Apple G4 iBook series review: Apple G4 iBook series

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.9
  • Design: 9.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Battery life: 8.0
  • Service and support: 6.0
Review Date:

The Good Light; long battery life; slot-loading combo CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive; solid keyboard; fast video card; 802.11g networking option.

The Bad 640MB maximum RAM; no option for an internal DVD burner; weak support offering.

The Bottom Line The Apple iBook G4 is a rugged laptop, well suited for students and home users who want a small, affordable Mac laptop.

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Review summary

For those who think small is beautiful, the 12-inch Apple iBook G4 goes beyond its good looks to deliver an attractive package. At 4.9 pounds and $1,099, the lower-price cousin of the 12-inch PowerBook is only slightly heavier and contains a lot of the perks of the PowerBook, including a slot-loading CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive and Apple's iLife software suite. The new Apple iBook G4 comes in both 12-inch and 14-inch models, and both contain some significant improvements over the former iBook, including a better keyboard, faster bus and graphics hardware, and the G4 processor. Marketed toward students, schools, and home users, the Apple iBook G4 is also a good fit for Mac users on the go. The main limitation is a maximum of 640MB of RAM. If you use memory-hungry apps, such as Virtual PC or Photoshop, you're better off with a PowerBook.

Like the previous G3 model, the Apple iBook G4 is an attractive laptop. Its appealing, creamy exterior, with rounded edges and corners and a smooth, hard, polycarbonate shell, masks the fact that the system is designed for rugged use by students. The previous transparent, back-painted shell has been replaced with a solid-white shell, which makes small scratches less noticeable.

Open the lid, and you begin to notice obvious improvements over the previous model. The keyboard feels more solid due to a redesigned internal cast-magnesium metal frame underneath. The keys don't pop off as easily as they did on earlier models, and the keyboard color now matches the matte white of the palm rest and the display frame.

The Apple iBook G4 adopts some of the PowerBooks' design details. For instance, the latch that holds the lid closed retracts when the lid is open, and the battery includes a built-in power-level indicator. We like the new slot-loading optical drive, which eliminates an easily damaged CD tray, and the 12.1-inch, 1,024x768 display produces crisp images and bright colors. The screen is a little small for watching movies, but with the addition of a $19 TV adapter cable connected to the VGA port, the iBook works as a DVD player for your TV.

Apple has corrected a problem that caused some iBook G4s to fail after a few months of operation. The unit we had showed no sign of a defect on the logic board. Apple's iBook &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eapple%2Ecom%2Fsupport%2Fibook%2Ffaq%2F" target="_blank">Logic Board Repair Extension Program is paying for motherboard replacements, even for units with expired warrantees, and is refunding owners who had previously paid to repair the problem.

The Apple iBook G4 is the last Mac to abandon the G3 processor in favor of the faster G4. The upgrade also includes a new 133MHz system bus. As Apple's entry-level laptop, the 12-inch Apple iBook G4 has an 800MHz processor; the 14-inch ups the ante to 1GHz. One of the biggest improvements over the previous iBook is the significantly faster video hardware: an ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 graphics card with 32MB of video RAM. We found that this made for smooth 3D games, such as Quake III and the bundled Tony Hawks Pro Skater and Deimos Rising. Also included in the base price are a 30GB hard drive and 256MB of RAM. Unfortunately, the 640MB maximum still holds for the Apple iBook G4. This won't be enough for professional multimedia authoring or for serious use of Microsoft's Virtual PC.

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A slot located under the keyboard makes it easy to add an optional 802.11g AirPort card.
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A row of ports along the side of the iBook lets you attach peripherals or connect to a network.

Apple made good choices for connectivity. There is no PC Card expansion slot, but you can add peripherals via two USB 2.0 ports and a 400Mbps FireWire port. A VGA port lets you connect an external monitor. Networking is covered with a built-in modem, a 10/100Mbps Ethernet port, and an AirPort Extreme (802.11g) wireless network slot located under the keyboard. The card is a reasonable $99 option or you can install your own. Built-in wireless Bluetooth is available for an extra $50. We used a USB Bluetooth module from D-Link with the iBook, which worked with Apple's Wireless Mouse and Wireless Keyboard without requiring any additional software.

Other preinstalled software includes AppleWorks, a demo version of Microsoft Office, Quicken, World Book 2003, and Apple's iLife multimedia suite. Apple now includes the new iLife '04, but our test unit had the previous version, which does not include the GarageBand music-creation app. If you purchased your iBook after January 15, 2004, and it doesn't have the latest iLife '04, Apple will send you the new version, which has Apple's new virtual recording studio, GarageBand, for $19.95, which includes shipping.

Thanks to its across-the-board improvements over the iBook G3--from RAM speed to CPU speed to graphics adapter speed, not to mention a more capable version of the OS--the 800MHz Apple iBook G4 easily outpaced the older 12-inch iBook, the 900MHz G3, in all of our performance tests. Although the iBook couldn't match the PowerBook 12-inch 1GHz G4 in performance, its strong showing makes it an affordable alternative to the pricier PowerBook.

CNET Labs uses three different applications (iMovie 2.0, iTunes, and Quake III) to test Apple's laptop performance. With iMovie, we convert a large movie file into QuickTime; with iTunes, we convert a music file into an MP3 file, timing each procedure. With Quake III, we run the standard Timedemo 1 at a resolution of 1,024x768 with default settings.

In iTunes, the iBook 800MHz G4 delivers a 49 percent increase in speed over the iBook 900MHz G3 when encoding a large MP3. Our iMovie test on the G4-800MHz indicates a speed boost of 48 percent over the G3-900MHz. Compared to the PowerBook G4-1GHz, the iBook G4-800MHz is a close second in iTunes, iMovie, and Quake III.

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

iMovie test  (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time in minutes to convert a movie to QuickTime  
PowerBook G4 1GHz 12-inch
iBook G4 800MHz 12-inch
iBook G3 900MHz 12-inch

iTunes test  (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time in seconds to convert a CD track into an MP3 file  
PowerBook G4 1GHz 12-inch
iBook G4 800MHz 12-inch
iBook G3 900MHz 12-inch

Quake IIII gaming performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Quake IIII gaming performance  
PowerBook G4 1GHz 12-inch
iBook G4 800MHz 12-inch

System configurations:

Apple iBook 12-inch G4-800MHz
OS X 10.3.2; PowerPC G4-800MHz; 256MB DDR-266 SDRAM; ATI Radeon 9200 32MB; 30GB 4,200rpm

Apple iBook 12-inch G3-900MHz
OS X 10.2.5; PowerPC G3-900MHz; 128MB PC100 SDRAM; ATI Radeon 7500 32MB; 40GB 4,200rpm

Apple PowerBook G4-1GHz
OS X 10.2.7; PowerPC G4 1GHz; 256MB RAM; Nvidia GeForce FX Go 5200 32MB DDR SDRAM; 40GB 4,200rpm

Thanks to its 50WHr battery, the Apple iBook G4-800MHz lasted nearly 3.5 hours. This compares favorably to the PowerBook G4-1GHz with its 47WHr cell, which lasted only 2.4 hours, and the Apple iBook G3-900MHz, which has a 46WHr battery that lasted 3.1 hours. The PowerBook is somewhat handicapped in this test because of its faster 1.25GHz processor, which draws more power and, as a result, gives the system less battery life.

In order to drain the battery of an Apple laptop CNET Labs plays a DVD movie in full-screen mode with the sound on.

Battery life analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

DVD movie battery-drain test  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
In hours  
iBook G4 800MHz 12-inch
iBook G3 900MHz 12-inch
PowerBook G4 1GHz 12-inch

System configurations:

Apple iBook 12-inch G4-800MHz
OS X 10.3.2; PowerPC G4-800MHz; 256MB DDR-266 SDRAM; ATI Radeon 9200 32MB; 30GB 4,200rpm

Apple iBook 12-inch G3-900MHz
OS X 10.2.5; PowerPC G3-900MHz; 128MB PC100 SDRAM; ATI Radeon 7500 32MB; 40GB 4,200rpm

Apple PowerBook G4-1GHz
OS X 10.2.7; PowerPC G4-1GHz; 256MB RAM; Nvidia GeForce FX Go 5200 32MB DDR SDRAM; 40GB 4,200rpm

Apple's warranty is a fairly standard one year for parts and labor, though the toll-free telephone support lasts for a fleeting 90 days. You can extend both the warranty and the phone support to three years for an extra $249. Apple does provide self-help resources, such as an Apple Hardware Test CD, included with the Apple iBook G4, to help diagnose hardware problems, and Apple hosts an extensive knowledge base and a large discussion board on its Web site. The 100-page paper manual includes various troubleshooting topics and provides good illustrated information on adding memory, replacing the battery, and connecting to the Internet.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Apple G4 iBook series

Part Number: M9164LL/A Released: Oct 22, 2003
MSRP: $1,099.00 Low Price: $42.76 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Oct 22, 2003
  • Operating System Apple MacOS X 10.3
  • Installed Size 256 MB
  • Weight 4.9 lbs
  • Optical Drive CD-RW / DVD-ROM combo - fixed
  • Graphics Processor AGP 4x - ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 - 32 MB DDR SDRAM
  • CPU PowerPC G4 800 MHz
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