Mac Daniel's Advice

Picking a PowerBook

Korin Hasegawa-John - 2001.08.06

If you are looking to buy a PowerBook, there are a lot of tradeoffs involved. Ultimate performance or size and weight? Cost or features? There are a lot of options. If you have money to spend, get an iBook or TiBook. However, if you want a portable to compliment your desktop machine or as a desktop replacement, there are several decent deals out there on older 'Books.

Desktop Replacement

For this you probably want a Lombard, a.k.a. Bronze Keyboard. Get the 400 MHz model because it has the DVD drive. PowerBook G3Don't pay more than about $1,500 on eBay. To the best of my knowledge you can't add a DVD drive to the 333 MHz model if it didn't ship with one.

Lombard already has SCSI and USB, so you may want to add a FireWire card. You can find new FireWire2Go cards from Newer Tech (out of business) for about $40.

The Lombard also shipped with a relatively small 6 GB hard drive, which you should probably replace. You can get a standard issue IBM TravelStar 20 GB hard drive for about $100.

While you have the case open to install the hard drive, add at least 256 MB RAM, for a total of 320 or more. That should cost about $50.

What else do you need? Well, a second battery is good. Add another one (for $130) and get about 6-8 hours of run time using both batteries! And since you have the advantage of the expansion bay, why not use it? Add an Xcaret expansion bay CD-RW for $300. It isn't the fastest, but it is definitely a cool gadget. Burn CDs internally with a PowerBook? Yeah!

While you are at MCE's website, get a Xcaret expansion bay hard drive carrier, so you can use your old 6 GB drive as an internal removable drive for backup. And what's a PowerBook without wireless networking? Add an AirPort compatible Lucent Orinoco Silver card for about $120.

Now you have a PowerBook G3/400 MHz that can potentially be upgraded to 667 MHz (if such is an upgrade is ever released), with 320 MB+ of RAM, a DVD-ROM drive, 20 GB internal hard drive, 6 GB expansion bay hard drive, expansion bay CD-RW drive, two batteries, SCSI, USB, FireWire, and AirPort for the nifty price of about $2,360. That's less than a 400 MHz TiBook. Granted, you don't get a G4 processor, 100 MHz system bus, 1"-slim-ness and light weight, and 15" screen, but you do get better battery life (with the dual setup), SCSI, CD-RW, AirPort and a handy backup hard drive.

Want to spend less? Just cut some things out, like the AirPort card and CD-RW.

Portability With Less Cost

Buy a PowerBook 2400. I own one of these, and I suggest you try the keyboard before investing. It has a nice touch, but the keys are a little small and some keys are placed differently or shaped differently. I don't have a problem with it.

The 2400 is a 603e-based portable running at 180 or 240 MHz. It has a maximum of 80 MB RAM and shipped with a 1.3 GB hard drive. They weigh 4.4 pounds and have a 10.4" active matrix screen.

I advise getting one with the full 80 MB RAM. A 2400 of that configuration will costs about $400-500. Next, replace the hard drive with a 6 GB hard drive for about $50. 2400s are hard to take apart; I recommend you get instructions or take it to an Apple Authorized Service Center (AASC).

Next is the hard part - finding a G3 upgrade. Check eBay. Newer Tech made 200 and 240 MHz upgrades, while Vimage made 240 MHz, 320 MHz, and a 400 MHz ones. Don't pay more than about $250-300 for a Newer 240 MHz card. Again, if you don't have instructions, take it to an AASC.

Try to get ahold of a second battery; they cost over $250 when they are sold new! Check for used ones. For a used battery with a guarantee, $100 is a good price.

Once everything is installed, you have a PowerBook G3/240 weighing 4.4 pounds with 80 MB RAM, a 6 GB hard drive, and two batteries (about 3-4 hours run time) - all for about $800. The performance is nothing like an iBook, but it has legacy ports and PC Card slots and can be upgraded to CardBus. If it's just a portable for use when you go on the road, performance is not that big of a deal.

There you have it. There are alternatives to the new iBook and TiBook if you look around.

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Not sure if you should upgrade your old Mac or replace it? Check the Mac Daniel index to see if we've already addressed your problem.

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