Need to figure out a replacement/alternative for my 12" Powerbook
July 2, 2011 4:47 AM   Subscribe

Need to figure out a replacement/alternative for my 12" Powerbook. Any suggestions?

After 6.5 years, my Powerbook 12" has decided to give up its ghost after a failed attempt to apply a Leopard update a few weeks back.

In these 6.5 years, it's gone through two logic board replacements, a battery recall, one DC-board replacement, one hard disk replacement and two new battery purchases. Now, it seems that the third logic board has died and they don't have the part available anymore (I'm suspicious of this diagnosis - somehow I get the feeling that logic board death is the standard catch-all used by Apple techs to explain away all symptoms that can't be diagnosed. I digress though)

Now, I'm faced with only three options as I see it.
1. Replace the logic board myself with a replacement bought of Ebay (USD 90-100 odd). I'm quite comfortable doing this with the help of IFixit but this means I will need one whole day to do this. Question is how much life will get I off a second-hand part and is it worth it? Anybody who has done this and would like to share their experience?

2. Put the Powerbook away with fond memories on Ebay (for part scroungers) and lump it for a new Macbook Pro. On that - what recommendations? Which Apple laptop - 13" Macbook Al, Macbook Pro or Macbook Air comes close to the great form factor of the 12" Powerbook. I will not be using it for Photoshop or anything intensive beyond the occasional game

3. Say goodbye to the Apple world (tempted to do so based on my horrible repair history outlined above) and get a PC notebook. Pros as I see it - way cheaper, easier to use Office, can install Ubuntu. Cons - fit and finish, Windows. Since I've been away from Windows for so long, have no clue about what laptop brand/model comes closest to providing the experience of my Powerbook. Any suggestions on that front?
posted by epiphinite to Computers & Internet (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you love the 12" PowerBook (I know I did!) the one you really want is the 11" MacBook Air. The 13" models, including the 13" Air, just have too big a footprint to be a fully satisfactory replacement for the 12" PB. Unless you absolutely have to have a built in DVD drive go the 11" Air.

At this point in the game I probably wouldn't replace the logic board just because it's $100 invested in something with no return and no future.
posted by 6550 at 5:03 AM on July 2, 2011

The 13" Macbooks are very nice, but they are noticeably bigger than the old 12". I think you'll like the Macbook Air.

To the best of my technical knowledge, and according to my inclination for how things should work, I don't know that there are any Windows machines that are really worth it. It's not just the fit and finish and the OS – it's also the battery type. Apple laptops of late have really really good batteries.

If you do like the Air, then depending on what you can afford and the size you like, there are IMO the following factors to consider:
- The 11" form factor is beautiful. Try demoing one. If it feels right, then it's the right machine.
- The latest 13" Airs have really nice battery life. Worth the money if you can spare it.
- When buying used, I am not too excited about the first models (MacbookAir1,1 type). Not really at a sweet spot w.r.t performance/price.
- SSD / Flash storage is worth it if you can spare the cash.
- 4GB is also worth it if you can spare the cash.
- I'd pick more RAM and SSD over a faster CPU.
posted by krilli at 5:17 AM on July 2, 2011

I'm very happy with my 11-inch MacBook Air.
posted by alms at 5:31 AM on July 2, 2011

Echoing the 11" MacBook Air. As a previous 12" iBook owner I've finally found a replacement which works for me.

Went for the faster processor, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM and didn't regret it. Having switched from a MacBook Pro I do notice the reduced battery life (I'm lucky to get 4 1/2 hours, I run it with brightness dimmed, no flash, minimal apps open at any one time etc...), so I have a HyperMac extra battery just in case - can't rave about it enough!

Try one in a store, they are really delicious. I use it to power a 24" Apple Display too, without any problems.
posted by Hanni at 5:40 AM on July 2, 2011

We replaced our beloved 12" PowerBook a few months ago, but went with the 13" MacBook Air, which we love. It doesnt sacrifice power and storage quite the way the 11" does, and is the only suitable succesor I've been happy with since purchasing my 12" PowerBook 6 years ago. The MacBook pros, while great, are not the 12" PB.

Sorry about your computer. Good luck.
posted by areawoman at 5:45 AM on July 2, 2011

(I'm suspicious of this diagnosis - somehow I get the feeling that logic board death is the standard catch-all used by Apple techs to explain away all symptoms that can't be diagnosed. I digress though)

Just to add information to the digression, pretty much everything in the computer is the logic board. Once you take out the battery, screen, memory and drives, you are left with the logic board. So many different kinds of failures are fixed by the logic board.
posted by gjc at 6:42 AM on July 2, 2011

If you do decide to get something other than a mac - I recommend a toshiba. I am a heavy laptop user and serial laptop killer (I didn't do anything! It just died on me!) and my toshiba is my pride and joy and by far the longest lived laptop I've had. When this one goes I'm definately buying another one.
posted by stillnocturnal at 6:53 AM on July 2, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, all the recommendations seem to be for the Macbook Air so far. In all your opinion, what features of the MB Air make it a better buy over the Macbook Pro 13" on a price-performance ratio? I'm not looking for extreme portability or lightness, esp. considering the 12" powerbook isn't that light in comparison to the modern alternatives
posted by epiphinite at 6:57 AM on July 2, 2011

Response by poster: stillnocturnal - do you use the Portege R700? Any opinion/thoughts on that model? It seems to be getting a lot of good reviews. I'm also hearing good things about the Thinkpad X120e and X220 and both seem to be in the correct size range as a 12" laptop replacement
posted by epiphinite at 7:00 AM on July 2, 2011

I replaced my 12'' PowerBook logic board with an eBay one a few years ago, and it still works as good as new. The logic board is not a part that usually wears out, so I think you've just had really bad luck so far. There's no reason to suppose that a used logic board is any worse than a new one.

The MacBook Air is for people who really need extreme lightness, or who care a lot about how their laptop looks (because it does look cool). If that's not you, you probably want a regular MacBook, or a PC.
posted by Chicken Boolean at 7:03 AM on July 2, 2011

I personally equate the 12" to the Air based on feel. Both are under some subtle threshold of perception of smallness.
posted by krilli at 7:15 AM on July 2, 2011

(I really love the 13" Macbooks, and that's the one I would personally get - and will get as my next purchase - but I'm recommending the Air to you as someone who really appreciates what the old 12" is and does.)
posted by krilli at 7:16 AM on July 2, 2011

Response by poster: Chicken Boolean - did you do the procedure yourself or did you get an experienced tech to do it? I'm not too scared to get into the internals myself - i've changed the thermal paste on my Powerbook and cleaned out the fan etc. Just a little circumspect about doing so with the logic board given our temperamental history together

Krilli - looks like the Macbook Air is going to go in for a refresh in a month or so. From ongoing speculation looks like that refresh might make the decision between MB Air and 13" MB Pros more difficult
posted by epiphinite at 7:34 AM on July 2, 2011

Personally, I wouldn't put any money into the old machine. That's a long time for a computer to live; chances are, you're going to face other failures and repairs soon.

If I personally were choosing a laptop, I would buy a business-oriented one from Toshiba or Lenovo – in the Tecra or Thinkpad (T|W|X) series. Unfortunately, the Tecra's smallest laptop is 14". The ThinkPad X220 looks excellent and is right there in your range.

Now, in terms of style, I have always preferred the "serious business" look to Mac design; but you may not find them aesthetically pleasing.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:41 AM on July 2, 2011

If you do end up choosing a MacBook Air (which would be my choice in your situation), the new updated models are coming this month, so you can have the latest specs or a discount on the old ones (new old stock, or a refurb which I've never heard anyone say anything bad about).
posted by fairmettle at 8:00 AM on July 2, 2011

Have you considered looking at a mac reseller? PowerMax, Shreve Systems, or Small Dog may have a PB 12" that suits your needs for 1/3 what the cheapest MBA costs.

The downside of a used computer is that it will be used, won't run Lion, etc. But it might get you along for a few more years.
posted by Mad_Carew at 8:36 AM on July 2, 2011

I did it myself using some instructions I found online. It's not hard, as long as you keep track of all the tiny screws. Keep in mind that I'm technically inclined and I hate buying new stuff; most people are not like that and would just buy a whole new computer.
posted by Chicken Boolean at 8:48 AM on July 2, 2011

3. Say goodbye to the Apple world (tempted to do so based on my horrible repair history outlined above)

This can be a thing in the non-Mac world, too. The horrible repair history, I mean. I had a 12" pb (which I bought as a refurb) that is still going strong (it's on loan to my downstairs neighbor), and the only thing I had to have done to it was have the hard drive replaced when the old one died - I could've done it myself, but was too nervous, so I paid a place to do it and they were lovely and able to get all the data off the old drive as well. I upgraded the RAM myself at one point, but that was it. It never needed any other repairs.

Two years ago I decided I was tired of putting money into a computer that was about to be obsolete(ish) and bought a new 13" MBP (unibody) and I lovelovelove it. I'll be able to upgrade to Lion. It can run the latest iTunes etc., which means there's no trouble when it needs to talk to my iPhone. It's got an optical drive, which I don't use often but is awfully convenient when I need it.

I don't think you can go wrong with the Air, mind you, but I don't find the mbp OMG HUGE! compared to the pb. It's a little bigger. The screen is delightfully bigger, but not ridiculously so. Go to an Apple store if you can and play with them both.
posted by rtha at 8:51 AM on July 2, 2011

Response by poster: I'm really leaning towards the MB Air based on what I've been reading here and online. I think the best thing to do is wait a few weeks till we hear what the new refresh looks like. In the meanwhile, will try and work with a loaner laptop. I just wish that Apple had a matte-screen option available for all its laptops. Will really miss that about the Powerbook!
posted by epiphinite at 9:40 AM on July 2, 2011

As someone who has gone from a PB12 to a quad-core MBP in the past month, and works with people using the MBA, the Air is underpowered (depending on what you do, natch) and the quad-core is a bit new feeling (beach balls at weird times). I say go with a dual-core MBP13 or MB13, depending on your attitude toward plastic. For what it's worth, if I hadn't been spending the company's money I would get the lowest-end MBP and put an SSD and max RAM in it for the best of both worlds.

Before this I had been shopping for a Linux notebook (Windows, basically), and found that there are very few that compare to Apple's. There are no simple Windows laptops and so they are either small or featureful. I dunno, I'm pretty happy with the MBP, but it is definitely heavier than my PB. The 13" screen is fine, though I don't think I'll ever prefer widescreen.
posted by rhizome at 9:44 AM on July 2, 2011

One more vote for the 11" Air. The all time favorite computer I've owned was my 12" PB; though I digressed into a 13" MacBook for a couple of years, I bought the 11" a couple of months ago and it's fabulous.

The size and feel are appealing in the way the 12" was in its day. I am extremely pleased with the battery life (generally, as good or even better than advertised) and the supposed drawback of the low power CPU is something I haven't even noticed.

With a small discount, I came in under $1000 for the base 11" MBA plus a 1TB external HD (allaying all of my storage concerns, and then some). The 12" PB set me back over $2000 in 2003.
posted by gazole at 12:57 PM on July 2, 2011

The original requester says:

"I'm not looking for extreme portability or lightness, esp. considering the 12" powerbook isn't that light in comparison to the modern alternatives"

Buy the 13" Macbook Pro. It has much better I/O options than the Air and gets a real world 7.5 to 9 hour battery life. NINE HOURS!!!
posted by thewalrus at 4:16 PM on July 2, 2011

Don't get a PC just cuz it'll run Ubuntu. You can definitely install Ubuntu on a Mac if you need it for some reason. It will be a bit harder on the MB Air than other Macs, since the Air has no CD drive, and you might not want to use the limited hard drive space for an Ubuntu partition. But it's definitely possible.
posted by vasi at 11:13 PM on July 2, 2011

somehow I get the feeling that logic board death is the standard catch-all used by Apple techs to explain away all symptoms that can't be diagnosed.

Just as an aside, the Powerbooks and iBooks from that era had terrible logic board problems. Nobody I knew with one didn't have the logic board replaced at least once; my 15" Powerbook had the logic board replaced three times in two years.

I now have a three-year-old MacBook Pro that's only had its logic board replaced once. Progress!

Modern batteries do last longer (in terms of hours), but I find they last much shorter (in terms of years). I've just bought a new battery for my MBP after my old battery got down to being able to only hold a charge for about fifteen minutes. This was confirmed for me by an Apple Genius, who said that the new batteries sacrifice longevity for better daily usage.

No matter what you choose, max out the RAM.
posted by Georgina at 1:31 AM on July 3, 2011

Georgina, if I may ask, was it one of the late models with the internal "hidden" batteries, or was it the older types with a battery that you can eject from the bottom of the machine?

(Because the newer ones are supposed to last way longer, lifetime-wise.)
posted by krilli at 5:46 AM on July 3, 2011

Hi, krilli. My MBP is the last model before they went to the unibody design, so it has the ejectable battery.

Good to hear that the new batteries are supposed to last longer. I was surprised at how quickly my MPB battery degraded, because the batteries lasted reasonably well on my previous two Mac laptops.
posted by Georgina at 6:48 AM on July 3, 2011

Response by poster: thewalrus - As I'm only going to be using it for internet, writing and presentations, the occasional itunes/iphoto usage, I think the MB Air sounds like a better option. Especially the new ones that might come up in a few weeks with i5 and i7 options. If they can get the pricing at the same level and throw in an extra 2 GB RAM, it will be a laptop killer in terms of startup speed and usage. CIf you consider that a 128 GB good quality SSD goes for around $200-250, the refreshed MB Air will be a good deal for the next year at least

Thanks for all the responses - am just going to wait out the next two weeks before taking a call. Will keep you all updated - thanks again!
posted by epiphinite at 7:36 AM on July 3, 2011

Response by poster: Too late maybe to ask all the helpful respondents here but will the MB Air be able to handle large document repositories like Devon Think and Tinderbox (not used but exploring it)? Are SSD's good for handling these type of files? Do you find it difficult to work off external HDDs in case that is required for really large databases/music libraries for example?
posted by epiphinite at 11:45 PM on July 3, 2011

SSDs ought to be great for that type of work. Better than hard drives.

Working off externals - No, not difficult at all. Especially smooth in OS X. (Be sure to get an external drive anyway to back up to, e.g. using Time Machine!)
posted by krilli at 9:34 AM on July 4, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks krilli - you've been more than helpful!
posted by epiphinite at 9:48 AM on July 4, 2011

Response by poster: Well, the new Macbook Air has sealed the deal for me. Going to go with the MB Air 13" option. Think the additional screen space will be better when typing a lot (no hunching) in comparison to the 11". Thanks all
posted by epiphinite at 1:43 AM on July 22, 2011

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