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Apple iBook G3 (PowerPC G3 600 MHz) review: Apple iBook G3 (PowerPC G3 600 MHz)

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MSRP: $1,799.00

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.

Visit for details.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 8
  • Support 6

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.
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. The previous model's 600MHz G3 processor, running on a 100MHz system bus, now powers the new iBook's entry-level configuration. The snazzy top-of-the-line iBooks sport a 700MHz G3, and the 14.1-inch version's hard drive jumps from 20GB to 30GB. The larger model's standard 256MB of RAM is sufficient for running Mac OS X, but the 128MB configuration of the 12.1-inch 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.

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.
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
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)

Gaussian blur
Unsharp mask
Lighting effects
CMYK color
Apple iBook (14.1-inch screen)
Apple iBook (12.1-inch screen)
Apple PowerBook

iMovie 2 test
Time, in seconds, to export a test movie as a QuickTime file (shorter bars equal better performance)

Apple iBook (12.1-inch screen)
Apple iBook (14.1-inch screen)
Apple PowerBook

iTunes test
Time, in seconds, to covert a track to an MP3 file (shorter bars equal better performance)

Apple iBook (14.1-inch screen)
Apple iBook (12.1-inch screen)
Apple PowerBook

System configurations:

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

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