Apple iBook: Is bigger always better?

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The new, bigger iBook is a welcome midrange addition to the Apple notebook lineup.

Apple's charming little iBook with the 12.1in screen now has a higher-end iBook sibling with a 14.1in screenââ,¬"giving small-business users a nice midrange choice among Mac portables.

Is bigger always better? With portables, it's a matter of priorities. In addition to a grander view, the new iBook also offers a bigger, longer-lasting battery. But the trade-offs are a larger chassis, a heavier weight, and a higher price. Because the two iBooks are largely the same otherwiseââ,¬"and generally good at what they doââ,¬"the choice of whether to go big or small, with all it entails, is an individual one. But in our book, the heftier screen and battery are worth it.

The display and battery changes to the new iBook make the biggest difference for users. Compared to the smallish 12.1in screen on the previous iBook, the 14.1in LCD is a wonderful upgrade. The 1024 x 768 native resolution is the same as the smaller screen's, and it looks fine. The lithium-ion battery expanded from a six-cell, 42-watt-hour model on the smaller iBook to an eight-cell, 55-watt-hour unit for the bigger iBook, and it shows in our heavy-duty DVD playback tests; the new iBook lasted 3 hours, 14 minutes compared with a shade more than two hours for its smaller counterpart. The system grew in size (32.3 x 25.9 x 3.4cm) and weight (2.7kg, along with 312g for the power supply) as a result, but the pros should outweigh the cons for most users, assuming they can afford the bigger iBook's $3995 price.

The larger iBook's configuration compares well with that of other mainstream models. It's powered by the same 600MHz G3 processor (running on a 100MHz system bus) as its smaller kin. Its standard 256MB of RAM is sufficient for running Mac OS X; you can expand it to a maximum of 640MB or add an AirPort 802.11b networking card by popping up the keyboard and, in the case of the RAM, removing a small heatsink. The 20GB hard drive is a decent size for a mainstream notebook, and the combo DVD/CD-RW drive gives you the flexibility to burn CDs and enjoy movies or music.

The new iBook covers connectivity well. All the ports are on the left side (with AC on the right); they include a modem, 10/100BaseT Ethernet, FireWire, two USB ports, and a miniature monitor output that, with the appropriate cable, can connect to a separate monitor or provide composite-video output. There's also a headphone jack. Unfortunately, the new iBook's expandability is still limited despite its increase in size. For example, the laptop lacks a PC Card slot or a modular expansion bay.

The other component that failed to benefit from the size increase was the keyboard, which is full-sized except for the Function and screen navigation keys. Though it's the same one found on the smaller iBook, the keyboard seems a little lost when centred on a larger case; while it feels good, there's still too much flex at the centre (as we also noted in our review of the smaller iBook). The touchpad and the single mouse button are conveniently centred just below the keyboard.

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Apple marches ever forward with its OS; the iBook we tested boots by default into Mac OS X 10.1.2 (Mac OS 9.2.2 is also installed to run your legacy applications). The iBook's performance running OS X is acceptable, but it seems to lag a bit on application launches and screen redraws. Apple also continues to use the underpowered ATI Rage Mobility graphics chip in this iBook. In our Labs' tests, the iBook's 600MHz G3 processor was as fast or faster than its smaller predecessor, but not surprisingly, it lagged behind the PowerBook G4 Titanium's 667MHz processor. (The PowerBook had an ace up its sleeve: the tested applicationsââ,¬"Photoshop 6.0.1, iTunes 2.0.1, and iMovie 2.1.1ââ,¬"all take advantage of the G4's Velocity Engine vector-processing feature.)

If it's any consolation, the iBook is very easy to use and comes with plenty of documentation. A handy Setup Assistant guides you through the initial launch in a matter of minutes. Most of the information users will need lies in the system's help menus or online at Apple's Web site, which features a rich collection of FAQs, knowledge base documents, software updates, and discussion forums. However, you have to register at the site to access most support information.

The new, bigger iBook is a welcome midrange addition to the Apple notebook lineup. It offers the same or better performance and features as its more minuscule sibling, with the added benefits of a roomier display and a longer battery life. The additional weight and size that come with these perks are a trade-off, but the key decision is probably a budgetary one. If you can afford the bigger iBook's higher price, we'd recommend it over the smaller model, but the latter is also a good alternative.

Product: Apple iBook

Price: AU$3995

Vendor: Apple

Phone: 13 36 22



Two USB ports, FireWire, 10/100BASE-T Ethernet, VGA video out, AV connectors.


Longer battery life and a bigger display make this notebook a good investment.


If you can afford the bigger iBook's higher price, it's worth buying over the smaller model.


1-year warranty; Ph: 13 36 22; Apple Pro- tection Plan provides an extra 3 years ($399).


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