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Mac Musings

The PowerBook I'll Buy

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- 1998.11.17 - Tip Jar

For too many years the PowerBook was the underpowered cousin of the desktop Mac. The original Macintosh Portable was a 16 MHz 68000-based beast and weighed over 16 lbs. The battery alone was a good 3 lbs., but it did provide five to ten hours of use.

But at the same time Apple announced the 16 MHz Portable, they upped the ante on desktop machines by introducing the Mac IIci with a 25 MHz 68030. Far faster than the Portable, it was also several pounds lighter. In fact, my store manager chose to tote a IIci between home and work (with keyboard, mouse, and monitor in each location) rather than put up with the slow Portable (about half the speed of the IIci) and it's 1-bit screen.

PowerBooks

Two years later, in October 1991, Apple introduced smaller, lighter portables: the first PowerBook models. The PowerBook 100 offered the performance of the Portable in a 5.1 lb. package - one-third the weight of its ancestor. But the top of the line was the PB 170 with the same 25 MHz 68030 found in the IIci.

But that was two steps behind the desktops. The 40 MHz Mac IIfx had been out for about a year-and-a-half. The 25 MHz 68040-based Quadra 700 and Quadra 900 were introduced at the same time as the PowerBooks.

Both provided three times the power of the PowerBook 170.

Quadra PowerBooks

In May 1994, Apple introduced four 68040-based PowerBooks. The fastest was the PB 540 with a 33 MHz 68LC040. Except for the disabled FPU, this was roughly on a par with the popular Quadra 650.

But the Quadra line had been on-upped two months earlier with the introduction of the Power Macintosh line. The fastest of these, the Power Mac 8100/80, was roughly 2.5 times more powerful than the PB 540.

Again the portables took a back seat to the desktops.

PowerPC PowerBooks

The first PowerBook with a PowerPC came out in 1995. The PowerBook 5300 ran the 603 at up to 117 MHz. This should have matched the 8100/110 in power, but Apple had already released the first PCI Power Mac, the 9500, which was also the first to use the 50% more powerful 604 processor.

Still, PowerBooks were making progress, offering half the speed of the fastest Power Mac.

G3 PowerBooks

The Mac Portable proved Apple could provide a transportable Macintosh. The innovative PowerBooks showed Apple could design competent, lightweight portables. The PowerBook 500 series, perhaps Apple's best line before the G3 Series, finally integrated performance, connectivity, and a first rate color screen in one package.

But the current PowerBook G3 Series surpasses them all.

It's not tiny. It couldn't be, not with that incredible 14.1" 1024 x 768 24-bit color screen.

It's no lightweight, ranging from 7.2 lbs. to 7.8 lbs., depending on configuration. But for a 300 MHz G3 processor, 20x CD-ROM player, the ability to use two batteries, a full-sized keyboard, and a screen to die for, the weight is reasonable.

But most of all, it's wicked fast (a term first applied to the 40 MHz IIfx in 1990). At 300 MHz with a 1 MB backside cache, it provides 80% of the performance of the Power Mac G3/366, Apple's fastest desktop.

Almost Perfect

I work with a 180 MHz 604e-based computer at home and a 200 MHz 604e based one at work. The performance of the PowerBook G3/233 would be a nice step up for me, albeit still a costly one. (Prices are always a moving target, but the PB G3/233 with 14.1" screen, 32 MB RAM, and 2GB hard drive starts at about $2,800. I'd want more RAM, further increasing the price.)

But compared with a Power Mac G3/266 plus a nice 17" monitor (package price about $2,100), the added cost for portability isn't out of line.

I would like nothing more than a PowerBook with a 1280 x 1024 screen, a 4 GB hard drive, and 128 MB RAM. It could replace my work computer with its 20" Sony Multiscan 500PS (a truly awesome monitor - and it better be for $1,300). It could replace my home computer with its 17" screen.

Best of all, it would eliminate the need to tote a Zip disk or two between home and office. All my work, business and personal, could be in one place: with me.

Apple hasn't quite hit the mark yet. The biggest PowerBook screen is 1024 x 768 - great for most users, but too small for the design work I do (books in FrameMaker at work, web pages in Claris Home Page at home). At 1280 x 1024, it would match my work setup. Even 1280 x 960 would be adequate - but I need the 1280 width. (Go ahead, call me spoiled.)

If Apple could introduce a PowerBook . . . no, when Apple introduces a PowerBook with a 1280 x 1024 screen, I'll have everything I need in a small enough, light enough, powerful enough package to abandon my desktop Macs.

Give it a 4 GB or larger hard drive, let me boost RAM to at least 128 MB, and I'll be one very happy camper!

Further Reading

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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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