Monday, August 28, 2006

Happy 11th birthday, Powerbook 5300c

Charles W. Moore has a great article at Low End Mac on the 11th birthday of the Macintosh Powerbook 5300c, Apple's first PowerPC laptop.

First off, this 1995 model had the same problem that plagued iBook G4 and Powerbook G4 computers last week -- flaming batteries:

Even before the 5300 began shipping in quantity, it suffered a major engineering setback and PR disaster that is ironically seems ripped from the headlines in August 2006. The 5300 was originally designed to use lithium-ion (LiIon) batteries, but Apple did a recall and switched to Nickel-Metal-Hydride (NiMH) cells after two of the Sony-made LiIon batteries caught fire.

No consumer machines were damaged, but the switchover caused shipping delays and was a major embarrassment.

This will make you feel good about today's computer prices:

In addition to being the first PowerPC PowerBook, the 5300 also has the distinction of being the most expensive laptop Apple ever sold, with the top-end 5300ce model originally selling for a whopping $6,500!

Give the article a look -- it's well worth reading for old Mac aficionados.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Dodging the iBook G4 battery-recall bullet

When I heard about Apple's notebook-computer battery recall, I figured it must be the new MacBook Pros or something equally new. I was suprised that the recall -- for potentially explosive batteries -- was for the iBook G4 and Powerbook G4. Here are the computers involved:

Affected ranges of battery serial number prefixes are as follows:

12-inch iBook G4, battery model: A1061
ZZ338 through ZZ427
3K429 through 3K611
6C510 through 6C626

12-inch PowerBook G4, battery model: A1079
ZZ411 through ZZ427
3K428 through 3K611

15-inch PowerBook G4, battery models: A1078 and A1148
3K425 through 3K601
6N530 through 6N551

The serial number can be located on most models by removing the battery and looking at its underside.

Additional information is available via Apple's Recall Hotline: (800) 275-2273

To check if your PowerBook or iBook is affected, visit

Since we have a 14-inch iBook G4, there appears to be no problem and hence no recall. But I'll be pulling the battery and checking the model number just the same. The battery never gets all that hot. The left side of the iBook, however, does get pretty warm at times -- I think that's where the CPU and other chips reside (not sure of this, though). The Powerbook 1400, whose battery can hold a 30-minute charge on a good day, never gets warm -- even its CPU area, which is just above the keyboard on the right, stays pretty cool. there's a very good heat sink over it. I saw all when I did the memory upgrade a few months back (probably the easiest upgrade I've done on any piece of electronic equipment in some time -- even easier than adding Airport Extreme to the iBook).

Monday, August 14, 2006

My SCSI is scuzzy

I've tried three separate SCSI drives on the Powerbook 1400, and none of them work. I tried the drives on OTHER computers, and they do work.

Conclusion: SCSI on the Powerbook 1400 is dead. Since this PB probably was NEVER connected to a SCSI device in its entire life, the problem has been there for 10 years.

I wonder if opening up the case and looking for a loose or broken connection between the SCSI port and the main board will solve the problem. I wonder what kind of voltages, on what pins, I should look for to fix this.

Or ... I could live without SCSI and do all my transfers and backups via Ethernet, which DOES work.

Still, I'd love to fix the SCSI. I've got four SCSI drives (all free) -- two ZIPs, one hard disk, one Jaz -- and nothing to plug them into. On the other hand, if you've ever seen the cables that plug into these drives, especially the ones that mate with the Powerbook's weird-looking square plug, you should immediately give thanks for the thin, easily plugged-in cables for Ethernet and, of course, USB.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I'm thinking of getting an iMac (updated)

I read on the iMac list that you can run OS X on an iMac. And I'm inclined to secure one from Bruce (yep, he has one -- a 266 MHz, the first iMac, I believe) and try to load the X. Hopefully I have OS X on CD and not DVD (have to check on that). It might be too slow, but the lure of running X with Safari is too tempting.

But it looks like you need a newer iMac to run OS X effectively.

Update: Yep, this tray-loading iMac 266 runs some flavor of OS 8, and besides needing an 8 MB disk partition to even start trying to run OS X, it's probably not wise to take it past OS 9.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Powerbook 1400 love

There's a lot of love out there for the Macintosh Powerbook 1400. You'd think a 10-year-old laptop with a maximum 64MB RAM, no OS X, no Cardbus compatibility, no USB and doable but difficult wireless access wouldn't inspire such loyalty. But it does.

On Low End Mac, Embracing Obsolescence columnist Nathan Thompson calls the 1400 "one of the best Powerbooks ever":

While the 1400 is cased in the familiar mid nineties PowerBook gray and the iBook has the lovely minimalist white design of new millennium Macs, I definitely see a family resemblance. It may not be the sexiest design ever, but I find the 1400 pleasantly simple. Some may apply the boring label in comparison to more modern Apple designs, but I can appreciate the simple fender flare on either side near the front if one were commencing to engage the PowerBook for operation.

If one were a simple onlooker from afar, a gander at the nice clear customizable upper case lid plastic would reveal the lone bout of whimsy. Again, it's easily hidden if one is of a more dour persuasion than I, given the possession of the plain gray lid cover.

He's spot on about the RAM issue (I'm also running 48MB):

... the biggest issues I have is a far too low RAM ceiling. I can make 64 MB RAM work, but I would prefer 128 MB - even 96 MB would give me some room to grow. As it is, I'll make due with 48 MB because the jump to 64 MB doesn't seem that big a gain for the expenditure required.

Yet he's running memory-hungry OS 9.1 (I'm sticking with 7.6.1 per guru Dan Palka):

I can get Mac OS 9.1 to run, and most of my applications demand very little in the way of system resources, but Mac OS 8.1 or 8.6 are most likely better choices - especially for those 1400's lacking at least the 48 MB RAM my own model was blessed with.

He had trouble with Ethernet, but as with all things 10 years old, the answers are out there. We have the same Global Village card, and 10 years ago, when Ilene first got the 1400, who knew anything about Ethernet? We connected by modem at 22K -- and we LOVED it. Now no one has dialup, and I'm amazed that the Global Village card connects via 10base-T Ethernet either to a network or straight into my DSL modem. Thanks, Open Transport!

Another of Nathan's articles, "Customizing Mac OS 9," which had a lot of Powerbook 1400-specific info, led me to a new e-mail program that just might end my dependence on Netscape 4.7. (YES, I've tried Eudora, and NO, the versions that run on 7.6.1 don't work with my e-mail accounts.) It's a program called Sweetmail, and the Web site says it works on System 7.5, provided you have a few add-ons, to which they provide the links.

Among the Powerbook 1400 users out there are Marko Kloos of Knoxville, Tenn., who wrote "The Volvo of Laptops," commenting as Nathan does on the 1400's unusually comfortable keyboard:

They also have one of the best keyboards ever put on a portable computer... not quite up to the standard of the IBM Model M desktop keyboard, but far better than anything put on any laptop made after 1998 or so. When you type a lot, your choice of keyboard becomes a deciding factor when it comes to hardware decisions, so it's no surprise to me that the PB 1400 is a sought-after machine among writers.

Crazily enough, he stuffed the thing with a 40GB hard drive that he pulled from a Dell:

Now the Dell is in reserve as a spare computer, and the Powerbook continues to be in service as a word processor, despite the fact that the Dell is four or five years younger and vastly superior on paper. The little Powerbook has a smaller screen, far less memory, and a tenth of the processing power of the Dell, but it feels more solid, has a far superior typing surface, and seems better put together all around.The 1400 still chugs along, and it works just as well as the day it did when it left the factory. It's a remarkably sturdy machine, and it does the job at hand just as well as anything else. That led me to ponder the necessity for keeping up in the technology race--how much hardware do you need, and how much is "plenty good enough"?


What an interesting concept. It's certainly easier on the pocketbook.

By the way, he's running 7.6.1.

Getting back to Nathan, he dropped these links into his Low End Mac article, and I'm too lazy to do anything other than present them here for you in exactly the same way:

PowerBook 1400: Dated and a Bit Slow, It's Still Very Usable, Dan Knight, 2006.01.06
Replacing or Upgrading the Optical Drive in Your PowerBook G3 or 1400, Joe Rivera, 2006.01.24
What's a Good, Inexpensive, Useful, Older Mac? The PowerBook 1400, Thomas Ahart, 2006.02.01
System 7.6.1 Is Perfect for Many Older Macs, John Martorana, 2006.03.24
PowerBook 1400 Still a Favorite Nearly 10 Years On, Heather Anne Hurd, 2006.06.07
PowerBook 1400 one of the best PowerBooks ever, 07.21. "How embarrassing for me to be so taken my a computer, but I am greatly impressed."

In my own Powerbook 1400 journey, I'm currently having trouble getting the Iomega ZIP drive and the Powerbook to become good friends. Computer guru Bruce went into his shed and found a cable that plugs into the Powerbook's unusual SCSI port (HDI30, I believe) and has a DB25 female plug on the other end. The only problem: the ZIP SCSI drive also has a DB25 female plug, so I need either a "gender changer" (don't ... get ... me ... started) or a DB25 male-to-male cable (again ... DON'T GET ME STARTED). I'm sure Bruce has got 2o of these in a box. I do have a Powerbook SCSI cable that ends in a Centronics plug, and I also have a 2GB hard drive that connects to this, but I can't get them to speak with one another. I need a driver for a ClubMac drive. Who knows where to get it?

The worst things about SCSI: There are about 20 different kinds of SCSI cables, those cables MUST be of high quality and fully shielded, and you need to set SCSI IDs on each device, slap on a terminator at the end of the chain, and then make sure they're all powered up before turning the computer on. THEN you need special drivers (hard to come by for old devices you pull out of junk boxes).

It makes one positively giddy for USB. Don't take USB for granted, people. It's the one thing that makes me pine for a Pismo Powerbook. It makes our iBook G4 seem positively futuristic.

That said, until such an iBook falls into my lap, I'm making the 1400 work, dammit.

In the PC vs. Mac horse race, This Old PC has, at this point 112 unique visitors, while This Old Mac has only 42. They're both worth checking out. You know, if I could get Microsoft Outlook to run on OS 9, I just might get rid of the PC and get an iMac in The Back Room to replace This Old PC. Just a thought.