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Apple 12-inch PowerBook G4 Review 55

Dave_B writes "Tony Smith of El Reg gives his verdict after a month with Apple's 12-inch Powerbook." His overall impression was good, but there are some words of caution in here regarding battery life and heat, so read before buying one ;)
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Apple 12-inch PowerBook G4 Review

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  • by TomSawyer ( 100674 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @12:42PM (#5638323) Homepage
    O'Reilly's Mac Dev Center also put out a review here. []
  • Heat Issues (Score:5, Informative)

    by xdfgf ( 460453 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @12:45PM (#5638362) Homepage Journal
    There is a thread [] on Ars where the author checked the temp of his 12in PB against a 12in iBook. The results are a little disapointing...

    PS. There is a large set of images in the thread that could bog down 56k'rs
  • I saw one of these at Comp USA. It's a nice laptop, but it gets hotter than hell after an hour (or so) of operation.

    Maybe the PPC 970 will offer reduced heat output.
    • by edmundv ( 457386 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @04:06PM (#5640019)

      Znonymous Coward wrote:

      Maybe the PPC 970 will offer reduced heat output.

      Nope. The new IBM PowerPC 970 will actually produce more heat then the current G4 processor from Motorola.

      Luckily Motorola recently anounced a new low power version of the G4 at around 1 GHz. If this new chip ends up in the 12" PowerBook it will be a lot nicer machine.

      • The 7457 [] is a cool looking chip for the PBs. It probably will end up in the 15" and 12" with the PPC 970 at 1.1v in the 17". The larger interior of the 17 would allow better heat dissipation.

        The really interesting chip coming out of Moto next is the 7457-RM [] sometime next year. Its a G4 with a 200mhz bus on die Memory Controller and some other neat tidbits. Like all future Moto products there is some leaked info out there but not enough to really get much use..
    • Re:It's true. (Score:2, Informative)

      by Frodo2002 ( 595920 )
      Sorry to say it, but RTFA. The heat is coming from the hard drive, not the CPU.
  • by hype7 ( 239530 ) <u3295110.anu@edu@au> on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @12:49PM (#5638398) Journal
    was the reg's comments on the software, which I found from personal experience to be particularly pertinent.

    First off; bluetooth needs to be simplified. The current method of doing it is confusing and unclear.

    Next; same goes for the airport software and splitting up between authentication and encryption. The way apple uses the "internet connect" application in tandem with the network system pref is something that should be addressed.

    The battery conditioning issue; Apple doesn't really provide users with any clear and obvious documentation on it.

    Finally; CDRWs needs the Disk Utility app. What a joke! It should all be able to be done from within the Finder.

    Hopefully these will get addressed in Panther...

    -- james
    • ...CDRWs needs the Disk Utility app. What a joke! It should all be able to be done from within the Finder.

      Hmm, strange. I'm assuming you are implying that the Disk Utility is necessary to erase a CDRW. I don't re-write a lot of discs but I'm about 90% sure (can't verify right now, no burner here at work) that there is an "Erase Disc" contextual menu item if you Right/Control-click on a CDRW in the finder. I believe it shows up in the same place as the "Burn Disc" item would be if the disc has yet to be

      • I'll check this out when I go home for work if I can find a CDRW. I'll even admit to stupidity if I'm wrong!

        Oops! It doesn't work, although the 'burn disk' option is there. It'd make sense if it was implemented ....

      • Bah, indeed you are correct. I guess I'm having hold-over memories from OS 9.

        I hereby admit to being 100% wrong.

        • So, one of you says, 'You need disk util to erase CD-RW disks'. The other says, 'No, you just right click on the CD-RW and select 'erase disk''.

          Then the first one says, 'Oops, you're right.'
          And the second says, 'Oops, I'm wrong.'

          I don't have a CD-RW drive that works, so I'm beggin' ya, please, tell me who is actually right?

          • Then the first one says, 'Oops, you're right.'
            And the second says, 'Oops, I'm wrong.'

            Correction, it should read like this:

            Then the first one says, 'Oops, you're wrong.'
            And the first one (moi) says, 'Oops, you're right, I am wrong.'

            So, to recap:

            One dude said you need Disk Utility to erase CD-RWs.
            Another dude (me) said he wasn't sure but he thought you could right-click to do that and that he (me) would check for sure at lunch time.
            A third dude said that the second dude (in this case, me) was m

    • by tbmaddux ( 145207 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @02:16PM (#5639094) Homepage Journal
      The battery conditioning issue; Apple doesn't really provide users with any clear and obvious documentation on it.

      Finally; CDRWs needs the Disk Utility app.

      A little clarification: you need either Disk Utility or Disk Copy to erase a CD-RW. Using Disk Copy is more convenient because at least it doesn't prompt you to authenticate with an admin password just to erase a CD-RW. But you're right, doing all this in the Finder would be much better.

      I haven't noticed any need for battery conditioning in the PowerBooks and iBooks I use. I suspect the reviewer is getting under 5 hours of life not because of the battery "condition" but because he doesn't have Energy Saver configured for maximum battery life (backlight/brightness turned way down, sleep in under 5 minutes, turn off monitor in less time than that, spin down the disk), and is probably leaving Airport turned on as well. Apple is careful (like anyone making advertising claims) to state that their battery life is up to X hours on all their portables. That's a maximum, not an average or a typical value.

  • Buying one.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by seann ( 307009 )
    I've set a date of May 28th to buy a 12" Powerbook. I wouldn't mind at all a 17" version, and I'd get the 15" version if it used DDR ram. Anyone justify getting the 15" version spite of the lack of DDR/Airport Extreme? Airport Extreme is kewl, but I probably won't use the G side of it outside of work, and I probably won't even use it then.
    • Re:Buying one.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Steve Cowan ( 525271 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @01:26PM (#5638685) Journal
      A single-processor G4 machine gains little, if any speed by using DDR memory, so at present that should not be a deciding factor for you.

      The 15" Ti book does accomodate more memory and has a PC card slot, but it is getting a little long in the tooth now that the newer aluminum enclosures seem to be preferred by the mobile Mac community. (The 15" Titanium PB has a painted covering which tends to flake or chip off after a while).

      If you like the smaller footprint and can deal with the single RAM slot, go with the 12", it's a great laptop. If you need a bigger screen and don't want/can't afford the "lunch tray" 17-inch, you might do well to wait and see if the rumors are true: a revised 15" model is reported to be in the pipes, which will have a larger (15.4") display, an aluminum enclosure, DDR, and airport extreme. This is, of course, speculation.

      Personally I'm still jazzed with my virtually flawless 500 MHz iBook (G3), and will be for some time.
    • Re:Buying one.. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by WasterDave ( 20047 ) <> on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @05:35PM (#5640608)
      Think really hard about buying an iBook instead. I had the order in for a 12" PowerBook and changed it to be an iBook. Pretty glad I did.


      * Faster, ish []
      * Possibly a better screen, the iBook one is less than spectacular. Look at them side by side.
      * iBook keys scratch the screen in transit. This is fucking annoying. Look to see if the PB does it.
      * Combo drives, super drives blah de blah de blah doesn't bother me. I have a desktop machine for CD burning and a playstation to play DVD's.
      * The mobility radeon in the iBook is quite possibly the better chip, but the PB can screen span. The iBook can screen span too but you need to hack the bios :(
      * Price. Oh yes. Go work out how many gameboy SP's you can buy with the money you save from getting an iBook.

  • by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @01:07PM (#5638532) Homepage
    I recently switched to one of these puppies, and their review is pretty much spot-on. It's one sweet machine. I take some issue with their characterization of the memory expansion limit, yes, it's only one slot, but as they note, it'll hold up to 4GB of RAM once the chips come out. That ain't bad for a laptop, and it makes it hard for me to hold the solitary expansion slot against Apple. It is, after all, a hella-small laptop we're talking about, here.

    Second,while the machine does get "hot", I've gotta say, from a switcher's perspective, it isn't really -hot- hot. It's a pleasant wrist-warming feature compared to some of the scalders I've worked with on the PC side. On the downside, I can no longer locate my laptop by following the drone of the cooling fans.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Very true. I have a 12" powerbook myself and I find the comments about it getting very hot after a few hours of work quite misleading. I've kept it up and running on AC for days without any noticable heat at all, as long as all i was doing was some light X windows work, web browsing, email and proteus type stuff.

      I find it can get quite hot if (and I'm really not sure why) I plug it into an external display and do some serious dev work. I'll put a 17" or 19" monitor just above my screen (since the PB can pu
      • You don't have transparency turned on do you? You are probably pushing the 3D chip on the machine. Jaguar has Quartz Extreme which puts the calculations for things like transparencies onto the 3D chip and therefore you get an increase in temp.
    • Sorry to burst your bubble regarding RAM capacity, but the 12" PowerBook will not accept anything bigger than a 512MB SO DIMM.
      Apple, in their developer notes, acknowledge that there will be SO DIMMs larger than 512MB however the RAM controller in the 12" PowerBook won't take them.
  • by Red_Winestain ( 243346 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @01:10PM (#5638547)
    I've used both an iBook (500 MHz G3) and a TiBook (800 MHz G4) with various versions of Mac OS X 10.1.x and 10.2.x. I'm currently using the TiBook about 8 hours per day at work.

    The major preventable causes of battery drain are:

    • Airport card on when not necessary
    • Screen brightness high
    • Not adjusting energy saver properly
    • Modem off
    • OS 9 environment running
    I can routinely get 3.5-4 hours with relatively normal usage (compile, crash, debug, etc) if I do the above. If I don't do the above, then battery life drops substantially.

    I also used top to see which applications are big CPU cycle eaters.

    As for heat, I recommend any of the various stands that elevate the TiBook to an angle and allows air to flow more freely underneath.

    • The major preventable causes of battery drain are:
      Airport card on when not necessary
      Screen brightness high
      Not adjusting energy saver properly
      Modem off
      OS 9 environment running
      Can someone explain to me how not having the modem on wastes batteries? I can't figure this one out. Does it waste CPU cycles looking for the modem?
      • by jo_ham ( 604554 ) <> on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @05:58PM (#5640770)
        The modem is a separate module attached to the logic board and even if it's not operating, it is supplied with power.

        The logic board shuts off the audio circuits and and the HD to preserve power, but not the modem.

        Presumably, disabling it in network prefs so it doesn't appear in the drop down list will shut it off.

        I would unmount any firewire drives or usb devices that were bus powered when I wasn't using them too.
    • To increase airflow (and to make it a touch more ergonomic) i use a plastic intray, with a book wedged underneath it.

      This provides an angled surface for the TiBook to sit on and
      it raises it up to a better height.

      I use an external keyboard and mouse of course.
    • I follow all the five listed hints except for turning off my modem. How exactly do you do that?

      With the other four and reduced CPU usage I get around 3 hours on a 1 GHz TiBook. This is noticeably better than my 500MHz TiBook, by the way, which usually hit the wall at 2 hours and a bit.

      On turning off Airport:There's an interesting thread [] at where there is disagreement about it. One person claims:

      This doesn't actually work. I've spoken with support techs, and the airport card never actua

  • Battery (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lml ( 639341 )
    He says that calibrating the battery a second time results in a shorter battery life. Well, Apple modified a Knowledge Base document some days ago saying that the battery should be recalibrated every couple of months. It's called "PowerBook G4 and iBook: How to Calibrate a New Battery for Best Performance", search for it at

    I can say that the battery is pretty weird, mine went from 3 hours and something in the first weeks to 2h30 now, and yes, I have the same Energy Saver Settings. Only

    • Re:Battery (Score:5, Informative)

      by Twirlip of the Mists ( 615030 ) <> on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @02:34PM (#5639294)
      It's called "PowerBook G4 and iBook: How to Calibrate a New Battery for Best Performance", search for it at

      Or just click here [].
      • I don't know about the iBook, but my powerbook 12" came with an... ahem.... *manual* and one of the first topics was "How to Calibrate a New Battery for Best Performance"

        Good god. Doesn't anybody RTFM? Or is paper just too 20th century???
    • How do you think the RAM holds it's charge? Magic?

      256MB is fine on a PC and 384 is fine on a Mac. The only apps I've used that could use more are PS 7 and Eclipse (could use 2GB if you could add it).
      • I think he was refering to the fact that if he had more ram, he would be swapping to disk less (and the less the disk is used, the more energy is conserved).
        • It doesn't work that way unfortunately. You have to keep the whole 512MB stick charged to keep the ram stable for the OS. You cannot only keep part of the ram charged. The more ram you have the more charge it takes to keep the system up. Believe me, I have a dell inspiron 8100 with 2 slots and I have used it with 2 256mb chips and 1 256mb chip and the 1 chip config uses less power (15-20 minutes worth on a 2.5-3hour battery). So since I keep a watch on my ram usage in windows I rarely need more than 256mb a
  • by TomorrowPlusX ( 571956 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @02:30PM (#5639267)
    I've had my AiBook for (about) 2 months now, and right now I'm going to say I love every single aspect of it. Absolutely. No waffling here. I'm a switcher, but from the linux/i386 world, and I've had no trouble porting over my servo control routines and all the other robotics related code I've written over the last couple years for linux.

    So basically, I'm happy as a clam. Happier even.

    But for one silly little thing: the metal drop-down catch which locks the lid shut when I close it. For some reason (most likely a mechanical defect) it doesn't pop back in when I open the lid. Trivial? Yes. All it takes is one tenth of a second to tap it with my finger when I open it and it pops back where it belongs.

    Nonetheless, as a fella raised in a machine shop (my father's a machinist/sculptor/etc/luddite) this kind of thing bothers me. I examined it closely and it's very simple -- the latch's "bearing" is nothing but a hole slightly larger than the axle, so you get minimal friction and maximum simplicity. But it seems to allow sideways motion and this (in my case) is causing binding. I'm not about to oil it, for obvious reasons, though if I can find a non-conductive graphite lube ( "Dry Slide" ) I might give it a shot.

    What concerns me is not so much the lack of it retracting, but that someday, if the binding gets too great, it might stop popping down when I close the lid.

    So, it's a cool feature and all but my old thinkpad, with its simpler trigger mechanism never had this problem.

    There's a lot to be said for simplicity. I kind of wish apple had forgone the cool and wow effect in this place for something a little more sturdy.
    • Yep, that darned magnetic catch is a pain. Mine broke on my old 500 MHz TiBook 15". Someone else I know also had his break and he had to send it in for repairs (I think the sleep mechanism got messed up). If you close the lid just wrong (not quite sure what the pattern is), you can bang the latch against something hard.

      Very cool, but fragile.

      - Eric

  • On an iBook, with 10.2.4, I don't have any battery issues. I can't get more than 3.5 hours by shutting off Airport, lowering the sound and screen brighteness, etc., while keeping my processor to full speed, but I imagine that if I lowered by processor speed I'd get pretty close to 5 hours.
    • On an iBook, with 10.2.4, I don't have any battery issues. I can't get more than 3.5 hours by shutting off Airport, lowering the sound and screen brighteness, etc., while keeping my processor to full speed, but I imagine that if I lowered by processor speed I'd get pretty close to 5 hours.

      As far as I know, this option is NOT available in MacOS X running on G3 portables. It is available on the Powerbook G4, but not on the iBook. At least not on mine. I even tried to clone OS from Powerbook G4, but on the
  • then it gets good grades ml
  • by kyrre ( 197103 )
    A 12 inch Powerbook? Like that will ever happen. Come on guys enough with the April fool jokes already..
  • Caveat emptor (Score:3, Interesting)

    by azav ( 469988 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @08:10PM (#5641569) Homepage Journal
    It's not all roses.

    Now I am a rather big mac fan. My roomie saw my 1G Ti and had to get a 12 inch. Here's what happened.

    - iSync did not work with his ericsson/sony phone. All meetings were 7 hours off from iCal settings. This rendered it useless.
    - The Ericsson/sony phone could not connect the 12 inch to the internet over bluetooth and was a major time sucker to try and get it to work. In the end we gave up. Time is money.
    - Plugged into our network, the 12 inch couldn't see through our firewall to any outside urls or tci/ip addresses including those at my house. My 15 inch worked fine. LOTS of time on the phone to tech support. No resolution. Airport support was not an option but I even did buy an airport extreme to help him out but he was already soured.

    Too many issues to deal with. It was sent back to Apple and we were sad.

    Stuff's got to work out of the box and work well. We were all rather disappointed. I remain the sole mac user at my company.


    • I had the same time difference problem with iSync and Sony Ericsson T68i.

      I suppose it's moot now because your 'puter's gone, but the problem is caused by the phone's time zone not being set to the same time zone as the computer.

      iSync "cleverly" compensates your appointment times in England for the equivalent time in Australia (in my case). Well, it might be clever for people who travel a lot (can anyone comment?), but it's very easy to not set the time zone in the phone (you have to go looking for the opt
  • I just switched and have felt the mighty heat of the 12in.
    My solution is two words: blue jeans.

    if you get the thick kind, you won't even be bothered when playing games (which seems to be the worst time for me since you got the both hard and optical drive spinning)

    of course, if you got your work to pay for your Mac, and have to use it with slacks, then you get what you deserve :)

"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault