This article appeared in the Sept/Oct 1998 edition of MacToday. The magazine has been renamed MacDesign.
Have you considered replacing your desktop Mac with a PowerBook? It used to be that you had to forsake computing power to go out in the field with your computer, but the newer PowerBooks can be just as powerful as their desktop siblings. My 4.1 lb. NUpowr G3/240 PowerBook 2400c, for instance, is faster and more powerful than my desktop PowerMacintosh 8600/300. You need not sacrifice anything for mobility--except for the price of admission--PowerBooks do cost more.
When you make a PowerBook purchase, just as with any computer purchase, you need to first consider what you intend to use the computer for and how much you are willing or able to spend to meet your needs. If you are just doing word processing and your laptop needs are occasional, you probably do not need to spend $5,599 on a 292MHz G3. There are numerous other considerations that might affect your choice:
Weight: Obviously portability is basic to choosing a laptop computer, but to some people a 7.8 lb. 14.1-inch model PowerBook G3 might be too heavy, while to others, the 14.1 inch monitor is important enough to justify the weight penalty or they are not carrying the computer around very far and weight is not a problem. Before you run out and buy a 292 MHz G3 with a 14.1 inch monitor, or any other PowerBook, see if you can borrow one for a while and tote it around as you would in your intended use.
Keyboard: The keyboards on most of the PowerBooks are close to standard size. The PowerBook 2400c, on the other hand, was designed for sale in Japan and is smaller than some Americans are accustomed to. For some people, the 2400c keyboard is too small. On the other hand, though it took some getting used to, my hands are small and I am perfectly at home with my 2400c keyboard.
Speed: Price is driven primarily by speed--the faster the processor, the more the computer is going to cost you. If you want the fastest laptops in the world, then you want one of the new G3 processors. Table 2 shows some configurations from the Apple Store (http://store.apple.com) there are lots of others.
Cache Size: A major factor in determining the speed of a G3 PowerBook. A PowerBook with a 1MB backside cache is going to produce significantly faster processor results than one with only a 512K backside cache.
If you cannot afford a new G3, you might want to consider buying one of the discontinued 1400s or 2400s and upgrade it with a G3 processor to comparable speeds. My NUpowr G3/240 PowerBook 2400c is just about as fast as the Apple G3 models, but new PowerBook 2400c computers can be found on sale for as low as $1299 and the Newer G3 upgrade goes for around $800. I have installed a 240 MHz NUpowr G3 upgrade, replaced my 1.3GB hard drive with a 4GB IBM drive from MCE, upped my memory (RAM) from 16MB to 80MB and still have only around $3,000 invested in a very fast PowerBook that weighs only 4.1 lbs.
Expansion Devices: The 5300, 1400, 3400 and G3's have expansion bays into which third party devices (mainly drives) can be inserted. Hard drive options vary from 2 GB to 4 GB. Drives for other forms of media are available as well. VST sells Zip drives and Super Disk drives (120 MB floppy drives backward compatible with 1.44 MB floppy drives). Apple sells DVD and CD-ROM drives for the G3 series.
I have a 230MB VST magneto optical drive for my 5300c and I liked it for backup purposes because, like a CD-ROM, it was impervious to magnetism, moisture, dust, etc. Fujitsu stopped making the MO-230 mechanism and makes no laptop version of their 640MB optical disk drive, so there is no longer any expansion bay MO drive.
The weight advantage enjoyed by the 2400c comes at the price of moving everything out of the box. Even the floppy disk drive for the 2400c is external (albeit only 0.3 pound) and any CD-ROM drive must be external. There are interesting PC Card (formerly called PCMCIA card) disk drives for all the PowerBooks. I have a 3.2GB FlipDisk PC card drive from MCE (http://www.powerbook1.com/), that makes a great emergency start-up and backup drive.
LCD Monitors: PowerBooks monitors are of two types: passive and active. Though the passive matrix screens are considerably less expensive than active matrix screens, a crisp flicker-free active matrix LCD monitor is essential if you plan on spending significant time in front of your PowerBook.
The older 5300c and Duo 2300 sported screen resolutions of 640x480 pixels on monitors of 10.4" and 9.5" respectively. The 13.3" and 14.1" G3 models display 1,024x768 pixels. All of the others display 800x600 pixels. The 2400c has a 10.4" monitor, the 1400 an 11.3" monitor, the 3400c and original G3 a 12.1" monitor. The bottom end 12.1" G3 displays 800x600 pixels. Some of us who are baby boomers and wear reading glasses experience considerable eye strain from the denser monitor resolutions. I prefer the resolution of my 5300c to that of my 2400c. LCD monitors are limited by design, however, to displaying a single resolution and cannot be changed like modern multi-scan desktop monitors can. Unlike desktop monitors, where an electron gun aims at a flat field of phosphors and produces the pixels as it goes, an LCD screen is made up of individual, hard wired pixels that can never change size.
External Monitors: If you need to display your work at a different resolution than that offered by your PowerBook monitor or if you intend to dock your PowerBook and use it like a desktop Mac, you might want to consider acquiring a desktop monitor to plug right into your PowerBook. You can then switch between different resolutions. The older PowerBook 5300c came with an 8 bit external monitor card , which could be replaced with a 16 bit card. The separate display card allowed you to display a different image (a different desktop) on your external monitor than the internal monitor. When making presentations on an LCD projection monitor using my 5300c, I typically kept my tools and desktop menu items on the PowerBook monitor and just the image I wanted to display publicly on the external card. Now, to reduce cost, PowerBooks only "mirror" the image being displayed on the LCD monitor.
The 2400c, 3400c and G3 support video-out in thousands of colors (16-bit) in 800 x 600 resolution, and 256 colors (8-bit) in 1,024 x 768 resolution on up to 20-in. monitors
This is just food for thought. There are numerous other PowerBook differences that might be significant to you, depending on your uses, such as: sound output; upgradeability; docking; RAM limitations and zoom video. There are several online sources of PowerBook specifications that you should examine carefully before making your PowerBook choice:
Apple (Specs on the G3s)
The Apple Store: http://store.apple.com
Apple Computer: http://www.apple.com/powerbook/
Previous PowerBook Models (Note 9/01:
these links are no longer active)
Jason O'Grady's PowerPage: (9/01 now http://www.go2mac.com)
You would be wise to go see some PowerBooks at a local Macintosh vendor and try to find a knowledgeable salesperson to help you compare the choices.
Several thousand of us subscribe to Jason O'Grady's PowerList, an email mailing list developed for PowerBook professionals, where you can get tips and suggestions with respect to your needs. See (9/01 now http://www.go2mac.com) for information on how to subscribe.
Mobile computing expert Ed Noonan maintains a very popular Website (www.tailwinds.org) with his NUpowr G3/240 PowerBook 2400c as he travels long distances (such as Alaska to Florida) on his bicycle.