The Premise for Part II

At 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)
  • iLife
The specs are pretty competitive with most PC laptops, but the PowerBook that I chose is priced higher than most competitive PC laptops. Granted, you won't have every last feature on the PC solutions, but for the most part, the competing PC products are in the $1600 - $2000 range, while the 15" PowerBook G4 1.5 is priced at $2499 ($2299 with student discount). The 1.33GHz model is a bit more competitive at $1999, but it only comes with 256MB of memory, while almost all competing PC laptops in this price range come with 512MB. Granted, the PowerBook G4 is nearing the end of its product cycle and hasn't had its pricing adjusted in a little while.

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.

What's Changed Since Part I The PowerBook Arrives
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  • jonmarsh - Thursday, November 03, 2005 - link

    I just read this and several other Mac articles here last night. Funny thing is, several weeks ago when my "enterprise" HP laptop started flaking out on a business trip, I was at the point where I was considering buying a Mac Mini just to play with. This was after reading about the current state of Tiger and the platform in general.

    Instead, I ended up walking out of the store with a new 17" Powerbook, which is no heavier than my 15" HP, and infinitely more pleasurable to use, in so many ways. After loading Office for the Mac, iWorks, Deltagraph, Acrobat and Acrobat reader, and bringing my files over, I was ready for a subsequent three weeks of business travel, and haven't looked back since.

    I'll need the HP to run some of my CAD software (schematics and PCB design), but I'm pretty sure now there will be a G5 dual processor system in my future running those apps under Virtual PC.

    Perhaps some of the adoption process and uptake wouldn't have been as smooth with earlier versions of OSX, but some days I just wonder why I didn't do this sooner.

    BTW, I've been using PCs since 1983, and building them since 1985, so it's not like I'm not quite immersed in that scene, especially due to the CAD work (electrical and mechanical) which I do. For now, I'm learning Ashlar Vellum Graphite, and thinking I should have done that long ago, too. (Adios, AutoCAD).

    BTW, the 23" Ciinema display is great- not that my Samsung 213T is obsolete, but the integration factor for the Apple is a big plus. And this silly laptop DOES have dual DVI and can drive the 30" display, too. Hmmmm. ;^)

    ~Jon
    Reply
  • Imaginer - Sunday, August 07, 2005 - link

    "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. "

    Windows command prompt allows this too
    Reply
  • rhayes - Tuesday, July 26, 2005 - link

    I bought a PowerBook 15" 1.5ghz about 4 months ago (my first Mac for all intents and purposes).

    As mostly a PC user (Windows + Linux), I agree with a lot of what Anand talks about in the article. I think most people coming from a Windows background could safely make a purchasing decision based on that article...

    For the record, what really sold me on the Mac (particularly the PowerBook) was running into it EVERYWHERE at my last Java symposium: "No Fluff Just Stuff". As a Java developer, it just seemed liked the perfect package: a) no Windows in sight, b) UNIX on a notebook without having to install it myself, c) the best OS GUI on the market IMO.

    The reservations about the 1 button mouse on the G4 are definitely understandable. But somehow (for whatever reason) it really doesn't bother me. However, when I'm at a client site and developing for long periods of time on the G4, I do carry a Bluetooth mouse with me. It's one button also :)





    Reply
  • ginjin31 - Sunday, June 12, 2005 - link

    wonderful job with all the articles related to this. i can't believe i read the whole thing. =D

    there's one thing that i haven't noticed though. you never mentioned the sleep freature in the Powerbook, where you never really have to turn off your laptop. so whenever you need to use it you just take it out open it and it's ready to go.

    unlike PCs, you have to turn it off, standbye, or hibernate. waiting for the PC to boot takes a lot time, so a lot of time wasted before you can actually start working. i'm not really satisfied with the standby feature either. sometimes the PC just doesn't resume or i would get an error message. this happens more often and i would always end up rebooting the PC in the end.

    this is my favorite feature on Macs, and i don't know if i missed it but i don't think you mentioned it at all in the article.

    wonderful job overall Anand. i felt exactly the same way when i first got my Mac, being a diehard PC user myself.
    Reply
  • Gooberslot - Wednesday, February 23, 2005 - link

    #28, it works on Win98 too. Reply
  • mongo lloyd - Monday, February 21, 2005 - link

    Sometimes, these article make me wonder if Anand is the kind of "die-hard PC user" as he claims. For example:

    "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."

    As does CMD. As it's done for at least since Win2000. Possibly longer. There are lots of small things like these, bordering on being untrue statements, interspersed into these two Macintosh articles (which, admittedly, are good reads).
    Reply
  • azkman - Sunday, February 06, 2005 - link

    It looks like one of your dislikes with the G4 P'Book may have been partially addressed with the brand new lineup. Scolling and panning on the trackpad can be performed with two fingers. Besides, they're just plain faster and cheaper than before. BTW, great review! Reply
  • sluxx - Thursday, February 03, 2005 - link

    Enjoyed the article very much.

    I'll also fifth SideTrack. For $15, you essentially get a new multi-function trackpad.

    When you are typing, in the middle of a word, press alt+esc, you get a list of words that begins with what you've typed. Great for looking up words that you're not certain of the spellings. I imagine it works only for Cocoa apps and not Carbon apps.

    A couple of other freewares that I find useful: Spirited Away that hides selected (you select) background apps after a specified amount of time, and Speed Freak, a GUI wrap of the "renice" unix command. It's especially useful for me on a G3 iBook, but can help making your front app snappier. You can search and find them at www.versiontracker.com.

    My first time here, but looking forward to reading your other articles.
    Reply
  • hindsight - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    A couple of PowerBook features not covered in the article but still worth mentioning:

    - Dual displays: an external monitor plugged into the PowerBook can either mirror the LCD screen or act as a second display and thus significantly increase the desktop real estate.

    - Target Disk Mode: start the computer with the 'T' key held down and the computer behaves like an external FireWire drive. Very useful for transferring large amounts of data between machines quickly. (this works to all Macs)
    Reply
  • bshell - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - link

    Both Windows and Macintosh OS's try to "think for you", but there's a fundamental difference in how they do this. Windows *imposes* its monopolistic will all the time, making decisions that it decrees to be the way things should be done all the way from spelling and grammar to where files should be stored, to the web search results. It's very mercenary, patronizing, irritating, and annoying. Apple, on the other hand has a more philosopher-king style, making "kind suggestions" rather than decrees, and guessing what you want correctly, sensibly, and unobtrusively more of the time. Somehow the choices Apple makes feel much kinder than Windows and always make you go "Wow, thanks" instead of "Oh damn, leave me alone." This is pervasive. Reply

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