Powerbook vs. Macbook
November 4, 2007 4:10 AM   Subscribe

Should I buy a Macbook?

My current computer is a 15-inch Powerbook G4 (1.67) purchased in August of 2005. I upgraded the RAM to 2GB, the hard drive to 160 GB, and just put Leopard on it last week. Aside from some minor cosmetic damage, the machine has been perfect, and I expect that it will last at least another year or two, if not longer.

Yet lately I've been feeling insatiable gadget lust--as a bit of a Mac geek who is usually on the cutting edge, I confess that I feel a little behind the technology curve using a PPC machine. I'm also starting to wonder what it would be like to have a more portable computer (13" vs. 15"). After the recent refresh of the line, I'm wondering if now's not the time to jump to Intel.

I think that I can probably get around $700 for my Powerbook, and with the educational discount the Macbook will cost another $700 on top of that (not including Applecare, upgrading the RAM and hard drive, which I will inevitably do at some point down the road).

So is an upgrade worth it? Will I see noticeable speed improvements using a Macbook over the Powerbook (I am a student and don't really do much graphic-intensive work, no games and very little Photoshop, so the downgrade in GPU won't affect me much I don't think)? I use my computer for web, email, word processing, iTunes (I have a 16k song library), burning DVDs, and watching downloaded shows on a 23" external monitor (so the loss in screen size/glossiness isn't really a factor). Is there anything I can do on the Macbook that I can't do on the Powerbook--aside from boot into Windows? Is the more compact size noticeable (in a good way)?

Please convince me why I should/shouldn't buy a Macbook!
posted by cosmic osmo to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
here's a better idea: get the 700 for your powerbook, put in an additional 300-400 and get yourself a 2ghz mac book pro off ebay. you may have to plunk in some extra ram but for that price you get a very nice machine for a lot less.

and yes, the intel macs are nice. but it's not just after that LITTLE bump they just put in. they were pretty fast already and thus it's no big loss for you to go that route.
posted by krautland at 4:17 AM on November 4, 2007

For the tasks you mentioned, the speed increase you get from the Intel processors might not be worth it. Maxing out the RAM and boosting the harddrive size on the Powerbook is a good start to maintaining a decent level of performance for things like web browsing, etc. I have a Macbook Pro, but I still find my old 12" 1.5 Ghz Powerbook to be quite adequate for the things you mentioned.

That said, it sounds like you're a semi-heavy multitasker. That is the one instance in which I would say that upgrading to the latest Macbook Pro's (not the Macbook) is a no-brainer, for the main reason that the new MBPs (with the Santa Rosa chipset) can be loaded up with 4 GB or RAM. I own a 1st generation MBP with 2GB of RAM, and every day I use it, I constantly wish I had 2 extra gigs of available system RAM, because after I start up Mail.app, Firefox, iTunes, NetNewswire, Quicksilver and Adium, I've maxed out all of the RAM. The sluggishness is readily apparant.
posted by melorama at 4:36 AM on November 4, 2007

melorama, the new Macbooks can also be loaded with 4GB
posted by mhz at 4:58 AM on November 4, 2007

because you would get addicted to speed?

I don't have experience with the MB, but it has (almost) the same CPU (speed), and the GPU shouldn't make much of a difference for non-gaming usage.

The speed difference between your PB and the 1st generation MacBook Pro is much greater than the difference between the two generations of the MBP (I have both plus the 1.67 G4). So saving money by getting a used MB(P) sounds good, but watch out of the price of ram - it can be quite expensive to upgrade to 2GB.

(loose hand waving follows) I don't think we'll see huge improvements in CPU speed anymore, so I think the G4-to-MB(P) jump is the last big jump ever, so I would recommend to sell the G4 while you still can get decent sum of money for it.
posted by flif at 4:59 AM on November 4, 2007

Actually, it's insanely cheap to buy laptop RAM right now. Crucial–a company I highly recommend–is selling a 2GB upgrade kit for $60 and a 4GB kit for $200.
posted by melorama at 5:09 AM on November 4, 2007

I don't think we'll see huge improvements in CPU speed anymore

In that case, you should not upgrade because you should be putting all your money into shorting Intel stock.

But as to the question: I think this would be more of an emotional purchase than a practical one. If you can afford the expense and it's something you'll enjoy, then why not go ahead? But if you're on a tight budget, I think it's hard to justify from a purely practical point of view. You just don't need that much speed to do the basic tasks you're describing.

It would also be unfortunate timing to buy a machine that includes Leopard right after you finished buying the upgrade for your current machine (unless you, uh, acquired it by other means).
posted by dixie flatline at 6:01 AM on November 4, 2007

I had a PowerBook G4, but it was only 867mhz. So my upgrade to a 13 inch MacBook 2.16 Ghz was STUNNING in the speed increase. I don't think I agree with the "you don't need that much speed" point of view. EVERYTHING goes faster, which results in less frustration. If it makes your quality of life better, even if it is purely emotional, go for it. I don't think you will regret it.

As far as the 13" vs 15"... I have a 13 inch and I love it. The portability is great. A friend has 15 inch MacBook Pro and it seems massive to me, but she loves it.

Also, the USB 2.0 made my life much easier, as my newer iPods and my Nikon D40 were soooooo sloooooooow using the G4 USB 1 ports.
posted by The Deej at 6:18 AM on November 4, 2007

Recently I upgraded from a 1.25 15" Powerbook with one gig of RAM to a Macbook. The speed increase was really great, but the 13" screen is a hindrance. I have it plugged into a 19" monitor at my desk, but otherwise it's really hard to be as productive on a tiny screen. Yeah, you get used to it, and the portability is a little better, but overall the Pro line has a lot of little advantages that add up.

Ride out the "gadget upgrade bug" ... it can be more fun just dreaming about the machine.
posted by starman at 6:31 AM on November 4, 2007

I had a PowerBook G4, but it was only 867mhz.

That would be more like a 5 year gap in product cycle as opposed to the 2 years described here, so of course the difference would be much more pronounced there.
posted by dixie flatline at 6:31 AM on November 4, 2007

You should certainly upgrade to an Intel Mac unless you have some need to dwell in Classic mode, or a super-tight budget, or can live with the spinning beach ball of ennui several times a day. Install Windows on your machine and you've got a scary fast Windows box inside your scary fast Mac. It'll last you a good long time (the MBP is a mature product), Leopard will look and feel many times nicer, and you'll get to take full advantage of your Mac long after the first non-Universal apps appear.

As for a MPB vs Macbook, go for the better machine; the difference is serious. If I recall correctly, the big thing will be that the MBP doesn't rely on main memory for graphics-intensive work, so you won't get vertigo-inducing slowdowns with Photoshop, Final Cut, etc.

I've got a 12" 600MHz iBook G3(!) and a crusty old 400MHz G4 desktop. (I learned early on to live with the small screen on the iBook, and it moved glacially at any resolution beyond 800x600. You certainly could live without the extra screen space, and the current Macbooks support extended desktops with an external monitor (which you should definitely get for home work.) The difference in speed between former and latter is remarkable - everything feels crisper on the desktop. You'll feel that same jolt, multiplied several times, moving to an Intel Mac of recent vintage. But since I got my first Apple IIgs the rule has been 'Buy the fastest/best machine you can afford,' and my understanding is that with equivalent processor speed and memory, a MBP will handily outrun a Macbook every time.

When it comes time for image editing or putting together a simple video, the MBP will remind you again why you bought it.

i.e. What everyone else said. :)
posted by waxbanks at 6:37 AM on November 4, 2007

I'm not sure people are reading the question... I just did exactly this. I traded in my loaded-up 1.67 GHz G4 PB for a MacBook. Initially a 2.16GHz, 2GB, 160Gig which I then traded in four days later for the improved Santa Rosa version hen Apple upgraded the machine (no restocking fee -- thanks Apple!).

I did it because I'm in the same position as osmo (great name, by the way, you've been a mac user for a long time). I don't use my laptop for much that's processor intensive and I like a nice, light machine. So the answer is that the MacBook feels quite a bit faster running Leopard and basic system tasks. It feels quite abit faster running iLife '08 apps such as iTunes and iPhoto (I have 11,500 photos and about 8,000 songs). It feels very slightly slower (oddly) running Word with very large documents. I've noticed no real difference in browsing.

The major difference for me is that traveling with the MacBook is much nicer than with the MBP -- I know the weight difference isn't that much (1.6 pounds or so), but the MB feels much smaller and lighter. It's a much easier machine to stick in a bag for a meeting.

The thing I miss most is the 100 extra vertical pixels, but other than that I can see no reason not to buy the MB if you want a machine that you will travel with and don't require enormous CPU brawn, especially now that you can load the thing up with 4 Gigs of RAM.
posted by The Bellman at 6:44 AM on November 4, 2007

Also: on postview, many people are saying "buy an MBP" which was not one of the options the poster suggested. The MBP is a wonderful machine -- my wife uses one -- and with the new highest end chip (a blazing 2.6GHz Core 2 Duo) it really can be used even for CPU intensive tasks like light photo and video editing and (if you can stand the relatively small screen). But the machine feels big and, far more importantly, it costs literally twice what the MB costs -- about $1500 for a maxed out MB, over $3,000 for a maxed out 17" MBP, or $2800 for a maxed out 15" MBP. It's a great desktop replacement machine (though why you would not buy an iMac for that I don't know) but if you really want a light-weight traveling companion for typical laptop tasks and you aren't going to press it into service for tasks like video editing that it's not designed to do, I really think you'll be happy with the MB.
posted by The Bellman at 6:56 AM on November 4, 2007

As a student, I say hold out - or at least don't buy new. You've got an excellent working computer, and no need for the next big thing. And there will always be more gadgets! Like the iphone... or the Nokia 810...
posted by Salamandrous at 7:01 AM on November 4, 2007

think different. stick with ppc ;) i'm almost in the same boat as you. i love my powerbook (same set up more or less even down to the minor cosmetic damage). my wife has a 2ghz macbook. i really don't notice that much difference speed wise between the two, especially when you consider you're habits i.e. nothing major, just average use. i guess the big difference is the windows issue; i still use virtual pc, and it's fine for what i need: testing browser compatibility. i use parallels on an intel at work: it's super disappointing, especially when i was expecting quantum leaps after using virtual pc. fusion is a lot better; i use that on a mac mini at home. i'm going to stick with the powerbook until it finally gives up the ghost; the only issue i currently envisage on the horizon is the battery performance. unfortunately mine is not on the recall, but it can be replaced by a 3rd party replacement for $100 or so.
posted by iboxifoo at 7:23 AM on November 4, 2007

I went from a beloved 12" G4 Powerbook -- second best Mac I've ever owned -- to a black Macbook last spring. I hated the Macbook. It ran too hot, failed to sleep when shut, had awful battery life, was terribly noisy when the fan was roaring, routinely froze and crashed, and churned through three hard drives in 9 months. Just yesterday I replaced it with a MBP and so far the MBP seems an incomparably better engineered machine (as it ought to, for an extra grand). I know they just re-speced the Macbook, upped its RAM capactiy to 4GB, etc. But I would not *ever* buy another MB in this generation's design. The 13" screen is not that small, really, because of the wide-screen form factor. The keyboard is shit. One of the worst-engineered Apple laptops I've ever owned.

My 12" PB was a thing of beauty, and it took an unbelievable beating without ever losing a hard drive (until the end, when it was sheer age that did the drive in). The day Apple puts out a 12" form factor MBP I will be there with my checkbook.

My advice, on bitter experience: you aren't saving anything buying a MB if you have serious computing needs. Save a few more months and buy whatever the latest incarnation of the MBP line is.
posted by spitbull at 7:41 AM on November 4, 2007

Save a couple of hundred $$$ and get a refurbished MacBook.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:19 AM on November 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

I was playing with a regular old black MacBook the other day, and I actually prefered it to my fancy MacBook Pro. It feels so much more sturdy and durable.

Like Spitbull, I'd sure like a 12" (or smaller) MacBook, Pro or not. Smaller the better.
posted by rokusan at 8:19 AM on November 4, 2007

My wife has a first generation MacBook, 1.83 GHz Core Duo. This thing runs circles around my 2 GHz G5 at work, which I thought was the shiznit when it showed up on my desk. It's been sturdy and reliable, no problems at all. I know a few other people with MacBooks that share the same experience; there have been a few bad ones like spitbull's but that is by far the exception and not the rule.
posted by azpenguin at 9:00 AM on November 4, 2007

So is an upgrade worth it? Will I see noticeable speed improvements using a Macbook over the Powerbook

Yes. Not only are the Core 2 Duos faster MHz for MHz than the G4s, but you're getting two cores.. and that's night and day against one core, even on menial tasks.. as long as you're multi-tasking. If you literally just run one app at a time, then not such a big deal.

Like rokusan above, I actually "prefer" my girlfriend' MacBook in a number of ways to my MacBook Pro.. except for the dim screen.
posted by wackybrit at 9:04 AM on November 4, 2007

Typing this on my 12" powerbook, agreeing with spitbull above. I'll be first in line when they introduce a smaller form factor MBP, but until then I'm not budging from my slow little G4.
posted by migurski at 9:33 AM on November 4, 2007

Also on a 12" PB. If smallness is your thing, maybe you should hold out for this? (I know, only a rumor at this point)

Regardless, don't get gadget-phobia. It sounds like your current machine is fine. Newer and better stuff will always keep coming along.
posted by vacapinta at 9:57 AM on November 4, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the replies so far. To be clear, I'm not considering a Macbook Pro--if I were to get a new computer, I'd get something more portable than what I have now, and the MBP is not really within my budget.

My biggest question is about size/portability. I've seen comparison pictures that look like there's not much size differential, and the difference in weight is only 0.6 lbs. Yet it *seems* more compact, and I'm wondering if that characterization holds true over time.
posted by cosmic osmo at 9:39 AM on November 4, 2007

The day Apple puts out a 12" form factor MBP I will be there with my checkbook.

A friend of mine just loaded Leopard onto a 12" PC laptop using some kind of patching hack. It works quite well. Until Apple releases its own 12" laptop, that's a reasonable stopgap.
posted by meehawl at 10:53 AM on November 4, 2007

Rumor mills say a Macbook upgrade will be coming around this month, so wait a few weeks to see what will happen.
posted by idiotfactory at 12:28 PM on November 4, 2007

er.. update. As in a faster processor, better graphics card, who knows?
posted by idiotfactory at 12:29 PM on November 4, 2007

idiotfactory, that's already happened. Last week.
posted by bonaldi at 1:26 PM on November 4, 2007

azpenguin, in my universe (a university) I know a dozen people with lemon Macbooks, all with the same problems (especially the failure to enter sleep mode when closed, resulting in a blazing hot machine with a run-down battery). In fact, most of my own students have been unhappy with their Macbooks. I semi-solved my issues with SMC fan control and the Deep Sleep widget, and also by manually putting it to sleep from the Apple menu instead of just closing it. But it was hard to get used to not just closing it to put it to sleep. I lost a lot of work over the 9 months I owned that machine because it simply would not wake from sleep a good 20 percent of the time it DID go to sleep properly.

I stand by my opinion. The 1G Macbook is a clunker, or a bunch of them were -- a remarkably large bunch. Maybe the new chipset will change that. And there is *no way* it is sturdier than my old G4 12" Powerbook. I'll render a verdict on the comparison with my new MBP in a while, but so (2 days in) far the MBP is *way* faster and less prone to bizarreness than the MB.
posted by spitbull at 11:53 AM on November 5, 2007

When it's time to buy, I'd strongly suggest looking at Apple's refurb store. My wife and I bought MBPs early last spring... saved lots of money, got the same warranty as new and both machines are fully eligible for AppleCare. My wife has had a few more problems than I have (her screen fuzzes out on her now and then), but my machine has been rock solid and the local Apple Store has treated us as though we bought brand new machines.
posted by lhauser at 10:52 PM on November 5, 2007

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