This Old Powerbook

June 7, 2004

Powerbook 2000 Firewire (Pismo)Speaking of acquiring Apple gear… I was on the phone a week or two ago with an old friend (who is a Mac user from way back), and she mentioned that they had an old G3 “Pismo” Powerbook that they were retiring.  When I observed that there were a lot of people still seriously crazy over these things, and that there were still quite a few upgrades available, she asked if I wanted it… lol—like I’d be likely to say “no”.

It arrived mid last-week, and you know, this thing is yet another really great piece of engineering.  While the aluminum Powerbooks have that “so cool you could get frostbite” look (leaving aside the lap-burning bottoms), this thing has a sensuous, almost organic aesthetic—black and grey, with swoopy curves like a mid-’70’s vette, with a leather-like feel to the cover insert…

Under the hood, as it were, it’s a little dated.  500 MHz G3, 128 meg of ram, and a 12 meg 4200 rpm drive.  On the other hand, it is the first “airport-ready” Powerbook, and the first Powerbook with Firewire.  A “combo drive” (CDRW/DVD) can be removed to add a second battery, for somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 hours of battery life.  Hotcha..  It came with OS 9, and can run OS X.

The little ‘book is in pristine condition.  The DVD player runs sometimes, sometimes not (something she noted over the phone), but apparently that is a known issue with the Pismos—replacing it with one of the newer aftermarket replacements should fix that problem.  The screen is a bit dim with a reddish cast, which is apparently also normal for the Pismo

My macsperience skipped OS-8 and 9, so I jacked in a firewire CD, and installed Panther.  Once I had it on more familiar territory, I played around with it for a bit, and this thing isn’t bad at all.  It’s a bit on the sluggish side, and I won’t be encoding any media or doing anything horrifically processor-intensive with it anytime soon, but it’s not terrible at all.

Over the weekend, I added an Airport card, and I have to say I’m impressed—this thing gets monstrously good wi-fi reception—much much better than my 15” AlBook.  It’s also dirt-simple to work on; two tabs and the keyboard lifts off.  Two screws to remove a heat shield, and you’ve got access to the Airport slot and the upper RAM slot.  Removing the CPU daughter-board gives you access to the remaining RAM slot and the drive.

In the next day or two, I’ll add another 512 meg of memory and a larger 5400 RPM drive, which should give the G3 a little more breathing room and some improved performance (as well as some much-needed disk space).  Down the road, I may also spring for either Daystar’s 550 MHz G4 upgrade, or the Powerlogix 900 MHz G3 upgrade (which appeals to me greatly, but I’m rather leery of some of the heat issues I’ve heard about).

My biggest dilemma at this point is what to do with it.  I’d originally been thinking about trying to get my somewhat luddite-ish father to use it, but at the moment I’m more tempted to send him the eMac I use as a backup to my AlBook, and keep the Pismo as a backup instead—the Pismo would be great for knocking about in places with spotty Wi-Fi coverage, and should be a lot more resistant to random cosmetic damage than the AlBook.  Besides that, there’s not a single part in it that can’t be replaced for under $250 – $300, which makes it a much more rough-and-ready alternative for a portable.

I wish I thought we’d see Apple return to a design like this in the next generation of PowerBooks…


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