Blackbird was Apple’s code name for its first line of PowerBooks based on the 68LC040 processor. (The LC version of the 68040 draws less power and has no FPU.) The 500 series included several firsts: the first portable with a trackpad, the first with a PCMCIA (later PC Card) slot, the first with stereo speakers, the first with built-in ethernet, the first with an “intelligent” NiMH battery, the first with an expansion bay, and the first to automatically go to sleep when the lid was shut.
In the field, users raved about the dual battery slots, allowing up to 4 hours from a charged pair of batteries.
These PowerBooks also introduced a full-sized keyboard (with 12 function keys), had a 640 x 480 screen, and were designed so they could be upgraded with a PowerPC processor.
The 540c has an 8-bit active matrix color full screen display. Like the Duo 270c and 280c, it can be set to 640 x 400 16-bit mode using the Options setting in the Monitors control panel. The 540 and 540c came standard with a Global Village 19.2 kbps data/14.4 kbps fax modem.
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- code name: Blackbird
- introduced 1994.05.16 at $4,840; discontinued 1995.08.26
- requires System 7.1.1 or later; highest version supported without a PPC upgrade is Mac OS 8.1.
- CPU: 33 MHz 68LC040
- FPU: none
- CPU performance: 1.18, Speedometer 4.02 (Quadra 605 = 1.0), see our benchmark page
- FPU performance: 6.25, Speedometer 4.02 (Quadra 605 = 1.0), see our benchmark page
- ROM: 2 MB
- RAM: 4 MB, expandable to 36 MB using a special 100ns pseudostatic RAM card
- VRAM: 512 KB
- display: 9.5″ 640 x 480 84 ppi 8-bit color active matrix
- video: 512 KB VRAM, VID-14 port, supports 8-bit external video at 512 x 384, 640 x 480, 800 x 600, and 832 x 624 with video adapter
- 320 MB or 500 MB SCSI hard drive standard
- ADB slots: 1 port for keyboard and mouse
- serial ports: 1 DIN-8 RS-422 port on back of computer
- ethernet: AAUI connector, requires adapter
- SCSI ports: HDI30 connector on back of computer
- proprietary modem slot
- Gestalt ID: 72
- Size (HxWxD): 2.3″ x 11.5″ x 9.7″
- weight: 7.3 lb. with both batteries, 6.6 lb. with one battery
- power supply: M1893 or M1910
- Apple 100 MHz 603e PowerPC Upgrade (M3081LL/A), 8 MB RAM
- NewerTech NUpowr 500/183c 603e upgrade w/128K level 2 cache
- NewerTech NUpowr 500/167 603e upgrade
- Sonnet Technologies PowerPC 100 MHz 603e upgrade, 8 MB RAM
- Low End Mac’s best classic Mac OS deals. Best online prices for System 6, 7.1, 7.5.x, Mac OS 7.6, 8.0, 8.1, 8.5, 9.0, 9.2.2, and other versions.
- What’s the best Mac OS for your iBook, PowerBook, or MacBook?, Charles Moore, ‘Book Value, 2008.08.19. Tips on choosing the best OS for your PowerBook 500 Series or newer Mac notebook.
- Why you should partition your Mac’s hard drive, Dan Knight, Mac Musings, 2008.12.11. “At the very least, it makes sense to have a second partition with a bootable version of the Mac OS, so if you have problems with your work partition, you can boot from the ‘emergency’ partition to run Disk Utility and other diagnostics.”
- Mac ‘Book power management adventures, Charles Moore, ‘Book Value, 2009.05.19. If your ‘Book won’t power up, shuts down while your working, or has other power issues, resetting its internal power manager may clear things up.
- The 25 most important Macs (part 2), Dan Knight, Mac Musings, 2009.02.17. The 25 most significant Macs in the first 25 years of the platform, continued.
- A brief history of portable computing: From Dynabook to netbooks, Dan Knight, Mac Musings, 2008.11.06. 40 years ago Alan Kay dreamt of a two pound handheld computer. Portables have made a lot of changes since 1981, but haven’t yet matched the Dynabook.
- Creating Classic Mac boot floppies in OS X, Paul Brierley, The ‘Book Beat, 2008.08.07. Yes, it is possible to create a boot floppy for the Classic Mac OS using an OS X Mac that doesn’t have Classic. Here’s how.
- The compressed air keyboard repair, Charles Moore, Miscellaneous Ramblings, 2008.07.24. If your keyboard isn’t working as well as it once did, blasting under the keys with compressed air may be the cure.
- EmpowerBook, Tamara Keel, Digital Fossils, 2008.04.22. The goal: distraction-free writing on the go. But which PowerBook or iBook is best for the job?
- A vintage Mac network can be as useful as a modern one, Carl Nygren, My Turn, 2008.04.08. Old Macs can exchange data and share an Internet connection very nicely using Apple’s old LocalTalk networking.
- Lean word processing, PowerBook 150 drawbacks, Mac ethernet issues, and more, Dan Knight, Low End Mac Mailbag, 2008.03.27. Also thoughts on WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, MacWrite, ClarisWorks, WriteNow, and Bean, and FireWire with modern iPods.
- Wireless FAQ for Older Apple PowerBook Computers. Resources to help you to install and maintain 802.11b/g wireless PC Cards on older PowerBook computers.
- The Complete and Utter Guide to PC Cards and Expansion Bays on the PowerBook, Insanely Great. All about the PCMCIA, PC Card, or CardBus slots used in various PowerBooks.
- Power your recycled laptop with a rebuilt battery, John Hatchett, Recycled Computing, 2008.02.20. Old notebook computers usually mean old batteries that may be dead or on their last legs. You can buy a replacement battery, or you can have your old battery rebuilt.
- Vintage Mac networking and file exchange, Adam Rosen, Adam’s Apple, 2007.12.19. How to network vintage Macs with modern Macs and tips on exchanging files using floppies, Zip disks, and other media.
- Better Classic emulation, Leopard on any G3?, CardBus and Compact Flash, and more, Dan Knight, Low End Mac Mailbag, 2007.12.18. Also where to find even older versions of BBEdit Lite, more oddball Mac video connections, installing System 7 on a PowerBook with no install disks, and lockups when faking out the Leopard installer.
- Solving Mac startup problems, Adam Rosen, Adam’s Apple, 2007.12.12. When your old Mac won’t boot, the most likely culprits are a dead PRAM battery or a failed (or failing) hard drive.
- Refurb 17″ Intel iMac deals, PowerBook 540 on Compact Flash, Newton as a mobile phone, and more, Dan Knight, Low End Mac Mailbag, 2007.11.07. Also PCI cards for older Macs, no such thing as a 933 MHz Digital Audio Power Mac, Mac OS longevity, and prospects for XPostFacto 5.
- Better and safer surfing with Internet Explorer and the Classic Mac OS, Max Wallgren, Mac Daniel, 2007.11.06. Tips on which browsers work best with different Mac OS versions plus extra software to clean cookies and caches, detect viruses, handle downloads, etc.
- Hacking Mac OS 7.6.1 so many Mac OS 8 apps will run, Max Wallgren, Mac Daniel, 2007.10.30. With a little ResEdit work and a second copy of your System Folder, you can run a lot of OS 8 apps with Mac OS 7.6.1.
- Simple Macs for simple tasks, Tommy Thomas, Welcome to Macintosh, 2007.10.19. Long live 680×0 Macs and the classic Mac OS. For simple tasks such as writing, they can provide a great, low distraction environment.
- PowerBook 540c: Still the king of notebook computers, Leo Titus LeBron V, Collection Spotlight, 2007.09.04. The PowerBook 500 family introduced a curvy new design, the trackpad, intelligent NiMH batteries, drive bays, PCMCIA expansion, and 16-bit stereo sound to the world of notebook computers.
- Apple’s AAUI ethernet connector, Dan Knight, Online Tech Journal, 2007.09.04. From 1991 through 1995, Apple used a proprietary ethernet connection. Why they created AAUI and where to find adapters.
- Restoring PowerBook batteries, MB/GB confusion, upgrading a Performa 6300, Road Apples, and more, Dan Knight, Low End Mac Mailbag, 2007.08.20. Also information on Mac128k.com, the market for a midrange Macintosh, iBook reliability, an alternative to Name Munger, and thanks from a reader.
- A light touch keyboard, PowerBook 520c questions, moving a G3 iBook from 10.2.8 to 10.3, and more, Charles Moore, Miscellaneous Ramblings, 2007.08.13. Also running QuickBooks on Intel-based Macs, ‘Book magnets causing CRT problems, and wondering about the $150 Linux laptop.
- Fixing the hinge on the ‘Blackbird’ PowerBook 500 series, Mike Huttinger, Mac Daniel, 2007.07.16. Simple, step-by-step instructions for repairing a failed hinge on the PowerBook 520, 540, and 550.
- Mac System 7.5.5 can do anything Mac OS 7.6.1 can, Tyler Sable, Classic Restorations, 2007.06.04. Yes, it is possible to run Internet Explorer 5.1.7 and SoundJam with System 7.5.5. You just need to have all the updates – and make one modification for SoundJam.
- Appearance Manager allows Internet Explorer 5.1.7 to work with Mac OS 7.6.1, Max Wallgren, Mac Daniel, 2007.05.23. Want a fairly modern browser with an old, fast operating system? Mac OS 7.6.1 plus the Appearance Manager and Internet Explorer may be just what you want.
- Format any drive for older Macs with patched Apple tools, Tyler Sable, Classic Restorations, 2007.04.25. Apple HD SC Setup and Drive Setup only work with Apple branded hard drives – until you apply the patches linked to this article.
- Making floppies and CDs for older Macs using modern Macs, Windows, and Linux PCs, Tyler Sable, Classic Restorations, 2007.03.15. Older Macs use HFS floppies and CDs. Here are the free resources you’ll need to write floppies or CDs for vintage Macs using your modern computer.
- System 7 Today, advocates of Apple’s ‘orphan’ Mac OS 7.6.1, Tommy Thomas, Welcome to Macintosh, 2006.10.26. Why Mac OS 7.6.1 is far better for 68040 and PowerPC Macs than System 7.5.x.
- 30 days of old school computing: Increasing battery life with a RAM disk, Ted Hodges, Vintage Mac Living, 2006.09.14. When using the hard drive, the old battery ran out of juice within 30 minutes, but running from a RAM disk it still has a 50% charge after half an hour.
- Mac OS 8 and 8.1: Maximum size, maximum convenience, Tyler Sable, Classic Restorations, 2006.09.11. Mac OS 8 and 8.1 add some useful new features and tools, and it can even be practical on 68030-based Macs.
- Inside your notebook’s battery: Ordinary AA Li-Ion cells, Dan Knight, Mac Musings, 2006.09.08. That expensive battery in your notebook computer probably holds less than $30 worth of off-the-shelf AA Li-Ion batteries.
- Compact Flash with SCSI Macs, PB 1400 CD-RW upgrade problems, and Web incompatibilities, Dan Knight, Low End Mac Mailbag, 2006.06.16. Suggested ways to use Compact Flash with vintage Macs and PowerBooks, problems getting CD-RW to work with a PowerBook 1400, and more thoughts on website incompatibilities.
- Moving files from your new Mac to your vintage Mac, Paul Brierley, The ‘Book Beat, 2006.06.13. Old Macs use floppies; new ones don’t. Old Macs use AppleTalk; Tiger doesn’t support it. New Macs can burn CDs, but old CD drives can’t always read CD-R. So how do you move the files?
- System 7.6.1 is perfect for many older Macs, John Martorana, That Old Mac Magic, 2006.03.24. Want the best speed from your old Mac? System 7.6.1 can give you that with a fairly small memory footprint – also helpful on older Macs.
- MpegDec: Play MP3s and streaming audio on 680×0 and old PowerPC Macs, Nathan Thompson, Embracing Obsolescence, 2006.03.14. 680×0 Macs can play anything short of 128kbps stereo MP3s, and even the oldest PowerPC Macs have no trouble at all with those recordings.
- System 7.5 and Mac OS 7.6: The beginning and end of an era, Tyler Sable, Classic Restorations, 2006.02.15. System 7.5 and Mac OS 7.6 introduced many new features and greater modernity while staying within reach of most early Macintosh models.
- Web browser tips for the classic Mac OS, Nathan Thompson, Embracing Obsolescence, 2006.01.03. Tips on getting the most out of WaMCom, Mozilla, Internet Explorer, iCab, Opera, and WannaBe using the classic Mac OS.
- Bringing a PowerBook 520 back from the dead, Paul Brierley, The ‘Book Beat, 2005.11.28. Although the old PowerBook wouldn’t even start at first, Apple’s software eventually permitted some reconditioning of its ancient batteries.
- Which system software is best for my vintage Mac?, Tyler Sable, Classic Restorations, 2005.11.22. Which system software works best depends to a great extent on just which Mac you have and how much RAM is installed.
- Why you should use Mac OS 7.6 to get the most out of vintage Macs, Thomas Ahart, The Productive Mac, 2005.12.12. Although you may be able to run OS 8 or 9 on your old Mac, you’ll generally find better performance using Mac OS 7.6.
- Top 100 Gadgets of All Time, Mobile PC, 2005.02.18. PB 500 series at #22 because of all its firsts. “Make no mistake, this notebook set the agenda for the following 10 years of portable computer design.”
- EMMpathy, VST. Freeware application designed specifically to recondition batteries on PowerBook 500 series. Download links (tested 2003.03.12):
- SCSI and FireWire Disk Modes, Paulo Rodrigues, Tangerine Fusion, 11/29/00. How to use SCSI Disk Mode and FireWire Target Disk Mode for ultrafast file transfers.
- Picking a low-end colour PowerBook, Adam Robert Guha, Apple Archive, 11/10. If you want color and portability, but don’t need PowerPC speed, here are your options.
- Retrospective: The PowerBook 500 Series, Charles Moore, Road Warrior, Mac Opinion, 9/13/00. The first PowerBook that was a viable alternative to a desktop Mac.
- PowerBook history, Adam Robert Guha, Apple Archive, 5/12. A history of portable Macs from 1989 through 1996.
- Travels with my Mac: A most usable PowerBook, Jeff Evans, Canada Computers, 2/95. “…like PowerBooks that have come before, the 540 sets a standard for pleasantness of use.”
- Recovering a stolen PowerBook, The ‘Book Page. One user’s experience.
- PowerBook 500-series memory pricing, ramseeker
- Web: PowerBook 500 Page
- How to get inside a PowerBook 500 series, Western Illinois University
- Best Used PowerBook, PB Upgrade Options, Mac Daniel
- Installing Mac OS 8.5 on the PowerBook 500 series, MacNN
- Email lists: PowerBooks, Vintage Macs
- PowerBook 500 page on O’Grady’s PowerPage
- Apple Specs for PowerBook 540c
- Batteries are prohibitively expensive, usually well over US$100 each – and the computer uses two. Condition your batteries regularly; don’t let them run down and die.
- The 100-series and 500-series PowerBooks do not provide SCSI termination power, depending on external SCSI devices to provide it. For more details, see SCSI Termination Power.
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