Mac Musings

A Smaller, Lighter PowerBook Without Compromise

Daniel Knight - 7 May 1999 -

PowerBooks have always been six of one, half-a-dozen of the other. Usually a step or two slower than their desktop siblings, PowerBooks often suffered from compromised screens, small hard drives, and serious memory limitations.

The current PowerBook G3 Series, running at 233 MHz to 300 MHz, has addressed every one of those issues. It's still two steps behind the 400 MHz Power Mac G3, but very few users would consider 300 MHz slow.

The 1024 x 768 pixel 14.1" color screen is bright, vivid, and easy on the eyes. 4-6 GB of drive space and up to 192 MB of RAM is enough for all but the power user.

On top of that, there's an internal 56k modem, ethernet, bays (to accept a second battery, a floppy drive, a CD-ROM or DVD player), and PC Card slots for whatever they might have left out, such as USB.

Nothing's Perfect

As Jason O'Grady notes at MacWeek, it's no lightweight. To put it mildly, the amazing PowerBook G3 Series is also big and heavy.

Rumors are the next generation PowerBook, expected later this month, will improve that.

But O'Grady and many others want something smaller and lighter, something akin to the old PowerBook Duo models. These kept the weight down by keeping things like the floppy drive in a dock that the computer would attach to in the office.

But in the field, the Duo was an under 5 lb. powerhouse.

PowerBook G3 Duo?

What if Apple were to reinvent the Duo for today's user?

First, they could probably eliminate the device bays, the PC Card slots, and space for a second battery.

The ethernet port and modem should be retained, and a pair of USB ports added. It should also have a standard VGA port for use with an external monitor or display panel.

Apple should find a slightly smaller screen of equal quality - nobody should be deprived of a 1024 x 768 display.

Finally, the dock itself should be small enough that it can easily be packed up for a field trip. This would make DVD, floppies, etc. available in the hotel room, office demonstration, or conference hall.

The new PowerBook, code named Lombard purportedly contains the same 14.1" screen we know and love on the current G3 Series. If present in the production model, a handle will make transporting the Lombard much easier than any previous PowerBook. (The only portable Mac with a handle was the 16 lb. Mac Portable.)

Mac OS Rumors reported that the Lombard may use an external DVD player - a compromise made to keep the computer itself as compact as possible. Again, this may or may not be the final production model, which also may otherwise have a media bay (if so, it will probably not accept devices from the G3 Series.)

Although thinner than the G3 Series, Lombard has to have about the same width and depth to accommodate the huge screen. Mac OS Rumors speculates it will be about 1.5 lbs. lighter than the G3 Series.

As you can tell by all the vague language, Apple has done an excellent job of keeping final details under wraps.

Lombard looks like a natural evolution of the PowerBook design. Whether this will be the lightweight PowerBook Jason O'Grady hopes for remains to be seen.

Sources pretty universally expect the new PowerBook to be unveiled on Monday, May 10, 1999, at the Worldwide Developers Conference during the keynote address by Steve Jobs.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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