iMac + iBook >= PowerBook?

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Chris Adamson
Oct. 20, 2004 07:20 AM

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MacMinute is reporting that Apple does not intend to release a new PowerBook before the holidays... yeah, so much for the PowerBook G4 update is imminent talk, huh? It's also an interesting side to the "Apple does not comment on unannounced products" company line... they do comment on an absence of products, especially if potential customers might be waiting for products that are not actually in the pipeline.

Well, all that said, I'm in a quandary. See, I just finished writing QuickTime for Java: A Developer's Notebook (yay!), and with a little free time, I'm itching to really get into Core Image / Core Video. However, my sad little 900 MHz G3 iBook doesn't have the GPU chops to handle CI/CV. I had been waiting for a new PowerBook, and the current line can handle CI/CV, but it's getting a little long in the tooth. Why Apple won't throw us a bone with a minor update - 7200 RPM drives would be nice - is probably immaterial.

With the "no new PowerBooks" announcement, I wondered "hey, they just released new G4 iBooks, maybe those can do CoreImage. I mean, Apple's not going to put out hardware that can't handle the cool features of the next OS X release, right?" Actually yes... yes they would. A quick check of the specs shows the iBooks with 32 MB Radeon 9200's... not among the cards supported by CI/CV.

So now I'm thinking... my home office is going to be done in a couple of weeks, and I don't travel that much, usually three conferences a year - O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference (yay!), ADHOC (yay!), and JavaOne (arguably more pleasant than elective dental surgery!) - so I could stop paying the portability premium and get into a G5 today.

Assuming I will need some kind of portable when I do travel, even if it means I can't code CI/CV on the road (well, can't test it anyways), let's tally up the options with street prices (yes, I'm in ADC, but let's leave the hardware discount out of the equation for now). We'll assume the cheapest desktop and iBook, and compare that to the mid-range PowerBook (my rationale being that I can stand a small screen on the road, but not as my primary development environment).

Option 1
17" 1.6 GHz G5 iMac $1299 $2298
12" 1.2 GHz G4 iBook $999
Option 2
15" 1.33 GHz G4 PowerBook $1999 $1999

I think it's surprising that for $300 more, I get two computers - each optimized for its environment (desktop vs. mobility) - and that the desktop G5 iMac is way ahead of where the PowerBook is going to be anytime soon in terms of CPU, bus speed, etc. As much as we've heard about how great the PowerBook line is and how appealing it is to junk the desktop in favor of having a laptop for everything, it comes up somewhat short against the rest of the Mac line right now.

Chris Adamson is an author, editor, and developer specializing in iPhone and Mac.