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12" Powerbook G4

For a number of years, I used a 15″ Titanium Powerbook as my sole computer. The idea (at the time I bought it) was that a laptop would provide the best of both worlds: I could connect external equipment like mice, keyboards and monitors when working at the desk, while retaining the flexibility to take it with me when on the go, or when the urge hit to work on the couch.

After a few years, it hit me one day that this all wasn’t quite the utopia I’d hoped for. I’d ended up with so much stuff connected to the laptop (the above mentioned keyboard, mouse and monitor, plus a variety of USB and firewire devices) that I’d often not take the laptop with me simply due to the pain of having to disconnect everything. And when I did occasionally use the TiBook as a portable, I found it a bit too big to comfortably carry around and use. So, one day I realized I had a portable acting as an overpriced and underpowered desktop.

I decided to make a change this year, and purchased a dual-G5 desktop machine, to be complemented by a 12″ Aluminum Powerbook G4 (1GHz, SuperDrive). I think I’ve already written about the G5, so I’ll take some time now to write about the Powerbook.

In short, this (second revision) 12″ Powerbook is as close as I’ve yet come to the perfect machine. It’s not without a couple of shortcomings (which I’ll get to in a bit), but I simply love it. The size is ideal — it reminds me of the blissful days of the Powerbook Duo. I find myself carrying it everywhere. It fits nicely in my sling sack, which I usually take to the cafe. It fits comfortably in my lap, when working on the couch. And it’s the perfect companion to take to our Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes, for watching instructional DVDs.

From a performance standpoint, it’s about what any Powerbook owner would expect, given a 1GHz G4 processor. For the past few years, I’ve found that, except in the area of media processing (like making iMovies), the level of computing power in most Macintosh computers is quite comfortable for me. One important note, however, is that until I upgraded the Powerbook with an addition 512MB of memory, the stock 256 MB will result in quite some virtual memory disk swapping (if you, like me, like to keep a number of applications always open.)

Perhaps one of the best aspects of the new Powerbook is the keyboard, which is big and clearly the best keyboard I’ve ever used on a notebook. I find it almost comfortable enough to use full-time.

I also bought an Airport Extreme card and Base Station, which has represented quite an upgrade to the original Airport card I had in the TiBook. The additional bandwidth is quite comfortable when transferring files or watching QuickTime videos over the wireless network. The Powerbook’s Airport reception appears closer to that of my friend’s iBook (good!) than my old TiBook (very bad!)

One inital disappointment was the display. Apple has used a lower quality display than that in the 15″ and 17″ models (including my old TiBook). My first impression of the display was that it looked horrible. However, a post to the Apple Discussion lists revealed that much can be done to improve the situation. Turns out that most of the problem is the standard calibration, as delivered by Apple. There is a shareware product called SuperCal that is capable of creating a display calibration profile that dramatically (and I mean Dramatically!) improves the display. In fact, if Apple had delivered a similar profile, I probably would have never noticed the deficiency in the basic display quality with respect to the TiBook. So, on this point, I’m a happy camper now.

The only other problem I’ve encountered is the latch. Sometimes the magnet-based latch will just not engage. This worried me a bit (in that I’d hate to have to return the thing for repair) but another tip from the Apple Discussion list suggested that just lightly tapping the top of the screen with your finger will engage the lap. This works like a charm, so now I wouldn’t consider returning the device over this issue.

Apart from those two issues, I have been very, very happy with this Powerbook. It’s my friend. We go everywhere together. I even find myself working full-time on it from the terrace a few days each week. (Although the keyboard’s great, I did spring for an ingenious, small, 30 Euro wireless mouse from Laptec. Very high quality, and with an 800 dpi optical sensor, it’s nearly like using a wired mouse.)

That’s all for now. Merry Christmas everybody.

Published inTechnology


  1. Johnny Johnny

    Having used a 15″, then a 12″, then a 15″ again and now being back on the 12″ again simply because I agree to everything you say (mainly because if it’s supposed to be a portable – it should be portable!), I nodded while reading your words. Why I’m posting this, though, is because you were the first find when I tried to improve my display problems (you’re right again!) by typing “perfect monitor calibration powerbook 12″ g4 apple” into Google. 😉

    All the best from Berlin,


  2. resonance resonance

    I too found this site through Google, and I too am moving away from a “desktop replacement” strategy (1Ghz 15″ ti PBG4) to a powerful desktop (dual 2.0GHz G5) and a smaller laptop. Haven’t yet ordered the 12″, but intend to in the next week or so. I’m glad to hear that calibration helps the display. I looked at a 12″ the other day and was a bit disappointed with the screen. I have a hardware calibration device; that should help significantly.


  3. Mario Jones Mario Jones

    I have a powerebook G4 15″ which my one year old daughter got a hold of and somehow changed the display so that it looks like a film negative. I have no idea how to change it back. I was hoping I’m not the only one this has ever happened to. Please help if you can.

  4. John John

    Control-Option-Command-* (asterisk). That should fix it…

  5. Erik Erik


    Thanks for this post. You have sold me on the 12″ PB. I was all set to buy the 12″ PB as my first Mac and a guy said I would regret it. He said to at least get the 15″. He said the 12″ was too small unless I used an external monitor.

    Also, why did you choose the super drive? Did you consider an external dvd burner? I go back and forth on getting the super drive.



  6. Joshua Rothman Joshua Rothman

    Hey, this is a great post — I’m thinking of selling my 15″ TiBook for a 12″ AlBook as well. The only thing that’s actually held me back is the screen. Can it really be calibrated to look as good? As in, if you put the TiBook and the 12″ next to one another, is the different actually very small?

    If not, I will probably hold out until there’s a better display in the 12″ — but if so, I will be getting one ASAP.

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