. I was happy with the performance of the 2.0GHz G5, so I figured I needed the fastest possible G4 to prevent ruining the experience.
The system starts at $1999, but that's for the 1.33GHz G4 with only 256MB of memory. The 1.5GHz model also comes with 512MB of DDR333, a slightly larger 80GB drive and a fiber optic backlit keyboard - but it also bumps the price up to a hefty $2499. Laptops have been dropping in price. However, the more stylistic, feature-filled or thin and light solutions always carry a price premium, so it's not too difficult justifying the price of the PowerBook - assuming it does actually deliver. As always, student discounts do apply - knock about $200 off each notebook if you're a student or educator.
The full specs of the system are as follows:
- PowerPC G4 1.5GHz
- 512MB DDR333 SDRAM (2 x 256MB SO-DIMMs)
- Toshiba 80GB MK8025GAS ATA HDD
- Slot Loading 4x SuperDrive (CD-RW/DVD-R)
- 15.2" Widescreen Display (1280 x 854 native resolution)
- ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 (64MB)
- PC Card/CardBus slot
- Integrated AirPort Extreme Wireless (802.11g)
- integrated 10/100/1000 Ethernet
- Integrated Bluetooth
- FireWire 400 Port
- FireWire 800 Port
- Two USB 2.0 Ports
- Integrated DVI Output (with VGA dongle)
- Integrated S-Video Output
- 5.7 lbs - 13.7" x 9.5" x 1.1"
- OS X Panther (10.3)
One advantage that the PowerBook offers over competing PC notebooks is its size and weight. For example, Sony's K-series notebooks offer a similar 15.4" widescreen display, but weighs in at 8 lbs, which makes the 5.7 lbs of the 15" PowerBook seem like a feather. The same K-series notebooks are also considerably thicker, at 1.6 - 2.2" vs. 1.1" for the PowerBook. The K-series from Sony also carries a larger footprint, at 14.1" x 10.9".
Comparing the PowerBook to similar 15" widescreen Dell solutions reveals similar size and weight advantages. The Inspiron 8600 features a 15.4" widescreen display, yet has a starting weight of 6.9 lbs and is 1.52" thick. The 8600 is also larger at 14.22" x 10.79". The Inspiron 6000 is a bit lighter at 6.65 lbs and is also 1.52" thick. The Latitude D800 starts at 7 lbs and is 1.5" thick. Both the Inspiron 6000 and the Latitude D800 also feature footprints similar to the 8600.
So, although competing PC notebooks are cheaper, nothing with the same monitor size can actually offer lighter weight or smaller dimensions than the 15" PowerBook, which is definitely an advantage for Apple, and it's something that is much needed on the mobile side of things.
The PowerBook ArrivesSo, what does $2500 look like? Well, it looks pretty good.
|The PowerBook in the dark, all lit up.|
For the most part, I'm not a fan of how most laptops look. They often feel cheap and aren't designed with much style in mind. Folks who carry their desktops around with them to LAN parties want their systems to look good, so I'd assume that those who carry their laptops around with them would like a bit of the same. Apple delivers on that front. In fact, I wasn't actually impressed with the PowerBook G4 when it was first released - it was only after I encountered one first hand that I found it to be stylish. But more important than style is build quality. In my opinion, one of the most important features of a laptop is its build quality. I've been using Sony VAIOs for quite some time now, mostly because Sony generally offers some of the thinnest and lightest laptops available at the time. Take my current VAIO for example: the X505/SP. The regular X505 weighs in at just over 1.8lbs, but with the carbon fiber shell of the SP version, the total system weight is dropped down to 1.71lbs. However my biggest complaint with Sony is that the weight savings generally come at the expense of build quality, as I have yet to have a single VAIO notebook that doesn't begin to feel flimsy after a few months of good use. The hinges just never seem to be as sturdy as when you first use the laptop and the entire package just don't seem to fit well together anymore after some use. This is in sharp contrast to IBM's Thinkpads. Intel originally sent out Thinkpad X31s for reviewers to use to get more familiar with Centrino, and to date, the X31 was one of the most solid laptops that I've ever used. So what about Apple's 15" PowerBook G4?
On the scale of Sony to IBM, the PowerBook is much more like an IBM than anything else. Only time will tell how the notebook wears, but initially, it definitely feels much more sturdy than not. Also remember that the PowerBook is built at an ASUS factory and is put through ASUS' QA labs, which are some of the most strenuous QA labs out there.
The PowerBook's external skin is made of a lightweight aluminum that looks and feels good, but has two negative points to it. First, it tends to be a great surface for electrons to jump to, especially after walking across a carpet in a dry climate. I doubt that you could damage the notebook by shocking the aluminum shell, but it's something that can definitely get annoying in drier climates. The second issue is that because the exterior casing is all aluminum, it conducts heat exceptionally well, meaning that if the ambient temperature is cold, the PowerBook will feel quite cold. And also, when the PowerBook is running, the base of the system can get rather warm. It's not warm enough to burn you, but it can get a little warmer than I'd like. The aluminum exterior does give an additional feeling of sturdiness that you don't get out of most plastic laptops, including the IBM ThinkPads.
The footprint of the 15" notebook is obviously determined by the size of the screen itself, and measuring in at 13.7" x 9.5", it's not huge, and actually makes similar sized PC notebooks feel large because of the fact that the PowerBook's dimensions are ever so slightly smaller than most 15" widescreen PC notebooks. The notebook is 1.1" thick, which normally to me is quite thick, but Apple did a wonderful job of making it seem as slim as possible. The PowerBook is actually slender looking enough that I wouldn't consider it to be a thick notebook, which is impressive if you've ever heard me talk about what I consider to be thick (the X505 is about 0.37" thick).
|Slender from the front, that's the slot loading DVD-R to the right.|
|The left side of the system features (in order from left to right): the power connector, modem jack, USB 2.0 port, 1/8" audio input, 18" headphone/line out, and PC card slot. You can also see the cooling vent on the lower left side of the system. The PowerBook has no cooling vents underneath, just this one on each side and the rest run along the back of the system.|
|The right side of the system features (in order from left to right): USB 2.0 port, FireWire 400 port, FireWire 800 port, 10/100/1000 Ethernet jack, S-video output and DVI output.|
There are a few points of weakness, however, when it comes to the construction of the notebook, the most significant of them being the PowerBook's latching mechanism. The way the latch on the PowerBook works is like this: when the screen is less than an inch from being closed, a very small hook will drop down to latch into the base of the laptop - keeping the laptop securely closed. The hook is spring-loaded so that when you press the release switch, the screen will pop up slightly, thus removing any need for you to fiddle with the screen to get it to lift enough to get your fingers in between the screen and the notebook. While quite impressive mechanically, the latching mechanism is the one area where I expect the PowerBook to break first. If you've ever dropped a laptop, you know that the latch can be one of the first things to break, even if the rest of the laptop survives. While this was one area in which I didn't test the $2500 acquisition, it's one that didn't feel "IBM-like". The other annoyance that this latch causes is that if you are carrying the laptop from the end opposite the latch, the screen and the base of the laptop have a tendancy to hit each other because of the little amount of play in which the latch gives the screen to move. It doesn't cause any damage to the notebook, but it's an annoyance, one that can be solved by simply holding the laptop by the other end.
After a bit of use, the area above the SuperDrive (combo DVD-RW/CD-RW drive) started squeaking after a bit of traveling and use with the PowerBook. It turns out that the surface of the PowerBook where the trackpad is located became slightly separated from its base at the front right corner of the notebook, causing it to squeak whenever you applied pressure to it. I applied a lot of pressure to the squeaky area and the panel snapped back into place - squeaking problem solved.
The monitor hinge on the PowerBook is decently solid, definitely better than the build quality that you see on something like a Sony VAIO, and at best, it is on par with the quality found in an IBM Thinkpad. Overall, I'd say that the build quality is pretty decent, but it is still lacking a bit of the ruggedness which you'd find in a ThinkPad. Part of the problem is that the surface of the PowerBook scuffs fairly easily, and because of the stylish nature of the PowerBook and its light surface color, scuffs and marks are much more bothersome.
OS X: The Second Time AroundImmediately after I was dropped into OS X, there were a few things that I definitely noticed were off. This time around, I didn't mind that the desktop icons were large, but I did realize that the dock was far too big and it was not animated. Quickly resizing the dock and turning on its hover animation fixed my issues there.
Having used the G5 for quite a while, I was also much more comfortable in customizing the applications listed on the Dock. With the G5, I had no idea what I'd be using or even if I'd find the Dock useful, so I was more hesitant to remove applications from it. With the PowerBook, I knew exactly what I needed and in what order I wanted to place them. The Dock became infinitely more useful the second time around.
Similarly, I also knew what applications to remove from the system now that I knew from which ones I benefitted and which ones I could do without. These last two changes helped a lot considering that I had far more limited screen real estate on the PowerBook than on the G5, meaning that the fewer things I had to scroll through or contend with for screen space, the more productive I could be.
The mouse tracking speed needed some work as well as it was far too slow to begin with. Unfortunately, unlike on the G5 desktop, I had no option, but to use a one-button mouse with the Powerbook. This was going to be interesting.
The keyboard repeat rate was far too slow for my liking - the same problem I had on the G5. Again, tweaking it wasn't a problem, but it's a healthy reminder that you shouldn't accept anything at face value. If Apple hadn't given me the options to personalize OS X, then I wouldn't be here writing this article; yet despite common belief, Apple doesn't seem to just cater to the lowest common denominator of computer users.
The biggest annoyance to me was the fact that function-lock was turned on by default, meaning that the keyboard acted as if I always had the "fn" key depressed. The reason this was an issue for me is because of Exposé. I am used to having the F9 - F11 keys activate Exposé, but on the PowerBook, only F11 doesn't have a secondary fn-activated function. So F9 and F10 wouldn't, by default, be Exposé activators - they would simply adjust the brightness of the keyboard illumination. Luckily, it wasn't too hard to change. Just launch System Preferences (the equivalent of Windows' Control Panel) and uncheck the appropriate box.
Finder (the OS X equivalent of Windows Explorer) offers three ways of viewing your files and folders: the standard icon view, list view (similar to the details view in Windows) and column view. When I first started using OS X, everyone heralded the column view as this wonderfully useful feature. I tried it out, hated it and never touched it again. With the PowerBook and my more limited screen real estate, I gave it a try. Surprisingly enough, open mindedness pays off - I actually ended up liking the column view quite a bit.
What is the column view? First, a screenshot:
All of your items are organized in a list. Everytime you hit a folder, clicking on it or hitting the right arrow key will show its contents in the column to the right of the present column. Opening nested folders displays their contents in the column to the right of the previous column until you run out of space for columns, at which point the Finder window activates a horizontal scroll bar and now you can scroll left to see folders higher up in the hierarchy.
Like all things Mac, column view is something that needs to be used to be appreciated. It's great for folder navigation, especially using the keyboard (remember my appreciation for keyboard shortcuts in OS X?), since all it takes are the left and right arrow keys to navigate up or down a folder tree.
|Here's a Quicktime video of column view in action - right click and save the movie to your computer. Quicktime for the Mac isn't the abomination of an application; it is on the PC, just in case you were wondering. The application that I used to make these videos by default outputs in Quicktime mov format.|
I mentioned that the OS X folder structure was foreign to me in my first encounter with it on the G5. Now that I've been using it for a while, everything feels a whole lot more natural. The trick to keeping organized in OS X (sounds like a good book title) is to actually make use of each user's home directory. Although Microsoft tried to encourage users to put things into their own home directories with later versions of Windows, I inevitably always created new folders on my drive outside my home directory all the time. With OS X however, everything revolves around your home directory and you rarely touch the root of your drive. I found that doing two things in OS X really helped me feel more comfortable with the file system: 1) Creating a downloads directory and telling Safari to put all my downloads there instead of on the desktop, and 2) Creating all of my custom directories in my home directory instead of in the root of the drive.
The results of my two simple changes were as follows:
For starters, my desktop finally became clean. Everything downloads itself nicely into the downloads directory, and I purge it every so often to keep things running smoothly. The nice thing about OS X is that once I tell Safari to save all my downloads in the downloads directory, other applications also know to use that directory in which to save items. For example, when saving attachments in Mail (OS X's email client), I have the option of saving directly to my Downloads directory - which is the same directory I set in Safari. It's nothing major, but as I pointed out in the first article, it's the hundreds of simple things in OS X that really seal the deal - it's about things working the way that you'd want them to work.
Also by organizing my disk with my home directory as my "root", it's a lot easier to know where everything is. Before, I was using a hybrid of keeping items in the root and in my home directory, which was just a mess.
At first glance, all that I've talked about here may seem trivial because after all, the type of organization that I'm discussing isn't exclusive to OS X; you can do the same basic things in Windows. The difference, I believe, comes down to how applications are handled. In Windows, as a user, you know that all applications go in C:\Program Files, whereas in OS X, you know that all applications go in the Applications Folder. Sure, the Applications Folder is nothing more than the equivalent of C:\Applications, but to the end user, there is a slight level of separation between the drive's root and the user. This is mostly useful from the standpoint of a multi-user system where you don't want any of your users tampering with anything other than what's in their home directory. Understanding the organization helped me and my single user system in that it kept me from staring at the contents of my root and not knowing what everything under /System/Library/ was. Over time, I'm learning about the OS' important files, where they are located, and so on and so forth, but until I'm as comfortable with them as I am under Windows, I appreciate the motherly shield of the home user directory. If you're a fan of *nix file systems, OS X will make you feel right at home.
More fun with OS XOne interesting feature of OS X's Finder is something that's referred to as spring-loaded folders. Say you have a folder and a file in your desktop. You want to put the file in a folder within the folder on your desktop. Normally, you'd have to open the folder on your desktop, then either drag the file on top of the folder within or open that folder and then drag the file in there. Here's where spring-loaded folders come into play: simply drag the file over the first folder and hold it there. That folder will open, and you can drop the file on the destination folder within. You can repeat the process as many times as you'd like, just keep on holding the file over folders and they will keep on opening just like that.
One thing that's always annoying about saving files or opening files in any program on any OS is the following situation:
You're in a program, such as Photoshop. You are trying to save a file in a particular location, say in a folder deep within your file system. But when you open the save dialog box, the default location is somewhere far away from your desired save location. Normally, you just use the save dialog box to navigate to that location and deal with it. And some of the time, you have a window open with that location sitting on your screen, mocking you as you try to use a separate dialog box to navigate to that same location.
OS X provides an interesting feature - simply drag any file into the save dialog box and the dialog box will go automatically to the location of that file. I find it especially useful in Photoshop when doing image work for AnandTech articles.
|A video example of the benefits of Exposé as well as the drag feature described above - right click and save the movie to download. First, I use Exposé essentially to find a needle in a haystack of pictures, then I drag a folder into the save dialog box to jump to my desired save location. Note that the video isn't the smoothest depiction of Exposé because it's captured at 30 fps. In actuality, the Exposé function is much smoother. Also ignore any compression artifacts that were introduced as a result of the encoding/scaling of the movie file - this is purely a functional demonstration.|
Although I didn't comment on it much in the first article, being the keyboard junkie that I am and having developed most of my fascination for computers during the VAX and DOS days, I've come to also appreciate OS X's Terminal application. Terminal serves as your conduit to the BSD base of OS X; it's your own BSD command prompt surrounded by a much better GUI. Even in the Windows world, I found myself using the command prompt as much as possible (I'd even ftp using it). Unlike the Windows command prompt, Terminal actually interfaces quite well with the rest of OS X. For example, if you have a file, drag it into an open Terminal window and the entire path to that file will be copied into the window for you. It actually makes interacting with the file system from the command prompt quite easy.
|A video example of dragging a folder into a Terminal window to fill in the absolute location of that folder automatically within the file system - right click and save the movie to download.|
Terminal is also a very powerful tool for things outside of managing the file system. User permissions, burning a CD, creating and extracting archives, and just about anything that you can do in a BSD OS, you can do from the Terminal. I've never been a huge BSD user, so I get limited use out of the more application/admin centric features of Terminal, but there are others who will appreciate it more than me.
Another feature that I didn't touch on was the freely downloadable X11 for OS X client. Using X11 for OS X, you can run X11 applications within the OS X interface. It's useful for college and university students in engineering programs where a lot of the applications that they use are X11 apps or are on machines they have to access remotely using ssh. I know it's something that came in handy for me during my last semester of Computer Engineering, especially while doing a lot of my Verilog design work, which could only be done on Sun/Unix machines.
Security, Networking and Playing with WindowsOne of OS X's strong points is in its security. No application can do anything to your system without you first typing in your administrator password. At the same time, OS X has some pretty impressive password management.
OS X treats each user name/password combination that you have as a key, and where better to keep your keys than on a keychain - which is exactly what OS X refers to your collection of user names and passwords. Whenever you connect to a new resource that requires authentication, OS X asks you if you'd like to add the key (username/password combination) to your keychain. By doing so, it means that you'll never have to re-enter the information again.
The only issue I've had with this is that the keychain manager never seems to remem-ber my user name and password for connecting to Windows shares - which is extremely frustrating as my local lab file server is Windows based. Other than that one complaint, file sharing with my Windows PCs works just fine. I connect to the same wireless and wired networks as my PCs, I copy files from PCs to the Macs and vice versa without any problems at all - it's all pretty transparent.
Also remember that burned CDs and DVDs are usable on both platforms, so I can burn discs on the PowerBook and use them on a PC. The same applies to all other forms of removable storage, compact flash, USB sticks, etc. Printer sharing also works, but I've had some issues with certain printers not getting recognized. I can usually share printers on Macs with Windows machines, but I've had troubles doing the same in reverse in some cases. It could just be isolated to my few tests; I'm not calling them conclusive, just stating my experience.
Many people emailed me and asked me why I didn't comment on feeling more or less secure with OS X, given that there's really no spyware/malware out for the OS (aside for a couple of warez-related items out there). At the start, I hadn't really thought about it, but since then, I've had to deal with a number of friends and family members who have fallen victim to hordes of malicious software on their PCs, rendering them virtually useless. Although I'm not the type of user to go out and click on things that shouldn't be clicked on, there is a somewhat nice feeling of safety knowing that you don't have to deal with any of that. Now, I'm not going to somehow relate the lack of viruses/spyware/etc. to the stability or robustness of the OS, as I do believe that as solid of a foundation as OS X is built upon, if 90% of the computing population were using it, we'd be hearing more than just a handful of reports of "security" issues. That being said, for now, that's not a problem to worry about, so you can just accept the present term benefits of having a virusless platform without worrying about if it will stay that way indefinitely. To put it succinctly, yes, I do enjoy that fact.
There are, of course, security updates to OS X, which end up being the only times when I reboot the machines. OS X's software update is just like what I was used to under Windows, except it looked a lot better.
Since the Powerbook hadn't been turned on much less connected to the internet since it was built, there were a number of updates that I had to install. Software Update popped up and let me know what updates it found, as well as telling me which updates would require a computer restart, denoted by a little icon next to the item.
Interestingly enough, you also get BIOS updates through OS X's software update. I didn't have any BIOS updates on the PowerBook, but the first time that I fired up the G5, I was greeted with a BIOS update through OS X's software update.
Wireless NetworkingThere are two aspects of wireless networking support that I'd like to touch on with the PowerBook, one in which it does very well and the other in which it doesn't do as well. The bad news first: I wish I could say that the PowerBook had the best 802.11g reception out of any laptop that I'd ever used, especially considering its price. Unfortunately, I can't. While I wouldn't say its reception is the worst, it's definitely not the best. And the only way to truly characterize its reception quality is from directly comparing it to another laptop, which (in this case) happens to be the IBM ThinkPad X31. The ThinkPad X31 is known for having extremely good wireless reception, better than most notebooks, thanks to IBM's twin antennas in the bezel surrounding the X31's display. In the exact same position, on the exact same networks, when you're on the edge of wireless reception, the PowerBook will drop out well before the ThinkPad will. At reasonable distances, all is fine, but as soon as you really start pushing the limits, that's when it's frustrating that the one thing that the PowerBook doesn't do exceptionally well is survive on very low signal wireless networks. Again, I must stress that this isn't an issue unless you know that the signal strength of the network you're connecting to is low, but it's a bothersome issue nonetheless. Apple even includes an option for "Interference Robustness", which is supposed to improve your wireless connection when there are sources of interference nearby; however, that option doesn't help when the issue is a distance from your wireless access point.
The aspect of wireless networking that works quite well on the PowerBook isn't really due to the notebook itself, but, as you can probably guess, Mac OS X. The wireless networking UI is quite strong and very easy to use. I find that even with Windows XP Service Pack 2, the wireless network connection utility is sometimes at fault for not letting you connect to certain wireless networks. The OS X utility is fast, easy and I've never had it give me any issues while in the same situation when I've had issues using the Windows utility on the same network. Prior to Service Pack 2, this was much more of an issue and a reason to appreciate OS X, but even since its launch, the OS X utility is simply less prone to the sort of weird connection issues that I find occur with the Windows utility.
The Keyboard and MouseAlthough I'm looking at the 15" PowerBook G4, one thing that Apple ensured was that the keyboard layout and size is identical across all of their PowerBook G4s. So the size, spacing between keys and layout of the 12" PowerBook G4's keyboard are the same as in the the 17" PowerBook G4. So, the comments that I make here are applicable to the entire line of PowerBooks.
The keyboard layout on the PowerBook is particularly good, thanks to a couple of decisions by Apple. The biggest change is that the function keys are restricted to an incredibly thin row of keys at the very top of the keyboard. Since the function keys are often rarely used, this decision makes sense, except for one drawback - those who use Exposé's default keys (F9 - F11) will find the tiny keys a little cumbersome. I will get to what I had to do to get comfortable with Exposé again shortly.
There were more changes that were made - there are no separate delete/backspace keys, only a delete key that serves as both. The key naturally functions as a backspace key, but if you hold down the function key, it works as a delete key. You may wonder why the difference is a big deal, but for someone who uses Excel a lot, being able to highlight a group of cells and hitting delete to clear them is much quicker than having to do it through the Edit menu.
As usual, the function key is placed in the far lower left corner of the keyboard, right next to the control key, which can cause you to hit function whenever you want to hit the control key. The beauty of this design choice on an Apple keyboard, however, is that you rarely use the control key (the command/apple key is used more frequently, much like the control key on a Windows machine). So, although I hate the placement of the key in general, it irks me much less on the Powerbook.
I didn't give the one-button mouse a chance on the desktop, mainly because I'd used it before and couldn't stand it. Also, being used to a non-Mac computer, I was quite happy with my second mouse button and not having a wheel was just not happening.
With the Powerbook, I had no option - the trackpad that comes on all Apple notebooks features only a single mouse button.
To "right click" with a single-button mouse, you have to hold down control while clicking. You would think that for a keyboard junkie, holding a key down while using the mouse isn't a big deal, but for whatever reason - it is. For someone who has always had a right mouse button, now being forced to ctrl-click whenever I needed a right mouse button was beyond frustrating.
For example, thanks to the input of the many gracious AnandTech readers with Mac experience, I've grown accustomed to putting my Applications folder in the Dock, to give me Start Menu-like access to all of my programs. The problem with doing that is I need to right click on the Applications folder to gain access to my applications in the level below it, which is a pain for me on the single-button PowerBook. Update: Thanks to several readers for pointing out that for folders in the dock, you can simply click and hold to get the same functionality as right clicking.
Switching between the G5 desktop and the PowerBook ends up frustrating me more about the single button issue and, in turn, impedes productivity. At least on the desktop, I have the option of plugging in another mouse; on the PowerBook, I can't swap out the single mouse button for two. I could always bring along an external mouse with me, but that really eats into the portability aspect of the unit.
Remember my issue with the placement of the ctrl key on keyboards? Since you're forced to use the key to bring up secondary menus, it may or may not be a distraction for you depending on familiar you are with the regular mac keyboards.
From a PC user's perspective, the single-button mouse is the biggest issue with the notebook - but it's one that can thankfully be ignored most of the time.
The Display and Fiber Optic Keyboard LightingThe display on the PowerBook is one of its strong points. While it doesn't hold a candle to Apple's desktop Cinema Displays, it is quite strong as a notebook display. I'd say that the display on the PowerBook G4 is one of the best, if not the best, display which I've ever used on a notebook. The 15" display has a native resolution of 1280 x 854, which is what you can expect from just about any current generation 15.2" widescreen display.
Apple outfitted the Powerbook with ambient light sensors to control two things: the brightness of the display, and the fiber optic backlighting of the keyboard. The light sensors for the screen are located behind the grilles for the speakers, on the left and right of the keyboard.
Both features can be overridden, but their pros generally outweigh their cons. The best example of their use occurred while I was writing this very sentence on a flight over to Taiwan. Given the length of the flight, there are many times when the lights in the cabin are dimmed as well as brought back up again. I started writing while the cabin lights were dimmed, which caused the Powerbook's sensors to activate the keyboard lighting and dim the screen. About two hours before I landed, the cabin lights were turned up for breakfast service. Almost instantaneously when the lights went up, the brightness on the screen increased (to compensate for the higher ambient light) and the illumination on the keyboard turned off. The same types of features are useful for office environments when the lights are turned on after the end of a presentation, or in a school environment when the same occurs.
The fiber optic lighting on the keyboard is fairly impressive. Instead of being lit by a few LEDs causing bright spots on the keyboard, the face of each individual key is lit using a fiber optic network of lights. Only the letter or number on the key is illuminated; for example, the majority of the F key remains unlit, but the letter "F" itself is lit creating a very unique effect that is very well appreciated by someone who has to type in the dark a lot on airplanes.
We apologize for the blurriness of the image, but you get the point.
The fiber optic lighting isn't without its weaknesses; for starters, it does help contribute to the cost of the PowerBook, but that's not a huge issue.
You can control the degree of lighting by using the F8 - F10 keys on the keyboard. F8 will turn the keyboard lighting off, F9 will decrease the level of illumination and F10 will increase the level. Depending on how you have your keyboard settings configured, you may or may not have to hold down the "fn" key.
OS X and Mobile Usability (and Performance)My original Mac experience left me enamored with Exposé, a cool looking, yet quite functional, method of viewing all open, visible windows on your desktop at the same time. Given the lower resolution of the PowerBook's display in comparison to that of my desktop LCD, I fully expected myself to use Exposé even more on a notebook. I've actually always found portable notebooks with small screen sizes to be one of the biggest hinderances to mobile productivity, so I was very much looking forward to Exposé on the PowerBook.
Much to my disappointment, I found hitting the F9 - F11 keys on the PowerBook a little far out of reach - reducing the user friendliness of Exposé. The problem is that unlike a desktop keyboard, there is no big gap between the function keys and the rest of the keyboard, thus making it harder to clearly identify and hit the appropriate function key. Here, I finally discovered the true benefit of being able to use window corners to activate Exposé. Now, if I want to Exposé across all open windows, I just move my mouse to the top right corner; Exposé all windows in the active application, move my mouse to the lower right corner, and the lower left corner will show my desktop. If you're not expecting it, Exposé will activate without warning, but I find that activating it accidentally isn't a problem that I run into often (except when other people use the notebook).
The PowerBook is great as a mobile desktop, as long as you've got a desk or a lap to sit it on. Carrying the 5.7 lbs PowerBook around is a bit of a pain. While I had no qualms feathering my 1.7 lbs Sony to meetings, I'd never take the PowerBook to a meeting. Traveling extremely light to a meeting is very important to me and that's one area that the PowerBook just doesn't cut it for me. However, to put this in perspective, the PowerBook is significantly lighter and smaller than any competing PC notebook with a similar sized screen. If you have no problems carrying a 15" Sony or Dell around with you, then the PowerBook is going to feel much lighter and much smaller.
But as a notebook sitting ready for me to get to work back in the hotel room, the PowerBook is perfect. My biggest issue with notebooks is that screen real estate is normally a very limited luxury. However, with the window management and multitasking features like Exposé of Mac OS X, tedious tasks like editing a hundred tradeshow photos on the PowerBook is a breeze.
All of the multitasking benefits that I discovered about OS X in the original article are even more useful on the PowerBook because of your limited screen real estate. I've also discovered the real world benefits of being able to Hide as well as Minimize windows. Minimized windows go in the right side of the Dock, similar to minimized windows under Windows XP. Hidden windows, however, remain hidden until you switch to the application again. At first, I never really understood why you would want to hide a window, until I started dealing with a lot of minimized windows and realized that the majority of them didn't need to be minimized, just hidden from my plain view. For example, my buddy list for my work IM account - when I'm in the middle of a meeting or writing an article, I don't need the buddy list active on my desktop, or minimized and occupying space in the Dock - so, hide it. The same applies to things like download indicators for Newsgroups or BitTorrent; if I'm downloading a lot of things at once, I just keep them hidden and go about my business, and check in on them at a later point in time when I'm not working on anything. What's also useful in situations like this is that the Dock is updated in live, so I can actually glance at what's going on with my Newsgroup downloads just by looking at the Dock. Hiding windows actually ends up being a very useful thing from a window management standpoint on both the desktop and the PowerBook, but is especially useful on the latter because of your limited screen real estate.
One thing that is plainly obvious, however, is that the single G4 1.5GHz that's in the PowerBook, which I'm testing here today, isn't as good of a multitasker as the dual 2.0GHz G5 system on which I was introduced to OS X. The difference is night and day when doing a lot of things at once, but once again, since you're on a laptop, you generally don't do as much as you would on a desktop. Application start up time is significantly greater on the PowerBook than on the G5, which is due to a combination of the slower processor as well as the much slower laptop hard drive.
The G4 at 1.5GHz is definitely slower than the G5. There's a noticeable performance penalty, but what's interesting is that the notebook seems to be far more disk limited than my desktop G5. I end up noticing the I/O speed a lot more than I notice the CPU speed. This could be for a couple of reasons. For starters, the G4 has much less cache and the notebook itself has much less memory. not to mention that the hard drive in the machine isn't exactly the fastest desktop SATA drive. As far as OS X application performance goes, other than application start up time (especially when starting multiple applications at the same time), the G4 1.5GHz is pretty snappy. Video encoding also takes longer on the PowerBook, but that's for obvious reasons.
Since it's relatively similar in system specs to the PowerBook, I'd assume that the 1.42GHz Mac mini should be equally snappy in general application use, but don't expect it to be a speed demon in HD video editing and encoding. I'm not so sure about the slower 1.25GHz Mac mini, but given that I found the 1.5GHz PowerBook G4 to be mostly I/O limited, I would expect relatively acceptable performance out of the entry-level mini as well.
The 512MB of memory that the PowerBook came outfitted with seems to be the sweet spot for OS X. In the time since the G5 article, I played around with quite a few different memory sizes under OS X, finding that the base 256MB that ships in lower priced PowerBooks and all iMacs is simply not enough. While I praised OS X for excellent caching of the OS and applications, 256MB of memory just doesn't cut it and you end up with far too much disk swapping at that point. But with 512MB, you're pretty much set; for my usage patterns, I'd be disk or CPU bound before needing more than 512MB for what I do on the PowerBook. I'd also say that it would be in Apple's best interest to increase the minimum memory on their systems to 512MB, simply because from their perspective, they need to be convincing users to embrace their platform, and disk swapping is a one way ticket to having users call a system "slow" for their first time using it. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and OS X with 256MB isn't the best impression of the platform.
The average battery life of the 15" PowerBook G4 is quoted at being 4.5 hours. Upon first using the machine on battery, it gave me an expected lifespan of just under 2 hours. It climbed steadily up to 3 hours. I'd say that the realistic battery life for constant use is between 2 - 3 hours on the 1.5GHz 15" PowerBook when using default energy saver settings as well as the integrated 802.11g. Obviously, the less you do, the longer your battery will last, and you can always turn things down to make it last closer to the estimated battery life - but given my usage patterns, the PowerBook is basically 3 hours or less for me. Compared to similarly equipped PC notebooks, I'd say that the PowerBook is competitive, if not a little better. Sony quotes a 2-hour battery life on their K-series of notebooks, while Dell quotes a similar 4.5-hour battery life on their competitive solutions. The Dells generally use much higher capacity batteries (72 Whr vs. 50 Whr for the 15" PowerBook), but also use much higher performance CPUs with higher power consumption.
I'm not overly impressed with the battery life, but I don't think any similar sized notebook would be able to impress me at this point in time. It also doesn't bother me too much, since I mostly use the system near an outlet, and working more than 3 hours straight on a plane where I could be catching up on sleep is usually not in the cards. I do appreciate the presence of a battery life indicator on the battery itself. I also appreciate the power brick, which is similar to the iPod's AC adapter, and thus, quite portable and a good size for carrying around with you. You can also remove the actual plug and replace it with a regular power cable (that also comes with the system) if you are plugging it into a power strip and don't want to occupy more than a single outlet.
Final WordsWhen I finished writing the first Mac article, I knew that I hadn't covered everything that I wanted to. At the end of this article, I'm left with a similar feeling. I haven't even talked about the applications that make up iLife, but that's actually on purpose, since they have just been updated to their new '05 versions. I haven't touched on a number of the applications that I use on a regular basis under OS X, or even bothered comparing cost of software ownership on Mac vs. PC platforms. I've talked a bit about subjective performance, but I haven't done much with actually doing apples-to-apples performance comparisons within the Mac world. Over 10,000 words in this article, and there's still so much more to talk about. I started the first Mac article saying that it had been one of the most difficult articles that I'd ever written, and that statement holds true for this one as well. I can crank out a review of a CPU or a video card or just about any benchmarkable, quantifiable technology in a day, but summing up an entire platform, from the perspective of an outsider, is difficult - especially to a group composed of insiders, outsiders and critics alike. There will be more of these articles to come - you can pretty much already guess what the next one will be. I took it upon myself to do the first two Mac articles about the Power Mac G5 and the PowerBook G4, but AnandTech readers have written me asking for my take on the Mac mini. Hopefully, I can shorten the turn around time on that one though.
As for the PowerBook G4, it's an excellent laptop. If you're used to the portability offered by something ultra thin, ultra small and ultra portable, then the PowerBook isn't the notebook for you. But, having owned some of the smallest laptops around, I can say that despite its bulk, I can get a lot more work done on the PowerBook than I could on my more portable notebooks. And compared to most average notebooks, the PowerBook is extremely competitive in portability, especially the 12" and 15" models. It's smaller, lighter and thinner than competing PC notebooks, which are all things that matter when talking about a notebook. In terms of performance, the PowerBook G4 held its own just fine as my companion on numerous trips, never disappointing me in terms of performance. I was actually somewhat surprised, especially considering the low expectations of G4 performance I had going into the experiment - whether it is OS X, the G4 itself or the combination of the two - the performance of the laptop was definitely nothing to complain about (other than the slow hard disk, which is true of all notebooks, unfortunately).
As far as the display goes, the beauty of LCD panels is that there are only a handful of manufacturers, regardless of whether you're talking about PCs or Macs, so the display specifications are obviously competitive. The native 1280 x 854 resolution provides a decent amount of desktop real estate, which is quite handy when working on the road and it is a good resolution for the 15.2" screen.
The slot loading Super Drive (CD-RW/DVD-R) is also nice to have, especially coming from a string of notebooks without any built-in optical drive for portability. The plethora of ports, including DVI-output, is equally useful. Evaluated purely as a notebook, I'd say that the 15" PowerBook G4 is a little expensive, but the most full-featured, complete package that I've ever seen in a notebook. The 12" PowerBook would be a little tougher of a sell for me, simply because I'd be giving up a decent amount of screen real estate, but despite its heavier weight compared to things like the ThinkPad X series, I'd still probably pick it simply because the package as a whole is much more complete. Having an optical drive, despite the number of times that I've said the contrary, always comes in handy. It's not that you use it all the time, but it's the handful of cases when you need it that you can really appreciate it.
And then there's the OS. On the desktop, there's the issue of gaming, but when you're dealing with a portable solution like the PowerBook, gaming isn't really much of an issue. The integrated Mobility Radeon 9700 isn't used for much now, but it will come OS X Tiger. Unless you do a lot of .NET development on the road, just about anything you use your laptop for is available under OS X - and as a portable OS, OS X works very well. The price argument isn't as big of a deal on the mobile side, and although the Mac mini is an attractive platform on which to get introduced to OS X, the PowerBook may actually be a more useful one if you find yourself using a laptop a lot. While OS X as a desktop replacement to a life-long PC user may be a tough sell, the PowerBook is a much easier sell if you need a laptop. If you don't, well, then there's this little thing that Apple just released...