PowerBook dilemma: 12" or 15"?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips, Advice and Discussion (archive)' started by Brian Haworth, Jul 14, 2004.

  1. Brian Haworth macrumors member

    Apr 19, 2004
    Santa Rosa, CA, USA
    So, I'm looking at two models of Apple laptop: the 1.5 GHz 15" PB and the 1.33 GHz 12" PB. To lay out the specs:

    15" PowerBook
    80 GB HD at 4200 rpm
    Combo drive
    ATI Radeon 9700 Mobility, 128 MB of VRAM
    512 MB of RAM
    Cost: $2209

    12" PowerBook
    80 GB HD at 5400 rpm
    Combo drive
    NVIDIA GeForce FX GO 5200, 64 MB of VRAM
    256 MB of RAM
    Cost: $1512

    First off, my situation:
    I am starting my first year of college in a month, as a computer science student. I plan to do the general things with my laptop: surf the web, listen to music, organize photos, write papers, and code programs, but I don't plan to shoot video, burn DVD's, or work with graphics heavily. I won't be into gaming too much, though I would like to play Halo. I'm not too concerned with portability, and I have a 17" CRT I can use as an external monitor. I plan to get more RAM from a 3rd party later if I go with the 12".

    Now, the questions:

    1) I'm wondering just how much the lessened screen real estate of the 12" will be if I don't plan on doing graphics work. Note that I have an external monitor and with Exposé I can stack windows easily enough.

    2) I'll be learning computer programming, and I'll be compiling programs and all that, and I'm wondering how much of a difference it'd make to have the 1.5 GHz model instead of the 1.33 GHz. It's worth noting that I could probably set up my current 450 Sawtooth G4 as part of a build farm that could also include a 300 MHz G3 and a 700 MHz G4 iMac.

    3) It seems to me that the optional features you get with the 15" model (gigabit ethernet, FW 800, backlit keyboard, PC card port) are only useful if you plan to be exchanging large files regularly, backing up to an external drive, working in the dark, or if you're in situations which would require the use of other PCMCIA devices, and I don't see myself doing these very often at all. Is there anything I'm overlooking?

    4) Video memory and the GPU: if the only graphics card intensive program I plan to use is Halo, and I don't demand an excellent picture, how much of a performance boost would I see with 128 MB? Speaking of which, didn't the upgrade to 128 MB use to cost $50? Because it looks like it costs $90 now. Also, how much better is the ATI card, and is this important to me?

    5) How important is HD rpm?

    Probably the only thing that's keeping me from just going with the 15" is cost. It's right at the upper limit of what I'm willing to pay now, while the 12" is far more affordable.

    So which should it be?
  2. stoid macrumors 601


    Feb 17, 2002
    So long, and thanks for all the fish!
    I bought a 1.25 Ghz 15 inch PowerBook with Combo drive last year. I was a Freshman going into computer science. Haven't used the FW800 port, haven't needed more than 100/10 Ethernet speeds, and I'm glad I saved $180 by scraping DVD burning. The backlit keyboard has come in handy for late night programming sessions, but I could have done without just as easily I think. With 64MB Radeon Mobility 9700 I've had decent Halo performance. If you are worried about HD speed, get the smallest internal you can, and use the money you saved to get a 7200 RPM external FW drive. Since you have the external monitor, the 12 inch is big enough to run a compiled app, internet, word processing and such. Get at least 768MB of RAM, NOT FROM APPLE! maybe as much as 1GB if it can hold that much. Not once have I gotten upset at my laptop for being not good enough for even intense Flash/ActionScript work. They are quality machines and you will not be disappointed. Good luck on your purchase!

  3. scottwat macrumors regular

    Oct 9, 2003
    Ohio USA
    Another thing to think of

    Not sure what programming languages you use, but you may need to run virtual PC so that you can do some Visual basic. But if you have friendly professors that don't care what you program in Xcode is probably better. But just a thought on budgetting. Me personally I'm a senior in computer science and will probably be going with the 12" with superdrive and atleast 20 gig ipod during the cram and jam promo. I like the superdrive for backup. External harddrives are nice, I have several, but the larger ones aren't as portable, and the smaller laptop sized drives are very nice. But it's also nice to add an extra layer of backup. Plus it would be nice to do my own DVD's. As far as the gigabit, that disappoints me it hasn't made it to the 12 yet, but there aren't alot of places that use gigabit, atleast around me. Plus I am usually wireless anyways. Best of luck.
  4. budaapple macrumors regular

    Jun 15, 2004
    12" hands down

    This is a great laptop and the key word is "laptop" Totally portable. The faster hard drive the better and an external HD is always a good bet. You will love the portablity of the smaller unit great laptop thru and thru. DVD burner is not a big deal unless you plan on working with video or large amount of photo files and need to remove them from your HD but then that is waht an external HD is for. Get a FWHD case and but a fast HD when they are on sale.
    good luck!
  5. Maxicek macrumors regular

    Apr 23, 2004
    I have just changed from a PC laptop hooked up to several external drives etc. via USB2 to a 15" PowerBook. I find being able to work without being tied to any cables very liberating. The PB on my lap whilst sitting on the sofa, maybe just a USB mouse wired in. The battery life is good enough that you don't need a power lead for a few hours work, and the screen is better IMHO than a 17" CRT.

    If you are not worried about the graphics performance (like I wasn't) I think the choice between the two is screen size vs. price & portability. I considered the 12", but am happy that I went for the bigger screen.

    If you decide you need DVD later on, you can always go external FW. The dual layers are out now, and the prices will soon drop. But bear in mind that you won't be able to use iDVD.
  6. itsumo macrumors member

    Jul 6, 2004
    vote for the 15"

    If you're planning on using it as your main computer for the next few years, you should go with the 15" I'd say.

    I just got a 15" 1.5, and it runs brilliantly. You should always spend as much as you can afford as it'll be worth it in the long run, especially with a laptop which has a lot less replaceable parts.

    For coding/testing, the ability to have two windows sitting next to each other e.g. code in one window, running program in the other, will save you lots of stress over the years. Those couple of seconds switching between will add up and fray your concentration. The 12" is a bit small for that IMO, and the screen is square rather than the landscape of the 15".

    Also, the 15" keyboard is a bit bigger and I reckon you'll be pretty glad of that after some of those long assignments (I was a computing student!)
  7. hello world macrumors newbie

    hello world

    Apr 13, 2004
    I choose the 15" over the 12" because I was going to do a lot of typing (programming) on the Powerbook. I just couldn't get comfortable typing on the 12". I felt like the edge of the case was always digging into my wrists. The edge of the case is too sharp and too close to the keyboard. Good for typing emails and web addresses, but not hardcore typing.
    I also like looking at as much code as possible at once, so I had to have the extra space of the 15" screen.

    I didn't notice a significant speed difference between the 1.33 and the 1.5, so I got the 1.33.

    People have mentioned applications opening quicker with the 5400rpm.
    I have the 4200rpm, which is fine for me, and an external FW800 drive for frequently accessed files.
  8. goodwill macrumors regular

    Jan 8, 2004
    12 inch- Unparalled in the industry right now. 15in is common/ordinary- all pc's are 15inch thesedays and other than the windows OS, perform better than the mac does. Therefore, youd be paying for for a mac 15inch with a step behind in performance and hardware. The 12inch, you get a powerful sized and zippy machine that is smaller, lighter and performs just as well as the 15inch, yet is cheaper. Not only that, but you get maximum portability and a light light light model. If youre even considering 15inch, forget it, go with the 17inch. Apple has a market advantage with the 12inch and 17inch. They are ahead of the game with the configurations these two models posess.
  9. Brian Haworth thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 19, 2004
    Santa Rosa, CA, USA

    I've decided to go with the 12", because of cost and the fact that I don't really need the advantages of the 15". Thanks to everyone for your input.
  10. Ryan1524 macrumors 68000


    Apr 9, 2003
    Canada GTA
    i say go with the 15". it's not that much bigger than the 12", so portability is not that much of an issue. however, you'll be thankful for the larger screen.

    wops...seems like i'm too late.
  11. Solafaa macrumors 6502a


    Jul 15, 2004
    Daddy said not to talk to strangers
    I think you should go with the 12" modle, you dont need the extra 3" really now do you. The faster Had drive is a +, i think you should go with the 12" since unless you would need to do heavy work (photoshop and video editing).
  12. Brian Haworth thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 19, 2004
    Santa Rosa, CA, USA
    Really, cost outweighs the screen size for me.
  13. NovacaineX macrumors newbie

    Jul 16, 2004
    Another idea

    I was in this same dilema about a week ago. I really liked that 15" screen but couldnt justify the money. But someone suggested i go on ebay and look for an older 15" model. I got the 1.25ghz former top end 15" model with combo drive for 1650 on ebay. Definatly worth it if you can find one, the performance between the 1.25 and 1.5 isnt much, and the price difference is huge.
  14. Brian Haworth thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 19, 2004
    Santa Rosa, CA, USA
    When it comes to portables, particularly Apple portables, I'd prefer to not take the chance on something that's out of warranty in case something screws up. There's a good chance they've fixed all that, but I'd prefer to be covered. And I also kinda like just having the newest model, which isn't something I get to do often.

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