A Month with a Mac - Part II: The Mobile Experienceby Anand Lal Shimpi on January 24, 2005 12:01 AM EST
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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...