Powerbook G4 Review

February 13, 2008

Most technology reviews happen shortly after the hardware or software is released, and the reviewer has had only a limited time to tinker with the product. Publishing is not without a sense of one-upsmanship, and getting your review to press first is the only way to win that game.

Here at Zanshin.net World Headquarters, I've been using the same Titanium skinned Powerbook for over five years now, and I think it's time for a recap of this excellent machine.

The Specs

My Powerbook began life in November 2001 and was purchased in January 2002 at the Apple Store in Des Peres, outside of St. Louis Missouri. Out of the box it had a 867 MHz PPC processor, 256 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, and a Combo-drive (CD-RW/DVD).

The Combo-drive started refusing to access compact disks about a month after purchase, and I was able, under warranty, to get it replaced at no charge to me. The replacement has worked flawlessly every since.

I replaced the 40 GB drive with a 100 GB about three years ago, and created a 40 GB portable drive using a USB/Firewire enclosure from Other World Software. Both drives are still working with no errors or issues.

One of the first upgrades was additional memory; I added 512 MB soon after getting the Powerbook, and it has had 768 MB of RAM ever since.

Apple-History.com has a complete rundown of the original specifications.

Operating Systems

Originally my Powerbook came with Jaguar. After upgrading through all the iterations of that OS, it has also iterated through all the Panther dot releases, and finally all the Tiger releases. I haven't upgraded to Leopard yet for two reasons: performance and cost. More on that in a bit.

Hardware

The case has held up surprising well, considering this machine travels with me to work every day, and has right from the beginning. The screen has no dead pixels and, while some of the key caps are shiny from use, the keyboard is still tactilely satisfying.

The only blemish on the case is some missing paint on the hinge edge of the lid. This was caused by carrying the laptop while wearing a ring on one finger. Speaking of the hinge, I did have to replace the factory installed rubber stops with ones from an after market kit. Initially I set out to loosen the hinge as opening the machine took two hands, but the directions were just daunting enough that I've never completed the exercise.

The clearance between the LCD screen and the key caps is tight enough that I almost immediately developed faint smudges on the screen, caused by oil from my fingertips on the keys and trackpad. A micro-fiber cloth from RAD Tech now rests on the keyboard when the Powerbook is closed, and has eliminated the marks for the most part.

Just in the last few days the sleep light has started being flaky. Normally when the machine is asleep the light breathes (surprisingly bright in a dark room at night); it still does that when the machine is asleep on the desk. Closing the lid and picking it up however, interrupts the light, but doesn't wake the machine. If one glowing LED is the only malfunction in five plus years of daily use, I'm happy.

Software

In addition to the plethora of applications for Macs that I have used, there are several lesser know, more utility oriented programs that I couldn't live without.

Growl - system wide notification framework. I get my Twitter tweets via growl, along with new mail and NetNewWire notifications. iTunes announces the next song here and Adium events are also routed through growl. Sidetrack - My Mac is old enough that it doesn't support the newer scrolling gestures on the trackpad. However, with Sidetrack I have hot spots (primarily for right- and center-button clicks, as well as Exposé) and vertical and horizontal scrolling.

GeekTool - GeekTool is a bit harder to explain. It allows you to embed just about any log or process output, into your desktop. I have the uptime command output tucked away in the upper left corner of my screen via this tool.

Quicksilver - From Blacktree, every ones favorite "act without doing" interface.

Performance

Even though my machine is older and slower than today's machines, I am still quite pleased with its overall performance. My other laptop, a two-year-old IBM ThinkPad Z60m, has a 1.83 GHz CPU and 2 GB of RAM, and even with all the startup processes disabled, the Powerbook smokes the ThinkPad in cold or warm boot situations.

I rarely, if ever, turn the Powerbook off, preferring instead to just shut the lid to sleep the machine and open it again when I am ready to work once more. There are some applications I use on a regular basis that tax the now aging specifications. Eclipse Europa with the MyEclipse IDE installed being the primary example. That particular software platform is rather doggy on the XP ThinkPad as well.

Having read that Leopard wasn't designed for the G4 PPC chip, I have been reluctant to upgrade my OS. If I had a second 100GB hard drive I would use SuperDuper! to clone my 10.4.11 startup drive, and upgrade. If the performance was unacceptable, I could then easily revert. Until that drive happens, I'll happily say, "mine goes to eleven."

Conclusion

My Powerbook G4 is simply the best computer I have ever owned or used. The form factor, the operating system, the performance, ...; everything about it, is perfect for me. That I have a much newer and seemingly more powerful laptop in the Z60m and still choose to carry the Powerbook nearly everywhere I go, says it all.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.