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Mac Titanium PowerBook G4 review


While I was in Germany in September 2009, I crossed the central streets of Munich several times for the cool museums and attractive views. During one of the nights, I walked on the Adalbertstrasse and saw exposed old Mac laptops for sale in a shop. Unfortunately, the shop was closed, and I did not have the chance to see the machines in action. Some days later, before going to the Oktoberfest, I decided to pay a visit to the shop, to have a look what Macs are there. I said that I was interested in old PPC Mac for my coding needs and that it does not need to be fast. Also, it shall be not so expensive, so I can invest the difference if I gamble on my next Las Vegas vacation or forget gambling completely and just take off and stay at Turks and Caicos hotels for a nice relaxing break. My attention was taken at the one of the laptops exposed, which turned out to be what I was looking for:

Picture of Mac Titanium PowerBook G4 with MacOS X.

An old Mac Titanium PowerBook G4. As I did not know much about the Macintosh (now Mac), except my experience with MacOS on the Amiga under the ShapeShifter and Fusion emulators, I simply asked the seller to open me the About This Mac menu, under the Apple menu. It turned out to be Mac OS X Version 10.4.11, Processor 667 MHz PowerPC G4, 1MB L3 cache, Memory 768 MB SDRAM. I asked if it is possible to upgrade from this configuration, and the answer was - it is too expensive. The price was set at 260 Euro. After some further tests, changing the language to English, opening some applications and futile effort to lower the price, I decided to buy it for my coding projects and porting my software to the MacOS X. I know it is possible to find Macs for lower price on eBay, even with better specs, but there is no possibility to test and most of the time they come as it, without any warranty or additional software. For this laptop I got one year warranty, also MacOS X Tiger DVD, the external power supply and a bag. Happy with my purchase I stored it in a locker in the nearby university and went for the Oktoberfest.


The computer have nice metallic color. It has dimensions of 34 x 23.3 cm and is only 2.6 cm thick when closed. It is not heavy to lift.

Picture of Mac Titanium PowerBook G4 from the back.

Almost the entire cover is made from metal which have its pluses, but also minuses. The plus is that it takes the heat from the motherboard, very easy. But in cold ambient temperature, it is not very nice to touch. Also, if it is not properly seated, sometime I can feel the electric flow on my hand, because I am becoming the mass of the computer. On the back are the I/O ports which can be hidden under a cover if they are not used. Also, on the back is the power jack, which is also available, separately from the ports. From left to right the ports on the back are: AC power port, FireWire port, Ethernet port, USB port, another USB port, VGA port, S-Video output port, Sound In port and Modem port. On the right side of the computer is one hole marked with locker. On the left side is the expansion port with an eject button and audio out port for headphones. On the front is the CD/DVD drive door. The CD or DVD is directly injected in the drive and there is no button for eject. The keyboard is located on the top in the upper part. Under the Space key is the mouse touchpanel and the mouse button. The keyboard is semitransparent, but I did not see the keyboard light, which means that it is not sure if this feature is working at all on my machine. On the both sides of the keyboard are the loudspeakers. On the upper-right corner is the power button. On the back of the LCD is a big white apple logo, which is light when the screen is light. It uses the same bulb as the one in the LCD. The machine looks very nice, and the design is not outdated even by today standards.


The machine is very nice and easy to use. Simply open the LCD cover, press the power button and there you go. If the computer is in sleep mode, it will enter its previous state almost immediately. There is small diode under the PowerBook G4 text, which slowly fades in and out, when the computer is in sleep mode, indicating that it uses some battery or electricity for the sleep. If it is turned from off mode, a short sound indicated that everything is okay. The keyboard keys are easy to press. Typing fast with the keyboard is easy to accomplish. The mouse touchpanel is easy to use, but there is no option on press twice on it as a replacement for the button. The button is only one and there is not difference if it will be pressed on the left or the right side. The display supports resolutions from 640 x 480 to 1280 x 854. Because there is not eject button, the disc in the CD/DVD drive can be ejected only by software. The computer have very nice microphone built-in and it can be used for Skype, speech operating the OS or simply as audio input in the computer. It works very good even when the sound source is far away from the computer.


Here are the results provided when testing the machine, by using Xbench 1.3 on MacOS X Tiger:

Results	38.40	
	System Info		
		Xbench Version		1.3
		System Version		10.4.11 (8S165)
		Physical RAM		768 MB
		Model		PowerBook3,4
		Processor		PowerPC G4 @ 667 MHz
			Version		7455 (Apollo) v2.1
			L1 Cache		32K (instruction), 32K (data)
			L2 Cache		256K @ 667 MHz
			L3 Cache		1024K @ 167 MHz
			Bus Frequency		134 MHz
		Video Card		ATY,RageM7
		Drive Type		IBM-IC25N030ATCS04-0
	CPU Test	34.89	
		GCD Loop	57.21	3.02 Mops/sec
		Floating Point Basic	23.19	550.95 Mflop/sec
		AltiVec Basic	131.54	5.24 Gflop/sec
		vecLib FFT	37.03	1.22 Gflop/sec
		Floating Point Library	20.79	3.62 Mops/sec
	Thread Test	29.40	
		Computation	28.39	575.21 Kops/sec, 4 threads
		Lock Contention	30.49	1.31 Mlocks/sec, 4 threads
	Memory Test	27.28	
		System	24.55	
			Allocate	64.74	237.73 Kalloc/sec
			Fill	22.02	1070.54 MB/sec
			Copy	16.30	336.69 MB/sec
		Stream	30.71	
			Copy	32.64	674.24 MB/sec [altivec]
			Scale	32.73	676.09 MB/sec [altivec]
			Add	29.85	635.80 MB/sec [altivec]
			Triad	28.12	601.50 MB/sec [altivec]
	Quartz Graphics Test	31.70	
		Line	29.66	1.97 Klines/sec [50% alpha]
		Rectangle	30.44	9.09 Krects/sec [50% alpha]
		Circle	29.95	2.44 Kcircles/sec [50% alpha]
		Bezier	39.10	986.26 beziers/sec [50% alpha]
		Text	31.03	1.94 Kchars/sec
	OpenGL Graphics Test	47.67	
		Spinning Squares	47.67	60.47 frames/sec
	User Interface Test	16.43	
		Elements	16.43	75.40 refresh/sec
	Disk Test	13.97	
		Sequential	24.66	
			Uncached Write	20.89	12.83 MB/sec [4K blocks]
			Uncached Write	22.10	12.50 MB/sec [256K blocks]
			Uncached Read	41.28	12.08 MB/sec [4K blocks]
			Uncached Read	22.28	11.20 MB/sec [256K blocks]
		Random	9.75	
			Uncached Write	3.08	0.33 MB/sec [4K blocks]
			Uncached Write	24.07	7.71 MB/sec [256K blocks]
			Uncached Read	47.70	0.34 MB/sec [4K blocks]
			Uncached Read	43.89	8.14 MB/sec [256K blocks]

These benchmarks tend to be very relative. Because the programs can not take over the whole OS, the results vary when the computer is started for first time and there is nothing running at the moment. Different results are reported after the computer was used and some programs have already worked in it. Overall, strong parts of the computer are the G4 CPU with the Altivec unit and the big physical RAM size (768 MB). Weak part is the small L2 Cache (256K).

External devices

Even if I was told that it is very hard and expensive to upgrade the machine, I was able to add some attachments to it, which enhanced my Mac experience and made it better. Because the internal disk space is relatively small for today standards (30GB), I have connected 1 TB SATA drive via USB ICY BOX 3.5" External HDD Enclosure (IB-380 Series). I have formatted it with Mac OS Extended (Journaled) partition and it works fine. Unfortunately, my PowerBook G4 is old and the speeds with the drive are only USB 1.1 maxing at 12Mbit/s. With the Chronos 80 in 1 Card Reader CR-561, I was able to read all kind of memory cards and store data back on them. After installing the software, downloaded from the HP site, my HP Photosmart C6280 All-in-One multifunction device (printer, copier and scanner) was working properly and also I had all the HP tools (HP Device Manager, HP Photosmart Create, HP Photosmart Print, HP Photosmart Share, HP Photosmart Stitch, HP Photosmart Studio and HP Scan Pro) at hand. And all this, without the need to reconfigure anything at the device - it was present on the network, available for all the other devices which were using it. The USB Joysticks I have tested - Speed Link First Strike (SL-6530) and Speed Link Strike 2 (SL-6535) worked without problem with the games BoxWorld, BoxWorld 2, and MazezaM. Other USB Human Interface devices like Numerical Keypad and Optical mouse also worked fine. USB storage worked okay, but the hybrid Bluetooth/Memory stick device I have tested, worked only with the memory part. A problem came with my DVDs, burned on the Amiga - when I inserted them in the PowerBook G4, they were read for some seconds, then ejected, without being able to access the data stored on them.

Operating Systems

The computer came with MacOS X Tiger installed. But it was good that I got the install DVD, so I was able to change the password and set my user, without the need to install all the applications again. MacOS X is very good looking operating system, but in functionality and speed wise, it is not my kind of OS for everyday use. It has lots of software, but on my Mac machine it was very slow. Even with 768 MB physical RAM, I can hear the internal hard drive working, and this after startup, when the memory is supposed to be empty. This is not very nice to hear, especially on a laptop machine, where every bit of energy is important, and losing it for hard drive spindling is bad. This permanent spindling also reduces the hard drive life considerably, and I would not be happy to invest in another drive. There are some nice features like the Dock, Software Update and the Speech, but on the minus side is that it uses lots of resources. I often tend to run out of physical memory, even if opening only a few programs and the overall system use tends to be clumsy. I have removed all the Widgets, ran optimizing software and removed unused startup applications, but this did not help it much, to even notice myself. I have installed the latest Safari to date (Version 4.0.3), which is very nice browser, and I even like it and use over Firefox, but I still prefer to surf from my Amiga, mainly because of the speed, but also for the features like download whatever I want without all the useless automatic functions, and be able to download directly in the RAM Disk: or wherever I want to. As I am used to AmigaOS, MacOS X was more as an experience learning test, than a system that I will switch to in the near or far future. For more test, I burned the latest MorphOS (v2.4) CD, but unfortunately, it did not even boot. Later I burned another CD (with Roxio Toast 6 Titanium) this time with Linux Ubuntu Hardy v8.04.1 and this Linux distribution worked on my machine, but still not flawlessly. I had to start it with option video=ofonly to work, which means that it did not utilize my graphics card at full. The Linux is not new to me, I was using it for years, but it did not catch my attention before, it did not catch my attention on the Mac, where the Ubunty Hardy is an ordinary Linux distribution, with nothing special at all. Actually, I like and prefer MacOS X Tiger over any Linux, and stored this LiveCD away from the machine.


With the latest Snow Leopard version of MacOS X, Apple officially announced that they will no longer support PowerPC based machines. But this does not mean that there is no new software developments for my machine. There are thousand of applications released in Universal Binary format, which work fine on PPC and Intel based Mac machines. The games are not strongly present on the Mac, but there are still some. I have tried some pretty nice freeware or shareware games, but some of the new releases were very slow on my machine. There are lots of emulators for classic machines - Apple II, Super Nintendo Entertainment System and PC DOS - they worked smoothly, but not as smooth as on my AmigaOne.
Picture of Mac Praxis - issue 03/09, Amiga Future - issue 80, Mac Format - issue 212, Mac Up - issue 10/2009, Mac Life - issue 10/2009 and Computer Bild - issue 20/2009 In Germany there were lots of Mac print magazines for sale in the newsagents. As I was still enthusiastic about my new computer and in the Mac at whole, I purchased several magazines, to try the software on the cover DVDs and CDs, read some news, rumours and tips, and generally have a better picture of the Mac world. What I found is that not only the Mac hardware and accessories tend to be more expensive than the PC counterparts, but also the same stands for the magazines. The Mac Praxis magazine with DVD costs 7.80 Euro, Mac Up magazine with CD costs 5.90 Euro, Mac Life magazine with CD costs 5.90 Euro. The most expensive magazine I bought was at the Munich Airport, import from England, the Mac Format magazine for 12.90 Euro. It is very expensive, but as I am a big fan of the Amiga Format magazine (not published anymore), I was happy to buy a sister magazine of the legendary Amiga mag. Computer Bild magazine with DVD costed me only 3.70 Euro. Amiga Future magazine (in English) with CD costs 8.00 Euro, but it is subscription only. The Mac magazines also host articles about the iPhone, iPod and some general Apple services. As Apple officially abandoned the PowerPC platform in August 2009, with the release of Snow Leopard, there is also tendency in the magazines for less articles for the people with the old machines like mine. On the hardware front - as most of the PC components work straight away on the Mac, there is no problem that I do not know any Apple store nearby my place. Neither I saw recently any Apple product for sale, other than the iPhone and the iPod. There are many online shops and eBay auctions, so it is still possible to buy hardware for the machine and eventually add more peripherals or upgrades to it. I still have to look at my software collection, where I have some Mac compatible software. For example, Amiga Classix 5 also work on my Mac, with a nice frontend, but it is not that easy to install. Also, the Amiga emulation was slow with crippled sound and there is not much to do about it.


I do not regret buying the machine. Even if old, it is capable of many daily computer tasks, like Surfing the web with latest technology browsers (Safari and FireFox), watching movies (MPlayer plays without skips), listening to online radio and MP3 tunes, editing photos and coding with XCode. It provides me with alternative PPC hardware, and the mobility of it, is a feature not to be omitted. When I travel, I can always transfer some of my projects on removable USB storage and continue to work on them. There are games which can be played on it. The OS is not going to be updated much, except for security fixes, but this is not my goal either. MacOS X is nice, but for my daily computer use, I will continue to use microAmigaOne with AmigaOS 4.1.

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