What is the physically smallest and cheapest laptop capable of running OS X?
December 25, 2006 3:59 PM   Subscribe

What is the physically smallest laptop capable of running OS X? I'm only interested in word processing and light web browsing, so I have no prejudice against old models -- in fact, I'd prefer an older model if it's cheaper.

A friend of mine has an extremely small Powerbook G4 -- the computer is more or less exactly the size of the screen, which is the smallest I've ever seen on a mac laptop, but I'm curious to know if I can go even smaller or cheaper. I would get a Macbook Pro, but they appear to be 15" at minimum, and I'm not interested in owning a second full-power computer in addition to my desktop -- I only want something very simple for writing, so I'd actually rather have a laptop with limited capabilities.
posted by tweebiscuit to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
As far as I'm aware, the 12" Powerbooks are the smallest. The newer Macbooks are 13", and the Pro models are 15".
posted by robcorr at 4:01 PM on December 25, 2006


Yup. Unless you're interested in some sort of hacky workaround with one of those 10" Toshiba laptops, you're looking at a 12" Powerbook like your friend's.
posted by rossination at 4:04 PM on December 25, 2006


The 12" 867mhz Powerbook.

There are models up to 1.5mhz. Keep in mind that the slower model(s) may not be able to run Leopard.

Everymac reports the prices being as low as $700. Add a little ram (get it up to 1gb).
posted by filmgeek at 4:04 PM on December 25, 2006


Hm, that's not bad at all! Though this Toshiba hack... tell me more!

If anyone has recommendations for ultra-small PCs as well, I'd love to hear them -- I used to adore my Toshiba Portege 3110CT so much that I bought another one the first fell apart -- unfortunately, the second was so old that it fell apart as well, so I've had to give up that particular model, unfortunately.
posted by tweebiscuit at 4:06 PM on December 25, 2006


Apple rumors are worth approximately nothing, but there's one going around that a ultra-slim 12" MacBook Pro is going to be announced at MacWorld Expo some time in the second week of January; might be worth holding on until then to see if there's any truth to it. There's certainly a 12" sized hole in the line-up at the moment.
posted by simonw at 4:08 PM on December 25, 2006


(re: my "Toshiba hack". I am way out my league here, but I hear rumors of folks being able to run OS X on non-Apple laptops. I imagine that it's quite difficult, and prone to all kinds of buggy problems, but I think that it's been done.)
posted by rossination at 4:11 PM on December 25, 2006


Ahh, gotcha ross.

simonw -- ooh, crap, now I'm drooling. Gotta say I would love to be able to run Boot Camp... on the other hand, it might not be that great as a writing only device -- rats, I'm torn. Thanks!
posted by tweebiscuit at 4:15 PM on December 25, 2006


The PowerBooks were much thinner than the iBooks. On a volume basis, they might actually be the smallest.

Thinking outside the box, you could probably run the hacked intel OSX binaries on an ultraportable Windows notebook, such as the Sony TX series or Toshiba Libretto U100. The hack involves downloading a hacked version of OSX (commonly found on the various bittorrent trackers) and running it inside of VMWare. Nice for a proof of concept, but you are much better off with a real macbook or ibook, unless you need to prove that OSX will run on an ultrasmall machine to settle a bet.

For settling bets, the Sony UX is unlikely to be beat.

I only want something very simple for writing, so I'd actually rather have a laptop with limited capabilities.

Are you trying to save money, or space?

If money, then get any of the "ice/snow" iBooks. The G3 series were extremely reliable and should be in the ~USD$200 range now. The G4s were obviously more powerful, but had logic board issues. The logic issues may all be fixed now, but I wouldn't buy a G4 ibook sight unseen.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:18 PM on December 25, 2006


More on the Intel OSX hack. Note that this is probably always illegal.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:20 PM on December 25, 2006


I hear rumors of folks being able to run OS X on non-Apple laptops

I have successfully run Tiger 10.4.7 on a Thinkpad T42. Everything except the wifi card worked flawlessly. It requires hardware that's reasonably similar to an x86 Mac, a image of the install disc that has had certain portions of the OSX kernel replaced with more generic versions from OpenDarwin (these discs are available via your choice ofbittorrent search), and a good understanding of the idiosyncrasies of multi-booting on PC hardware (I was using GRUB, to triple-boot XP, Ubuntu Edgy and OSX). VMWare was not involved.

Because Apple does not license OSX for non-Apple hardware, installing it is certainly a breech of the licensing agreement (even if you owned a legit copy of OS X for x86).

The folks at the OSX86Project wiki, have got lots more information on the subject.
posted by toxic at 5:06 PM on December 25, 2006


One warning about the 867MHz model: It doesn't have USB 2.0. If you ever want to hook up an iPod or any type of external drive, you should get the 1GHz model or above.

The later models are also much more likely to have an AirPort card included, which can be expensive to buy separately.
posted by cillit bang at 5:09 PM on December 25, 2006


Just something to keep in mind - the 12" powerbooks run extremely hot. I had one for a short period of time, and the wrist rest put out and uncomfortable amount of heat.
posted by Caviar at 5:59 PM on December 25, 2006


I own a 12" Powerbook (1.5 GHz, last of the line) and love it to death. It's no Sony UX, but it's small. And it runs OS X beautifully--I don't know what the heat issues Caviar refers to stem from, but mine only gets hot in the hinge area (nearest the screen) and only when doing intense CPU activity.

Highly recommend one. They're gorgeous. I want a Macbook Pro so badly, but I can't bear to part with my 12" for the added weight/size!
posted by dmaterialized at 6:16 PM on December 25, 2006


Thanks for the tips, guys! An extra best answer to b1tr0t for the G3 tip, but thanks to everyone for the additional tips about the 12" G4. Now to just sort out my options -- hold out for an intel 12" MB Pro, get the $200 G3, or the $1000 12" G4? Decisions, decisions!
posted by tweebiscuit at 6:49 PM on December 25, 2006


i have a 12" powerbook too. it does get hot, but for me, only after about 20 mins of hard work, and only on the bottom- so it really doesn't cause me any probs. i just put a cushion or magazine on my lap if i'm making it work hard or watching a DVD. i lurve my computer, and it's running OSX with no problem.
one thing: i've noticed that the powerbook airport card is kinda weak- mine only gets a full signal if it's in the same room as the wireless router. down the hall, it usually works, but slooowly.
posted by twistofrhyme at 7:08 PM on December 25, 2006


Another bit of love for the 12" model. I loved mine too, but eventually had to upgrade to an MBP for the larger screen. Once it became my main work machine, I couldn't deal with the tiny screen anymore. It's taken getting used to the larger form factor and I still don't like it better, but the functionality can't be beat.
posted by heresiarch at 7:39 PM on December 25, 2006


Apple rumors are worth approximately nothing, but there's one going around that a ultra-slim 12" MacBook Pro is going to be announced at MacWorld Expo some time in the second week of January; might be worth holding on until then to see if there's any truth to it. There's certainly a 12" sized hole in the line-up at the moment.

Normally, I don't cotton to rumors as they are all 99.9999% bullshit, and this may not strictly answer the question, but someone I know at work has a years-long and close relationship with a few senior product managers at Apple. Recently (within four months) he privately warned a small group of us who support high-end Apple-using scientists to avoid purchasing MacBooks, if our clients request a portable model smaller than 15". For whatever that's worth.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:46 PM on December 25, 2006


Love my 12" too. I tested a big-assed 17" MBP that got so hot it burned my lap last year. I never again complained about the somewhat warm and noisy-fanned silver best friend on my lap.

I am holding out for the 12" MBP, limping my G4 12" well past its expiration date in terms of my need for speed, and even though work would buy the big MBP for me tomorrow. That's how much I love the 12" form factor.

Also, I should mention my 12" MB has fallen HARD three times, is dented on two corners so the battery doesn't fit in right, has a bent bezel, and keeps right on ticking?
posted by spitbull at 8:26 PM on December 25, 2006


Thanks for the tips, guys! An extra best answer to b1tr0t for the G3 tip, but thanks to everyone for the additional tips about the 12" G4. Now to just sort out my options -- hold out for an intel 12" MB Pro, get the $200 G3, or the $1000 12" G4? Decisions, decisions!

I doubt the G3 iBooks will change in value much over the next five years. You can probably buy one today and sell it in six months for about what you paid for it. January is a particularly good time to look for a used G3 since everyone who got a new mac for the holidays will be ready to get rid of their old machines.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:06 PM on December 25, 2006


I doubt the G3 iBooks will change in value much over the next five years.

Five years? They will be paperweights in five years, worth at best $20 for parts. Just sayin'. They're already 4 years obsolete.
posted by spitbull at 6:17 AM on December 26, 2006


I bought a powerbook 100 on EBay for over $100 in 2001. At ten years old, it was definitely a paperweight, but not a free paperweight.

The iBook is already obsolete, but it won't get any more obsolete. It works with OSX, and makes a decent baisc computer or portable unix box. That won't change in 5 years.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:58 AM on December 26, 2006


Running Mac OS X 10.4.7 on a 500Mhz G3 iBook at my house and it works. It doens't work for very much good media playback, but for email, web browsing, etc. works fine.
posted by smallerdemon at 6:44 PM on December 26, 2006


I recently parted ways with my 12" iBook G4 and I regret selling it. It was the best investment that I ever made, it had great battery life, it was durable, and the built-in Wi-Fi was awesome. But since I left my IT position I had no need for a laptop. Boy do I miss it. You can snag a used one with the last (July 2005)hardware revision for around $600. Sure, they're "obsolete" now, but you're not going to find the stability and build quality in the new MacBook line. You can get a new one from MacMall here.
posted by ganzhimself at 12:44 PM on December 27, 2006


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