Should you get an iBook or a PowerBook?  Monitor mirroring vs. spanning

“It’s a nagging question for which there is seemingly no correct answer, akin to the ‘paper or plastic’ query at the grocery store: PowerBook or iBook? Aluminum or polycarbonate? Twelve-inch or 14-inch? Ever since Apple Computer Inc. released the iBook G3, Macintosh users have debated the relative merits of the company’s entry-level laptop and its pro line of sleek PowerBook G4s. Until last fall, when Apple finally plopped a G4 chip into the iBook, the answer seemed pretty clear. If you wanted speed and had the bucks, get the PowerBook,” Ken Mingis writes for ComputerWorld. “That advice is no longer as clear-cut as it once was.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: If you want the ability to do monitor spanning instead of just mirroring, the choice is clear: PowerBook. That’s how we use our PowerBooks – stuck with just the PowerBook’s screen while mobile, but with both the PowerBook’s screen and an Apple display while docked. That additional screen real estate potential makes a big difference between Apple Pro laptop and Consumer laptop offerings. An iBook would be of very little use to anyone used to having monitor spanning capability.

Spanning vs. Mirroring:

Monitor Spanning: When an external monitor is connected to the video port of any of these systems they will appear as a separate second monitor. What appears on it is separate from what appears on the other monitor attached the system. The second monitor’s resolution can be set independent of the first monitor’s resolution.

Monitor Mirroring: When an external monitor is connected to the video port of any of these computers then whatever appears on the built-in screen is also visible on the external one. The external monitor will only display at the same resolution as the internal monitor.

Mingis seems to miss this important distinction as he writes, “the PowerBook comes with a 64MB Nvidia GeForce FX Go5200 video card that allows you to easily hook it up via Digital Video Interface to an external monitor. The iBook, with a 32MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 card, still offers only VGA for external monitor hookups.” And, yes, there are firmware hacks floating around to enable monitor spanning, but going that route carries a certain level of risk that some may be unwilling to take to make their iBook (and iMac, eMac, by the way) capable of monitor spanning.

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  1. If you need to have two monitors, I’m willing to bet you can use the other extras that come with the PowerBook and are willing to pay extra for them.

    My 16 yr old niece, on the other hand, has no idea that you can hook two screens to one computer, and I doubt she needs a second screen to keep iChat from covering the paper she’s typing in Word.

  2. An iBook? Just wouldn’t cut it for me. I’m too used to having my PB spanning to my Cinema Display and I feel the loss when I only have just the PB screen on the plane.

  3. If you want a portable, desktop replacement and like a larger screem, there’s no replacement for the PB 17″. BTW, there’s NOTHING like it even available on the Windows side; the lightest Windows 17″ notebooks are 3 lbs heavier! At 6.9 lbs, the PB 17 was lighter than the 15″ IBM Thinkpad it replaced; at 9.9 lbs, the Windows 17″ notebooks were not really portable. I take my notebook to/from the office every day plus travel 1-2/ month–there’s no way that was going to work with a 10 lb monster. This was not the only reason I switched, but it was a significant one.

  4. About those firmware hacks… I believe Apple controls this somwhere else too. Wanna know the best example? Easy. For those of you that Have OS 9 bootable iBooks, pop on the Norton Systemworks (booting on OS9) while having a second monitor plugged in. what happens? booting with the norton SW cd automatically makes monitor spanning, however boot with Apple’s OS 9 (included with the ibook) and for a couple of seconds you have spaning, but then switches back to mirroring. This weird behavior doesn’t happen with X.

    So i guess it’s something else besides firmware, maybe the video drivers are different for those models.

    Anyone had the same experience?

    (btw I used Norton SW 2.0)

  5. I’m sold on the new 15″ powerbook. I heard MDN mention “docked”… Does anyone know of an docking solution for the new powerbooks? Instead of plugging everything into the back of the book, you’d just plug the book into a dock of some sort I assume? I’m a powerbook newbie, so any help appreciated!

  6. sorry for sidetracking… is it easy to install extra ram on new 12″ powerbook? i have first generation 15″ g4 powerbook and it’s so easy and thinking to upgrade to 12″…

  7. Yes, the “Spanning Doctor” works OK for me. The “certain level of risk” associated with it as described in the article seems to be mostly theoretical. It works just fine, albeit buggy (sometimes crashes the Display system preference). Since this hack is just a few bugs short of giving the same capability as the Powerbook, it seems reasonable to assume that Apple deliberately crippled the iBook to distinguish the two levels of laptops.

  8. Kim, yes it is.

    There’s a small plate on the base of the PB – just undo 4 small screws and the slot for the extra RAM is underneath. Just pop in the new module, replace the plate and you’re done.

    Takes less than a minute.

  9. Screw the Apple 17″.
    I’m skipping Dell and going stright to Acer!

    “The Acer Aspire 1711SCI is a 15.7-pound, mainstream consumer notebook computer. Compared to other consumer level notebooks on the market, it is relatively inexpensive at around $1,535. Has Wi-Fi (wireless connectivity) built-in. The 17-inch screen has a native resolution of 1280 x 1024, which is better than most laptops. Has the Intel Pentium 4 2.8 GHz under the hood. This configuration includes a 80GB hard drive and 512MB of computer memory. “

    Yeah! This is no 6 lb feather. I want to know I’m getting my money’s worth. And at 1 hour of battery life, I can fly almost all the way from Sacramento to SF without a recharge!

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