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iBook G3 Review

Update 4: October 2006. I once again find myself using the iBook almost daily. This time as a full-time Linux laptop. Since I originally wrote about my experiences with Linux PPC, things have changed a bit. First, Ubuntu now supports PowerPC as one of the main development platforms, though with Apple's transition to Intel chips now complete, I wonder how long this will continue. That Ubuntu releases for PPC has made a remarkable difference. There is now a top-notch first tier Linux distribution with an emphasis on usability making sure that Linux runs well on my trusty old G3. Linux support is so good on this laptop, I've created a page outlining why I think this machine might be close to the ultimate Free Desktop machine.

Update 3:
Today, February 14. 2006, marks the end of the iBook's AppleCare. It also makes the iBook 3 years old. I have actually given my "new" PowerBook to my wife and am typing this on the iBook, which still works very well. I did send it in for a screen replacement in 2005, so I'm very glad that I bought the AppleCare warranty. Apple has begun shipping the Intel MacBook Pro. As I no longer own the PowerBook, I've been looking at my options. To be honest, I'm leaning toward a G4 iBook, which now boasts a 6-hour battery. My three year old iBook still easily gets 4 hours on the original battery. It has and continues to be a great machine.

Update 2: I purchased my new laptop in early February 2005. I'll admit it, I got impatient. I'm sure I _could_ have waited until 2006 but the iBook was starting to feel quite slow. (I've been using it with large apps a lot more as of late.) Also, I'd rather own a late-rev G4 than the first rev G5. If Apple updates the line again before 2006, I'm pretty sure it'll be a G5. Those things are going to cook and I'm sure that battery life will suffer. Anyway, the new machine is the PowerBook 12". Apple updated it the day before I placed my order. It's a 1.5GHz with SuperDrive and a 100GB 5400rpm drive. As above, I fully expect this machine to last me at least three or four years.

Update: As of June 2004, I've been using the iBook in Mac OSX pretty much all of the time. I realized a couple of months ago that withPanther (10.3) performance improved so much that it was actually a littlefaster in Mac OSX than it was in Linux. I'll admit that this was a prettytough pill for such a long-time Linux user to swallow. All of my performance complaints have disappeared. (Well, it is still quite a bit slower than the Sarah's P4 2.6GHz at ripping CDs.)

I think I've also worked out a plan for my next laptop: My current plan isto keep the iBook as my primary machine for another year and a half. In 2006I will purchase another Apple laptop, this time a PowerBook. If I was goingto replace the iBook today, I'd get a PB15" 1.5GHz G4 with 128MB of video RAM and a combo drive. This would cost about $3000CDN but I'm confident that if a low-end iBook will last me three years, that a high-end PB will easily last me four or more.

On February 14th 2003 I purchased a brand new computer for the first time in my life. After a year of use as my primary machine, I'm mostly very happy about the purchase. This page offers a brief summary of my experience with the iBook. This is not a review of OSX or Linux, though I mention them throughout with respect to how they work with the iBook. This page attempts to focus primarily on the hardware itself.

As I mentioned, this was the first completely new, in a box system that I have ever purchased. Every system before it had used components from previous systems and had been assembled by me. Not only that, it was the first piece of Apple hardware that I had purchased new. The system was the base model iBook. The specs are as follows:

  • PowerPC G3 700MHz
  • 16MB ATI Radeon 7500 (M7)
  • 20GB IDE HD
  • 24x CD-ROM
  • 128MB PC133 SDRAM
  • 12" 1024x768 screen
  • 2x USB 1.1
  • 1x Firewire
  • Built-in sound, 10/100 network, 56k modem
This cost me $1550 plus taxes, making it one of the most expensive items that I had ever purchased. (Cars, housing and education excepted.) To this, I have since added the AirPort card, 512MB of RAM and, more recently, the AppleCare extended warranty. I added the RAM as soon as humanly possible, as MacOSX _needs_ RAM more than any OS that I have ever used. (With the possible exception of Solaris.) 128MB is almost unusable. I have since used three G4 1GHz iMacs with 256MB of RAM. My G3 with 640MB is much faster in OSX. I consider 384MB of RAM to be a usable minimum for Mac OSX.

When I bought this laptop, I planned to replace the paltry 20GB drive with a 40GB I had kicking around. Then I read about what was involved. Lets just say that it was a daunting operation, not something I wanted to do to my nice new machine. However, after eight months had passed, I felt that it was time to crack the iBook open. After a very intense two hours, I had myself a new 60GB drive. I've been using it for four months now without any complications, so I'll happily declare the operation a success. At this point, I think it's safe to say that this machine is about as maxed out as it can get.

From a purely hardware point of view, the iBook had and has almost everything I was looking for. It's reasonably fast, works very well in Linux (power management included) and is very portable and sturdy.

I occasionally miss having a burner, I've since purchased a few FW/USB2.0 enclosures. One has a DVD burner in it, the other has a 120GB HD. This mostly alleviates the burning issue, but occasionally it'd be handy to be able to do this.


What continues to set this latop apart from x86 laptops for my use is that every piece of hardware is well supported in Linux. The video card is of very high quality, it has a 5 hour battery life.

I really like the iBook. If I was going to go out and buy a new laptop today, there's a good chance that it would be one of the new G4 iBooks. They have USB2.0, they have a combo drive, and the G4 would let me use applications like iDVD.

Unfortunately, the new iBooks no longer work with Mac OS9. Furthermore, the Broadcom 802.11g Airport cards, will not work in Linux, so Linux users would lose the ability for wireless networking. While this is cleary a limitation of Linux and not the fault of Apple, this alone would make me seriously consider trying to find a late-model G3 iBook. It's too bad that Apple won't/can't offer a Linux-compatible 802.11b option for the G4 iBooks. However, this is only important for a very small minority of users.

Since I purchased the iBook, Apple has aknowledged a problem with logic board failures. My laptop is among those possibly affected. Initially, there was public outcry as more and more complaints filed in. Finally, Apple did accept that there was a problem and has since offered three years of coverage against the failure for free. Despite this, I have opted to buy the AppleCare warranty. AppleCare covers any hardware-related problems. This includes replacement powersupplies and batteries.

I wasn't going to buy the AppleCare warranty, as I had planned to keep the laptop for two years and then sell it. To be honest, it works so well that I am now considering keeping it much longer than this. This laptop is absolutely perfect at what it does, I see no compelling reason to sell it now or at any time in the future. When it comes to hardware, this is about the highest praise that you will get from me.

The Good:

  • Great Battery life (Easily 5+ hours even after a year of use)
  • Fast (most of the time, especially in Linux)
  • Good quality video, decent 3D in Linux
  • Quiet (Silent in OSX, as it has better power management)
  • Cool (as in temperature)
  • 12" screen great for travelling
  • AirPort, FW work well in Linux
  • Decently upgradeable
  • Very good quality hardware
  • MOL is as cool as I'd hoped it would be
  • I can run OS9, OSX and Linux
  • VPC lets me also run Win32. (Albeit very slowly)

The Bad:

  • Slow in OSX
  • No USB 2.0
  • The worst speakers I've heard since... the PB1400cs!
  • Apple made me pay an extra $30 for the TV adaptor
  • 12" screen is a bit of a pain for doing real work on (even 14" 1024x768 is better)
  • I've had to replace the power supply
  • Mine is one of the models with the MB problem
  • The CD-ROM is quite picky about what it can and can't read
  • Apple's iDVD will not work with the G3
  • !x86 on Linux is occasionally a pain
  • One mouse button is a pain in Linux
  • G3 is great most of the time, but is a real drag when doing DVD ripping/encoding/burning