It’s time for the big fight everyone has been waiting for… pitting a new MacBook Air against a three-year-old 12-inch PowerBook G4. Notice, when Apple launched the MacBook Air, they did not compare it to the product it was perceived to have replaced. Users have been clamoring Apple to make a 12-inch MacBook Pro since the line’s introduction. In recent months, some have gone as far as to make a faux product page for a faux future offering. Clearly, many aren’t happy with the Air as a replacement for the 12-inch wonder.
But, just for fun, let’s put a fork in it and show how the 12-inch PowerBook G4, being three years old, is still better than the MacBook Air. After that, I’ll look at how to make things right.
Let’s break it down in terms that Apple touts: Performance & Mobility… and one they don’t like, Price.
The MacBook Air beats the 12-inch PowerBook G4 in this regard clearly. The 12-inch, at its height three years ago, featured a 1.5 GHz PowerPC G4 7447A processor. The Air features either 1.6 or 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo “Merom” processor. Considering these chips mimic performance of the Mac mini (PowerPC and Intel generations, respectively), the Air is two-to-four times faster in raw processing power.
This is also supplemented by memory. RAM is even more clear. The Air has 2 GB of DDR2 memory. The 12-inch has a maximum of 1.25 GB of DDR memory.
This is where the 12-inch PowerBook G4 (again, three years old mind you), blows the MacBook Air out of the water. The MacBook Air features an Intel GMA X3100 with 64 MB of shared memory (meaning, it takes away from the system memory to supply the graphics chip with memory). The 12-inch PowerBook G4 features an NVIDIA GeForce FX Go 5200 with 64 MB of dedicated memory.
While both systems support standard Apple features (Core Image, Core Animation, Quartz 2D Extreme), the PowerBook G4 does so with gusto. In fact, Apple’s own system requirements prohibit the MacBook Air from running Final Cut Studio 2… while allowing the 12-inch PowerBook G4. That’s right, Apple’s three-year-old ultraportable can run FCS2… but the Air can’t.
And I like my Motion.
With the OpenGL updates recently released for Mac OS X Leopard, improvements are made to the Air’s performance… but they have also been made to the 12-inch PowerBook G4. Straight benchmarks can be run, but I’ll defer that to professionals in the arena.
Here’s a bit of a toss-up. The MacBook Air is the world’s thinnest laptop. The 12-inch PowerBook is Apple’s second lightest laptop… and has an optical drive built-in.
The MacBook Air weighs 3.0 pounds. The 12-inch PowerBook weighs 4.6 pounds. Yeah, only a 1.6 pound difference. The Air ranges from .16 to .76 inches thick. The 12-inch PowerBook is 1.1 inches thick all the way across. Also, the 12-inch PowerBook G4 has less width thanks to its 12-inch display.
We can go tit-for-tat on this all day. The 12-inch PowerBook has a removable battery, the Air has a backlit keyboard. The point I’m trying to make is… in terms of mobility… there’s no clear winner.
I should note, that the MacBook Air Superdrive weighs .71 pounds… adding to the 3.0 pounds the Air weighs, the combined weight puts the Air + SuperDrive at less than a pound different than the 12-inch PowerBook G4.
And, here’s again where the 12-inch PowerBook G4 shines. Did I mention it’s three years old in its current generation? With depreciation, a unit in stellar condition runs between $400 and $600. Add in the cost of a new battery, you’re looking at around $500 to $700 for one in like-new condition.
That’s over $1,000 less than the MacBook Air. I like my wallet full.
Conclusions, Moving Forward at Apple
I’ve painted a pretty clear picture here, the MacBook Air is no 12-inch Pro portable. However, it is an excellent ultraportable, Apple did a good job in making one.
The point that I am trying to make however is that there is plenty of room in Apple’s lineup for a 12-inch MacBook Pro. This is a professional system that takes the guts of a 15-inch MacBook Pro, and makes them travel-friendly. Sony has made great strides in this market in recent years, offering highly-portable systems that do not make tradeoffs like integrated graphics and a sacraficed optical drive.
Customers are willing to pay a premium for power, combined with portability. Hopefully, Apple will recognize that there is a market for a 12-inch MacBook Pro, and that it won’t cannibalize sales as much as it will increase profit margins.