Apple PowerBook G4 867
Best retro purpose
This laptop is a very good choice due to its good MacOS support. OSX support is much improved compared with the PowerBook G3 platform, the CPU and video chipset being entirely suited for most applications. Although the CPU performance is low, compared with later G4 laptops having 1500MHz CPUs, the performance is decent on Mac OSX 10.4. The platform allows good OSX version support, having the option of running the well rounded OSX 10.4 as well as late OSX 10.5, albeit at reduced performance. OSX 10.4 runs slightly better than on a PowerPC G3 platform having the same clock speed due to faster RAM and improved CPU cache, but there are no other major differences. On the other side, the laptop runs slightly warmer than a G3, mainly due to the faster video controller, although gaming expectations should be tempered due to the low CPU clockspeed.
Durability and Repair-ability
The durability of the laptop is very good, mostly due to the much more solid construction of the aluminum, being some of the most resistant laptops ever made. Of course, the theoretical durability of the outer chassis and internal frame is slightly hindered by the slightly odd internal design. The harddrive is not accessible from the exterior, despite the PRO designation of the laptop, even if harddrive failures were not uncommon in the past. Requirements of removing keycaps to access hidden screws frequently end up in damaged keys due to plastic aging and complex disassembly has to be carefully done to avoid damaging the screw mounts or the chassis itself. The circuitry survivability was good as the laptop ran significantly cooler than later PowerBook G4 laptops, and the fan was mostly turned off. Another major issue is the choice of top case screws that require specialized tools as well as screws that are incompatible with widely used ones chosen by other manufacturers.
Greatest features & flaws
|Great MacOSX 10.4 and good MacOSX 10.5 performance||Similar performance with PowerBook G3, external video port requires proprietary adapter|
|Good software compatibility, DVD Drive||Single RAM module provision limits upgradeability|
|Durable, comfortable keyboard and trackpad||Easy to damage parts during complex disassembly|
|Good cooling, CPU downclocking possible in Mac OSX||No USB 2.0 port, no Firewire 800 capability|
A business laptop, released in 2003, but that had only some of the typical business laptop features. It had a very pleasant chassis and reasonable CPU and GPU performance. The choice of DDR RAM was very good, ensuring a solid increase in capabilities and performance, but providing just a single memory socket did not offer good prospects for upgrades. The graphics chipset was a major improvement from the previous PowerBook Titanium models, but the CPU still was slow, most likely due to the market segmentation chosen by Apple. The lack of USB 2.0 ports feels like an major shortcoming when this laptop was launched in 2003 and especially so when it was considered for business use. The 12 inch laptops require a proprietary, hard to find, adapter to plug an external VGA or DVI display, which is unfortunate while 15 and 17 inch PowerBook laptops use the standard DVI-I port.
The laptop ran cool enough but this was not due to the special design of the laptop but the low consumption of the CPU, especially when comparing it with the energy consumption of the later PowerPC G4. 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 modern technology that offers relatively good contrast and response times. High resolution screens are pointless with the typical OSX environment of the time. 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 good, even if Apple laptops at that time were rarely used in demanding games and typical applications of that time which included light browsing, office use and photo editing worked acceptably. However, the PowerBook G4 was present in a decade when use scenarios shifted slowly towards video editing and more demanding applications, requiring larger screens and better performance.
The keyboard is comfortable to type on, the painted keycaps being more durable than you may expect on other laptops. The keyboard is not as easy to clean as on older Ibook models but it can be vacuumed. The wireless performance is slightly improved compared with previous Ibook and PowerBook laptops but still far from later 802.11n standards. 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 inclusion of a DVD drive is a welcoming feature as the Apple operating system was notoriously bad in terms of size, requiring careful use of multiple CDs if a DVD drive and disks were not available. On the other side, the lack of DVD writing capability is still unpleasant on a laptop designated to pro or business users as well as the slow 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 and a serious improvement in durability over previous generation Powerbook Titanium laptops. The laptop's metal case is highly durable, but must be very carefully disassembled, when required. This is somewhat annoying. Unfortunately, parts of the chassis are especially vulnerable to rough handling and the aluminum frame is not supported by a rigid underframe, meaning that bends and dents are quite common. 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 slightly slow for Mac OSX, but the supplied drive is spacious. 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 run the Classic environment, which allows working with older MacOS applications and experiencing the system.
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.
Unfortunately for Apple, the PowerBook G4 was not enough of a speed bump due to insufficient research and development. While some features were added, such as Altivec, the performance and especially the energy use gap was increasing compared with Intel offers. As the PowerPC CPU was already running quite hot, multiprocessor capabilities were impossible to implement on laptops which affected Apple laptops sale potential on creative users for a couple of years, and hindered video editing appeal.