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Summary:

When entering college in 1995, I purchased my first computer that was all mine – a Performa 631CD, with screaming 33 MHz performance and a 68040LC processor. Sporting 8 MB of RAM and 500 MB of hard drive space, I was good to go. But unsurprisingly, […]

When entering college in 1995, I purchased my first computer that was all mine – a Performa 631CD, with screaming 33 MHz performance and a 68040LC processor. Sporting 8 MB of RAM and 500 MB of hard drive space, I was good to go. But unsurprisingly, I was immediately lapped, not just by the next Mac upgrades, but by an entire processor family, as Apple moved from 68k Macs to PowerPC. In short time, I found many titles were written for PowerPC processors only, and my Mac was too out of date to participate.

More than a decade later, my go-to Mac is a PowerBook G4. Though the specs are much stronger than my first Macs, and the machine is tremendous, I’m seeing a similar gap between where I am and where the leading Mac developers are focused – as they code for Intel-based Macs, and some applications run only on Intel Macs, leveraging the power of Apple’s new chip partner.

Some of the most prominent Intel-only Mac developers are extremely visible, especially on the Web, including the Internet video playback software, Joost, and VMWare’s Fusion, a product so cool from a simple geek factor, that it has me trying to find reasons to upgrade.

Apple has made some big leaps of faith in recent years, from 68k to PowerPC, from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X, and from PowerPC to Intel. But those of us who bought late are quickly antiquated, despite using machines that work great. Should I be taking my PowerBook to eBay and making an upgrade? What else am I missing out on by not yet making the switch to Intel?

  1. I’m in the same boat, running a 1.33 GHz 17″ G4 PowerBook. It works fine, especially after bumping the RAM up to 1GB, and Leopard will, as far as I know, run on it, but I’m going to have to go Intel at some point. I think I’ll start saving up to get a new MacBook Pro (I love this screen size) by December and sell this puppy.

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  2. I picked up my Performa right when Apple was moving PowerPC on the suggestion of the salesman (this is before I really knew what was going on in the world of processors and chips … as if I do now).
    What’s wonderful about the whole “living a generation – or two – behind” is that your machine is still a solid little trooper.
    I’ve had my Performa 575, a Blueberry iMac, iBook G3 Dual-USB, and now my G5 iMac. All of them are still working and running just fine … doing their own little tasks.
    The G3 iBook and G5 iMac are our every day computers that are used for pretty heavy graphic design and video editing work (G5) and happy convenient cookbook reference in the kitchen (G3).
    Don’t be sad that your Mac is older than those that others may have. Be proud that your little guy is still truckin’ along and has no end in sight. Don’t sell him. Relish him into his old age.
    But of course, you gotta go Intel, man. I’m seeing a MacBook in my future next year, when the iMac gets a little too annoyingly slow.

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  3. Well, for the time being you missed mainly one thing: problems. My first Mac was an iBook G4 – the most perfect machine I ever had. When the switch to Intel was announced, I was so sure of Apple and its quality standard (as I only encountered the supreme iBook) that I immediately bought the first MacBook. Holy sh*t! Completely frustrated, while experiencing every single documented problem with it I upgraded to a 2nd generation MacBook Pro. This machine, to be fair, is as stable as the iBook was. It is wonderfully designed and I am indeed satisfied. But there is one word of warning I want to give: in case you are working with video – do not take my word but verify before buying: I still have the impression that rendering a QuickTime movie on my G4 with 756 MB RAM was a at least as fast as on my MacBook Core 2 Duo with 3 GB RAM ! This might be an issue of not using the full power of the Intel chip yet, while I believe the PowerPC code to be fully optimized.

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  4. I have a PB G4 1.5 15″ that I hope to keep for at least another two years. A new MacBook pro would be great. I don’t need it. Sure, rendering QT can be slow along with some other processor intense operations. Yes, I’d like to run XP natively and dump Virtual PC. But it all works so well now that I don’t want to mess up a good thing. Buying a laptop is a crap shoot. Apple has the best odds in this game, but it’s still a matter of luck on whether you end up with a frustrating lemon.

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  5. I think that the main thing your’re missing out on is speed. The new machines is very much faster than your current machine. But the funny thing about computer speed is that two days after you upgraded you still ffeel that you need more. So.. use your until it breaks, and upgrade then.. there’s still more speed to come, so you might as well come late.

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  6. My first Mac was a Powerbook G4. Before I owned many different pcs and every 6 months they seemed antiquated and sluggish compared to the brand new ones… I used the G4 for more than three years without the need to upgrade. When I finally decided to do so was mostly for the new HD’s size and speed.
    Buying a Mac, like any other technology piece, is a thing you have to plan carefully, but if you manage to do it right what you get from your investment is truly amazing!! ;-)

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  7. I think it depends on your need. If you just run Office and check email, I’d say you could get by on a PowerBook for quite awhile.

    If you’re a graphics/video professional, I think you have to upgrade more frequently. Overall I’d say that once you start staring at a spinning beachball more often than not, it’s time to upgrade.

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  8. @Sven: Sounds like you had a bad experience with some early hardware. This PowerBook has had some issues, but none major (mostly related to the dog deciding the keyboard = footstool)… but there’s certainly always a risk with being an early adopter.

    @Matt: Major Mac usage is Office + Email + Photoshop + BBEdit… Safari of course. Where I see the most slowdowns are with ComicLife (seriously!) and PhotoShop, on occasion. My major issues are app jealousy. I’d love to run Fusion, turn on Win/Outlook and get rid of an older Dell.

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  9. I’m running a PBG4 1.67 15″ with 1.5 ram. I don’t do much video at all – mostly newsletter layout, email, etc. But I just installed iLife ’08 and was shocked to find the new iMovie won’t work with a G4 processor (Did Steve mention this at the special event and I missed it? Guess I didn’t read the fine print). So even though I’m still under Apple Care for 6 months (PB is only 2.5 years old) I can’t run the latest and greatest CONSUMER apps. I would understand not being able to run newer pro apps but iLife?

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  10. The only answer to this question is another question: how rich are you?

    I’m still using a 12″ PB (1.33 GHz) that’s >3 years old. It was my first Mac, and was feeling sluggish a few months ago after playing around with a friend’s MacBook Pro. Being a recent ex-student, I went for the poor man’s option and maxed out the RAM to 1.25GB, which has improved the responsiveness no end.

    If you won’t notice a couple grand leaving your wallet, buy an MBP, they’re absolutely brilliant.

    If you will notice, but can afford it really, and you need extra performance for good reasons, still buy a new computer.

    If you really will notice, well, max out the RAM and like Henriok says, the next MBP refresh will be even more teh awesomes than the current one.

    (Me I’m waiting for Penryn – maybe even Nehalem)

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