Apple LogoAs a web developer, my clients require that I perform testing on all popular web browser. As a PC user, testing on Safari is difficult. Tired of goofing with my PearPC emulator, I settled down in front of eBay to shop for a cheap iBook to suit two needs: Browser testing and impressing clients with the iBook’s slick facade. But there is a problem.

For me, a PC user of many years, it’s easy to pick PC parts and price components. If a PC is missing some feature I want, I know whether I can add it later myself, and what it will cost to add. With Macs, I’m at a bit of a loss.

So what I’m hoping is that someone could author or link to a tutorial for used iBook buying for PC users - since it seems to me a very logical step for someone who needs a Mac or wants to try it without committing to Apple retail prices.

Here are a few questions that I had while shopping that I could not find answers for:

  • What is the real difference between a G3 and G4?
  • What screen sizes are available in each model, and what is their true resolution?
  • How much of a difference does 100Mhz in processor power really make on performance?
  • How about memory and performance?
  • Why do people make specific mention that "the power cord works" or "battery still holds a charge" on iBook listings when you don't see that very often with PCs?
  • What parts does a retail iBook come with that could be missing from a used system?
  • Is there some issue with the keyboard rubbing on the screen that makes eBay sellers metion that there aren't any key marks on the screen?
  • Which iBooks have slot-loading drives (versus the kind with a tray), and is there a way you can tell this without seeing a photo of the drive?
  • When people talk about "scratches in the finish", it seems to be a common thing caused by regular use - how severe is it, and how careful do you need to be to prevent it?
  • Do iBooks have wifi built in? Bluetooth? Which ones?
  • Is 20GB really enough hard drive space? What can that hold practically?
  • Are all of these "motherboard/drive/screen/case needs repair" sales junk, or are they serviceable?
  • What is the difference between an iBook and a PowerBook? Who would that make a difference to?
  • What other things should someone be wary of when purchasing a used iBook?

I’ve never felt so overwhelmed by a computer purchase. I mean, if you’re going to drop ~$700 on something, you want it to have an expectation of the performance that money is going to buy. At this point, I have no idea what that money would buy me in an Apple. If I was buying a PC, I would know exactly what to expect when the computer arrived, and would know what to look for in the listing to know whether I was getting a good deal.

I have been told that the G3 is probably good enough if I’m just going to browse with it, though I admit that if I take a liking to the machine, I might like to see it perform some other non-intense applications in the field, like HTML editing.

I was also told to discard anything with less than 512MB of RAM, since that much RAM would make any iBook seem snappy. This is a real concern when using the system in front of clients. There’s only so much you can blame on bandwidth, you know?

It was also mentioned that the PowerBook would make more of an impression on clients than an iBook, but I have a philosophy on this, not knowing the true physical difference between iBooks and PowerBooks. Clients are going to mentally register one of several thoughts when they see the notebook, primarily one of these:

  • "Now we're getting to business" - This indicates that I could have used a PC notebook to do the same thing and they wouldn't have cared; a zero sum effect.
  • "Oooh cool, a Mac" - This basically indicates that they are impressed that I would use this brand to do my work - for whatever reason that might be. In that case, I feel that the iBook is more readily recognized as that brand than the more PC-looking PowerBook.
  • "Oh, it's just an iBook" - This person is disappointed that I'm not using a PowerBook, and well, that doesn't mean much to me because the Windows PC I'm probably going to use to do their work is more powerful in my hands than any PowerBook would be anyway.
  • "Oh no, a Mac!" - A hater. Strangely, you might think me in this category at first, but really I'm very non-denominational. If it does the job, it works for me. And if they think I can't do their work because I'm toting a Mac, then ok - that's weird. (On the other hand, don't mistake me for a switcher. It's going to take more than a used iBook to switch from thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of hardware, software, tools, books, and training spread over the years I've been using a PC.)

Bottom line, I’m not worried about the PowerBook versus iBook issue unless someone can point out a reasonable alternative argument.

I’ve seen the a few iBooks in person (at the Apple store in King of Prussia, and at some of our meetups) and I have not been impressed with the screen on the 12 inch iBook. So there’s at least one thing I can eliminate from my list.

All of this might be moot as of tomorrow, but at least I’ll know better for next time. I know I’ve got a couple of avid Apple-using readers, so hopefully someone can help me out.