Second Class Macs & Road Apples

Macintosh Portable


Dan Knight - 1998.01.10

Second Class Macs are Apple's somewhat compromised hardware designs. For the most part, they're not really bad - simply designs that didn't meet their full potential. (On our rating scale, the more brown apples, the worse the hardware.)

Mac Portable
The Macintosh Portable

From a technological standpoint, the Mac Portable isn't a bad Apple. If had an efficient 16 MHz 68000 CPU, a crystal clear 1-bit black & white 640 x 400 pixel non-backlit active matrix display, ran for up to 10 hours from battery power, and was the first 68000-based Mac that could use more than 4 MB of RAM (it topped out at 9 MB).

The Portable is a Limited Mac for four reasons.

  1. Size and weight: By this time, DOS laptops were well under 12 pounds. The Mac Portable was huge and heavy - almost 16 pounds! Although it was a portable Macintosh, it was not a laptop computer. The perception that it was an oversized laptop subjected it to a lot of ridicule.
  2. Power system: Using a lead-acid battery (like a tiny car battery!), you could get up to 10 hours from a charge. However, the Portable would not run without a charged battery - not even from the AC adapter (see the work around below).
  3. Hard drive: The Portable used a proprietary Conner hard drive, so you can't just plug in a new hard drive. To use a "regular" hard drive, you have to construct your own cable or buy a $35 adapter.
  4. The active matrix display was great in bright light, but horrible in low light conditions. That was addressed in an updated backlit Mac Portable in 1991.

The Portable had a full-sized keyboard and a numeric keypad, which could be removed. On the innovation side, the Portable introduced the trackball, which replaced the numeric keypad and could be placed on the right side of the keyboard - or the left. On the performance side, it had twice the power and supported over twice the memory of the Mac SE and had roughly two-thirds the power of the Mac IIcx.

The Mac Portable ran System 6 remarkably well and performed very admirably with System 7. It's technology would live on in the PowerBook 100 (October 1991), which used the same 16 MHz 68000 CPU, the same resolution screen, supported almost as much memory (8 GB), and tipped the scales at just over 5 lb. - less than one-third the weight of the Portable. (Other factors that helped reduce size and weight were an external floppy drive, a much smaller centrally located trackball, and a much lighter battery, which was rated at 2 hours.)

In fact, the PowerBook 100, the direct offspring of the biggest portable Mac ever, could be considered Apple's first subnotebook.

The Mac Portable itself was not a bad computer, just big, heavy one with an oddball hard drive.



Godwin <> says, "If the acid battery dies, one can bypass it and convert the Portable into a luggable. One needs 2 AC adapters - the original one and a 9V DC adapter. Take out the 9V DC battery and replace it with a 9V 1A power adapter. Then remove the battery and cover (there is a switch at the battery cover which we need to disable). Plug the two adapters in and viola! one of the sleekest Macs on anyone's desktop!"


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