Miscellaneous Ramblings

Low-end PowerBooks for College

Charles Moore - 2002.09.04 - Tip Jar

We got my daughter, Deirdre, away for her freshman year of university on the weekend, with a bung-full Toyota Corolla load of stuff, including two low-end PowerBooks - a 5300 and a 1400cs.

The 5300 is a well-known quantity, being the machine I used as my main workhorse from 1996 to 1999. It has served Deirdre since as her high school computer. The 1400, which I wrote about in this space when we purchased it last spring, has been working well all summer, and is now Deirdre's number one computer, with the PowerBook 5300faithful old 5300 in reserve. She has been enjoying the bigger color screen, after three-and-a-half years of the little 9.5" grayscale display on the 5300.

The 1400 is a wee bit faster, too, with its 117 MHz 603e CPU, versus the 100 MHz unit in the 5300. I had originally installed OS 9.1 when we got the 1400 in May, but its performance was a bit sluggish on the old machine, so I downgraded to OS 8.5.1 in July. OS 8.6 might be ideal system for this machine, but my 8.6 upgrade disk images, stored on a Zip disk, seem to have become corrupted, so OS 8.5.1 it remains.

One of the biggest hardships with either of these is that startup takes forever, but once they are up and running, either handles Nisus Writer and Eudora Light, the two applications Deirdre uses most, quite satisfactorily.

It will be interesting to see how the 1400 performs on the broadband Internet hookup in her dorm residence. She won't know for a few days yet, until the res-net folks get her connected. The res-net issue actually involved a bit of a scramble at the last minute.

Deirdre had thought she might just get a dialup Internet account, but it turned out that is against university regulations through their phone system. However, neither of her PowerBooks has built in ethernet, and she had no ethernet PC Card. I contacted our nearest Apple dealer (150 miles away) and was told that they had no ethernet PC Cards in stock, but an Asante unit could be ordered in for about Can$99. Yikes; that's nearly half what we paid for the computer!

However, one of my son's coworkers had a Motorola Mariner ethernet/33.6 kbps modem combo card that he was willing to part with for $30, and for good measure he threw in an Asante ethernet card (with its connector dongle missing) in the bargain. If Deirdre can find a replacement dongle, she can have both PowerBooks ethernetted. That deal involved a last-minute 130 mile round trip on Friday afternoon to pick up the cards, but it seemed like the ideal solution.

Before Deirdre left, I also installed the latest version of Netscape Communicator (4.8) for browsing purposes, along with iCab 2.8.1. iCab is faster, but Netscape (or IE) is required for her university website.

The old bargain-basement 1400cs also plays prerecorded music CDs and MP3s satisfactorily using the Apple Audio CD player and QuickTime 3 software that installed with OS 8.5.1. Unfortunately, the Audio CD player seems to choke on burned CD-Rs, which was a disappointment. The CD-Rs show up on the Desktop, but the CD software hangs when you try to play songs.

That relatively minor issue aside, these two old PowerBooks, along with Deirdre's ten dollar used StyleWriter II printer (it works perfectly), should get her started on her university career satisfactorily. Unfortunately, her school's IT services department only supports PCs, so she is on her own on that score.

Deirdre would like to have a faster computer, of course, and is eyeing deals on PowerBook 3400s. The battery in the 1400 is not up to much, so it will likely be relegated to desktop substitute status, while the old 5300 is pressed into service for portable computing. Its original 1996 battery is still hanging in fine!

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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