12 Inches of PowerBook

In April 2003, Apple announced a new low-end and high-end PowerBook to wrap around the Titanium PowerBook family. The new 12-inch and 17-inch models sported a new, all-aluminum case, silver keys, and faster insides. (The 15-inch PowerBook would remain “Titanium” for several more months. My first Mac was one of those Titaniums.)

The 12-inch model was especially interesting, size wise. Low End Mac, in their Guide to the 12-inch PowerBook:

The Little Al ’Book was the smallest PowerBook ever built (110.6 cubic inches vs. 168.3 for the PowerBook 100 and 169.6 for the 2400c – only the MacBook Air has had a smaller volume), although at 4.6 lb. it was not quite as light as the original PowerBook Duo 210.

The 12-inch PowerBook is a even a little smaller then the 12-inch iBook. But inside it’s tiny frame, Apple stuffed a 867Mhz G4 (the last revision sported a 1.5Ghz G4), an optical drive and enough I/O for most users.

The little notebook had fans from all over. Again, Low End Mac:

The 12“ PowerBook is just a really nice package – small enough to be comfortable packing around but large and full-featured enough to serve quite satisfactorily as a main workhorse computer. These machines are particularly popular with photographers, presumably because they have pretty decent video support (arguably better than the Intel GMA 950/3100 ”vampire video" in the MacBook), and, of course, are small enough to carry in a large camera bag.

Although hailed as ultra-portable, the 12-inch PowerBook is not the toughest laptop around. The metal that makes the bottom case has a tendency to warp and bend, especially above the optical drive and around the front corners of the machine. These weak areas may be more prone to bending simply due to the fact that owners of 12-inch PowerBooks seem to take them everywhere- being so portable, it is easy to toss one in a bag, just to have it get banged up. Since the model was quite popular with both students and business people with busy travel schedules, most 12-inch PowerBooks have some scars.

In 2005, my best friend bought one (a 1.5 Ghz) for college, and it was the first time I’d really spent time with one, and I was impressed. I’ve always wanted one, and last week, I bought one on eBay.

I own a 1.33Ghz model, with 1.25 GB of RAM, and the thing runs Leopard pretty well. It’s a little banged up, but far from some of the horrific-looking ones I’ve seen in the past. While I won’t be using CS4 on it, the 12-inch PowerBook may finally end my search for an ultra-portable I will actually use. The size is perfect- I can use it in bed, carry it in my bag on my bike to a coffee shop, yet still use it for everyday tasks, thanks to the 12-inch screen and full-sized keyboard (Take that, Eee PC!). And with a late-model G4, it can run most things I would do in bed or at a coffee shop, anyways.

When Apple moved to Intel, the 12-inch form-factor was left behind. The smallest notebook Apple has shipped since the Intel transition are 13-inches. While that doesn’t sound much bigger, it is. The 12-inch PowerBook feels far smaller (and sturdier) than the plastic MacBooks ever were. Now, with the new aluminum MacBooks out, it is easier to draw the the conclusion that the MacBook has replaced the 12-inch PowerBook. I’m not sold on this, but it is easier to accept. (Side note: the LCD on the 12-inch PowerBook can be opened further back than any other Apple notebook I’ve ever used or seen- it’s really nice.)

One side note about the MacBook Air. As I have said before, it has the same footprint as the MacBook; meaning, it takes up the same amount of space on a table. Yes, it’s light as hell, but it’s still 13-inches of MacBook.