Apple Everywhere

Resurrecting a Pismo PowerBook, Episode 1

- 2011.07.07 - Tip Jar

My Pismo PowerBook works. That's about the highest compliment you can give a computer - "It works." Eleven years after the stopgap PowerBook hit the market, placating demands for a yet-unreleased PowerBook G4, it still holds a major place in Macintosh history on account of its sheer upgradability.

Looking back, no Mac notebook has ever been quite such a Mac user's friend, and I doubt any future Mac ever will be.

State of the Pismo

A little over three years after I bought it, after being in my sister's care for too long, the Pismo is back with me again. Unfortunately, my sister is never one to give up anything easily, so in order to get the Pismo back, I had to trade her my recently-upgraded iBook. This is merely a temporary loss, however, since experience has proven that she will only want something as long as it is useful to her - and especially if I really want it back. Given that she is a very light computer user and that I don't really want my iBook back just yet, it'll probably be back in my hands in no time.

In the meantime, I still have another iBook on which to work my magi

But back to the Pismo. It had bad hinges when I bought it, but since the screen will stay in place (with a little bit of play), it's tolerable for for now. The two 6600 mAh batteries I bought for it have since dropped into the sub-6000 mAh range (though I doubt they ever achieved their advertised capacity anyway). And 768 MB of RAM, while much better than 512 MB, isn't quite as good as 1 GB.

Zero-effort Improvements

Much has changed in the Mac world since I last used my Pismo (see On the Road with a Pismo and an iPad from July 2010), and some of that is for the better. Believe it or not, HTML5 YouTube videos will play on the Pismo natively, albeit at 240p resolution.

Just like on my iBook, Camino 2.0.7 is an amazingly fast browser and can render relatively heavy sites (such as Facebook, Engadget, Gizmodo, and so on) with ease on the 500 MHz G3. Major props to the Camino developers, and I hope they continue to support Tiger like Classilla has done with Mac OS 9!

The latest version of Thunderbird also works, giving me fast and easy access to most of my email accounts (however my iPad is still my main email device).

Plan of Action

While these few functions are working well already, I am still planning to make several improvements to my Pismo. Cost can be an issue with the Pismo, given the wide range of upgrades available, so I'm only going to focus on a few areas where I would really like to see better performance.

WiFi

802.11b WiFi is okay. Five times as fast 802.11g is fairly nice. And 802.11n would be awesome! I'm going to shoot for N with a PC Card upgrade from MacWireless.

Solid State Storage

Yes, you knew this was coming. But I'm going to put a little twist on things - I'm going to install a 40 GB OWC Mercury Pro Legacy SSD in my Pismo, but I'm keeping the 120 GB 5400 RPM Hitachi drive in an expansion bay!

Remember, installing an SSD into the Pismo can raise its speed beyond that of an SSD-equipped first generation MacBook Air. Oh yes, speed is good - and so is battery life. Two 6600 mAh batteries give the Pismo 10 hours, and since the power consumption on my iBook was reduced by half when I upgraded it to solid state, I expect to see similar results on the Pismo. Twenty hours of battery life, here I come!

Hinge Repairs

Some places sell hinges for the Pismo for high-end prices. Others sell them for almost nothing. I'm going to play it safe and shoot for the middle of the road, wherein dwell more reputable dealers.

Optical

While I rarely use the Pismo's optical drive, I do burn disks quite often, and to be able to do it from the Pismo would be very beneficial, so I'm going to try to find a DVD±RW drive for it. This should be interesting.

Memory

I'm going to replace the 256 MB card I've got with another 512 MB card to boost the Pismo to its maximum 1 GB of RAM.

Here Goes Nothing

Like Charles Moore, I love my Pismo. It's been a dependable workhorse for the time I've had it, and, while I've been enjoying a 15" MacBook Pro Core i5 from my college newspaper, it just doesn't feel as warm and personal as the sculptured black shape of the greatest PowerBook. When you're a writer, the atmosphere matters, and the Pismo sets up the perfect atmosphere for my writing. The longer I can keep my Pismo relevant, the better. LEM

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Austin Leeds is a Mac and iPad user - and a college student in Iowa.

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