PowerBooks don't look or feel like regular Macs, but they are just
as powerful as desktop Macs, sound like desktop Macs, and even smell
like desktop Macs.
In 1989, when Apple released the Macintosh Portable, the age of the
portable Macintosh began. However, competing DOS portables were several
pounds lighter then the Mac Portable, and most were smaller as well.
With the Portable's introductory price of US$6,500, you could save a
lot of money if you were willing to accept DOS. (Of course this is
Low End Mac, if I was writing for Low End
DOS....) However, it was the first portable Mac, and it forever changed
the way the Mac community would compute while on the road, whether on
vacation or on business travel.
Two years later, in October of 1991, Apple released what was to be
one of the most revolutionary computers ever made: the Macintosh
The PowerBook is Apple's notebook computer. They feature the same
processors used in desktop Macs, some have modems, but generally they
have a smaller RAM ceiling than their desktop counterparts, and they
usually have a smaller hard drive and screen.
The original three models were the
PowerBook 100 (16 MHz 68HC000),
PowerBook 140 (16 MHz 68030), and
the PowerBook 170 (25 MHz 68030).
The 100 and 140 had passive-matrix 1 bit screens, and the 170 had a 1
bit active matrix screen. The passive matrix screens are a bit more
blotchy and more susceptible to stuck and dead pixels. Active matrix
screens are much brighter, and tend to be clearer and nicer to look at.
In the years to come, Apple would release other 68030-based PowerBooks:
145, 145b, 160,
165, 165c, 180,
180c, and 150.
In 1994, Apple released the first 68040-based PowerBooks, the
PowerBook 520, 520c, 540, and 540c. These were based on the Motorola
68LC040 processor. The 500 series used a radically different case
design and introduced an input device that is used on even the most
modern laptops (yes, even some Wintel notebooks). This was called the
track pad. The track pad allowed the cursor to follow the movement of
your finger on a special pad.
The 500 series were also the first PowerBooks to incorporate
function keys into the keyboard. The next year, Apple released the
PowerBook 550c in Asia. This was
the same as the previous PowerBook 540c, except that it had a bigger
screen, the case was a bit different, and it used a full 68040
The last 68K based PowerBook was the PowerBook 190. It featured a 33 MHz
68LC040 processor. Along with the 5300 series, the 190 was loaded with
problems, but after being repaired in the Apple repair extension
program, is a fairly stable computer.
In 1995, Apple introduced the first PowerPC PowerBooks, which
I will not fully cover, however, the first model, the PowerBook 5300 series is a model to be
aware of. It originally had many problems with the motherboard, screen
housing, batteries, and system software, but like the 190, after going
through the Apple Repair Extension program, it is a great, stable
little PowerBook, and performs quite well.
Some very interesting machines which I have never worked with (as of
this writing - I would like to get one someday) are the PowerBook Duo
series. The Duo came out as a convertible desktop/laptop computer, and
they were quite successful for some time. If you are using your
computer at school or at the office and don't need a floppy drive all
the time, a Duo may just be the PowerBook for you. The Duos are all 68K
based machines, except for the 2300c, which is a PowerPC 603e.
Why do you need a PowerBook? If you need to transport files from
home to work or home to school and back, you need a PowerBook. If you
don't need to worry about the Internet and don't need a PowerPC, a
colour screen, or lots of speed, go for a PowerBook 140, 160, or 170.
The most reasonably priced PowerBooks will be 140's. The next up in
price will be the 170. The 160 came out later and featured a screen
capable of more shades of grey.
If you demand colour, but don't need speed, look for a used
PowerBook 165c or 180c. These are both higher-speed 68030 machines
upgradeable to 14 MB of memory. All model numbers between 140 and 180c
share the same case design. However, the colour screens gobble your
battery up in no time.
If you need a 68040 machine, you will need to settle for the 68LC040
in the PowerBook 520, 540, or 190, as the 550c is next to impossible to
find in the US. It is possible, however, to upgrade the chip in the
PowerBook 500 series and maybe the 190 to a full 68040, using a chip
from another machine.