PowerBook G4 Titanium 1GHz review

Discussion in 'PowerPC Macs' started by ptdebate, Mar 12, 2015.

  1. ptdebate macrumors 6502

    ptdebate

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2014
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    Dallas, Texas
    #1
    A review of Apple's revolutionary titanium notebook from one of my blogs. I feel like this was probably the most important design moment in the history of the company:


    If the story of Apple’s notebook design has been one of continual refinement towards the final, enduring design of the unibody MacBook Pro, then the Titanium PowerBook G4 represents the interlude between two great chapters: that of the all-plastic, astonishingly expandable Pismo PowerBook and the slim, barely upgradeable, monochromatic Aluminum PowerBook G4. The Titanium PowerBook was the first professional-grade Apple notebook to astonish with its combination of aesthetic appeal and capability. While previous powerbooks mimicked the spartan utility of their PC counterparts, the new ‘Book immediately established itself as a trendsetter in notebook “sexiness.” And beautiful it is: a painted titanium shell is framed by pearlescent plastic moldings and accentuated by a machined chrome power button and PCMIA card release switch. Ports are concealed by a (very fragile) flap on the rear side of the notebook. The DVD-R drive, the first notebook drive with DVD-burning capabilities, is elegantly concealed inside a narrow slot. The Apple logo, which illuminates when the computer is in use, was finally presented right-side-up.

    While resulting in what is arguably the best-looking Apple laptop ever devised, many of the design elements of the Titanium ‘Book (or TiBook for short) were impractical and left the device prone to malfunction. The plastic frame meant that the TiBook didn’t really benefit from the structural rigidity offered by titanium in most applications. Here, it seemed like Apple used titanium merely for the looks and the promise of added structural integrity. Furthermore, the screen’s plastic hinges, housing vulnerable video cables, were prone to wear down and break. The paint on the body is prone to chipping and scratching, much to the chagrin of those concerned with the appearance of their devices (read: Apple enthusiasts). Some of these problems, such as the flimsiness of the plastic hinges, were addressed in later iterations of the hardware, leaving early adopters with a vastly inferior version of the product.

    The specifications of the original G4 PowerBook did not far outstrip those of its G3 predecessor: 400 and 500 MHz configurations were available, both featuring the same 15.1″ 1152×768 screen. After a few incremental hardware revisions, Fall 2002’s keynote revealed an increase in clock speed to 867 and 1000MHz, finally entering Apple laptops into the much-vaunted 1GHz club. This revision to the PowerBook also increased the display resolution to 1280×854, which is a barely-noticable difference. The best improvements, however, come in the form of a 1MB L3 cache, which makes completing CPU-heavy tasks a breeze, and the introduction of a DVD Superdrive and Airport card as standard.

    The DVD drive burns pretty slow by modern standards (1x), but it certainly works. Theoretically, I could have used this thing to illegally burn the latest PS2 and XBox games. The screen is sharp and bright, and compares favorably to the well-received matte screens of the early MacBook Pros. The graphics aren’t amazing, but they certainly don’t shrug when tasked with any game from the time period. Diablo 2, the Baldur’s Gate series, Quake 3, Starcraft, and Warcraft 3 are all great games from this era that run beautifully on the TiBook. The single greatest argument in favor of the the 1GHz TiBook over its successors in the G4 line, however, is its native support for classic software. This was the very last laptop (and the fastest) that was able to boot into OS 9.2.2. That means an immense library of classic PPC software at your fingertips, much of it professional grade and still useful. The classic version of ProTools, for example, is great for creating and editing music even today.

    The Titanium Powerbook user in 2014 will find a number of upgrade options available. First of all, maxing out the ram to 1GB is a no-brainer and can be accomplished for $38 and little over a minute of your time. I recommend visiting Other World Computing for RAM, since most of what you find on eBay isn’t certified to function with Apple computers. You’re going to need a wireless solution, considering that the default Airport card isn’t compatible with modern wireless networks. I recommend the Belkin F5D7010 (version 1 only) 802.11g wireless card–it’s plug and play with PowerPC Macs running OS X, which means no hunting for drivers. You’ll get up to 400Mbps with this one, which is still more than enough (if you live in America or a third world country) for this ‘Book’s purposes.

    Another very popular upgrade is to replace the old, slow disk drive (either 4200 or 5400RPM) with a new, faster one with up to 500GB in capacity. These days, it’s trendy to go for solid state drives (SSD). This particular upgrade has its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, you will experience dramatically improved operating speeds that will improve your PowerBook experience to far beyond what even its designers imagined. It will boot faster, load and transfer content faster, and generally feel more snappy and less sluggish. The downside, however, is that older versions of Mac OS X aren’t really programmed with the needs of an SSD in mind–namely, their limited number of write cycles. Similar to a battery, SSDs wear down over time with continual reading and writing. Well, the whole reason OS X is able to operate so well with limited RAM is that it makes extensive use of a page file–temporary storage space created on the hard drive for hot-swapping information with RAM. That means a lot of reading and writing. Newer editions of Mac OS X use a feature called TRIM to distribute this reading and writing over the entire drive rather than wearing down certain sectors at a time, leading to overall longer life for your expensive piece of hardware. And expensive they are: a 64 GB SSD from a reliable brand that is compatible with your PowerBook will run you around $100, while a 7200RPM hard disk drive of similar size can be found for $35. With the SSD, you’ll get far faster seek times but only a few years of usability, while the HDD will offer you more long-term reliability, although at the expense of snappiness.

    Overall, the 1GHz Titanium PowerBook G4 is a great option for those looking to run legacy software the way it was meant to be run: in a native OS 9 environment. It is the pinnacle of Classic Mac OS laptops, and a unique piece of history for establishing the future course of Apple notebook design. It was the first Apple laptop to break the 1GHz mark, and the first laptop ever to feature a DVD burner. The fact that it still functions well and is marvelous to look at twelve years later in 2014 is actually laughable. Granted, my particular ‘Book had seen limited use when I recently bought it (it accrued only 38 charge cycles on the original battery, meaning that the battery was only used and then recharged 38 times), but the easy and relatively inexpensive upgrade paths listed above will have even the most heavily used PowerBook functioning like it did back in 2002, if not better.
     
  2. eyoungren macrumors P6

    eyoungren

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    #2
    I'll just add that another reason for an external WiFi solution (beyond modern compatibility) is that the design of the internal Airport antenna was crap. The titanium of the LCD bezel brings serious interference to the cable which is why it's often difficult to get a strong signal.

    I discovered that in 2008 when I added an Airport card to my TiBook/400.

    Lastly, what is modern as far as network compatibility? I guess most people start with being WPA2 capable - which no original Airport card is capable of.

    However, under later versions of Tiger and Leopard these systems support WPA with TKIP encryption. I consider that to be modern enough. Perhaps many people don't, but at least you can eliminate using WEP on your router.

    Last but not least, every external WiFi USB dongle I have tried has left my PowerMacs connecting dropping out frequently and often just authenticating is a major hassle. The last one I tried on my son's Titanium DVI sure made him very unhappy.
     
  3. ptdebate thread starter macrumors 6502

    ptdebate

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    #3
    Erik, I totally agree with you on the internal antenna. It's practically worthless!

    I guess I would say the G standard is the cutoff point for "modern." Very rarely these days will you find a wireless network with WEP or no encryption, adding another layer of uselessness to the original AirPort.

    Internet in America is so bad that we can still barely take advantage of the 54Mbit/s offered by 802.11g, so you really have to go overseas or live in a select few US cities (and pay out the #&&) to feel the difference from 802.11n.
     
  4. Hrududu macrumors 68020

    Hrududu

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    Jul 25, 2008
    Location:
    Central US
    #4
    Antennas in the TiBook are mounted in bottom half of the computer on the sides, not the LCD panel...
     
  5. MonksMac macrumors 6502a

    MonksMac

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2005
    Location:
    DFW
    #5
    A very nicely written review, ptdebate. I've been debating writing something similar about my own 12" PB. I've never owned a TiBook but I'd like to someday.

    Agree with it being harder to live with the original spec AirPort card in this day and age. I have an older AirPort Extreme (one of the round ones) at home which I've set up with WPA so that my iBook G3 can connect to the network under 10.3.9.

    However the same computer won't connect to my college's wireless network, despite the network being unsecured. Apparently the college decided that they didn't want to support Wireless B anymore and I can only connect with a computer with an Airport Extreme card.
     
  6. weckart macrumors 68040

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2004
    #6
    I have three 1GHz TiBooks and a couple of Mercurys. Never had the slightest problem with WiFi in any of them. Speeds are poor for huge downloads but more than adequate for surfing given the age of the software running on them.
     
  7. eyoungren macrumors P6

    eyoungren

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    #7
    Ahh, thanks, I did not realize that. Learn something new every day!
     
  8. bunnspecial macrumors 603

    bunnspecial

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    May 3, 2014
    Location:
    Kentucky
    #8
    Original Airport cards can not even see the wireless networks they use at my school, so I'm out of luck there.

    At least for Powerbooks(my Titaniums and all my Pismo), I solved the problem with one of these

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Airport-WiF...t=US_Laptop_Network_Cards&hash=item3a5f6c5801

    (MODS: Not my auction!)

    At least under OS X, it is recognized as an Airport Extreme card and works flawlessly. Unfortunately, it has zero support under OS 9(although OS 9 will only work with WEP anyway, so has its own issues with wireless networking).

    The only caveat I will add is that I've had issues with both the above card and an Apple Airport card installed. Both are recognized, but they seem to always be fighting each other and neither will actually connect to a network. WiFi reception with these is great, and I've yet to encounter a network to which they will not connect. Of course, they also leave you with a black potrusion from the left side of your computer.
     
  9. A.Goldberg macrumors 68000

    A.Goldberg

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2015
    Location:
    Boston
    #9
    Nice Review.

    I recently picked up a 1Ghz TiBook as mentioned in another thread. I had been fantasizing about picking one up for years. Although I grew up with Apple computers and OS 9, using a brand 1Ghz TiBook back in 2003 is what inspired me to switch to Apple. I switched to Apple in 2004 buying a new 12" PowerBook G4.

    I see the TiBook historically important for Apple. It really raised the bar in what apple was producing, especially mobile computing. Everything prior was chunky and plastic. PC manufactures cannot Apple's artistic design, phenomenal use of materials, and build quality. The 400mhz TiBook was released in Jan of 2001 and its design still seems decades beyond anything the major PC builders are pumping out today in 2015.
     
  10. weckart macrumors 68040

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2004
    #10
    One correction. Superdrives did not come as standard. Of my three, only one comes equipped as such. The other two had to make do with combo drives.
     
  11. bunnspecial macrumors 603

    bunnspecial

    Joined:
    May 3, 2014
    Location:
    Kentucky
    #11
    I have an 867 and two 1ghz, and have the same situation. Only one of mine has a Superdrive, the other two have Combo drives.
     

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