Apple iBook series review: Apple iBook series

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Apple iBook series

(Part #: M8862LL/A) Released: May 20, 2002
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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Great display; decent battery life; impressive performance.

The Bad Limited expandability; keyboard flexes too much; skimpy support policy.

The Bottom Line Cheaper and more portable, the iBook is a more than worthy alternative to Apple's top-of-the-line PowerBook.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Battery life 8.0
  • Service and support 6.0
CNET Editors' Choice Nov '02

Is a bigger notebook always better? That depends on your priorities. Apple's charming 12.1-inch iBook fits perfectly on an airplane tray table and the home, small office, or student lifestyle to boot. Meanwhile, the slightly more expensive 14.1-inch version offers a longer battery life and a crisp, larger screen. But regardless of size and weight, the iBook presents an attractive, inexpensive notebook alternative to Apple's top-of-the-line PowerBook. With its new, sleek, white design, the iBook eschews the colorful clamshell look that made it seem less than business class. It's now a stylish and ultraportable powerhouse, and although its value rating is only average, we feel the iBook holds its own in the price category, even against budget PC notebooks.

Editors' note:
On April 22, Apple announced increased hard drives and faster processors in the iBook line. Please watch this space for an updated review.
Both iBooks feature the same overall design, with a gleaming white, scratch-resistant Lucite case.

The new iBook design chooses sleekness over color.

The 14-inch iBook's larger display.

The 12.1-inch iBook features a relatively diminutive screen, while the 14.1-inch iBook's LCD is a wonderful upgrade option--if slightly harder to fit on an airplane's seatback tray. The 14.1-inch version maintains the 1,024x768 resolution of the 12.1-inch screen, but the larger screen size helps visibility tremendously, especially for small text.

Little keyboard, bigger iBook.
Unfortunately, the iBook's larger, eight-cell, 55-watt-hours battery makes it a bit heavier than newer, ultralight models such as the 5.25-pound IBM ThinkPad series and not quite as portable as its predecessor. The new battery boasts an additional hour of juice over its predecessor, but it expands the iBook's size to 12.7 inches wide by 10.2 deep by 1.35 thick, compared to 11.2 by 9.1 inches for the previous model. And at 5.99 pounds, along with 11 ounces for the power supply, the new iBook outweighs its forerunner's heft of 4.9 pounds.

The iBook's keyboard is full-sized, except for Function and screen navigation keys, which are half-sized. But because Apple uses the same keyboard hardware in both the small and large iBooks, the keyboard looks a bit lost in the bigger model. Typical for an Apple notebook, the touchpad and the single mouse button are conveniently centered just below the keyboard.

Pop up the iBook's keyboard to expand RAM.
Compared to mainstream Windows notebooks, the higher-priced iBooks stack up favorably in terms of configuration and memory. In November 2002, Apple dropped the original 600MHz G3 model and added two 800MHz combinations (a 12.1- and a 14.1-inch model) to the top of the lineup. The snazzy 800MHz, 14.1-inch model sports a new ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 graphics card with 32MB of video RAM, 256MB of RAM, a DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo drive, and a 30GB hard drive. The 700MHz model gets you 128MB of RAM, 16MB of video RAM, a 20GB hard drive and a CD-ROM drive. The larger model's standard 256MB of RAM is sufficient for running Mac OS X, but the 128MB configuration of the 700MHz versions runs a tad slower. Thankfully, you can expand RAM in both iBooks to a maximum of 640MB by removing a small heat sink. You can also add an AirPort 802.11b networking card by popping up the keyboard. Plus, the included combo DVD/CD-RW drive gives you the flexibility to burn CDs and enjoy movies or music.

A full complement of ports.
In addition, Apple packs lots of connectivity into its larger punch. You'll find all the ports on the left side (with AC on the right), including a 56k modem, 10/100BaseT Ethernet, FireWire, two USB ports, and a miniature monitor output that, with the appropriate cable, can connect to a separate monitor or provide composite-video output so that you can display movies or presentations on televisions or projectors. There's also a headphone jack. Unfortunately, the 14.1-inch iBook doesn't improve its expansion possibilities; the laptop still lacks a PC Card slot or a modular expansion bay.

The standard iBook software bundle includes AppleWorks, an entry-level business suite; Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X; Apple's digital hub programs (iMovie, iPhoto, and iTunes); and Apple's standard array of Net software, including Internet Explorer and Mac OS X Mail. That's a full package, especially considering that the PowerBook G4 ships entirely sans office suite.

Application performance
Not surprisingly, Apple's updated, 800MHz G3 iBook with 256MB of RAM easily bested the 600MHz iBook in all of our Photoshop 6.01 performance tests--but it couldn't compete with the the 800MHz Powerbook G4 and its 512MB of RAM. The 800MHz iBook was able to beat the PowerBook in Unsharpen Mask by less than a second, however. This small victory may be due to the fact that the iBook is running a newer version of OS X (Jaguar), with an improved graphics engine.

The new iBook clobbered the 600MHz model in iMovie tests, besting it by almost two minutes and losing out to the PowerBook by several seconds.

The iTunes scores continue this trend; the 800MHz iBook beat the 600MHz model by almost a full minute and lost to the PowerBook 800MHz by only a few seconds. The bottom line: The iBook is an acceptably fast alternative to the more expensive PowerBook.

Photoshop 6.01 tests
Time, in seconds, to perform filter functions (shorter bars equal better performance)

Gaussian blur   
Unsharp mask   
Lighting effects   
CMYK color
Apple PowerBook G4 800MHz
Apple iBook G3 800MHz
Apple iBook G3 600MHz
iMovie 2 test
Time, in minutes, to covert a test movie to a QuickTime file (shorter bars equal better performance)

Apple PowerBook G4 800MHz
Apple iBook G3 800MHz
Apple iBook G3 600MHz
iTunes test
Time, in minutes, to covert a CD track to an MP3 file (shorter bars equal better performance)

Apple PowerBook G4 800MHz
Apple iBook G3 800MHz
Apple iBook G3 600MHz
System configurations:

Apple iBook 600MHz
OS X 10.2.1; PowerPC G3-800; 256MB RAM; ATI RAGE Mobility 128 8MB; 20GB

Apple iBook 800MHz
OS X 10.2.1; PowerPC G3-800; 256MB RAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB; 30GB 4,200rpm

Apple PowerBook Titanium G4-800
OS X 10.1.4; PowerPC G4-800; 512MB RAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB; 40GB 4,200rpm

Battery life
The two iBooks tied at 3.2 hours in battery life. This duration was enough to beat the PowerBook G4 by almost 30 minutes since the G4 processor in the PowerBook draws more power than the G3 included in the iBooks.

CNET Labs uses three different applications (Photoshop 6.01, iMovie 2, and iTunes) to test Apple notebook performance. Through the use of a number of timing tests, CNET Labs is able to roughly determine the performance of a given notebook.

DVD movie battery-drain test
Time, in hours, for a DVD movie to drain the battery (longer bars indicate better performance)

Apple iBook G3 800MHz
Apple iBook G3 600MHz
Apple PowerBook G4 800MHz
Find out more about how we test notebook systems.

System configurations:

Apple iBook 600MHz
OS X 10.2.1; PowerPC G3-800; 256MB RAM; ATI RAGE Mobility 128 8MB; 20GB

Apple iBook 800MHz
OS X 10.2.1; PowerPC G3-800; 256MB RAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB; 30GB 4,200rpm

Apple PowerBook Titanium G4-800
OS X 10.1.4; PowerPC G4-800; 512MB RAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB; 40GB 4,200rpm

Apple's standard hardware service and support policies sing a consistently disappointing tune from which the iBook doesn't deviate. Apple's one-year parts and labor warranty is acceptable, but the mere 90 days of toll-free technical support (after that, you pay $49 per incident) isn't. While we've found the quality of that support to be generally high, it's still too short a term. An AppleCare warranty extension to three years costs a whopping $249; in most cases, it's not worth the fee.

If it's any consolation, the iBook is as easy to use as any Mac and comes with plenty of documentation. A handy Setup Assistant guides you through the initial launch in a matter of minutes. A 38-page booklet covers basic procedures and has a short troubleshooting section. Most of the information users will need, however, lies in the system's help menus or online at Apple's Web site, which features a rich collection of FAQs, knowledge-base documents, software updates, and discussion forums. However, you have to register at the site to access most support information.

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