The Practical Mac

A Sentimental Mac Journey with a PowerBook 3400

- 2003.03.11 - Tip Jar

I do not have a "problem." I can get rid of my extra Macs anytime I want to. I just don't want to right now.

My wife has an annoying habit of regularly asking me why I need "all those computers." One can never have too many computers in general - and Macs in particular. Each one has a specific purpose, although at the moment I seem to have forgotten the purpose of some of them.

I have heard of and met many Mac "collectors." There is something about a Mac, even an older Mac, that makes you not want to part with it. I have observed no such phenomenon among Dell or Compaq owners.

At work, we have an upgraded Power Mac 6100 still happily chugging along. It has only been in the last year that I tearfully parted with my PowerBook 2300 Duo and PowerBook 540c. I am currently faced with the prospect of selling my PowerBook 3400c. With an iceBook, iMac DV, upgraded Power Mac 7500, and my wife's PowerBook G4, it really is surplus. At least from a purely practical standpoint.

The PowerBook 3400c was the fastest portable on the planet, Mac or PC, at its introduction. In fact, it was faster than many desktops. My particular model is the mid-line, with a 200 MHz 603e processor. According to the PB 3400c profile on this website, "The PowerBook 3400 was designed as a no compromise laptop." And that it is.

It has 144 MB of RAM (which is the maximum), built-in modem and ethernet (ingeniously using the same RJ45 port), 2 GB hard drive, a great sound system (for a notebook anyway), an 800 x 600 active matrix screen, two PC card slots, IR capability, a standard VGA monitor connector, an external SCSI connector, ADB, and a standard Apple serial port.

It has spring-loaded retractable legs on the back, which allow you to tilt the PowerBook to a comfortable angle for typing. I wish my iBook had those legs; it would certainly make typing on it more comfortable.

The 3400c also has an expansion bay that accepts a floppy drive, CD-ROM, Zip drive, or even an additional PowerBook 3400hard drive, among other things. I have owned this PowerBook for over three years and only learned today, while doing some reading on Low End Mac, that the modules that go in this bay are hot swappable.

This is a more amazing Mac than I ever knew. When first introduced just over six years ago, this PowerBook, as currently equipped, would have retailed for over $6,000.

On my PowerBook, I have installed Microsoft Office; Adobe Photoshop and PageMaker; Macromedia Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash and Freehand; Connectix (soon to be Microsoft, but that's another column) Virtual PC; Corel WordPerfect; ClarisWorks; Internet Explorer; Netscape; and Quark XPress. I have added a Farallon SkyLine wireless PC card, which allows me to work on my home AirPort network. Granted, most of the programs mentioned above are not the latest and greatest versions, but every one of them suits my needs.

All of this on OS 8.6. There may have been an advantage to upgrading to OS 9 at one time; however, since the 3400c will not run OS X (there is actually a utility that will allow OS X to be installed, but reports are that the PowerBook runs it so slowly as to be virtually unusable), I never bothered.

Experiencing an attack of nostalgia, I got out the 3400c today. In fact, I am typing this column on it, using ClarisWorks 4. When I starting browsing the hard drive, it was almost like opening a time capsule. My Documents folder contained work up to the last time I used the 3400c for work - on the plane returning to Atlanta from Oakland, CA, in 2001. I put the 'Book in my bag after using it during a layover in Raleigh, never suspecting that was the end of the line for my faithful companion.

The day after I got back, I found a deal too good to pass up, bought a clamshell iBook on an impulse, and copied all my files over.

That clamshell iBook gave way to my current iceBook. However, I still have no SCSI, PC card slot, ADB, serial port, or option for internal floppy or Zip. I have USB and FireWire, but I could add that to the 3400c via PC Card. Of course, I now have 1024 x 768 video, OS X, and Quartz Extreme.

When you place the two notebooks side by side, there are some features each has which the other lacks. However, when comparing a six-year old computer with a currently shipping model, to have the two come out anywhere close to even is an astounding tribute to the six-year-old model.

Perhaps that is why I have grown so attached to my PowerBook 3400c.

Am I being overly sentimental and underly (is that even a word?) practical? What do you think? Should I hang on to my 3400c? Or should I finally admit that all good things must pass and put it out to pasture? LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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