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SHOOTOUT: Powerbook G4/1.67GHz
versus PowerBook G4/1.5GHz

Posted October 7th, 2005, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

I've received a lot of requests for this comparison. It took us a while to get our hands on a PowerBook G4/1.67. We're one of the "bottom feeders" on Apple PR's eval unit list. And we don't have the budget to buy every new model. The current version of PowerBook is the best ever and we were tempted, but we're holding out for a speed "jump" rather than what appears to be a speed "bump."

Many of you are wondering whether you should buy a used, refurbished or closeout G4/1.5GHz PowerBook or go for the newest G4/1.67GHz PowerBook. Theoretically, the newest PowerBook should be 11% faster overall in CPU intensive tasks and about the same or slightly faster doing graphics intensive tasks.

Notice we've included the iMac G5/2.0GHz. There is method to our madness. First, the iMac flat panel is like a mutant child from the marriage of a G5 Power Mac and a G4 PowerBook. Second, don't you fantasize about owning a G5 PowerBook running at 2GHz minimum?

GRAPH LEGEND:
PB G4/1.67 -- Apple PowerBook G4/1.67GHz with 1.5GB 333MHz DDR memory and Radeon 9700 Mobility 128MB DDR graphics processor.
PB G4/1.5 -- Apple PowerBook G4/1.5GHz with 1.5GB 333MHz DDR memory and Radeon 9700 Mobility 128MB DDR graphics processor.
iMac G5/2.0 -- Apple iMac G5/2.0GHz with 2GB of 400MHz DDR memory, Radeon 9600 Mobility 128MB DDR graphics processor.
(To nullify the difference in drive performance, we booted all test computers from the same 160GB 7200rpm drive in a Wiebetech UltraGB+ bus driven FireWire 800 enclosure running OS X 10.4.2.)

ANALYSIS
In five CPU intensive tasks (not all shown above), the newer 1.67GHz PowerBook averaged only a 3% advantage over the 1.5GHz model -- less than expected. The best showing was in the iMovie effects render test where it was 5% faster. As expected, when it came to the graphics intensive apps, the average difference was less than a half percent -- the older 1.5GHz PowerBook was ever so slightly faster.

But if I were choosing between the two (cost not a factor), I would choose the newer model. The screen of the newer PowerBook was brighter and "whiter." The keyboard backlighting was much better. I love the fact that I can drive a 30" Cinema display with the Dual-Link DVI port. Like I said, it's the best PowerBook to date.

Since we posted this article, Apple has announced slightly updated versions of the Powerbook (screens with more pixels per inch, longer life battery, dual layer DVD burner). We have posted a pre-test technical briefing on the new 15" and 17" models.)

DON'T BE AFRAID. UPGRADE TO A 7200RPM DRIVE
Apple doesn't currently offer a 7200rpm internal drive option. I'm not sure why because, based on my recent findings, both the Seagate and Hitachi 7200rpm 100GB drives use less power than the Toshiba 80GB 5400rpm drive that shipped with my 15" G4/1.5 PowerBook! That means they generate less heat, too.

If your PowerBook is under warranty or AppleCare, it's best to let a certified Apple technician do the drive upgrade. If you are brave, patient, and careful, it's possible to upgrade the drive yourself. You can view or download instructions at About.com. I suggest you look at them carefully before you order the drive.

ULTIMATE POWERBOOK CASES AND SLEEVES
I must mention one of the newest PowerBook accessories, the MaxProtect II PowerBook form-fit Briefcase from MaxUpgrades. It's the ultimate "power" accessory to take into the board room or into a meeting with a potential client. It protects the PowerBook against abuse better than a padded sleeve. But if you go with a sleeve, our favorite is the leather one from JRHill, which we slip into the middle slot of our Tumi Wheel-A-Way carry-on bag when traveling to MacWorld San Francisco. (You can read about all of our favorite PowerBook cases and sleeves on Bettay's special feature page on PowerBook stuff.)

CARDBUS SLOT IS HOT
One of the reasons I recommend the 15" PowerBook over the 12" is the fact that the 15" has a PCMCIA Cardbus slot. That slot is very useful. We found ways to improve FireWire performance in our FireWire 800 PC-card testing. More recently we learned how to attach fast Serial ATA drives to a PowerBook using a SATA PC-card. When we're on the road, we never leave without our Verizon Aircard, which allows us to surf the net at an average 600Kbits/sec even while driving down Highway 8 at "bumpty bump" miles per hour.

WHICH POWERBOOK SHOULD I GET, the 15" or 17"?
I get this question often.
I've been asking myself this question lately. I use my 15" PowerBook for email, web surfing, test results recording, graph creation, article writing, web site maintenance -- you name it. It's a critical piece of hardware in the Bare Feats lab. I was wondering if I could be more efficient with a 17" version of the PowerBook. I forced myself to use the 17" for two weeks.

I concluded it's too "Yao Ming" for me. During operation, the display didn't add as much workspace as I expected. Being a mad scientist, I did some measurements and calculations. Aha! I discovered you get 26.5% more physical screen area but only 18.5% more pixels are displayed.

There's obviously no speed difference between the 17" and 15" models. The 15" PB weighs a 1.4lbs less. And the 15" model can be ordered with all the features present in the 17" model including a PCMCIA slot, a FireWire 800 port, Gigabit Ethernet, and Dual-Link DVI support.

On the other hand, comparably equipped, the 17" is only $200 more than the 15" The 17" PowerBook does fit in my Tumi Wheel-A-Way. MaxUpgrades does have a tailor made briefcase for it. And when I showed the 17" PowerBook to my physician, he said, "Wow, that's big -- yet so thin." It did make his 17" Dell PowerBook look truly grotesque. I guess if you like to make people go, "Wow" or "Yao"....

WHERE TO BUY THE POWERBOOKS AND ACCESSORIES

Small Dog Electronics -- New and Refurbished PowerBooks (17" Refurbs for $2199!); They accept custom orders; Also have memory and drive upgrades.

PowerMax -- New and Refurbished PowerBooks

Apple Online Store -- New and Refurbished PowerBooks

Apple Store

OtherWorld Computing -- PowerBook memory and hard drive upgrades

TransIntl -- PowerBook memory and drive upgrades

Wiebetech -- external bus driven FireWire 800 drives (both 2.5" and 3.5") and docks

MaxUpgrades -- PowerBook Sleeves and Briefcase

FastMac -- 8X SuperDrive upgrades for PowerBooks

FWDepot -- FireWire and SATA Cardbus cards; external FireWire and SATA enclosures

For noise suppression, nothing beats ear covering headphones like the Bose Quiet Comfort 2. For ear "fobs," we use the Bose In-Ear Headphones when listening to our iPod -- Help support Bare Feats by ordering your Bose headphones from Sharper Image.

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2005 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster and mad scientist