The Webb Chronicles

Is a 1998 'MainStreet' PowerBook Good Enough for Daily Use in 2005?

- 2005.11.30

About three weeks ago, I was bored in one of my classes and got this strange idea - how well could one of those old WallStreet G3 PowerBooks handle day-to-day operation in today's world?

I took out my PowerBook and started browsing around eBay for a good deal on one of these classic machines. I found an awesome lot of two fully functional "MainStreets" and two nonfunctional Pismos for about $140 shipped. I took the offer, ordered a couple power supplies, and anxiously waited for them to arrive.

In today's article, I'll concentrate on the MainStreet, since I haven't gotten the Pismos working yet.

Around the same time, I learned that a good friend of mine was accepted to a prestigious university in downtown Philadelphia and would be needing some sort of computer to bring with her next year. Unfortunately, her older sister talker their parents into buying her a brand new iBook G4 "for school" last summer, and they were unwilling to spend that kind of money for another laptop at this time.

Adding to her problems was the fear that if she did somehow manage to save enough money for a new laptop, it would get stolen during her escapades in the urban jungle of Philadelphia.

PowerBook G3 SeriesThis, I thought, was a perfect opportunity to prove the worth of classic road warrior.

Given the fact that the iBook is primarily used for iChat (since the older sister isn't in any kind of school right now), I knew that an older machine running OS 9 could do the same job, minus the spiffy look of OS X.

With the knowledge that the MainStreets lacked a level 2 cache, I didn't want to push the envelope by running OS X, and the unimpressive 12.1" passive matrix screen actually looks better running a classic version of the Mac OS.

With all this in mind, I set up the "guinea pig" machine with Mac OS 9.2.2, 192 MB RAM, and the stock 2.1 GB hard drive.

Applications ran surprisingly well - better than I had expected, in fact. Launching Office 2001 took about as long as on my 400 MHz B&W Power Mac G3 I keep at work, AIM was very responsive, and Internet Explorer performed adequately.

I loaded some simple games, such as Lode Runner, Zoop, and Deimos Rising, all of which ran great. As long as I stuck with one or two applications at a time, everything ran smoothly.

I was sure that despite this machine's age it could carry out simple day to day tasks, if only until she could save up enough money for a little iBook or a Mac mini. Further incentive, other than the fact that I was giving it away, was the fact that this machine was virtually virus and spyware proof, something even the most expensive Windows-based laptop can't guarantee.

I gave my friend the PowerBook, which she affectionately nicknamed "Frankie", and guided her through the operation of OS 9, which she had never used. Within an hour she was very familiar with the it.

I explained to her that there are upgrade options for this machine, from a faster CPU to a bigger screen, all of which are relatively inexpensive and pretty easy to do. I also showed her how to connect her 17" CRT monitor to the PowerBook. Needless to say, she's happy with her new laptop, and it'll be heading to campus with her next year.

The MainStreet is no speed demon, but for a basic, reliable, and still remarkably good-looking laptop, it gets the job done. That's remarkable when compared to a PC laptop of the same age, which would have hard time doing half of what this machine is now doing.

I've received several requests from colleagues looking for a simple, reliable laptop for home use, and I've recommended this machine to them. As a matter of fact, I have six more coming in as I write this, half of which are already sold.

MainStreet or not, it's still a Macintosh. LEM

Link: eBay

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