Blog Post

Living One Mac Generation Behind

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 In short time, I found many titles were written for PowerPC processors only, and my Mac was too out of date to participate.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?

55 Responses to “Living One Mac Generation Behind”

  1. Benji XI

    I just wanted to ask, any other people with 12″ PBs of ~3 yrs in age, how is your battery?

    Mine’s completely knackered, it holds enough charge for about 2 minutes then the machine cuts out. This normally happens when the power lead has come slightly detached.

    I was considering a new battery and an HD upgrade, but at ~£90 for the battery, I’m not sure it’s worth it. What do people thinks?

  2. Oh, and I also have a lampshade iMac back in my office at university (the last of such, with the widescreen), and she is running fine, with lower specs that my iBook, so honestly, unless you REALLY want a new one, I’d ask why you would really need it.

  3. I have a 1.2 Ghz 12″ G4 iBook with 768 GB RAM, and she is into her 4th year now.

    She now has a 100 GB HDD instead of the 30 GB one she came with, and I added 512 GB more RAM over what she originally came with. The battery has been changed 2 or 3 times (thanks to safety recalls) so that is running fine, I got a new charger a little while back, and I recently had to replace the keyboard after a foaming beer incident (don’t worry, it was a micro-brew).

    I am thinking about swapping out the 256 board for a 1 GB one, so I’ll end up with 1.5 GB RAM, when student loans come through, as I am kinda concerned about her handling Leopard.

    But as I am a PhD student she’s just going to have to last me for a couple years yet, as I simply can’t afford to upgrade … although, honestly, not too keen on the keyboards on the Macbooks, so I don’t have a huge drive, but I would like the speed, as I am noticing the lag sometimes … maybe go Pro when I graduate.

  4. random8r

    Stop whining… if you bought as late as you say, then you’ve got a 1.67 mhz machine which runs all the latest most popular software and will for quite some time.

    Fusion is a piece virtualization software for intel machines, so it’s pretty obvious you won’t be able to use it unless it has the chip you’re running virtualization for! Just like if you’re running on an Intel machine you won’t be able to virtualize a PowerPC machine.

    You’re not missing out on anything. If you’re concerned about the “very latest software” then you really should have upgraded by now. Intel machines have been out for a couple of years. Look around and you’ll realise that Windows machines don’t last nearly that long – not in terms of software, or hardware. You basically can’t run Vista on anything but screaming-latest machines. At least with OS X you can run the latest version on 4 or 5 year old machines!

  5. I’m using a 17″1.67GHz PB G4 DL. I mainly use FF, Adium, iTunes, RSS Reader, QT, Office, and CS3 apps. I run all these applications w/o any problems. Yes, the new MBPs are way faster, but, unlike many of the current MBP owners, I have zero problems with, e.g., display, heat, and fan issues. I plan on using this machine at least until the next MBP revision comes out, if not longer.

  6. Depends mainly on your financial situation. I’m still running a G4 PowerBook and happy with it although I’ve run out of hard drive space. A friend with deeper pockets bought a MacBook Pro Core Duo a few months ago. He’s in the process of buying a new MacBook Pro because they have Core 2 Duos now. :)

  7. I feel the same way. I switched 4 years ago and still running on my 1.33ghz, 12″ screen.

    It is the perfect road warrior. Unfortunately, the new laptops don’t look as appetizing as my 12″ miniature.

    What I love most about my 12″ is that I go home and plug in my 21″ Sony. What frustrates me the most is that almost everything nowadays is Tiger only or Intel only.

    I have no desire to retire this gem. It serves me well and after years of frustration with Windows, I feel I am finally getting my money’s worth with this laptop. So, Apple, don’t push it either. Linux is around the bend also.

  8. Matt Radel

    If you have any consistent need for Windows apps, an upgrade is a must.

    But you don’t have to go Pro – I think for what you’re accustomed to, a MacBook would be an awesome machine for ya. As long as you’re fine with the smaller, glossy screen. I worked on a MacBook before getting my Pro and thought it was great. Not quite enough for me, but still great.

  9. Titanium Powerbook 800mhz 512 meg ram here
    Its served me well for 5 years and still drags windows around faster than brand new xp or vista machines

    However the new 24 inch imac arrives this week!

  10. I don’t need to upgrade, however I would like some more power and storage (wouldn’t we all?). My main thing at the moment is how well will Leopard run on my current hardware (1.33 GHz with 1 GB of RAM) – which we won’t know about until October. If I don’t upgrade this year I will sometime next year as I’d guess that Leopard will be the last iteration of OS X to support the G4 chips.

    Aside from that, I’m starting at a new job next week that gets me a nice discount.

  11. Lucky13

    My iBook G4 will do the job for at least the rest of this year. It’s the last model offered (1.42GHz) with 1.5GB of RAM and time still remaining on AppleCare.

    The software I use simply doesn’t require an Intel chip and runs just fine under the G4…Office 2004 being the prime example. Aside from iTunes, I have no use for the iLife package.

    As others have mentioned, I think it really comes down to the software being used. For me, there’s just no compelling reason to upgrade just yet.

    One note: anyone thinking of running the new Numbers app on an iBook might want to pause. This spreadsheet felt very cramped in a 1024×768 space – almost to the point of being unusable. This is one instance where a new high-res MacBook Pro would make a lot of sense. The multi-tab worksheets in Excel allow me to work around this limitation.

  12. What else are you missing out on? Well, just speed right now, but as always there is some point in the future (probably a few years away) where some OSX upgrade will not support the G4s and G5s. Already, the system requirements for CS3 doesn’t include my ageing G4 iMac.

    Relatively speaking – considering all through my college days, Macs were 2K – 3K today’s totally capable machines at a little over a grand (or less with the Mini!) are pretty sweet deals IMHO.

    So I tend to buy a new computer every three years after the previous one is getting really long in the tooth.

  13. That’s funny because I also use a PowerBook G4 and feel the exact same way. My first Mac was a white iBook G3 600mhz. I bought it and the next week Apple upgraded the iBooks to use 700mhz processors… not quite the same situation, but similar.

  14. @Eric, I like your spin. Basically, I wanted to see what else I would be missing by sticking with G4. I was a longtime 68k holdout, and while funds are more flexible now than they were in college, I don’t feel an aching need to move. Maybe it’s just belly-aching on my part at not having access to some pretty cool stuff. :-)

  15. I think you’re really looking for a reason NOT to upgrade. From the tone of your post, you’ve already got the need and/or desire to upgrade to an Intel MacBook/Pro, but you’re asking readers more for why not to upgrade.
    In my short amount of time I’ve been purchasing Apple products, I’ve learned a couple things:
    1) NEVER buy first generation hardware.
    2) Anything you buy with an Apple logo will be upgraded or improved within 3-6 months of your purchase.
    I started with a PowerBook G4, which has since been gifted to my fiancee, and I’ve purchased a MacBook Pro 15″, about a year old now. I love it to death, and I think you will too. You know you want it, if you can afford it, why wait? If you wait too long, your G4 won’t be worth as much on eBay and such. You know the price of a new Mac isn’t going to go down.


  16. Benji XI

    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)

  17. 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?

  18. @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.

  19. Matt Radel

    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.

  20. Bigonazzi

    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!! ;-)

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.