Buy G4 now or wait for G5 Powerbook
December 22, 2003 4:20 PM   Subscribe

My G3 Powerbook is 3.5 years old. I love my Powerbook and intend to stick with Apple. Unfortunately, my G3 is starting to deteriorate. The CD ROM is broken and programs randomly close for no reason. I lost several pages on a paper I was writing. Which is all to say that my parents generously offered to get me a new computer for Hannukah / graduation (I graduate in a few months). Since I definitely want to buy another Powerbook, should I just go out and buy the Titanium G4? Or do you think a G5 Powerbook will come out soon and I should wait?
posted by adrober to Computers & Internet (30 answers total)
Though I'm a massive Mac fan, I have to say that in the past few years the quality control in Apple gear seems to have gone way down. I have a PowerBook G3, a PowerBook G4 and an iPod - all of them have repeatedly been back to the factory with various faults. Each of the machines has been completely replaced at least once under the Apple extended warranty, so whatever you do make sure you get the extended warranty.

My question to you is - why a Mac? They're lovely but far more expensive and not apparently any more reliable than competing machines. From now on I'm definitely going to be buying PCs.

As to your other specific questions... first of all you can probably sort out the software / program problem. Back the hard drive up, reformat it and install the system again. Then reinstall those apps you use and any docs you need - you should find everything works perfectly again.

With regard to Titanium G4s... I don't think a G5 PowerBook is due any day soon but I would imagine it's about time for Apple to launch a new range (rumours suggest a tablet Mac is in the works.) The iBooks are also pretty damn good though.
posted by skylar at 4:31 PM on December 22, 2003

I'd wait until after the Jan. 2004 Macworld in SF, I suspect G5 laptops may be announced, because if not, the difference between G4 ibooks and G4 tibooks right now is pretty slim.
posted by mathowie at 4:34 PM on December 22, 2003

It's rumored that the G5 Powerbook won't be due till 12/24, due to cooling issues. There is also speculation that the aluminum PBs (none are titanium anymore) will be getting a speed bump soon.

i agree with matt. Wait till after Macworld.

Also, I disagree with skyler--or my experience runs contrary. I bought a 12" Powerbook and an iPod in June/July and they've both worked flawlessly for me. No QC problems whatsoever.

I've linked this site many times, but still recommend it for anyone buying new gear. The people there are fantastic at answering questions like yours and can really get down to specifics should you need them to.
posted by dobbs at 5:11 PM on December 22, 2003

A G5 laptop is going to cost you more, make you wait, and probably run hotter. Unless you really need 8 gigs of memory in your laptop, or you think 100 extra MHz is really going to make the difference with crashing programs, I'd buy a current generation PowerBook sometime after the holidays. You've got educational purchase access, you can probably get an excellent value on a good machine.

That said, it's *never* a good time to buy a laptop. You can always wait that extra six months and get something marginally better, and your choice will still be the same when the time comes. Hm. You can probably get a G6 if you just hold out till 2005.

Wait for MacWorld on January 6th, and if nothing major is announced for the PowerBook line, buy a G4. And even if something major is announced, it will only make G4s cheaper. Nothing new is likely to be ready for MacWorld SF unless they have already end-of-lifed the current G4s. Most Mac-info sites would have noted that by now. Check around.
posted by scarabic at 5:18 PM on December 22, 2003

skylar - I'm primarily a PC-man myself, but for laptops, Apple is far and away the best for quality (has been for years) and their prices are finally reasonable, even competitive. 5-lb. iBooks start at around $1000 now.
That old "slower, costlier" argument isn't as convincing in the laptop world anymore, though I can't imagine forking over $2000 for a Mac dekstop.
posted by scarabic at 5:21 PM on December 22, 2003

I wouldn't wait. My guess is that the new Powerbooks that come out will merely be a speed bump to a faster G4 processor. Also, I'd recommend sticking with a Powerbook. On paper, they don't seem like as good a value as an iBook, but they are better built and easier to repair if they do fail. I love my 12" Powerbook...
posted by machaus at 5:21 PM on December 22, 2003

(.....CAN'T..... RESIST....arrrrgggh!!!...)

Was it a really good paper?

(...pant.. whew... okay, make up some advice)

I also am looking for a Powerbook to purchase, but I've been watching the rumour sites and general consensus is that G5 Powerbooks are unlikely at MacWorld unless Steve Jobs has bent the laws of thermodynamics to his will and sped up his development cycle by a few months.
posted by Stan Chin at 5:22 PM on December 22, 2003

You are much more likely to see a G5 Xserve at Macworld. That and new iPods.
posted by machaus at 5:31 PM on December 22, 2003

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the good advice. Wait til January 7th I will.
posted by adrober at 5:33 PM on December 22, 2003

My question to you is - why a Mac? They're lovely but far more expensive and not apparently any more reliable than competing machines. From now on I'm definitely going to be buying PCs.

Wow. Twenty years and they still can't just let it go... How about just answer the guy's question, since he specifically said he wants another Macintosh laptop?

adrtober, I'd consider it pretty likely the PowerBooks will get a small-to-middlenish speed bump at Macworld. But I'd also say it's probably not enough to wait for, if you're in need of a new machine. No offense, but you're not going to be able to see the difference between a 1.25Ghz and a 1.67Ghz G4 chip. There are probably not any other significant features in store, so you're probably just as well off with whatever deal you can get on a G4 PowerBook now as in four to six weeks.

One caveat: if you are looking at the smaller units, the 12" iBook G4 is a terrific buy when compared to the 12" PowerBook. Thanks to a local Apple store, I was able to do some rather extensive comparison testing and the performance enhancements of the PowerBook architecture simply weren't evident when using the machine to replicate "real life" tasks. I'm extremely happy with the one I ended up buying to "hold me over" until the PowerBook line makes the G5 jump...
posted by JollyWanker at 5:54 PM on December 22, 2003

I'd add another iBook vote. A fully tricked out iBook w/ all options/upgrades from Apple is prolly still cheaper than most Powerbooks. I had a 1400 Powerbook, it was a nice machine, but essentially toast (speed/memory wise) as regards a work machine after 3 years or so. I bought an early white iBook (in uhm Fall 2001 I think), 2.5 years later it still rocks, even w/ a slow chip. I've taken it everywhere, found it to be very durable. Airport has seriously changed the way I use lappies. Batteries are great as long as you don't abuse them. The only thing I've done was replace a 20gb harddrive w/ a 40gb one, which was cheap.
posted by carter at 6:27 PM on December 22, 2003

I'll add to the mention about the extended warranty. A Mac tech once told me to always buy the extended warranty when getting a lap top. Both my wife and I have used our extended warranties for repairs to our longer-in-the-tooth-with-each-passing-day TiBooks.
posted by Dick Paris at 6:29 PM on December 22, 2003

above, I said powerbook G5 speculated for 12/24. I meant 12/04 (dec '04).
posted by dobbs at 7:09 PM on December 22, 2003

Response by poster: I don't find the iBooks as comfortable as I do the Powerbooks. I think they're more cumbersome and the screens are (obviously) much smaller. Value wise, I'm sure they're tops, but as long as my parents are paying...
posted by adrober at 7:48 PM on December 22, 2003

Yup, bulk, and the screen (and tiny screen resolution) is where you lose out w/ iBooks. Also I'm not sure about Powerbooks these days but my Firewire/USB/Ethernet/modem etc are on the side of the chassis, rather than in the back (as was the case w/ my 1400). It is a major RL desktop real estate issue for me to have a tangle of cables sticking out the side.
posted by carter at 7:59 PM on December 22, 2003

I've had iBooks for the past two years. The second (an 800mhz 12") needed a logic board replacement which was fully covered under warranty. I was very happy with both machines, particularly in terms of size, durability, and battery life.

A few weeks ago I bought myself a new 15" G4, and it completely kicks ass. The keyboard is better, it's faster, and the display is incredible. But I really miss the smaller size. If you want the bigger display, buy this machine. Otherwise, buy the 12" iBook G4. (NB: You can enable display spanning on the iBooks. Good to know since this is one of the key things people buy Powerbooks for.)
posted by gkostolny at 8:00 PM on December 22, 2003

I'm a new 15" G4 Powerbook owner and could not be happier. I've used a lot of top-of-the-line PC laptops and there is just so much more serenity to the Mac platform for me.

I also have a ShuttleXP small-form-factor PC running XP, so I am definitely a hybrid user. That said, my Powerbook gets the lion's share of my attention.
posted by gen at 8:18 PM on December 22, 2003

Whoa, there: speak up of this "display spanning" on the iBook. My distinct impression is that they are NOT capable of driving an external monitor simultaneously with the built-in LCD.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:13 PM on December 22, 2003

fff: I shall speak. There is an extended desktop hack that works on most (but not *all*) iBooks. It definitely works on the new 12" G4 iBook, because I'm running it. It works seamlessly and has increased the value of my iBook significantly. Just be sure to read everything on that page to make sure it will work with your computer.

I spent a long time researching my laptop purchase. I decided on Apple because of OS 10.3 which I feel is far more stable and usable than XP, and because the construction of the laptop is superior to what I could get from any PC maker for the same price; things like built in Bluetooth, Airport, Firewire, 2 USB2.0 ports and instant sleep and wake-up function were very convincing. The new iBook G4 is now very affordable and not much slower than the PowerBooks. And the 12" model is small enough to be able to sling in a backpack without any trouble, which prevents it from sitting in the same place collecting dust.
posted by adrianhon at 1:26 AM on December 23, 2003

In an informal head-to-head How-long-does-it-take-to-open-Photoshop test, the 12" PowerBook is significantly more performant than the 15" iBook, like 3 to 5 times faster. The machines tested were both freshly rebooted, so that rules out caching. It may be that the 12" PowerBook has a faster hard drive than the 15" iBook. I bought the 12" PowerBook and have been extremely pleased with the purchase.
posted by tomharpel at 5:54 AM on December 23, 2003

I bought a new PowerBook just a month or two ago. There have been so many complaints on discussion forums about white spots on the 15" aluminum model's screens, that I ended up going for a (discontinued) 1 Ghz Titanium one. I've been incredibly happy with it, and I got it for an excellent price. There might still be some out there if you search around online.
posted by hyperizer at 6:29 AM on December 23, 2003

adrober, thanks for starting this topic, as my G3 Powerbook is starting to exhibit serious physical disabilities (cracked case, skittish DVD-ROM drive that doesn't recognize CD-Rs, crashing apps, malfunctional headphone jack, and now the power supply is failing on the machine side [as opposed to the cord side]) and I've been trying to determine my next step. Everyone's advice here has been very helpful.

We'll see what happens 1/6 ....
posted by blueshammer at 7:22 AM on December 23, 2003

The iBooks don't hold enough RAM. The PowerBook will have a longer useful life.
posted by sudama at 11:13 AM on December 23, 2003

Blueshammer... snap! My G3 PowerBook has a DVD-ROM drive that doesn't recognise CD-Rs, malfunctioning headphone jack, suspicious power issues (cord has already been replaced twice) and broken lid hinges. Are these common issues with that generation of Macs, or is it just a laptop thing in general?
posted by skylar at 12:22 PM on December 23, 2003

General advice on how not to lose papers: memorize the hotkey for save (CTRL+S or COMMAND+S usually) and hit that every other line or so. I've lost enough that now I have a hard time not doing that when I'm posting stuff or writing emails...
posted by woil at 12:40 PM on December 23, 2003

A very good general resource for the, "When should I buy a Mac?" question is the MacRumors Buyers' Guide. They include information on how old each model is, and give advice based on rumors and facts (imagine that!) on when the "right" time to buy is. Of course, there is no perfect time - but this helps.
posted by hijinx at 2:02 PM on December 23, 2003

sudama: Depends on what you want to do with the iBooks. I have a new 12" iBook G4 800 with RAM maxed out to 640MB and it can do all my web surfing, word processing, music and video and everyday tasks with no difficulty. I suspect that if I started doing serious graphics editing I might have problems but then that's not what I bought this for (and even then I think I would be OK for modest-sized graphics).

The question you have to ask yourself is: Do I feel lucky?

And the *other* question is: Do I really need a PowerBook? Can I justify spending another $300-$400 for perhaps a 25% increase in power? If you're not going to do any processor-intensive work, I would go for the iBook. Remember, white is the new silver.
posted by adrianhon at 3:48 PM on December 23, 2003

25% increase in power

if only each new release represented that big a step...
posted by scarabic at 4:01 PM on December 23, 2003

my G3 Powerbook is starting to exhibit serious physical disabilities (cracked case, skittish DVD-ROM drive that doesn't recognize CD-Rs, crashing apps, malfunctional headphone jack, and now the power supply is failing on the machine side

I hope for your sake you don't use the same handle on MeFi and eBay :)
posted by scarabic at 4:03 PM on December 23, 2003

Well, skylar, the power cord was already a debacle -- my Pismo came with one, then the skinny part failed, so I bought a new one, and then the skinny part failed again, and Apple was kind enough to send me a free replacement of that half, and then the fat part failed, but I still had my original fat part, and I think both ends of the cords are still functioning well, but now the socket end in the box itself is misbehaving. I don't know about the internal problem, but the power cord itself was a source of irration for many, I know. The case cracking is not something I blame on the design -- my Powerbook has just gotten a lot of use and not-always-kids-glove treatment, so a little flexure stress is entirely reasonable. The headphone jack quit on me early, which was a pisser, and the DVD drive had died altogether before it decided to come back to partial life. But my wife and I used that DVD drive almost every night to watch movies in our bedroom, so that it gave up the ghost after 2.5 years seems reasonable. I used the Powerbook hard, and I guess I'm not surprised that it's showing its age. It just that, when the power supply fails, I'm going to completely lose the utility of the thing (unless I get it repaired or get an external batter charger ... and, oh, my battery doesn't carry half the charge it used to), which, again, is a pisser, because maintaining the old PB as the bedroom TV would not only be nicer than the smaller-screened iBook, but it would also save wear on that computer.

Anyway: No, I don't think most of my Pismo's problems were endemic of the product line, outside of the power cord. Maybe the headphones and DVD drive, but maybe not.
posted by blueshammer at 6:35 AM on December 24, 2003

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