Mac for Mom
October 26, 2004 6:17 PM   Subscribe

MacHeads: I'm a good son and am going to get my mom a laptop. All she does is play Mahjong, and shop/check e-mail online. I've had unusually bad luck with Toshiba widescreen laptops for her, and a Compaq. All were taken back because of fundamental problems (blue screening, wireless card with crappy range). I'm wanting to stick around $1000. How's the standard 12-inch iBook? Good wireless range? Is the 256MB of RAM enough for a Mac? I'd go up to the 14-inch iBook if I won't be spending another $200 to get it up to spec. Thanks!
posted by geoff. to Shopping (18 answers total)
The little iBook is good. Wireless range should be fine. Get another 256MB of RAM, though, instead of the bigger display, or she'll be swapping virtual memory to disk once she loads Safari, Mail, and mahjong.
posted by nicwolff at 6:21 PM on October 26, 2004

I don't think 256MB is enough, but Apple does. If your mom never notices any slowdowns from paging then it's obviously fine. But if she tries to open Word when Safari is running a flash ad or something it'll feel very slow. You can get RAM somewhere else for much cheaper than what Apple sells it for, check for example.

Otherwise, the newest standard 12" iBook is a great laptop, especially for parents. I talked my dad into getting one last year and he loves it, so many less problems than before and far fewer 'support calls' back to me. Wireless range is superb, the iBooks have always been excellent for that. If eyesight is a concern the 14" screen does help a lot.

Make sure to check Apple's "Special Deals" section of the website. Right now they have last month's model (1ghz 12" ibook) for $949 (wait, no wireless though, cancel that.) Anyway, check the refurbs and such and there's usually a good deal. I think they update it every day.
posted by neustile at 6:25 PM on October 26, 2004

256 MB is not enough, I'd go for the 512. Also, I highly recommend Mahjong Palace.
posted by invisible ink at 7:39 PM on October 26, 2004

Aren't the iBooks also notorious for problems or have these been dealt with in models manufactured afterward?
posted by juiceCake at 8:14 PM on October 26, 2004

The new ones are solid. Trust me, I know.
posted by britain at 8:25 PM on October 26, 2004

my only gripe with the ibooks is that the keyboard is not as good as teh pb. otherwise it is solid. oh, and the ibook wifi range is the standard against which all other macs are measured.
posted by jmgorman at 8:32 PM on October 26, 2004

you might want to send Mom to a Mac store to let her look at the 12" vs. 14" for eyesight reasons. Otherwise, yeah, get the RAM.
posted by mwhybark at 9:19 PM on October 26, 2004

Get the three-year extended warrenty, even though it is pretty pricey. I love my iBook and reccomend the line strongly, but they do break a lot. In fact, I can't think of anyone I know who hasn't had to send in their power/iBook sometime during its life. Especially important since Apple no longer does component repairs, meaning that you will have to replace your motherboard (=$500, probably) if, say, you want to fix a broken headphone jack.

Trust me.
posted by armchairsocialist at 10:59 PM on October 26, 2004

I switched to Apple with a 12" iBook in 2002, and I love the heck out of this little thing. Definitely get more RAM and AppleCare, I've had almost no problems but the hard drive did die on me and having someone else replace it would've been much more convenient.

My wireless range is excellent, with a generic wifi router I can wander all over my house and backyard and get a signal no problem.

My battery is starting to get weak, I consider myself lucky if it lasts for over an hour unplugged, but I completely ignored conventional wisdom about charge cycles and plugged in and out willy nilly. It's better to drain fully and charge fully.
posted by cCranium at 4:30 AM on October 27, 2004

check smalldog for prices on refurbs, discontinued, and other mac goodies.

Once the ram is at 512, the iBook is a real winner of a laptop.
posted by zpousman at 6:37 AM on October 27, 2004

I was basically going to write exactly what cCranuim did except that my battery is still okay. I run my 12" with 256MB which is fine as long as I don't use any memory hogging programs [Photoshop and iPhoto I am looking in your direction]. I get good wireless range all over the house and I beat the hell out of it and it's really durable. I would recommend the applecare/warranty for the reasons people mention. I've also bought all of my recent systems from SmallDog who, last I checked, had the same prices as the Apple website and I've been really happy with them service-wise.
posted by jessamyn at 6:52 AM on October 27, 2004

I second the applecare-I have a toasted iBook motherboard I think from excessive use/carry and now I have to deal with a costly repair abroad.
posted by themadjuggler at 6:57 AM on October 27, 2004

256MB isn't enough for OS X? That surprises me. It's plenty for Win2K or Linux. (I thought OS X would improve memory management over OS9, not degrade it.) Since I loathe XP, even though I'm not fond of iBooks, I won't make any other discouraging comments...

And third the Applecare. Apple has notorious quality control issues; when I supported Macs at colleges, we always, always, always stressed that students should get the Applecare. "False economy" was a phrase that got tossed around a lot.
posted by lodurr at 7:34 AM on October 27, 2004

Derail: iBook users -- do you not find 1024x768 to be confining? I've been thinking about getting one, but that just doesn't seem like enough res. (I'd post my own question, but I'm not serious about this yet.)
posted by lodurr at 7:37 AM on October 27, 2004

Is > 256MB desirable? Certainly. Is it necessary? Quite possibly not.

I have an eMac at home running 10.3.5 that has 256MB, I keep on meaning to upgrade it but I haven't ever quite got round to it. While running the usual built in apps it's just fine. Yes, occasionally you will see the spinning beach ball when you switch apps if you have too much open and keep moving between them, but for the most part everything is fine. If in addition you then open Photoshop Elements (which actually runs fine by itself in 256)... well let's just say at that point the picture changes a little.

It's just the same with disk space. My wife was happy with the 20GB drive in her iBook, and wondered what she would do with all that empty space. Then I bought her an iPod and she filled the drive within a couple of weeks and was longing for more space.

Does Apple under spec the ram? Possibly for the general user, but probably not for the web/e-mail/mahjong using granny.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 8:32 AM on October 27, 2004

juiceCake, the iBook logic board issues were in the older G3 iBooks--thus far the two generations of G4 iBooks have not had a similar rash of problems. Additionally, even if one had a G3 iBook with any issue, Apple put them all under a protection plan so that any iBook bit by that issue could be serviced quickly and for free. Case in point, my girlfriend's 700Mhz G3 iBook had the issue and it was fixed in about 3 days, including ship time.

DO NOT bother getting a 14" unless your mother has poor eyesight; the resolution is exactly the same as the 12", so it just has larger pixels (and thus is not as sharp, albeit being 'larger').

And here's another hand up for 'Get 512MB of RAM', she'll need it. Will it be unusable with 256? Not by a long stretch. Will it be noticeably sluggish at times? Probably, depending on her exact usage patterns.

lodurr, OSX is a memory hog to some degree, but that is primarily because of the eye-candy interface. However, provided one has more RAM, the computer will work quite smoothly, and the thing is, the MHz won't matter nearly as much.

I've used old G3 500MHz (and that's with an upgarde) Macs, and with a lot of memory they ran just about as well as a twice-as-fast PC with WinXP on it. Ditto for my current machine, a dual processor 450MHz G4.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 8:46 AM on October 27, 2004

Various comments:

1. The 14" screen would probably be kinder to mom's eyes.
2. I don't think 256 MB RAM is enough, and it doesn't have a lot to do with the apps you run--it's a function of the crazy graphics with transparency in OS X that consume a lot of RAM. As soon as you start paging memory out to the hard disk, performance suffers. You want to delay that as long as possible with more RAM.
3. Whether 1024x768 is big enough or not depends on A) what you're used to, and B) your working style. If you've never used anything bigger, you won't miss it. Even if you have, you can shrink and relocate the dock, get comfortable using one window in the Finder, etc, and then it's not too bad. I prefer more real-estate, though.
4. Extended warrantees seems like the smart thing with laptops that get carted around a lot.
5. I've always done business with Small Dog Electronics; they're good folks. Look for refurbs and slightly dated models in stock.
posted by adamrice at 8:47 AM on October 27, 2004

I love my ibook. Sold my palm pilot. It feels like an extension of my brain. Tends to get scratchy with use, however, and even with 512mb is a little sluggish at times. I wish I had gotten the powerbook for the external wireless antenna jack, the metal case, and the audio inputs, but that probably won't be the case with your parental unit.
posted by mecran01 at 2:28 PM on October 27, 2004

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