Help Me Pick Out A Clamshell
April 17, 2006 12:38 PM   Subscribe

I'd like my gateway mac to be a 'clamshell' G3 ibook. Is this a wise decision?

I've decided to finally give in an buy a mac, but being the cautious type, I want to get the best experience for the minimum amount of scratch. I need a new laptop (just for writing/wordprocessing) and thought that getting one of the very cool 'clamshell' style ibooks would be just the ticket to a) get me used to the mac before I finalize my decision to buy a mini and b) get me something inexpensive and portable to write with. Well, besides using a pencil and an index card.

I found these - the price is right, they come with a 60 day warranty, and extra RAM and a new battery is available.

Were these trustworthy machines?
What should I look for?
Minimum RAM?
Minimum hard drive?
Operating system version?
Mandatory software?
Some models better than others?
Am I throwing good money down the drain?
What do I need to know?
What questions should I ask any vendor?

Please feel free to lecture/scold/mock/praise/warn me.
posted by willmize to Computers & Internet (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Those are what, ~7 year old machines with 800x600 screens, which means that, at best, they are probably going to be underpowered for any software less than 4-5 years old, even if you buy extra RAM for them.

I can't imagine it's going to give you valid basis for judging the present-day MacOS experience.
posted by Good Brain at 12:45 PM on April 17, 2006

I think your reasoning is off. Essentially you'd be paying $250 to test an (inferior) product. Why not just buy the mini and if it doesn't work out, return it within 2 weeks? If you need more time, you could just sell it on eBay if you're not happy with it later.
posted by junesix at 12:51 PM on April 17, 2006

Best answer: I would not buy one of these either, unless as a novelty (I've always wanted a tangerine one, myself).

My suggestion, take it for what you will: buy a used G3 white plastic type model on eBay (400mhz+).

Those models and later will run OSX, which is the current operating system and what any new comptuer will be running. With that model of computer and later you will have no problem installing any recent applications and memory should not be an issue unless there is 256 or less (and even then, this much memory is fine for any OSX version below the current one, which is system-heavy with dashboard, exposé, etc.).

I recently sold a 14.1" iBook 600mhz with 640mb ram for 330$ - similar deals are out there. I can't help but think that you'll be disappointed if you buy the clamshell models.
posted by sporky at 12:51 PM on April 17, 2006

For my money (literally), the primary reason for going to a Mac is OS X, which will run like (admittedly, inexpensive) ass on the G3. This will give you virtually no insight into how using the mini will feel.

As far as mandatory software, you get an enormous amount of stuff with OS X, built in (we can't exactly say "free"). Nothing else is mandatory unless you have a specific niche application.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:52 PM on April 17, 2006

They were great in their day, but their day was a loooonnng time ago. Old hardware. Ancient software. This makes no sense.
posted by clarkstonian at 12:52 PM on April 17, 2006

You may want to check out Ars Technica's Used Mac Buyer's Guide and Low End Mac's profiles for system profiles, caveats and recommendations.
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:53 PM on April 17, 2006

Those are not good machines. They are only slightly worth anything due to their 'old cool factor.' You will most likely have to use OS8 or 9, due to the paucity of the screen and available RAM. Even OS9 will not be a good experience on that machine. If you get used to anything, it'll be the crashy memory-starved unstable experience of the worst OS of that time period. Get a Mac 512 instead or a SE30 -- it'll be better!

After adding (necessary) RAM and a new battery to that iBook you'll be up to at least $400. The mini will be only $100-200 more expensive (you can get a refurb, too) and be up to spec. If you want a portable mac just to write with, get a $30 eMate off of eBay.
posted by neustile at 12:57 PM on April 17, 2006

Actually just wait around for refurbished iBook 12-inch on the Apple website since your budget is about $850 ($250 clamshell + $600 mini). There isn't one available right now but when it's in stock, it should be perfect for your budget.
posted by junesix at 12:59 PM on April 17, 2006

Wegener can be very frustrating to do business with, though I am writing this post on a refurbed G3 powerbook from there... The clamshell iBooks haven't held up as well as the same-era Powerbooks, even for the less $$$. Get a 400 or 500 Mhz Powerbook w/ the Firewire & built-in WiFi and you'll easily forget that you're using a 6-year-old computer
posted by john m at 1:02 PM on April 17, 2006

You will most likely have to use OS8 or 9, due to the paucity of the screen and available RAM.

Wrong. If willmize intends to use the portable for word processing but not heavy duty media apps (Final Cut Pro HD, Garageband, Motion or MX Studio) Panther or Tiger can run just fine on a G3/4, provided 512 or more RAM is onboard.
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:05 PM on April 17, 2006

As for retaillers, one can always check out PowerMax, Smalldog, and Baucom.
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:10 PM on April 17, 2006

There are pluses and minuses...

It will run OSX- if you add enough RAM, at least another 256mb
A 6gb drive will hold the OS and a few applications.
These do not have a DVD player, but the Grey clamshell does...
and firewire too.
posted by Gungho at 1:12 PM on April 17, 2006

I don't think this is a good idea if your primary goal is to test out the mac experience. Without an optimized osx you're going to miss out on alot of the benefits.

I would go the refurbished mac route, on the apple site. you can get some great deals, and the resale value means you wouldn't lose out on much money if you don't like it. (but you likely will).
posted by visual mechanic at 1:18 PM on April 17, 2006

The price is not right. That is ridiculous. You should be able to find a better value on Craigslist.

If you're looking for a "gateway Mac" in the hopes that maybe you'll like it and get hooked, get one that is likable for reasons other than the cheerful colors.
posted by adamrice at 1:25 PM on April 17, 2006

Best answer: I agree with the folks who recommended an older white iBook. I'm typing this on a 500Mhz G3 w/ 640 MB RAM. I bought it used a few years ago, but they go for around $300+ right now. I'm running the latest OS X and it's slow occasionally, but this thing is a workhorse for the most part. I use it constantly for email, web, and sometimes writing HTML and it never crashes or stalls.

I'd also highly recommend Small Dog for refurbished machines. They're great people.
posted by jdl at 1:31 PM on April 17, 2006

these things are pretty much dogs. if you boot ubuntu on it it might be barely tolerable, but forget OSX.

as for the 500MHz white iBook, the system bus is ridiculously slow. i tore mine apart and overclocked it and now its only slow under OSX instead of maddeningly unbearable.
posted by joeblough at 1:47 PM on April 17, 2006

Don't forget to add $129 for a copy of Mac OS X (which will run slowly), $27 (minimum) for RAM upgrades to run OS X, $80 for a non-dead battery, and $119 for an Airport card. That'll get you up to $585 for a barely-functional, obsolete machine with no software.

Or were you planning to run Mac OS 9 with decade-old software while plugged into a wall outlet & ethernet cable?
posted by designbot at 2:06 PM on April 17, 2006

I will say, if you really do just want to do word processing, you could run older software under Mac OS 9, and it would work OK. However, as others have said, it will bear little resemblance to the experience of running the latest version of Mac OS X on a modern system.
posted by designbot at 2:19 PM on April 17, 2006

Best answer: Agree with everybody else: This is a bad choice for a first Mac.

You need a white iBook 12" minimum. I'd go for a 600 or 700MHz model, even if you have to forgo the DVD reading drive. My wife uses one as her daily machine and it's got 10.4 on it without trouble. It's not fast, but it definitely works.

Or go the Mini route if you've already got a keyboard and mouse.
posted by zpousman at 2:32 PM on April 17, 2006

I agree, if you need a portable I'd start with a G4 iBook as a minimum. Those clamshell models were barely adequate when they first came out, and are an anachronism in 2006.
posted by markmillard at 2:46 PM on April 17, 2006

Mark, the G3 iBooks would be decent, so long as it's a recent G3 iBook...I'd agree with zpousman and say 600/700 MHz at the least. Avoid the 800-even MHz model as they have severe logic board issues (freezing, scrambled video, etc). I think there might be one in the upper 800MHz range though which should be fine...can't remember.

One-millionthing the "for the love of God do not get a clamshell iBook". It may be possible to get OS X executing on them, but it will NOT be a pleasurable experience unless you enjoy such pastimes as watching paint dry or grass grow.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 3:07 PM on April 17, 2006

I've commented on this before: a clamshell is a false economy, and likely to put you off the whole idea of using a Mac. Buy a refurb iBook, or see if you can borrow a friend's to get used to how OS X should feel when running on modern hardware.
posted by holgate at 4:35 PM on April 17, 2006

My SO has a clamshell mac (it's blue-trimmed, though I have no idea what that means). It has been upped to 384Mb RAM, had an airport card installed, and runs OSX and MS Office fine. If you're going to be cracking encryption or sequencing genomes, perhaps it's not the machine for you, but for word processing, web, spreadsheets etc it's fine.

I've been tempted to get one myself, and I'm actually surprised at the slagging they're getting here. I suspect a lot of people making analogies to grass and paint haven't seen such a system operating.

The worst thing about this machine is the screen, which can be a pain on some websites - the only thing that really bothers me is that you cannot use this machine as an XBMC remote control. There just aren't that many pixels.
posted by pompomtom at 6:06 PM on April 17, 2006

Pompomtom, I've used really old G3 Macs to run OS X, and as my primary computer to boot...I know from experience how slow it can be on those machines. Sure, it's not 100% unuseable, and you can get stuff done to some degree...but for someone evaluating the Mac platform for the first time? Ridiculous. That's like giving someone a beefed-up high-end Pentium II (or very low-end Pentium III, I guess) and asking them to decide whether to get a newer PC by how well XP runs on it.

The OP asked I'd like my gateway mac to be a 'clamshell' G3 ibook. Is this a wise decision? and the answer to that is emphatically no. If they had asked I have a 'clamshell' G3 ibook, can I run OS X on it? then you'd be perfectly right.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 6:28 PM on April 17, 2006

Best answer: The OP asked if it would be an OK introduction to macs. I had never used macs before, became the house admin for the machine, and am now quite comfortable with OSX.

The OP mentioned they wanted a cheap, portable word processing machine. There is one of these at my place, in the form of a slightly upgraded blue clamshell. I will often use it rather than my newer chunkier Athlon-based laptop, because the mac is smaller and lighter, and has a nifty carry handle.

So that looks like (a) and (b) taken care of.

I'm sorry, but I don't see the 'ridiculous' here. Presuming the effort is intended to have a cheap working machine, rather than to be grooming another mac fanboy, an old clamshell seems to me to fit the bill (though perhaps not at the prices linked in the OP).

Of course it's not going to fly.. but so what? Most computers are over-powered these days. Who gives a toss if the spellcheck takes one second or two?
posted by pompomtom at 7:14 PM on April 17, 2006

My old 600 MHz white iBook is almost too slow to use with OS X. A clamshell iBook will not be satisfactory.

Here's an analogy: your plan is like buying a powered lawnmower, pouring the most expensive grade of gas into it, and riding around town; then, using that experience to decide whether or not to buy a BMW.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:32 PM on April 17, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you all so VERY much for your answers, I truly appreciate them. I've decided to hold off on any purchase for right now and just wait for the dust to settle and think some more about my purchase. I still want to switch, but I want to do it smart and efficiently.
Thanks again!

- Bill
posted by willmize at 5:26 AM on April 18, 2006

Intel versions of the iBook are due soon. At which point iBook G4s may become quite inexpensive as they're flogged at discontinued-product prices.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:45 AM on April 18, 2006

My SO has kept a iBook DV limping along all these years. It isn't particularly pimped out, maybe 256Mb of extra RAM only. It runs Tiger without any particular problems. I have a G4 iBook, and there really isn't enough difference to bother me in day to day use (Safari, Mail etc). However it does crash and hang with Office. I'd stay clear of it except for the retro value.
posted by roofus at 9:33 AM on April 18, 2006

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