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M1 MacBook Air vs. PowerBook G4

The M1 MacBook Air reminds me of my first ever Mac, the 12″ PowerBook G4.

Less than a year after I replaced my aging MacBook Pro with a refurbished 6-core 12-thread i7 Mac mini, I quickly realized—again—that the iPad didn’t fit my workflow for creative work, and I needed a portable Mac.

It was also an amazing excuse to buy the cheapest MacBook Air, and see for myself what the M1 was all about. The base-model was well within my gadget-budget, and because it was supposed to be a secondary device I used while away from my desk and occassionally when I travelled, I didn’t need to upgrade the storage or the RAM. I’ll wait for the M2 for a proper upgrade, I said to myself.

6 months down the line, the M1 MacBook Air has been my primary computer. And it reminds me of my first ever Mac—the 12″ PowerBook G4. And I love it as much as I loved that Mac; a feeling I thought I’d never have for any other computer, ever.

I grew up in a house with Spectrum ZX’s and PC’s. Then I met Mac’s at my American school in Baku1. When it was time for me to ask for my own computer, of course I opted for a PC with Windows 98—I wanted to play games!

Fast forward a couple of years, turns out I wasn’t that into games, and was more interested in creating things, mainly websites. I was torn between switching to Linux and staying on Windows for iTunes. I was ♪starting a music collection, but I hated everything else about Windows. Getting a 3rd Gen iPod meant I needed to either stick with Windows, or get beg for a Mac.

I’ve always been a fan of the most powerful Mac in the smallest form factor possible. The 12″ PowerBook G4 was just that. It was tiny but packed a mean punch.

PowerBook G4 M1 MacBook Air
Processor PowerPC G4 1.25GHz Apple M1
Display 12″ 1024x768 13.3″ 2560x1600
External Display Only 1, 1600x1200 Only 1, 6016x3384
GPU NVIDIA GeForce FX Go5200 7-core Integrated
Storage 60GB HDD 256GB SSD
USB Ports 2 x USB 2.0 2 x USB 4 w/ USB-C Connector
Ports & Hardware FireWire 400, Ethernet 10​/​100, 56K Modem, mini-DVI, SuperDrive Built-in Camera

Both of these devices are beasts of their time. They had similar capabilities, and I’ve used the G4 the same way I use my M1:

  • I use them with a 20-something inch external display, generally in clamshell mode.
  • I call them by their CPU code; G4 or M1
  • I can do casual gaming on them!
  • They both get me excited about creating again.

The app landscape was very different then—there was no Electron, so any app that was worth its salt had to be native. Competitors of many apps you know and love/hate today, like VS Code or Slack, were all native.

We had TextMate or BBEdit as text editors. We used Adium for our chats. CSSEdit and Espresso were amazing tools for my newfound passion, and Panic’s Transmit made it very easy to deploy my sites.

And the way Mac OS X works just made more sense to me. And it still does, to this day.

While the Mac mini was great, it was loud at times, and not as responsive as I wanted it to be, as I remembered from my G4 Mac.

I still use some apps from that time, but others that I have to use don’t stutter as much as they did on the Intel Mac’s. The slowest apps on my M1 Air are the same speed as my i7 mini, and most of them are even faster, with no fan noise!

I also have a 16″ MacBook Pro for work purposes, and I can’t wait for the day the next-generation Apple Silicon Mac to be released so I can have it exchanged.

  1. Long story, don’t ask. ↩︎