Using a 12" PowerBook as a main PC: Two week report

Discussion in 'PowerPC Macs' started by GoldfishRT, Apr 26, 2016.

  1. GoldfishRT macrumors 6502


    Jul 24, 2014
    So, on a whim I bought a 12" PowerBook two weeks ago and I decided to use it as my only machine for two weeks as a sort of "why not?". Perhaps not the best idea during finals week but never the less I thought it might be fun.

    The PB has a 1.5Ghz G4, 1.25GB of ram, and the original 80GB hard drive.

    The system isn't nearly as slow as one might expect of an 11 year old laptop but it's certainly not fast either, and I mostly attribute that to a lack of memory. Two or so tabs in TenFourFox, iTunes, Word 2008 and Evernote are about all the system can take without bogging down. The slow original hard drive has actually proved pretty irrelevant in terms of actual operating speed during my usage- mostly due to the fact I don't quit my main used applications.

    Additionally, some habits of the modern era are really not possible on the PowerBook. Websites scroll fine once loaded but, unlike computers today the ability to instantly scroll where you want once the page starts loading assets isn't real pleasant or even usable. Similarly, playing internet based video requires patience - one must let the video buffer fully before playing and content over 480p just wont play well. Thanks to CorePlayer though, downloaded low-bitrate 720p video is fine but multitasking while the video plays is an exercise in frustration. Writing is a treat on the system with a few caveats - this keyboard is still among the finest ever fitted to a laptop although I find myself missing the newest version of Microsoft Word and OneNote. Functionality hasn't changed much but Word 2016 has a much more intuitive UI.

    Interestingly, after the single hour I originally got on the official Apple battery, it's now up to about 3 hours of light use. It must have been bought at the end of availability. The battery has something like 35 cycles on it. Neat! But it's still not quite enough for my liking. Along with the 1024x768 screen, it's by far the hardest thing to deal with. The screen is of decent quality for the era but the lack of horizontal real estate feels real cramped as more and more content is developed to make better use of wide aspect ratios.

    I don't have much in the way of conclusions I guess. I don't think anybody should really buy one with the intention of using it as their only computer these days. That said it does work in a pinch, it was very cheap, and they've held up surprisingly well aesthetically too. I think it probably still serves totally fine for some niche uses - especially applications that aren't internet driven.
  2. eyoungren macrumors Core


    Aug 31, 2011
    ten-zero-eleven-zero-zero by zero-two
    I have a PowerMac G4 Quicksilver and a 17" PowerBook G4. Both are my main machines. I have no real issues. See my signature.

    I operated all my work duties (I am a Graphic Designer for a newspaper) on a 1.8Ghz G5 for for nine years before my coworker took it over. She now does the same I do on that G5. Previously she was using a G4 to do all that.

    We get the work done.

    Leopard can be optimized. TenFourFox can be optimized.

    See the link in my signature for optimizing T4Fx.
  3. 128keaton macrumors 68020


    Jan 13, 2013
    Congrats! I need to put in some cash revitalizing mine. Its a lovely machine with plenty of life still left.
  4. ziggy29 macrumors 6502

    Oct 29, 2014
    Oregon North Coast
    We have one that is similar, but it's 1.33 GHz instead of 1.5. Other than that the specs sound identical. It's still a nice machine and I usually pull 2.5-3 hours of life on an aftermarket battery. I'd love to put an SSD into it, but this model is just too much work for to justify it based on my usage.

    These machines are still capable, but with limited RAM multitasking is a bit limited. More than 2-3 apps open at a time and it really bogs down.
  5. Cox Orange macrumors 68000

    Jan 1, 2010
    This might be interesting to you then :)
    it's from 2010, though.... but still.
  6. Hrududu macrumors 68020


    Jul 25, 2008
    Central US
    I still put a lot of milage on my 12" PowerBook when Im at home watching TV. Fantastic little system.
  7. Lastic macrumors 6502a

    Mar 19, 2016
    North of the HellHole
    I have the reverse experience.

    I swapped a Mac Mini i7 which is my VM workhorse for a 2012 Retina Macbook Pro 15" and swapped my 2015 Macbook Air 11" for a Powerbook G4 12".

    The Powerbook G4 like my Macbook Air earlier is my daily train commute companion and my personal laptop at work.

    The higher height of the 12" display vs the low 11" display makes me crough a lot less, I can perfectly watch downloaded
    TV series on it during my train ride, check my email, open any type document I need to work on, use DropBox.

    Next to that having the extended capacity of the Newertech battery gives me 5 real hours of work which is bizarre enough
    similar to the Macbook Pro I'm currently typing this on.

    Ok , I have to do without opening multiple tabs in Safari or TenFourFox, but ok I can only work in one tab at the time anyhow.

    QEMU/Virtual PC7 gives me a virtualization option, altough not that fast but feasible.

    The 15" Powerbook I recently acquired gives me even more VM options due the 2GB RAM it has.

    FreeBSD gives me TMUX, which allows me to run multiple consoles when I'm doing SSH/Screen/CU to multiple network devices side by side.

    Just my 2 cents
  8. happyfrappy macrumors 6502

    Oct 14, 2007
    Location eh?
    Don't use a 12" PowerBook G4 much lately, however I managed to create a custom spin of TinyCore Linux to run under VirtualPC 6.2 using ~32 MB RAM and doesn't freeze/crash from heavy CPU load--TC 5.x was unstable after 6 hours of usage. A few adjustments Firefox ESR works which is a little snappier than running TenFourFox and Dropbox sync is possible if you know what you're doing & you can share it via installing server support for TC. Planning to see if the spin is usable on an old iMac G3 but I may need to remove a few useless extras.

    Why TinyCore? Puppy Linux still has a 486/Pentium spin but VPC's emulated graphics chipset glitches & suffers nasty lag/redraw after a few hours.
  9. flyrod macrumors 6502


    Jan 12, 2015
    Out of curiosity, what are you running in linux?

    I still use my 12" powerbook as my daily driver. I guess I haven't really found a need for anything else yet.
  10. happyfrappy macrumors 6502

    Oct 14, 2007
    Location eh?
    For VPC duty I often use TinyCore to run Firefox if I'm working on a cramped desk/table and need to access webmail which won't work under TenFourFox. Puppy Linux seems to leak memory with any browser, I think VPC's code cache overloads itself after three hours.

    Beyond DropBox local share back into OS X & Firefox ESR, it avoids dual-booting my 12" PB G4 or frequently grabbing the nearest modern notebook. I don't have a spare running computer in my radius to handle a Dropbox re-share hack.
  11. Lastic macrumors 6502a

    Mar 19, 2016
    North of the HellHole
    Which version of TinyCore are you running ?

    I'm trying to get a lightweight Debian-esque Linux ( console only ) running also on VPC 7 to avoid also dual-booting.

    I had a try previously with which seemed to work but also locked up after a few hours, might be the same VPC symptoms you are describing.
  12. happyfrappy macrumors 6502

    Oct 14, 2007
    Location eh?
    Distros based on newer versions of Debian seem to poll the CPU/power state like Puppy Linux. What you might want to try with Voyage Linux is enable VPC's "Compatibility Mode"(it'll drop into Pentium 75-100Mhz emulation) & "Disable MMX" from the script menu.
    VPC 6.x and earlier Connectix supported Linux as they licensed Innotek's VirtualBox drivers, the Microsoft buyout stripped the additions ISO of the Linux drivers(but VirtualBox 2-3.x additions could be manually installed on Debian/Red Hat-Fedora). Disabling power management on Ubuntu was do-able until 12.04 but Debian issues started growing with Wheezy.

    TinyCore version 3-4 works but you'll need to install the 3rd party VirtualBox add-in driver for Tiny Core, sadly the developer no longer supports that driver development and certain bugs occur on TC5. I've gotten TinyCore 6.x to run under VirtualPC but it required some weird Linux driver voodoo to get the mouse integration to work, audio remains broken, drag & drop remains broken but that is meaningless for browser/DropBox local share mode. TinyCore 7 runs under VPC but again mouse integration is busted, however I managed to figure out a way to remote desktop into the Virtual environment to get limited mouse support working--this still leaves an external mouse's scroll wheel unusable.

    I may attempt working on a custom VPC Linux spin, Tiny Core seems to be fixable & decent stability as a starting point.

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11 April 26, 2016