Nemo Memo: Best Mac Laptop Ever?

Following Mark’s recent discourse (and Chris’s subsequent accomplishment) concerning which budget Mac portable computer to purchase prompts me to go public with a little-recognized appraisal of the best MacLaptop of all. In my work as a traveling computer tutor I sample everything from Apple’s original 100 series PowerBooks through the mighty monster PB 17” G4.

Looking backward, PowerBook 3400 is a great computer that runs forever but has limited memory capacity and won’t work with OS X. The current PowerBooks and iBooks are lean, mean, workhorse machines, but they only run OS X.

Why should I mention long-forgotten OS 9, now that Panther, Jaguar, Tiger, Bobcat, and Ocelot are here or around the corner? Mac OS is dead — long live Mac OS! Right or wrong?

People who spend more time with me than it takes to boot up their OS X systems understand that I actually enjoy working with OS 9.2.2. If this possibility makes you tremble with rage and break into hives, stop reading now and deliver your pithy pronouncements below in the Article Discussion box.

Is there a viable Macintosh laptop model that runs OS X efficiently and delivers top performance in OS 9? Of course! Plenty of TiBooks and white “Chicklet” iBooks do both with ease. Best bets for demanding users on a budget are most recent 14” iBook G3 or 15” Titanium PowerBook G4 models, purchased used or reconditioned from companies such as our loyal sponsor, Small Dog Electronics.

Let’s talk about styling and conveyance. While 12” and 14” iBooks have a contemporary flair, with their slick surfaces they are not easy to carry by hand for any length of time (I tried), and appear somewhat foolish when held like a book or thick pad of paper. The iBook latches are not as robust as the cases, and iBook hinges can easily lose their alignment (or worse).

TiBook case material scratches easily. You won’t want to carry a just-running TiBook by hand unless your extremities are made of asbestos, because the computer generates enough heat to cause second degree burns on your delicate palms. Then it’s good luck if you set a tender Titanium down too briskly.

This discussion is degenerating rapidly, you assume, to some wisecrack punch line. Wrong again. Can we locate a long-forgotten but still recent Mac portable that meets all our criteria?

Enter from backstage the humble original clamshell two-tone G3 FireWire iBook (mine is blue and white <see photo on the right here ). With a 366 MHz processor and loaded with over 500 MB of memory and an AirPort card, offline and network computing in OS 9 is fast and efficient. Hinges are hearty and hale, there’s no snap latch to break, computing temperature is at most lukewarm, styling is retro-classic, exterior plastic case material appearance improves with age, internal guts are well-cushioned, typing and mousing positions and sensitivity are handy dandy comfy, and typical battery charge duration is over four hours for most usage.

And then there’s the handle! Wowzer. I use mine daily, and it’s a delight.

What about OS X, you ponder with a menacing grin? Or that lousy pop-out CD unit. Or the meager 800 x 600 maximum screen resolution. Or its tinny, tiny single speaker. Get real, Nemo, you mutter.

How many FireWire G3 iBooks did Apple make and sell? How many are still humming along nicely in either or both operating systems? How many are available on eBay, and at what price?

Do a little homework, roll up your sleeves, then let me have it in rebuttal as I pronounce my Blueberry FireWire G3 iBook 366 the best Mac laptop of all time.


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