Into the Vault – iBook G3 600

Welcome back to the Vault
Which actually makes no sense, because this time, it’s a whole new vault.
And, if we’re really quibbling here, it’s not even a vault.
It’s my basement.

My name is Matt Mutch.
I am a computer enthusiast.
I’d like to tell you a story.

I was set to graduate from high school and go on to college in the year 2002. I had already built three or five desktop computers for myself or another, and generally knew my way around them (my days of accidentally lighting them on fire were behind me). However, we were still being promised that the paperless age was upon us – no one was even considering the ‘retro appeal’ of books and vinyl in ’02, probably because they were still contemporary – and part of the paperless age was the apparent inevitability of a revolution in note taking. We were to be an early generation on the laptop based classroom, just ask any futurist, and as a fan of computers, whether they be PCs or Macs, I was interested in having a laptop of my own to —play with— take notes on in college.

Full open shot of the iBook G3
Full open shot of the iBook G3

To me, the newly redesigned Apple iBook “dual USB”, also cringely called the “Ice Book” in some circles, would be the perfect companion. I’d always wanted a Mac of my own, but compatibility and price had kept them out of reach. The previous iteration had claimed its toilet-seat styling as youth friendly, and the device did hold some allure for its bright coloration, built in handle, and ability to play nicely in the digital video production revolution Apple was ushering us into at the time, but the part time job and poor money management I had at the time meant no iBook for me.

iBook G3 Blue bearing a resemblance to a toilet seat
Love them, hate them, still looks like a toilet seat (image pulled from ifixit.com)

However, come graduation time, and by the grace of generous parents willing to listen to me extol the many virtues of the newly slimmed down, beautifully understated iBook line, I was granted permission to obtain a gently used one off of eBay.
And I was thrilled. Scarcely can I recall such elation. Anticipation of its arrival was turtle waiting at its worst. But after “Buy it Now” was selected, and maybe a week crawled by, it showed up and I finally had my own Mac and my own laptop.
While the iBook G3 600 MHz had fair graphics capabilities for a laptop of its day, anyone familiar with it whether from a passing mention of the ATI Rage Mobility graphics or perhaps a near-obsessive compulsion to read any and all articles in any and all available magazines (that’s right, magazines. Kids, ask your parents) like I did would not be a gaming powerhouse. Still, when the included 3D adventure game Bugdom wore out its rolly-polly welcome, and when the built-in DVD-ROM drive had played back the last of the few DVDs you owned (DVDs, also for parents to explain), it was still a quick laptop with some of the earliest built in wireless networking around, and there was a great wide internet out there to explore.

Overview of the iBook G3's top lid
Overview of the iBook G3’s top lid

However, the note taking angle was far from a lie. I wasted little time bringing the iBook to the last days of my high school classes and started trying out note taking there. The side eyed stares were many, and perhaps part of my motivation was to show off a little, but mostly, I just never particularly wanted to be away from my new companion piece. Accusations of other activities flew, briefly, but since wifi was not common at the time, especially in schools, there was no signal to jump on my MySpace page, I was largely confined to my intended task anyway. And it worked out fine. There was an adjustment to be made, from handwriting to typing, but in conjunction with a paper notebook for more abstract scrawling, I had a grand time being perhaps the first kid in the high school to work on a laptop in class.
Some have accused the iBook keyboard of being overly squishy, and while I can’t refute that claim, I enjoyed its spongy bounce for all the time I’d go on to use it for writing. An avid writer at the time, even/especially outside of academics, I was finally freed from my desk to write wherever I’d like, which wasn’t far because we lived on a busy street and I’ve never really cared to go outdoors much at all anyway. However, I became an early pioneer in the so called “second screen experience”, plunked down on the couch watching TV while on the computer. Broadband was in the home by then, if memory serves, so I could still talk about nothing in particular with friends around the country via the (recently deceased) America Online Instant Messenger. Functionally the same as texting on a smartphone while watching Netflix today, except there was no particular ability to select desired programming and the device at hand was about five pounds heavier.

Front of iBook G3 featuring lid clasp
Front of iBook G3 featuring lid clasp

I believe I got a respectable three years of active usage out of the iBook. Computers had long since boldly begun their breakneck pace of continual advancement by then, and three years is a respectable duration, if that number is even correct. The best part is, that bullet stopping lucite beast of a brick still works just fine! Sure, all computing standards have left it in the dust, but it’s a testament to the engineering that the thing still works at all, so disposable are devices nowadays. And as so many computers age, expectations of them get paired down further and further. But the funny thing is, for me, one of my primary hobbies – creative writing – doesn’t take much horsepower, or screen real estate, and if it weren’t for the fact that the battery was fully depleted a decade ago, I could probably still take my friendly old iBook out and turn some heads at a Starbucks.
It certainly is not every computer I’ve owned that I look back fondly on. But this is one that I do.
Got an old computer or a new computer you like or hate or are indifferent to and want to talk about it?
I’m @geekadematt on Twitter and this has been
Into the Vault – iBook G3 600

I’m a maniac for specs but I’m also susceptible to flowery language, so if you haven’t glazed over by now, you’re about to.

Close up of left side port array on the iBook G3 600 MHz
Close up of left side port array on the iBook G3 600 MHz

Apple’s iBook G3 was a 12 inch laptop with a 4:3 aspect ratio (which I miss so much) and a 1024×768 resolution. For reference, the iPhone 5S had a four inch screen at a16:9 aspect ratio and crams in 1156×640 pixels.
Since it was, at the time, a modern computer, it could be expected to perform tasks like edit in Adobe Photoshop and do digital video work in iMovie and even Final Cut Pro, although even then, you’d better be prepared to wait for those render times. The 600 MHz PowerPC G3 CPU was no slouch at the time, but after you managed to pull in some footage over the built in Firewire 400 port, there was only so much the single core processor could handle at a time, even when paired with 128 MB of PC100 RAM soldered on-board (sound familiar?) (expandable to 640 MB total – less familiar) and 8 MB (not GB) of video memory on the aforementioned ATI Rage Mobility. As with every era of storage, certainly the 20 GB of built in rotational hard drive was more than most would ever need. Also, we were PowerPoint ready, with a MiniVGA port supporting mirroring only of the built in display.
Networking was supported three ways: by 10/100 Fast Ethernet, 802.11b WiFi, or by dial-up service on the 56k V.90 modem (again, kids, ask your parents what that means and then follow up with “land-line?”)
And we can’t forget the built in DVD playback on the “Combo Drive” which could read DVD-ROMs and read and write CD-ROMs (man, your parents are going to be so sick of your questions, just Google it)

  • 600 MHz Power PC G3 single Core CPU
  • 128 MB 100 MHz Single Data Rate RAM
  • 8 MB ATI Rage Mobility graphics chip
  • 20 GB 4200 rpm rotational hard drive (IDE)
  • 12 inch XGA (1024×768) resolution on a TN panel
  • 10/100 Fast Ethernet with 56k V.90 compatible modem
  • 802.11b “Airport” wifi optional
  • 4x DVD-ROM/CD+/-RW drive
  • Stereo Speakers
  • MiniVGA port requiring dongle to connect to standard VGA
  • 2 USB 1.1 ports
  • Headphone jack

Matt Mutch

Image Acquisition Specialist and Computer Enthusiast. I like Sad Anime.

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