Apple Ibook G3 500
Best retro purpose
This laptop is a very good choice due to its very good MacOS support. It can natively run Mac OS 9 with reasonable performance. OSX support is a mixed experience, with 10.3 being the best in terms of capabilities as well as system response. This was a reasonable expectation of that time, as OSX's heavy graphical interface was too much for CPUs and GPUs of the time. The platform allows good early OSX version support, offering the chance of authentically experience the evolution of Apple software during the early tenure of Steve Jobs comeback. However, it should be noted that no amount of RAM or harddrive improvements can make OSX truly pleasant on such a machine.
Durability and Repair-ability
The plastic quality of certain parts is not so great but the internal frame is quite durable. Access to the hard-drive is very difficult, requiring complex and carefull disassembly of the entire case. Harddrives of that period were not very reliable so failures after so many years are entirely expected. On the other side, compared with previous PowerPC G3 platforms, the use of IDE harddrive instead of SCSI makes replacements very simple, as just about any harddrive can be used and they are autodetected successfully. The circuitry survivability was good as the laptop ran quite cool, and the fan was mostly turned off.
The keyboard can be very easily cleaned or replaced as it can be detached without using any tools.
Greatest features & flaws
|Great MacOS9 and somewhat decent MacOSX 10.3 performance||Poor performance in Mac OSX 10.1, 10.2|
|Good software compatibility||Single RAM module provision limits upgradeability|
|Durable, comfortable keyboard and trackpad||Fragile, laptop upper case and display bezels, prone to many cracks|
|Good cooling, CPU downclocking possible in Mac OSX||No DVD drive|
A midrange, consumer laptop, released in 2001. It had a pleasant chassis but a quite low performance. The choice of PC-100 SDRAM was good, but providing just a single memory socket did not offer good prospects for upgrades. The graphics chipset was somewhat reasonable but the CPU was extremely slow, probably due to constraints of mobile implementation at that time.
The laptop ran cool enough but this was not due to the special design of the laptop but the low consumption of the CPU. The power saving settings in Mac OSX are not suitable. Using the automatic setting does not provide well balanced performance as it is offers an intermediate performance between low and high settings, closer to the lower setting. When turning on the high setting, the swiftness of the operating system and applications is much improved, but so is the heat release and power use. With no reasonable performance in automatic mode, this Apple laptop cannot feel anything else but slow.
The LCD TFT screen build quality was very good, using a reasonably modern technology that offers relatively good contrast and response times. High resolution screens are pointless with such a weak video chipset, that struggles even at 1024x768 resolutions. Expectations should be according to the laptop's timeline with added odd failures on some models such as fluorescent lamps that absorb mercury and run pink for a few moments on startup. The graphics chipset is somewhat reasonable, as Apple laptops at that time were not especially used in demanding games and typical applications of that time which included light browsing, office use and photo editing worked acceptably. Only later, with the inclusion of the first Radeon and GeForce chipsets there was a serious 3D acceleration entirely possible.
The keyboard is also comfortable to type on, even if the clear or white plastic being used can yellow in time and have a less than pleasant appearance. The keyboard itself is easily detached and can be cleaned. Apple Airport cards can be added on the system quite easily, which means that upgrades are potentially possible. As the wireless performance at that time was quite limited, there are few expectations of swift operation or support for modern encryption. On the other side, the included Ethernet port offers very good performance and reliability, being a good networking choice. The laptop also included, by default, modem connections for phone lines, which was, still, not supplied on all laptops released by other manufacturers in the same time frame.
The lack of a DVD drive is a nuisance as the Apple operating system was notoriously bad in terms of size, requiring careful use of multiple CDs. Even if installations were highly uncommon for typical users, the lack of a DVD-ROM still feels a cost cutting and segmentation choice since the laptop is provided with a Firewire port which hints at some video editing capability. The rechargeable battery can be easily removed or replaced but the timekeeping battery is placed inside the rechargeable battery pack that is almost surely not working after so many years. Luckily, however, Apple systems are very good at keeping good BIOS settings without any battery.
The chassis was slim, light, comfortable due to rounded corners. The laptop's case is not quite durable. This is somewhat annoying. Unfortunately, parts of the chassis may crack due to brittle plastics, especially in the case of the the screen's frame. The lid closing latch is very well designed and durable. The display hinges are very well engineered even if they may not look to be anything special. The integrated speakers are average, having decent performance.
The standard HDDs are very slow for Mac OSX so better suited storage should have been supplied. Replacing the hard-drive is difficult but the system accepts most late Pentium III era drives for a real speed boost. Software support is very good as the system can be dual-booted on MacOS as well as OSX.
The PowerPC platform was, in reality, a mixed platform. On the one side, the RISC platform showed potential but Intel CPUs were also very close in performance. What started as a competition that was clearly in Apple's favour in the Motorola 68xxx days became a losing proposing in the early 1990s. Motorola did not keep up with Intel and, later, AMD development which exacerbated many issues. Due to slow progress, Apple pressed Motorola to find a solution and an agreement with IBM fabs and expertise seem to be a good way to ensure progress. However, development lingered and no large amount of sales ensured by Apple was enough to convince IBM and Motorola of the research and development imperative. Of course, Apple's marketing was very strong and operating system as well as partner's software was financed to ensure optimizations. The powerful Altivec instruction set solved the floating point speed requirements compared with Intel CPUs, but integer performance lagged further. More importantly, the PowerPC was not build in a way that ensured dual processing with reasonable energy use. On laptops, all energy consumption and heat dissipation issues were essential and the trend was already towards multiprocessing. Not having such capability on laptops was a major failure to Apple and the most important reason to switch to Intel and their more efficient Core architecture.
The MacOS classic operating system was also heavily outdated. A lack of coherency and guidance in making radical changes, on time, in the operating system, made it impossible to keep the Apple MacOS competitive. True preemptive multitasking was never implemented, while the old Windows 95 reasonably competed in that area. By late 1990s Apple had to buy a third party operating system such as BeOS or the Next Operating System, developed at the company of Steve Jobs. BeOS had better performance but Next Operating System was much more flexible. It is still debatable if BeOS lost due to its architecture or cost. The advantage of Next Operating System was mixed. While the platform could run on Intel as well as PowerPC processors or even other CPU architectures, the graphical layer was slowing very much the system. This meant that the evolution into OSX of this system was mixed. On the one side, the system felt true to its Apple feel even while the first PowerPC laptops were much slower than requirements.
The issue of PowerPC's lack of suitability on laptops will drag on up until the last PowerPC CPU was supplied to Apple in 2005. Power saving features were insufficient and even idling the CPU was not enough to keep power consumption and heat dissipation to a minimum. Moreover, the CPU did not seem to have enough idle states and clock speed/voltage ramping to control performance and energy use at the same time. The typical CPU implementation is one of compromises that Apple had to make. With a strong competition presented by Intel Pentium IIIs of that time, the PowerPC was already having many issues. The issue of strong competition forced Apple to require processors that did not have architectural improvements but were higher clocked. This meant that, roughly in the time of the PowerPC G4, improvements were possible only with higher energy consumption and heat dissipation. Apple had to accept costly designs of heatsinks, fans and ducts to ensure reliable long term operation and low noise. Laptops were very badly designed as space constraints and a focus on no fan noise compounded issues of coherent cooling, leading to quick fan cycles that were annoying, while the laptop was still not adequately cooled.
Intel successfully created mobile versions with good energy saving features for laptops. Apple had to compromise on performance as the PowerPC consortium was not able to design optimized CPUs for laptops. Lower performance had to be accepted to keep cooling and power use in check. The newer operating system of Apple, such as OSX, was demanding, which meant that the only reasonable reason to choose Apple was if older operating systems and their software was attractive. Of course, Apple promoted strongly performance against the typical PC but this was skewed in heavily optimized software that hid well the PowerPC shortcomings. For the typical user, probably, the situation was acceptable as the operating system was still easier to use and more pleasant than what Microsoft offered with Windows 2000 or XP at that time.