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.
Digg This: http://digg.com/apple/MacBook_Air_vs_12_inch_PowerBook_G4
Correction: The 12-inch has a maximum of 1.25 GB of DDR memory, not 1.5 GB.
Right you are, corrected. I forgot the 2 in the middle.
Just to explain why though, the 12-inch PowerBook has 256 MB on-board, with a single RAM slot.
Theoretically you could use a 2 GB PC-2700 SO-DIMM… besting the MacBook Air with a total of 2.25 GB, but I’ve never heard of anyone pulling it off. The 2 GB SO-DIMMs post-dated the 12-inch’s release… so Apple didn’t address if it would work or not.
I’m using a 4 year old 12″ G4 and I LOVE it. Having recently had it tuned up and installed a new battery, I hope it lives much longer. 12″ is really about a perfect screen size for me and I spend a lot of hours on the computer.
My only complaint, though, is weight. Being disabled and doing quite a bit of traveling, I’d give a lot for a lighter laptop — even without an optical drive.
So why haven’t I gotten an Air? I’m hoping that a later version will have a couple more ports, a battery I can change, and SSD prices come ‘way down!
Greetings. I live in a large family with 10+ macs and run a business with 25+ macs. I personally own 3 portables including an awesome Macbook Pro decked out with 7200 rpm drive, etc.
My computer of choice? The one I use ever day, and dearly love? 12″ PB G4!!! You can’t beat it for every day use, and it performs admirably for web development, video work, and of course, writing!
I sold my first 12″ a few months ago, and found that I missed it too much, and bought another one a month ago for $675 (maxed out, like new 1.5 Ghz SD). Since I’ve had this, my MBP-15 just stays at home and rests. I occasionally use it for music production, but it has now become just another “desktop” workstation.
Why can’t Apple get it right? I would buy a new 12″ MBP in a heart beat!
And … something no one else here has talked about … ports and FIREWIRE???! That omission alone would tilt this comparison in the Powerbook G4-12’s favor! What was Apple thinking???!!!
Thank you for this interesting discussion.
I have now sold my almost 3 year-old 12″ G4 1.5 GHZ 1.25GB RAM 100GB HD (including one extra battery and 3 months Applecare) for USD 932.-
I have ordered the MacBook Air as a replacement. The reason is the weight. I carry the PB to work and back every day and I feel the weight on my shoulders. Then there are other benefits from the MacBook Air: the very bright screen (as compared to the dim PB display), the 13.3″ compared to the 12″, the backlit keyboard and the space saved by the thinness of the MBA. Also I don’t need to burn or rip CDs or DVDs on the road, nor will I import DV movies with FW from my digital movie camera while mobile.
So I guess I fit the profile for the MBA perfectly.
You will have to pry my 12″ PowerBook out of my cold, dead hands. I travel more than 100K actual air miles a year and work from hotels, coffee shops, planes and airport lounges. My laptop’s uber-portability is important, but so is its ability to work hard and long (um, battery…).
I could have afforded to buy a new MBP, but don’t want to trade the 12″‘ portability. I had hoped the Air would be my aging PB’s replacement.
No such luck.
The Air doesn’t seem to have the guts I need to handle web and collateral design as well as the basic writing, email, and accounting software. Let’s hope Apple listens to those of us who need one computer with power to match the portability. I’d pay $3k for that.
Man…I stumbled upon this site while figuring out whether or not I should part with my PB 12″ and just stick with my 15″ MB Pro. I use the 15″ at home as a desktop workhorse and the 12″ is my on-the-go machine.
I was heading towards selling the PB while I could still get decent value for it, but this post reminded me why I got it in the first place.
So, I’m back to square one.
And why doesn’t Apple offer a 12 inch Air?
I too was about to buy an Air to replace an as-new top of the range 12″ Powerbook bought used for $575.
Upon researching the issue I’m sticking to the PB until the foreseeable.
i love my 12″powerbook. i wish apple would make a 12″mbp.
I have 12-inch PowerBook and 13.3-inch MacBook.
I prefer the former.
There are several things I’d wish for it, though.
1. Brighter screen
2. Intel CPU
4. 2 finger touch pad scroll (3rd party driver doesn’t work smoothly.)
5. Backlight keyboard
I’d buy 12-inch MBP.
By the way, I wrote a user review on the MacBook Air that also mentions how it compares to the 12″ PowerBook.
I have a few portables, one of which being the 15” MBP, i am considering getting a 12 inch PB G4, but i was just wondering, are there any downsides to the 12 inch powerbook g4? I have seen them at a local coffee shop, and they fit perfectly on the small table, so the person can eat and work at the same time. I have to push my MBP to the other side of the table, so i can put my food in front of it, not next to it. I really need something smaller, yet still powerful.
The main thing that you’ll notice, is the speed hit. Keep in mind that your MacBook Pro is at least two to four times faster (and probably much more, depending on your generation) than the PowerBook G4.
Other than that, be sure to max out the RAM when you get your PBG4 (at least use a 1 GB SO-DIMM). The system only comes standard with 256 MB on-board (though later they bumped it up to 512 MB with one chip in the slot).
If you care about performance, be sure to get a 1.25 GHz or 1.5 GHz model. There’s really nothing different between the two, aside from the speed bump. You can save some cash by going with the 1.25 GHz… but if speed is essential, get the 1.5 GHz.
SuperDrive or Combo… that’s your choice. As to OS, I’d suggest Leopard. Even though it maxes out the CPU much more often than Tiger, the real-world performance is noticeably higher. This is because Leopard prioritizes tasks so well, that it can handle running at 100% utilization constantly.
I just spent 2 hours in the Apple Store today, trying to convince myself to pick up th 15″ MBP to replace my 12″ Powerbook…but walked out empty handed! I’ve tried a few times now, but I just can’t give up the potability of the 12″ Powerbook. It’s perfect in an airport, on airplanes, or even in a hallway before walking into a meeting. The performance is fine and I even do video and audio editing on it. Maybe Apple will FINALLY hear the cries and release a 12″ MBP! I’d be first in line.
i have had a PB 12″ G4 now for 3+ years. I produce music, design websites, do graphic design, record live music, edit video and of course all the typical stuff too… it’s been in use almost NON-STOP since purchase. It fell off a piano and fell off of my car once (don’t ask)!…. I killed the keypad by spilling water on it…. but even now with and external keypad it still works good as new. Original battery too still lasts over three hours.
Was looking for a fairly cheap, sturdy Apple ultraportable and rediscovered the 12″ 1.5 after I sold my first one two or three years ago. Great condition, 80 gig hd, maxed out ram, almost pristine condition for $400.00.
While I had been using a lenovo ideapad hackbook for a home browsing/email/word processing computer, I found keyboard, battery life and jumping cursor issues too distracting. With the maximum ram (why, oh why didn’t apple let the machine accept 2 gigs? oh right, they wanted us to buy the 15″ to get that) and safari 4, the machine will hold against any of its modern siblings for basic tasks. (I’m not trying to use it for encoding video like I did five years ago.)
And the keyboard is luxurious. Overall the machine is a delight to use. I couldn’t be happier with it.
I am writing this on my first and only mac the 12″ powerbook G4 (4+ years old.) I recently upgraded the guts to the fastest I could get and a new huge hard drive. It runs even better than before. The only thing is, now I am lusting after Aperture for picture editing and it doesn’t run on this machine (at least according to the specs. So I am considering getting a Macbook Air or even just a Macbook unibody just to edit photographs. Am I willing to sell my Powerbook, are you kidding? I am like that previous guy who said that you will have to pry it from my cold dead hands.
Apple, please make a 12″ MacPro I would pay whatever you asked!!
I have a 5 yr old 12″ PB 1.33 GHz/1.25 RAM running Tiger. I love my PB, it has NEVER had a problem (knock, knock). I’m thinking of getting a 24″ iMac and then wiping the PB and upgrading it to Leapord. Then just use it for portability and put on it only what i need in terms of docs, music, photos, etc and sync other stuff via MoblieMe. Any thoughts? Can my PB handle Leopard well if the 150 GB hard drive is mostly empty?
Seriously people. I did web development on the last Powerbook 15″ … apache, mysql, aquadata suite, textmate, RoR. That’s all the programs I needed every day. It was too slow! Developing with that machine was possible, but it was achingly slow. A C H I N G L Y slow.
When I got my MacBook Pro 2,4 Ghz it was like changing to a Porsche 911. Much more productive now. However, since I carry my MacBook Pro every day everywhere, it’s too heavy. I’m thinking of switching to an MacBook Air.
I had a 12″ powerbook g4 and loved it! Once the new aluminum macbooks came out, I sold it and upgraded….though I loved the unibody macbook, I have dreaded that decision ever since. The macbook was the best laptop I ever owned, and I babied it every day, but in the end it was just too big, and I never used the webcam. Though I loved the large trackpad w/multi-gesture among other features, I sold my macbook, and now I’m going back to the 12″ Powerbook. I love the portability, and the speed is perfect for me…I’m only using microsft office, iwork, ilife and Safari. It was the perfect laptop to carry on campus, and to take notes.
You’re probably thinking I”m crazy downgrading from a macbook to a four-year old powerbook…but hold on. My powerbook is strictly for portability around campus and at my local coffee shop. I’m also gonna wait unitil Spring to buy a new 24″ iMac. Word is that Apple will drop the price once again, while adding more features/specs. And they might update the three-year old aluminum look, though I wouldn’t be dissapointed if they didn’t because the aluminum iMacs are sexxy. 🙂
Anyway, I wont get rid of the 12″ Powerbook G4, until Apple releases a 12″ macbook pro….hopefully that will be soon.
Great article and good comments. The PB 12″ is an excellent computer. Fast, for its time, small, nice looking… had everything anyone would ever want in an ultra-portable.
But you can’t be serious when you say that the PB 12″ is a better machine than the Air. Not now. While the optical drive and a few other features might make it a better fit for some people, in terms of processing power and features, the Air has it beat I would say.
I am typing a new 2.13 GHz MBA with a 128 SSD running SL. Backlit keyboard, amazing 13.3″ screen, super thin and light, built-in isight camera, Apple Remote infrared window, 1 USB 2.0, a DVI out and an audio out. Large, multi-touch trackpad (the PB 12″ trackpad is too small…). It does lack some IO but this thing is fast, very fast. And with the new Nvidia shared 256 MB graphics chip, there are no hick ups in OS X: it plays HD just fine.
1.6 pounds weight difference is HUGE. That makes a big difference when carrying it. If you want something ultra-portable, the MacBook Air is it. The PB 12″ is too slow and the screen too small for todays world of HD movies and multi-media rich Internet. The MBA is a home run. Really.
i would love to see a 12 in macbook pro. lighter and smaller than the 13in maybe even smaller than 12 11in would be a challenge but i think there is a market for it. i mean if you look at the ipad it is pretty much along those lines just a screen without the keyboard.
Picked up a powerbook g4 1.5 12 inch for $25 all it needed was a hard drive. I couldn’t be happier. Great little machine. Its going nowhere!