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.

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