Introduction

Deep down, you know you want a Powerbook. Even if you have sworn against Mac's, you cannot help deny that they are quite the sexy machine.

Today, SLCentral.com is taking an inside look into the Apple Powerbook 12" laptop, the smallest Apple to date. While it is the first generation (we are currently at the second generation) of the 12" model, is very much the same as the new version, so I found it appropriate to review the computer.

For this review, I tested using the all new version of OS X...Panther 10.3. On top of that, I tested with OS X Jaguar, 10.2, giving any Mac owner a good idea on whether the $130 is worth spending for 10.3.

Let's get into the review.

Specifications

  • Apple Powerbook 12"
  • First Generation
  • 867MHz G4 Processor
  • 133MHz Front Side Bus
  • 640MB PC2100 DDR RAM
  • 30GB Hard Drive
  • GeForce Go 420
  • Airport Extreme Installed
  • OS X Panther 10.3
  • In the Box

    The box is quite big for such a small laptop. In the box, you'll find quite a collection of stuff:

  • Powerbook 12"
  • AC Adapter
  • AC Extension
  • Mini-DVI to VGA
  • Mini-DVI to ADC
  • Mini-DVI to S-Video and Component
  • Recovery DVD
  • Hardware Test CD
  • Manuals
  • As you can see, Apple didn't do too poorly here, the collection of accessories was great. I loved the extension cable which let me both stylishly and easily extend the Power cable if I needed more cable length when charging my laptop.

    Design

    As you can both imagine and see, Apple has done it again, make a stylish computer. When the case is closed, the computer looks mesmerizing. When it is open, it looks even more mesemerizing. Any way you look at it, its a sexy computer.

    When the lid is closed, the computer looks great. The sleek lines make the system look sleek and professional. The Apple logo on the front compliments the entire design. The opening latch is on front, and it has a small light that is illuminated when the computer is on Sleep mode.

    When the lid is opened, it just gets better. The 12" display is bright and crisp, but I should mention that the 15" and 17" screens are flat-out better. The 12" Powerbook uses the same screen as both the iBook and iMac line of computers, which tend to have cheaper parts. The keyboard is a nice silverish color, which goes with the rest of the unit. The track-pad is nice, but I wish there was a two button mouse and not just a one-button. Usually, long-time Mac users like a one-button mouse, and the switchers want a two-button mouse. Being a switcher, I miss two buttons, especially in games.

    The unit's speakers are located near the display, and are not visible when looking at the laptop as you normally would. The power button is just over the eject key, which is on the top-right of the keyboard.

    On the left side of the computer, you will find the power port, a 56K modem port, a Ethernet (not gigabit) port, one Firewire 400 port, 2 USB 1.1 ports, a Apple Mini-DVI port, and two audio ports. I will go through the features of these ports later in this review.

    On the right. you will find a slot-loading CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive. The computer can also be configured with a SuperDrive (aka DVD Burner). In my opinion, this is one of the coolest things about the laptop. The CD is almost sucked into the computer, and it looks and sounds really cool.

      

    On the bottom, you will find the battery indicator lights. Pressing a small button on the battery will give you the remaining battery life by lighting up LED's. There are five in all, the more lit up, the more charged the battery is.

    I should mention that on the screen portion of the computer, the frame of the LCD has a built-in Airport Extreme antenna, so nothing has to stick out of the unit if you have Airport Extreme (wireless internet).

    There is no question about it, the Apple Powerbook 12" notebook computer is a nice looking system.

    Features

    What's a computer without features, right? Don't worry, the 12" Powerbook doesn't upset, for the most part.

    As I said, the Powerbook 12" has quite a few ports. Namely, a Firewire 400 port, two USB 1.1 ports, a Mini-DVI port, a ethernet port, and a 56K modem port. Honestly, I wasn't impressed. I mean, come on, it's 2003, USB 2.0 should be standard on all PC's. Luckily, Revision B of the Powerbook has USB 2.0, so do not worry. Firewire 400 is OK, but Firewire 800 is better. Revision B does NOT have Firewire 800, either.

    I have no complaints about the CD-RW or DVD burner. DVD's were played back excellently, and CD's burned very fast. I burned a 400MB CD in Toast 6 in appx. 2 minutes.

    The display is nice and bright, but as I said, the 15" and 17" models have nicer screens. If only Apple didn't cheat us out of a better screen. Never fear, though, I love this Powerbook screen.

    The keyboard is the real winner. It's just incredible. The keys press to the touch, and you can really just speed-type easily on this keyboard. Kudos to Apple!

    The lack of gigabit ethernet is disappointing for a few, but for me, as well as the majority, it is virtually no problem. Professionals that need the gigabit ethernet may want to check out the 15" or 17" models instead, as those models have it.

    The GeForce 4 420 is fine for day-to-day tasks, but for games, it's completely unacceptable. I'll go into the gaming performance later.

    All in all, features on this laptop is acceptable. The lack of USB 2.0 is disappointing, but the new models have 2.0, so I can't really complain. Firewire 800 is omitted, which is also disappointing, but since few devices support the speed, it's OK. The screen, although not as good as the higher models, was bright and crisp. The keyboard was unexplainably good.

    There are a few things Apple needs to change features-wise, but for the average user, it's not a problem.

    Performance

    I tested using the all new OS X Panther 10.3 Operating System, which claims to increase speeds quite a bit over 10.2 (Jaguar), For testing, I used only XBench for benchmarking.

    Overall Score: 84.12

    CPU Score: 103.51

    Thread Score: 74.33

    Memory Score: 80.49

    Quartz Graphics Score: 102

    OpenGL Graphics Score: 90.52

    User Interface Score: 105.99

    Disk Test: 54.93

    As you can see, performance is pretty nice. The Revision B scores can only be higher because of the 2x cache space and the slightly faster processor.

    In games, I didn't really think it was necessary to get an actual frame rate for each game I play, simply because this is not a gaming system. In fact, it is far from it. The GeForce 4 420 really holds the system back. MOHAA at both 800x600 and 640x480 is almost unplayable. Warcraft 3 works fine, though, at 800x600 with all settings at either Medium or Low. Anything higher and Warcraft 3 lags. Sim City 4 at 1024x768 plays fine.

    Graphics wise, for FPS's, look elsewhere. For games that don't need as much power, such as Warcraft 3 or Sim CIty 4, it will be just fine. It must be great fun to play Sim City or Warcraft on the plane and see all the stares come your way! Keep in mind that the Revision B model comes with a FX 5200 video card. While it does improve, don't expect to have too much improvements.

    Day-to-day performance is nothing short of great. When no programs are open, Safari, the internet browser (IE sucks on Mac) loads in just one "bump" on the dock. iTunes also loads in just one "bump," but needs about 3-4 seconds after that "bump" to be ready to use. Photoshop and other more powerful programs were not tested.

    Office X sucks performance wise. A lot of this, however, is Microsoft's fault. Even G5 owners are reporting how slow Office X is. Could this be a conspiracy? Knowing Microsoft, probably :).

    Booting up is fast, for a Mac. It takes about 30 seconds. Jaguar took at least a minute and a half, which is crazy. Panther really cut that time by 66%, which I am very thankful for.

    If you need a fast computer for day-to-day tasks, with the occasional game, then this system is virtually perfect. But, if you are planning on using programs like Final Cut Pro quite a bit, you may want to choose something else. Occasional Photoshop usage should be no problem, but more intensive tasks can really slow down the system, even with 640MB of RAM.

    Battery Life

    Battery life, as I expected, is pretty damn good. With Airport Extreme and Bluetooth turned off, I can get around 3.5 hours of battery typing in "TextEdit," the free word processor included with OS X. Turning Airport Extreme on cuts the battery to around 2.5 hours while surfing the internet, using AIM, etc. Bluetooth doesn't really change things at all.

    The thing that I found incredible about the battery life is the sleep mode. Before I went to sleep, I closed the lid of my Powerbook without plugging in the charger. 8 hours later, I opened the lid of my Powerbook, and I saw that my battery life was at 94%. I was shocked. I remember my Sony R505 laptop that I bought last year couldn't last more then 5 hours on sleep, this one worked overnight with a lot of time to spare. I was just too happy!

    When playing games, specifically Warcraft 3, battery life is really compromised. I got about 1.5 to 2 hours with Airport off when playing. While it's good for a laptop when gaming, I think that it can be improved over time.

    Heat

    It is common knowledge that laptops do get hot. The Powerbook 12" is an exception. It gets really hot. Burning hot. Crazy hot. OK, maybe I am exaggerating. Seriously, this laptop gets hotter then any other laptop I have ever used, specifically on the left side of the handrest. It can really burn. Being hot is one problem, but case warping is another. You read right, case warping. This laptop can get so hot that the case can warp and change the shape because the metal pretty much melts. In fact, my case has a slight warp already! It's crazy. I should advise you, though, that I have left my laptop on day and night for at least a week straight with no real problems, so don't be too worried. The case warping problem is known, and Apple covers it in their warranty.

    The Operating System

    Being a Windows user all my life, it took a great deal of work to get used to OS X. After being acquainted with it for the past month, I can't understand why I never got a Mac. The OS is easy to use, responsive, well-designed, and stable. In fact, just yesterday I was setting up my Lexmark Z23 printer with my Powerbook. I plugged the USB port into my PB and nothing happened. I got a little confused, so I went into the "System Properties." I selected Printers and Faxes, and to my surprise, my printer was listed there already. It was set up in literally less then 20 seconds. Windows XP doesn't even have built-in support for my printer.

    I have had OS X lock up on me twice over the month period I've been using my Mac. Twice. If that's not impressive, I don't know what is.

    I got Panther the day it came out, and it's really a good upgrade. Being a new Mac user, I was very skeptical about having to buy an entirely new OS version every year, shelling out $129 annually. I learned two things. First, I can get it for just $69 via the Apple Education Store. And second, the money is worth it.

    Panther not only added a few great features (they claim 150, but I only use about 5 of them), but it really speeds up the system. I used to get 73 on XBench with Jaguar. Now, I am getting 84. Thats an 11 point improvement, 13.1%! It may not sound like a lot, but in day-to-day performance, it is really noticeable.

    Besides the performance, the added features are great, namely, Expose. With Expose, pressing the F9 key resizes all the programs open to fit on your screen. Click on a program, and it will maximize. F10 will do the same for just the windows in the selected program (for example, if you have five different IE windows open, it will resize just those IE windows). Pressing F11 will bring you directly to the desktop.

    The Finder is also new (the Finder is much like My Computer in Windows). The layout is different, and has shortcuts to most-used places.

    There are really too many improvements to mention with Panther. If you are interested, check out http://www.apple.com/panther.

    Warranty

    Mac Warranty is ridiculous. 90 days phone support, one year parts. It should be at least one year parts and phone support. I would really recommend buying "AppleCare," the extended warranty with your Mac. You may think "yeah yeah, who needs that," but you really might. There's nothing worse then being stuck with a broken laptop. For $250, AppleCare gives you three years parts and technical support, much better then the standard.

    Conclusion

    After reading this review, and looking at the 9.5 score I gave the Apple Powerbook 12" laptop, you may be confused. I have listed in this review a countless number of problems with the laptop. From the display to the case warping, there are problems with this computer, thats for sure. Truthfully, the pros outweigh the cons. The performance is great, the design is better, and the OS is best. These three things that really shine outweigh the small problems like the lack of USB 2.0, or the short warranty. Call me biased, but the fact is that this laptop is great.

    I think that the only significant problem with it is the heat. It can really cause problems if you aren't careful. I don't know exactly how the case warped (I got this computer used, and the warp was there before I bought it), and I don't know how common the problem is, but it is definitely a problem. Not a big problem, but a problem for sure. You will need to be careful when using this computer for a significantly long period of time. I haven't had any serious problems with case warping, but there is the chance.

    All in all, if you are looking for a fast, good looking, incredible laptop, stop looking. The Powerbook 12" is really all you can possibly ask for. If the screen is too small, go to the 15" model, or even the 17". You can even add an external display. The Powerbook is by far the best laptop, if not the best computer I have used in my entire life.

    Pros:

  • Great Design
  • Good CD Burner
  • DVD Playback is Good
  • Performance is Great
  • Battery Life is Great
  • OS X is Great
  • Stable
  • Cons:

  • Gets HOT
  • No USB 2.0
  • Graphics performance is below average for games
  • Warranty sucks
  • SLRating: 9.5/10



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