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. 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.
Pop up the iBook's keyboard to expand RAM.
The most notable improvement for the newest iBooks, however, is the addition of an ATI Mobility Radeon graphics chip with 16MB of RAM. By switching from the ATI Rage Mobility chip used on older models, the new iBook provides improved frame rates for 3D games and at least minimal support for the Quartz Extreme feature of the new Mac OS X (Jaguar), which means improved graphics performance.
A full complement of ports.
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.
Our tests showed the iBook improves with added RAM. CNET Labs uses three different applications (Photoshop 6.01, iMovie 2, and iTunes) to test Apple's notebook performance. We perform a number of common, processor-intensive tasks in Photoshop; in iMovie, we convert a movie file into QuickTime; and in iTunes, we convert a music file into MP3, timing each procedure.
The 600MHz, 14.1-inch iBook, with 256MB of RAM bested the 12.1-inch, which carries only 128MB of RAM, in Photoshop 6.01 performance. Neither, however, could best the 667MHz Apple PowerBook with its 512MB of RAM and G4 Velocity Engine vector-processing feature. Even so, in the guassian-blur and unsharpen-mask tests, the 14.1-inch iBook excelled, scoring 5 and 3 seconds faster, respectively, than the 12.1-inch.
The 14.1-inch iBook's extra RAM also helped it out in our iMovie 2 tests, where it scored almost 110 seconds better than the 12.1-inch model; in fact, the 512MB PowerBook beat the larger-screen iBook by only 83 seconds.
In our iTunes tests, the 14.1-inch iBook's extra RAM made no difference, as the smaller unit won by about 6 seconds. The PowerBook's faster processor trounced both.
| Photoshop 6.01 tests|
Time, in seconds, to perform filter functions (shorter bars equal better performance)
| iMovie 2 test |
Time, in seconds, to export a test movie as a QuickTime file (shorter bars equal better performance)
| iTunes test|
Time, in seconds, to covert a track to an MP3 file (shorter bars equal better performance)
Apple iBook (12.1-inch screen)
Mac OS X 10.1; PowerPC G3-600; 128MB RAM; ATI Rage Mobility 128 8MB; 20GB
Apple iBook (14.1-inch screen)
Mac OS X 10.1.2; PowerPC G3-600; 256MB RAM; ATI Rage Mobility 128 8MB; 20GB