I ordered my iBook right on October 30, when it had just been released
to the public. I always wanted to buy an Apple notebook to complement
my various desktop systems, because they, quite frankly, all lacked protability.
I had been eyeing at the 12" Powerbook for a while, because I wanted
a small, yet powerful notebook that would both fit into a small backpack
as well as play some games decently. But the poor graphics card in the
867MHz model (the GeForce MX 420 Go) and the high price had kept me from
buying one right away.
When Apple released the 1GHz model with the somewhat improved GeForce
FX 5200 Go, I was tempted again, but I was still unhappy with the graphics
card, as it was again the slowest card available (in the PB G4 new line) and the pricetag hadn't improved much either.
So the announcement of the iBook G4 with a decent 800MHz G4 and a very
decent Radeon 9200 Mobility came in perfectly for me. In addition there's
a programme for University students here in Switzerland, offering massive
rebates on newly released Apple products. So I was able to get the iBook
at 22% less than usual. I couldn't resist. - And I don't regret it.
Shipping took an extremely long time, by all standards, not just the "anxious
Apple user" one. The package took two 4 day breaks between Taipei
and Switzerland, and eventually arrived on October 12 in the afternoon.
Almost 2 weeks from ordering. But I hear other customers are facing even
worse situations. Apple has to work on their shipment(-partners) in Europe...
Other than that I was very positively surprised by the general appearance
of the new iBook. My mother had owned an iBook G3 600 for some time and
I had grown quite fond of the little thing. The new iBook G4 is, compared
to the old one, more gray/white and doesn't have that metal finish. However
it also does have the same color for the keyboard and the rest of the
surface, which the old one did not have. The new one looks better in that
respect. However it's a bit more "plasticky" than the old one.
The shell is now made of a white plastic, instead of transparent materials
backpainted with white color. I like both designs, but the G3 iBook scratches
easier, due to the transparent material resulting in some kind of mirror/prism
effect, making scratches very visible.
Size and weight are almost identical, the new one being a tad lighter.
The biggest difference between the two is really the keyboard, which is
far better on the iBook G4, thanks to a metal backplate and a more solid,
powerbooky feel. A definite improvement over the old one.
Battery life, while already excellent on the iBook G3, has been further
improved and easily reaches between 4 and 5 hours of actual use, with
Airport running. Far beyond any PC laptop I have ever seen.
Talking about Airport: Reception is again, excellent. I shared an internet
connection from my MDD G4 over Airport and went for a walk in the garden
with the iBook. Despite the PowerMac being in the house and behind aluminium
window covers, I easily reached an approximate 50-60 meters before losing
the signal completely. I don't have any means of testing Airport Extreme
range (802.11g), but I expect it also to be great.
Overall, the iBook feels very fast compared to the older model. Panther
is a big improvement for the G3 too, but no match for the iBook G4 with
it's faster frontside bus, processor and RAM, not forgetting the graphics
chip, which is about a zillion times faster.
So, being a long time Apple user and digging into benchmarks, I had to
compare to all modern Macs within my reach. All Macs were equipped with
Mac OS X 10.3.1 and the latest updates.
That list consists of:
- PowerMac G4 MDD
Dual 1250MHz, 2MB L3 cache per chip, 1GB RAM, Radeon 9000 Pro 64MB
- same machine as
above, but with one CPU disabled with Apple's CHUD tools.
- PowerBook 15.2"
Titanium G4 550MHz, 256MB RAM, Radeon Mobility 16MB
- iBook 12"
G3 600MHz, 640MB RAM, Rage 128 Mobility 8MB
- iBook 12"
G4 800MHz, 384MB RAM, Radeon 9200 Mobility 32MB
I tested with synthetic benchmarks, productivity applications and games.
Some tests can be directly compared to previous tests Mike has published
on the site, while other's can't. Configuration files can be found here,
if you're interested on all the settings in the custom configs (would
be way too much to post here).
Comment's to each test are noted below each diagram. Keep in mind that
benchmarking is rarely a 100% accurate way of measuring a machine's performance.
Especially not when comparing different configurations of RAM, GPU, etc.
application tests a broad range of system features and performance. It's
scores can vary quite a bit from run to run, so it's not really the most
accurate benchmark on the planet. Still it's a usable general indicator
for overall performance. Almost full or fragmented harddisk adversely
affect the overall score, therefore the PowerMac scores a bit below expectations,
because the disk takes about a 50% speed penalty compared to a freshly
formatted one. Same goes for the iBook G3 and PowerBook G4, but not to
This graph shows several
things that might be of interest:
The PowerBook scores faster than the iBook G3 600, despite being 50MHz
slower. This is mainly due to a much better GPU, Altivec enhancements
and better RAM and harddisk performance. It also shows that Xbench makes
little use of Dual CPUs.
This application is
merely a mandelbrot generator that is extremely Altivec enhanced and is
SMP aware. This shows dramatically in the graph below.
This app is not Altivec
enhanced, but is SMP aware for rendering. In fact it is so aware that
it even detects the second CPU when it is disabled with Apple's CHUD tools.
I could therefore not run the single CPU tests on the PowerMac. Something
was very weird about that app. Obviously Cinebench profits a lot from
fast graphics cards and memory interfaces.
Running the dual CPU
render is only possible on a dual machine, of course, therefore only the
PowerMac G4 is listed there. I used the old version of Cinebench, not
the G5 optimized beta version, since there is no G5 in the testbed. This
way the scores are comparable to older tests around the internet. Note
that the two older notebooks are faster in software OpenGL mode than in
hardware OpenGL mode. Tells a lot about the graphics cards...
In this test I first
copied a music track over from CD, resulting in a 110.8MB AIFF file.
I then exported that file to mpeg4 using the default settings in Quicktime
Pro. Since mpeg4 is quite complicated to encode, the stress on the harddisk
is small enough to not make it a big factor.
Quicktime makes almost
no use of the second CPU, however, Altivec seems to play a major role
in mpeg encoding.
In this test I imported
a composite file into a new iMovie project. iMovie only handles DV Stream
formats, so it will convert media before you can work with it. The files
used were a 386MB mpeg4 movie and an 28MB music track in AIFF format.
Again Altivec is a
major factor in this test.
I ran the whole 21
filter suite of the PSBench7 Advanced set, which applies said 21 filters
to a 50MB file. Retrospectively I realize the PowerBook G4 was running
mostly off the harddisk, because it didn't have enough RAM for this kind
of manipulation. Then again, I doubt the few Altivec enhanced filters
would have helped it much.
What I think is quite
irritating is how poorly the filters in PSBench make use of a second CPU.
The difference displayed is the result of a single filter, not really
of the other 20. Radial Blur seems to be SMP aware, making a 30+ second
difference, while other filters don't profit at all.
Preview has been sped
up in Panther a lot aparently, so I wanted to test it's .pdf scrolling
capabilities myself and came to the following conclusions:
It looks as if a certain
amount of performance is the main factor in Previews scrolling speed.
Looking at these results, I dare say it depends on the graphics card almost
entirely. You can test this yourself by downloading the testfile here
and then scrolling through it by using the downarrow key. Smooth scrolling
was disabled for this test on all systems.
Castle Wolfenstein MP
This game is, like
many first person shooters, based on the Quake3 engine originally. However
it has been heavily modified and now lacks proper SMP support and is much
more demanding of both the CPU and the GPU, than Quake 3 itself is. I
deleted the config file for the Wolfenstein MP application, forcing a
new config to be built. I set graphics to high quality, but turned resolution
down to 640x480. FSAA and AF were both disabled as well.
Again, a very interesting
graph: The MP awareness of OS X and probably even the OpenGL library make
quite a difference, even though Wolfenstein is, by itself, not SMP aware.
The iBook G3 600 with its measly 8MB Rage 128 Mobility gets totally killed
by this game with these settings. The main factors here being 32bit colors
and high detail textures. The lack of hardware transform and lightning
capabilities does the rest. (Note: Quake3 engine games do not use hardware lighting,
Carmack does that in software.-Mike) What I do not quite understand and what remains
a mystery to me is why the Radeon Mobility in the PowerBook also performs
so badly. Maybe a reader will be able to point me to the source of this
performance impairment. (See this ATI page comparing the features of the original Radeon mobility, the 7500 Mobility and 9000 Mobility GPUs. Although they do not list specific core/memory clock speeds, the 7500 and 9000 are clocked much faster than the original Radeon mobility, as well as having 2x to 4x the number of 3D pipes and up to twice the memory bus width.-Mike)
The iBook G4 on the other hand is performing quite nicely. 30 FPS is already
very playable for singleplayer games and with some extra tweaking or slightly
lower graphics settings, things will only improve for the iBook here.
This game is very
similar to Wolfenstein in terms of technology: It's based on pretty much
the same code. Here again, I started with a default config file, setting
graphics to high quality.
High quality in JK2 means "Very High" texture detail, which
is intended for 64MB cards with support for texture compression. The Rage
128 Mobility can't handle this, so I had to set it back to only "high"
detail, The ideal setting for 32MB cards. FSAA and AF were both turned
off. Since the latest version also introduced a bug with SMP support,
making it crash in Panther, I had to turn it off. Too bad really. I hope
this will be fixed sooner or later.
PowerBook performs quite decently in this game, compared to the iBook
G3 anyway, which is completely unplayable here too. I wonder what Wolfenstein
does wrong, that Jedi Knight 2 does right. The iBook G4 again is perfectly
playable even with these relatively high settings.
Quake 3 1.32b
The veteran among
the benchmarking games and my personal favorite still. If you don't know
what this game is about, you need to read xlr8yourmac more often! I used
the latest versions available, the G4 optimized version for all G4 equipped
machines, and the normal version for the iBook G3.
Configs were made
as follows: My match config is an evolution of over 4 years and includes
so many tweaks and enhancements that I decided to simply include it in
the testfiles zip, instead of posting pages full of explanations. Boli's
config is tweaked to a similar degree, but a bit faster yet, due to lower
geometric detail and the lack of cg_drawgun 1, mainly. It's very popular
among Mac Quakers, so I wanted to include it. The "Fastest"
config is a default config with the "fastest" settings applied
and resolution upped from 512x384 to 640x480, since the notebooks do not
support any resolution below 640x480. Additionally music was turned off
and s_chunksize was set to 4096 in order to make these comparable to Mike's
previous tests. The "uHQ" config is also a default config set
to high quality settings, but enhanced further by changing the following
values: Resolution up to 1024x768 (from 800x600), geometric detail High
and Texture detail on maximum (r_picmip 0). Music was also turned off
and s_chunksize set to 4096.
r_smp was set to 1
on all tests, of course it is only used when more than one CPU is actually
In order for you to
imagine how these configs look, I took a screenshot for each of them (converted from .tga files to jpegs, since the .tgas were 900KB to 2MB+).
config, boli's config, "Fastest"
config, ultra high quality config
As you can see, the
iBook G4 is a very solid performer in Quake3, distancing the PowerBook
G4 by almost 50%. Of course the dual G4 is out of competition in this
test. Note that the single CPU results for the Powermac are "true"
single CPU results, as the CPU was deactivated, not just r_smp. Therefore
also OpenGL and the OS do no longer benefit from the extra CPU, thus giving
a clearer indication of true Single CPU performance for a 1250MHZ G4.
I consider this important for people who have upgraded their G4s with
a single CPU G4 upgrade card. What also should be noted is that the uHQ
tests for the iBook G3 were run at 640x480 instead of 1024x768, since
that resolution is only supported in 16bit mode in that machine (too little
Further note that the iBook G3 is the only machine for which the "fastest"
config actually IS the fastest. This is because this config is the only
one of the 4 to use 16 color and textures. The Rage 128 series of graphics
cards always performed better in 16bit mode, than in 32bit mode, for which
they were obviously not designed.
This is the most modern
game in my test series, so modern in fact, that 2 of 4 machines don't
even match the minimum system requirements anymore. Still, I was amazed
to find that all machines actually ran the application, although very,
very slowly. The iBook G3 also had render errors, most likely due to the
lack of hardware T&L and/or the lack of multitexturing support. UT
was forced into 16bit mode on that card, although the settings wouldn't
have indicated that. But it was obvious. The two configs used where a
default config with resolution turned down to 640x480 (instead of 800x600)
and my custom config, which is tweaked beyond what the menu allows you.
That's mainly cache sizes, VRAM sizes, sound channels, texture details
etc. That file is also included in the testfiles collection above. The
asbestos flyby and botmatch benchmarks were used.
This game is a sad
indicator of how quickly computers become obsolete regarding games. Both
the PowerBook G4 and iBook G3 are not actually usable with this game anymore.
The iBook G4 is fast enough for singleplayer games with some tweaking,
and should also be ok for the casual online gamer. Consider it's extremely
low price, it's e hell lot of bang for the buck!
If you really want
to see this game fly however, you need a Dual G5 with a Radeon 9800 Pro
(or, don't be angry, a fast PC)
Knowing some people
dig into this, I spent some extra time doing a series of OpenSSL benchmarks
on all systems. Since the results from this app are hard to display, I
decided to simply link to the textfiles of the output. Those who are interested
in this, will know how to interpret it.
In the terminal, the
command "openssl speed" invokes a series of calculation on a
number of opensource security protocols/encryptions. This is similar to
distributed net's RC64 cracker, just that the intention isn't to crack
the code, but merely to test how fast it could be done.
Here are the results
G4 Dual, PowerMac G4 Single,
PowerBook G4, iBook
G4, iBook G3
I have also made a
few pictures for those who are interested in the brightness of the new
iBook's screen. It's hard to photograph, even with manual camera settings,
but I think you get the idea:
the new iBook G4 (to
the right) is slightly brighter than the old
one, especially if viewed from an angle.
There's no denying
it, the iBook G4 is one of the best laptops Apple has ever produced. If
you've been looking into buying a portable, consider this. Go into the
next local Apple Store or retailer and have a look. This notebook is more
than just a companion for students and fans, it's probably the most affordable
yet speedy and fully featured notebook you will ever find on the market.
And it's the only one that has enough battery life to watch two full length
DVDs in a row.
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