Mac laptop criteria?
February 5, 2004 7:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm almost in the market for a laptop, and being that I've got a very nice Windows machine in front of me (and that i'm sick to death of it), I'm seriously considering 'Switching'. However, I've got a few questions for the Zealots of the audience: [MI]

I have 'played' with the odd Mac or two, but I really have no quality in-depth knowledge about the things.

I'm going to be using the laptop primarily for code work (php, mysql, and objective-c if I can find some spare time to learn it), and a bit of Photoshop (nothing too taxing, certianly no print-resolution stuff) as well as basic every-day tasks.
  1. What's the difference between an iBook G4 and a Powerbook? I know that the Powerbooks are 'high-end', but is there any functionality that i'd lose by saving money and getting an iBook?
  2. What's OSX's memory usage like? I know with Windows, the best amount is 'as much as you can afford', but will I be able to get away with 256, or should I throw as much in as I can afford?
  3. On a similar note, will I be able to use any SO-DIMM, or does Apple have it's own funky style RAM?
posted by cheaily to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
Powerbook has better expandability: PCMCIA slot, better bus speeds; ability to drive external monitors, bluetooth.

The ibook G4 is fine for what you're going to do w/out a problem.

get at least 512 Megs, but getting more than a gig isn't going to help.

Ram chips:
Ibook: PC2100 DDR SO-DIMM

Check out dealram.
posted by filmgeek at 7:47 PM on February 5, 2004

For what you are doing even a slightly older iBook with G3 would be ok... but of course, G4 is better.

You do want at least 512 megs of RAM. I have 640 in my iBook G3/700 and it is pretty fast. My desktop machine is supposedly faster (G4/1G) but I never really notice the difference for what I do. Less than 512 megs and the virtual memory will be highly irritating.
posted by litlnemo at 8:47 PM on February 5, 2004

note that only 15" and 17" Powerbooks have PCMCIA slots. Also, far as I know, iBooks can drive external monitors but only mirror what's on their screen (or, at the least, are limited to the resolution of the iBook). The Powerbook's external thingy can utilize the max res of the external monitor and doesn't have to mirror the laptop.

I have 640 ram in my 12" powerbook (it came with 256). It was worth the us$100 to upgrade it.

I'll also once again give props to Macmentor, a great site for switching advice.
posted by dobbs at 8:54 PM on February 5, 2004

oh! note that if you are going to upgrade the ram, do it when you buy the machine or you'll be stuck with the 128 removable that ships with it. that's what happened to me, anyway.
posted by dobbs at 8:55 PM on February 5, 2004

There's an Open Firmware hack that lets you drive a monitor with an iBook as a second display rather than as a mirror of the built-in display.
posted by kindall at 9:04 PM on February 5, 2004

And with respect to Dobbs's suggestion, it's true that you'll be stuck with the 128MB module if you upgrade the RAM after purchase, but it might still end up being cheaper. Apple historically has overcharged for RAM, especially when you consider that in the case of the iBook they're not adding a module but replacing one.
posted by kindall at 9:06 PM on February 5, 2004

Apple historically has overcharged for RAM

As does Dell and pretty much every OEM I know. If you value your money, get RAM separately from Crucial those other online memory dealers.
posted by Tacodog at 10:09 PM on February 5, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks all, for the advice! At this stage, I'm looking at the 14" iBook. And I appreciate the links to cheap RAM, but given that I live in Australia, they're of less help to me than you indended :)

My usual supplier of hardware has SO-DIMMS in stock for half the price of what Apple charge to upgrade, so I'll probably go down that path.

Kindall: Thanks for the link - I've got a v.nice 17" Trinitron monitor that i'd like to be able to use when at home.

I don't forsee me needing a PCMCIA slot, so that's not a consideration. The only upgrade (aside from ram) that I'd be pursuing would be a wireless/Airport card... which brings up another question: will the Airport card work with other 802.11b networks?
posted by cheaily at 10:30 PM on February 5, 2004

will the Airport card work with other 802.11b networks?

posted by bradlands at 11:29 PM on February 5, 2004

I switched back to the Mac late last year and have been very happy. I went with a 15" Powerbook because I wanted the PCMCIA slot for a high-end audio card, and because I wanted the larger LCD.

Since you are going to be doing some programming, it's great to know that you have Apache built in. MySQL is easily installed as is perl and php all on top of Darwin. The Mac is a great development environment in that sense.

You'll want to set aside a bit of money to join the Apple Developer Connection as it is a great deal for programmers.
posted by gen at 1:03 AM on February 6, 2004

If this is going to be your work machine, either pay the money for a Powerbook or get an iBook with an extended warranty. The iBook is consumer-grade and does not hold up as well as a Powerbook to extensive use.

At work we have a mixed population of Powerbooks and iBooks of varying ages. They get pounded on 50-60 hours a week (oh, the memos we write...) and occasionally travel. The Powerbooks have suffered only from cracked hinges and have never left service. Over one third of the iBooks have become unusable at some point and required repair. YMMV. There have been very few problems among my friends who have an iBook for a home / personal machine and do not torture it daily with PowerPoint. Apple has fixed many of the flaws of the early iBook models, but even our newer ones have had "issues".

Yes, I think extended warranties are generally for suckers, but they have paid for themselves many times over in this case.
posted by sardonista at 5:36 AM on February 6, 2004

Oh yes, Apple Care is no joke. I recommend it highly. I "switched" three years ago when I got my PowerBook and just being able to call some one because you have no idea why your laptop suddenly won't connect to the internet and none of your friends knows anything about Macs was worth it to me. I haven't had to take advantage of any of the more robust repair features of Apple Care, but it's nice to know that I have some protection against turning my beautiful and expensive laptop into a beautful and expensive paperweight.
posted by jennyb at 6:28 AM on February 6, 2004

If you want to use your current monitor, you'll probably want to go with the Powerbook, because you will be able to span your desktop across the lcd screen and external monitor. With the ibook, you will only be able to mirror your desktop (have the same display on both the lcd and monitor) unless you install a hack.
posted by andrewraff at 7:12 AM on February 6, 2004

Minor correction: somebody pointed out Bluetooth as a "plus" for the PowerBook. Note that it is also available on the iBook, but it's (1) extra cost (c. US$50) and (2) has to be installed at order time by Apple.

As sardonista says, YMMV. Sounds like a smaller sample size on my end, but the iBooks of my experience have actually stood up to more physical abuse than the PowerBooks... I've always assumed it was because they're designed at least in part with schoolkids in mind (in fact, I had understood that many key internal components were actually encased in rubber because of that). Doesn't really matter, I had a PowerBook, I have an iBook G4 and I'm absolutely convinced that for me the iBook is a much better choice. Regardless of which one you end up choosing, welcome to the Good Guys Team! Your secret decoder ring and set of Apple-branded logo T's should be on their way!
posted by JollyWanker at 7:22 AM on February 6, 2004

cheaily, please note that the 14" iBook is the same resolution as the 12" iBook -- just bigger. That's the main reason I'm opting for the 12" -- I'd pay for more information (pixels), but not the same information, bigger.
posted by blueshammer at 8:14 AM on February 6, 2004

A quick word on buying a used iBook- don't buy anything with less than a 32MB video chip. Quartz Extreme, which allows hardware acceleration of the more complex UI tasks, requires it, and it makes a significant difference in your day-to-day performance.
posted by mkultra at 8:59 AM on February 6, 2004

Unless you want to hook up an LCD second screen with a DV interface, the iBook should be fine--otherwise you'll need a 15" PB. Obviously you'll want to compare the built-out price of each (once you add all the widgets you want, a PB might be a reasonable alternative).
posted by adamrice at 9:58 AM on February 6, 2004

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