Which Is Faster,
The New 466MHz "FireWire" iBook SE
or the 400MHz PowerBook Pismo?
And Which Is The Better Buy?
Updated 10/24/2000 with Quake III results. First posted 10/23/2000.
Test Pilot: Rob-Art Morgan
I'm starting to get email asking, "Should I buy the new iBook SE with FireWire and 466MHz G3 750cx or get the PowerBook (Pismo) 400MHz? Won't the iBook be faster?" I decided to run some real world CPU tests to see how they compared.
(I used a
RED bar in the graphs to indicate which of the two laptops was faster on a given test.)
First, Some CPU Tests

What About 3D Games?


The iBook SE 466Mhz won three out of four CPU speed tests but they were neck and neck. Oddly enough, the iBook 466 ran faster at the higher quality setting while the PowerBook Pismo 400 ran faster at lower quality setting. Neither one will win any gaming fans, especially when you consider a G4 Minitower with an Radeon card gets 55 frames per second in the 800x600 32bit mode.

What's most amazing is that the PowerBook 400MHz Pismo did so well when you consider the fact that it was giving up 66MHz. How is that possible? It's technical.

You see, the newest iBook uses the 750cx G3 chip with 256K on-chip level 2 cache running at the same speed as the cpu (466MHz). The PowerBook Pismo 400 has 1MB of backside level 2 cache running at 40% of CPU speed (160MHz). Here's the rub. If the iBook goes to execute an instruction that didn't fit in the 256K cache, it has to go looking for it on the 66MHz bus. The Pismo stores more instructions in its 1024K cache. Even if an instruction is missing from the Pismo's cache, it goes looking for it on a 100MHz bus. The net result is what you see in the above graphs: a 466MHz iBook is roughly equivalent to a 400MHz Pismo in overall performance. (According to an article on Low End Mac, IBM's own published SPECint95 benchmark results show a 450MHz 750cx G3 with 256K on-chip L2 cache is equal to a 400MHz 750 G3 with 1024K backside L2 cache.)

And a standard 750 G3 chip running at 466MHz in a PowerBook or iMac blows away the 750cx G3 chip running at 466MHz in the FireWire iBook. The proof is in the Bryce and SoundJam graphs above! That's good news if you own a PowerBook Wallstreet or Lombard because you can add a 466MHz G3 upgrade from Newer Technology.

Even though they don't exist yet, it's technically feasible to create an upgrade for the Pismo (like a faster G3 or even a G4), but the iBook is a dead end with its soldered cpu.

BOTTOM LINE: If I was choosing between the iBook 466 SE and the PowerBook Pismo 400, I'd choose the Pismo without blinking an eye. Why? Read on...

Features, Features, Features

The Pismo wins hands down on features.

iBook SE 466MHz
Powerbook Pismo 400MHz

Max Memory


Screen Size/Max Resolution

12 inch/800x600
14 inch/1024x768

FireWire ports


USB ports


Hot Swap Bay for switching DVD-ROM with second battery, etc.


CardBUS slots


VGA output for VGA display or LCD projector


CPU upgrade potential

NONE (soldered to motherboard)

Related Web Pages

MacHardware has an articles on "...Who Should Buy an iBook and Who Should Choose a PowerBook." and "Advantages of the PowerBook Over the iBook When on the Road."

Low End Mac reviews the new iBook with 750cx and FireWire. And the editor, Dan Knight, discusses the 750cx G3 versus the 750 G3.

Wired News tells why MacBench produces misleading rating for the new iBook.

Bare Feats tests the G3/466 upgrade for the PowerBook Wallstreet and Lombard.

Need a small, thin, portable FireWire drive for your iBook or Powerbook? Bare Feats tests three to see which is fastest.

A proposed prototype of the G4 PowerBook.

Does your PowerBook need a bigger, faster drive? Accelerate Your Mac tests two of them and shows you how to install them.

MacSpeedZone lists MacBench results for old and new PowerBooks and iBooks (excluding the newest iBook).

Where Do I Buy This Stuff?

Small Dog Electronics offers new and refurbished iBooks and PowerBooks.

Get the G3/466 PowerBook upgrade for Wallstreet or Lombard at Newer Technlogy.

Trans Intl has newest, fastest IBM TravelStar 32GH (32GB 5411 rpm) 2.5 inch drive for $525. If that's too rich for your blood, try the 20GB TravelStar 4200rpm for $285. It's almost as fast for a lot less.

Want to know about fast, portable, FireWire external drives? Read all about it.

Test Notes

Real World Software Tests

Maxon Cinema 4D 6.1 is a NEW REAL WORLD TEST I've just added. It's a 3D modeling application. Cinema comes with various example documents. I used the "scene0.c4d" document from their Cinebench 2000 benchmark. I invoked RENDER (Shift + R). It keeps track of the rendering time to the nearest whole second. (A DEMO version of Cinema 4D is available on their website as well as a copy of Cinebench 2000.)

I used the newest 2.01 version of Apple's iMovie. I ran the "render titles" function as a test since it's so CPU intensive. I typed in a two line title ("My Great Movie by rob ART mog") using default settings. Then drag/dropped it in the "story line." I used a stopwatch to time how long it took to render the 188 frames. (You can download a copy of iMovie 2.01 from Apple's web site for $49.)

Casady & Greene's SoundJam MP Plus 2.5.1 was used to convert a 2.5 minute music selection into MP3 using default settings. With a stop watch, I timed it to the nearest tenth of a second. (A DEMO version is available from their website.)

Corel Bryce 4 rendering was used to test a combination of CPU and FPU speed. I use a document I call "Rock Island," a crude creation of my own. (When Corel bought Bryce from Metacreations, they stopped posting a DEMO version. However, if you own Bryce 4.0, they have posted a 4.1 update.)

Id Software's Quake III Arena (Build 117) Was run in two SETTINGS:
A. Fast 640x480 16 bit.
B. Normal 800x600 32 bit
TEST: When the main screen appears, I press "~" and enter "timedemo 1" (return) and "~" once more. Then I click on DEMOS and run Demo1. Once it finishes and returns to the main screen, I press "~" once more to get the frames per second readout.

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2000 Rob Art Morgan, publisher of BARE FEATS
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