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Powerbook 150
Powerbook 150

The PowerBook is a laptop computer line manufactured by Apple Computer; a portable version of the Macintosh aimed at the professional market. Since 1999, Apple has sold a second line of less expensive laptops, aimed at the consumer and education markets, the iBook.


Apple's pre-PowerBook laptop

Prior to the release of the PowerBook line, Apple had attempted to build a portable computer in the form of the Macintosh Portable. Its electronics were similar to those of a Macintosh SE, but with the CPU clocked twice as fast, a superb active-matrix LCD instead of a CRT, and a very heavy sealed lead-acid battery, which provided it with up to 10 hours of use. Despite being a nice computer to use, it was usually called a "luggable" due to its size and weight. It did not sell well, and Apple was looking to do better the second time around.

Early PowerBooks

In October 1991 the first three PowerBooks were released: the low-end PowerBook 100, the more powerful PowerBook 140, and the high end PowerBook 170. The machines caused a stir in the industry with their compact dark grey cases, use of a trackball, and the clever arrangement of the keyboard which left room for resting one's wrists on the case. PC portable computers at the time tended to have the keyboard forward towards the user, with empty space behind it, so this was a surprising innovation. While the PowerBook 140 and 170 were original designs, the PowerBook 100 had an interesting pedigree: Apple had actually sent the schematics of the Mac Portable to Sony, who then figured out how to make it small. This is why the PowerBook 100's design does not match those of the rest of the series. The PowerBook 100 did not sell well initially, so Apple dropped the price substantially, and the remaining stock sold briskly.

In 1992 Apple released a hybrid portable/desktop computer, the PowerBook Duo. This was a very thin and lightweight laptop with a minimum of features, which could be inserted into a docking station to provide the system with extra memory, storage space, connectors, and could be connected to a monitor. The model did not sell as well as expected, although several companies have since picked up the design style.

The first series of PowerBooks were hugely successful and captured 40% of all laptop sales for a time, a fact that Apple seemed to do little to capitalize on. Instead the original team was eventually lured away to work at Compaq, setting back the effort to introduce updated versions for some time. For several years, new PowerBook and PowerBook Duo computers were introduced which featured incremental improvements, including colour screens, but by mid-decade, most other companies had copied the majority of the PowerBook's features, and Apple was unable to regain their lead.

The 100-series PowerBooks were updated many times. The 165c was the first PowerBook with a colour screen, later followed by the 180c. The 180 (which had a superb-for-the-time greyscale display) was hugely popular. The last true member of the 100-series was the PowerBook 150, targeted at value-minded consumers and students, in 1994. (The PowerBook 190, released in 1995, bears no resemblance to the rest of the PowerBook 100 series, and is in fact simply a Motorola 68LC040-based version of the 5300, and the last PowerBook model to be manufactured using a Motorola 68k-family processor.)

Apple's PowerBook product line declined during this time period. 1994 saw the introduction of the PowerBook 500 series, code-named Blackbird. These models of PowerBooks were much sleeker than the 100 series, and were much faster for that matter. All the 500 series featured stunning active-matrix LCD displays [all models had color screen options if so desired], stereo speakers, and used a new technology called a trackpad instead of the 100 series trackball. The PowerBook 500 series continued the product line and held it on until the disastrous PowerBook 5300.

The PowerPC Era

The PowerBook 5300, while highly anticipated as the first PowerPC-based PowerBook, had numerous problems. The 5300 series is widely considered Apple's worst product of the 1995-1996 time period where the company teetered on the brink of death. In it's 5300ce incarnation with a TFT of 800x600 pixels, a 117 MHz PPC, 32 MB on-board RAM and hot-swapable drive bay, the 5300ce was quite ahead of other laptop models at the time, but by far failed to meet the quality standard expected for the price. Many models shipped dead on arrival, and a few 5300's used at Apple actually burst into flames due to problems with then-new Lithium Ion batteries made by Sony (earning the 5300 the nickname "Hindenbook", after the Hindenburg disaster). While no consumer models suffered this fate, Apple was forced to recall the entire product line and delay its availability while they downgraded to proven Nickel Metal Hydride batteries. Apple's much-publicised PowerBook 5300 product placement in the film Mission Impossible turned to disaster when the PowerBooks were still off store shelves when the movie premiered in theaters. After Apple offering an Extended Repair Program, the series turned into a remarkable attractive machine, but never lost it's bad reputation.

Apple recovered from the 5300 debacle in 1996 and 1997 by introducing three new PowerBooks: the 1400, intended to replace the 5300 as a general-purpose PowerBook; the 2400, intended as a slim, sleek sub-notebook to replace the PowerBook Duo; and the luxury model PowerBook 3400. The PowerBook 1400 and 3400 were infact the first PowerBooks ever to include an internal CD drive, and were introduced in a time when laptops rarely had one. This eventualy became the norm through out the industry after the PowerBook's adoption. Later, the PowerBook 3400 was adapted into the first PowerBook G3, codenamed the Kanga, late in 1997. There was very little difference in design, relative to the 3400, but the display had a noticeable bump on the backside.

PowerBook G3

For a more in-depth article, see PowerBook G3

The second PowerBook G3 line, completely redesigned from the Kanga, was released in 1998. This line is generally accepted as the laptop that put Apple Computer back on the "must haves" portable list. These new PowerBooks took obvious design cues from the highly succsesful 500 series PowerBook, sporting dramatic curves and an eye catching jet black plastic case. Debuting at roughly the same time as the legendary iMac, the "WallStreet/Mainstreet" series comprised of models with with varying features, such as different processing speeds [233 to 300 MHz] and the choice 12", 13", or 14" screens . They all included dual drive bays capable of accommodating floppy drives, CD-ROM/DVD-ROM drives, hard drives, or even extra batteries.

Apple later standardised on the 14" active matrix screen and introduced 2 new revisions, in 1999 and 2000 respectively: The "Lombard", [AKA: bronze keyboard] a thinner, lighter, and faster [266, 333, 400 MHz] PowerBook with a longer battery life and had both USB and SCSI built in, and then the "Pismo", which replaced the single SCSI port with 2 FireWire ports and updated the PowerBook line to AGP graphics, in addition to dropping the "G3" from the PowerBook name. The Pismo revision also brought long-awaited AirPort wireless networking capability, which had debuted in Apple's iBook in July 1999.

PowerBook G4

Missing image
The current 17" PowerBook G4

For a more in-depth article, see PowerBook G4

Interim CEO Steve Jobs turned his eye to the redesign of the PowerBook series in 2000. Introduced in January 2001, the result was a completely re-designed with a titanium skin, with a 15.2" wide-aspect screen suitable for watching widescreen movies. Built on the power of the PowerPC G4 processor, it was billed as the first supercomputer notebook in the world. It was lighter than most PC based laptops, and due to the low power consumption of the PowerPC it outlasted them by hours.

The TiBooks, as they were known, became a fashion item. They were especially popular in the entertainment business, where they adorned many desks in Hollywood. They made some inroads into the desktop market as well, thanks to their large screen. Many other laptop manufacturers followed suit and imitated aspects of the design, especially the wide screen, and sometimes also the silvery metallic casing.

The Titanium Powerbooks were released in configurations of 400 MHz, 500 MHz, 550 MHz, 667 MHz, 800 MHz, 867 MHz and 1 GHz.

In 2003, Apple Computer launched both the largest-screen laptop in the world and Apple's smallest full-featured notebook computer. Both machines are made of anodised aluminium (coining the new nickname AlBook), feature DVD-burning capabilities (built-to-order on the small model), AirPort Extreme networking, Bluetooth, and 12.1" or 17" LCD displays. The 17" model includes an ambient light sensor built into the keyboard which backlights the keys and adjusts the screen brightness according to the light level.

The 12" PowerBook's screen is the same as that used on the 12" iBook, while the 17" PowerBook uses the same screen as that used on the 17" flat-panel iMac.

Later in 2003, the 15" PowerBooks were redesigned and now feature the same aluminium body style as their smaller and larger siblings, with the same feature set as the 17" model (including the backlit keyboard).

In April 2004, the aluminium PowerBooks were upgraded. The SuperDrive was upgraded to 4x burning speed for DVDs, the fastest processor available was upgraded to 1.5 GHz, and the graphics cards were replaced with newer models, offering up to 128 MB of video memory. A third built-in speaker was added to the 12" model for improved midrange sound. In addition, AirPort Extreme cards became standard for all PowerBooks instead of being offered as an add-on option.

In January 2005, the specifications of the aluminium PowerBooks were revised once more to accompany a price decrease. Processor speeds were increased to a maximum of 1.67 GHz on the higher specification 15" Powerbook and the larger 17" version, while the lower specification 15" model and the 12" unit saw an increase in speed to 1.5 GHz. Optical audio was added to the 17". Memory and hard drive defaults were increased to 512 MB and 5400 RPM, respectively, with a new storage maximum of 100 GB (17"). Each model also received an enhanced track pad with scrolling capabilities (a so-called "scrolling TrackPad"), a revised Bluetooth module supporting BT 2.0+EDR, and a new feature which parks the drive heads when sudden motion is detected by an internal sensor. Support for the 30" Apple Cinema display was also introduced in the new 17" model and is optional in the 15" model via a build-to-order upgrade to the computer's video hardware.

External links

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