The New iBook - Just Right or Too Little, Too Late?

On Wednesday September 13, Apple announced the revised version of its consumer portable, the iBook. Available in two models, the iBook sports a relatively speedy G3 processor, a 12" Active Matrix display, and a stylish case design. With this revision, some much-needed features have been added.

It could be argued that the iBook didnit really need to be updated at all. After all, the basics were there: a 300 MHz processor, 64 MB of RAM, a 6 GB hard drive, USB, a 56k modem, 10/100 Ethernet, and a CD drive provides all the computing power required by many of its buyers. There are many students and other consumers who need a computer only to access the Internet, do some word processing, and manage their expenses. The old iBook could do all that without breaking a sweat.

However, an increasing number of people demand more: they want to play games, view movies, and even make movies, and for those tasks, the old iBook just didnit cut it. Those users had to either ante up the money for a PowerBook G3, or lose the convenience of portability and buy an iMac DV. The base iBook, priced at an affordable US$1499, now has a 366 Mhz processor. The US$1799 iBook SE gets a speed bump to 466 MHz, and also gains a 6x DVD drive. Standard colors are Indigo for the base model, and Graphite for the SE. Both are also available in a new shade, Key Lime, exclusively through the Apple Store. Both models now have a FireWire port, a video out port, a 10 GB hard drive, and the ATI Rage Mobility 128 chipset with 8 MB of VRAM. These changes solve a lot of the iBookis problems. The speed bumps, while not earth-shattering, are definitely welcome.

Unfortunately, because the current PowerBook G3 and Power Mac G4 top out at 500 MHz, Apple did not dare outclass them with what should be its least powerful system. Once the G4 processor moves beyond the 500 MHz and finds its way into the PowerBook, we can expect Apple to once again boost the speed of the iBookis G3 processor.

With the FireWire and video out ports, the iBook becomes a credible low-cost, portable digital video editing system. While we shouldnit expect it to be able to produce broadcast-quality video, the iBook will be capable of creating cool home videos right out of the box thanks to the bundled iMovie 2 software. The 10 GB hard drive also helps the cause, offering plenty of storage space for your creations. Finally, those 8 MB of VRAM are a boon to gamers, as they should boost 3D graphics performance significantly. While the iBook isnit (and never will be) an ultimate gaming machine, casual gamers will probably find it to be adequate now.

Unfortunately, the one thing that hasnit been improved is the mere 64 MB of main memory the iBook comes with. While it may be adequate most of the time, it really isnit sufficient for a video editing system. It would have been nice to see Apple offer 128 MB as standard, at least on the SE model, especially since Mac OS X requires a minimum of 128 MB. All in all, the latest iBook is a big improvement over the old model, without a premium price. The only real complaint is the relatively low amount of system RAM. Other than that, there isnit much more we could realistically ask for. Sales of the iBook havenit exactly been slow, and they are bound to get hotter yet with these revisions.

Oliver is a computer science student a the University of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. He has been using Macs since 1986 when his father would bring home a Mac Plus on the weekends. He was one of the original writers for Webintosh, and before that was a contributor to the now-defunct MacSense CD magazine.