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1000 Bucks

May 14, 2014 - Dave Hecei
PB100I was in a nostalgic mood the other day, something I tend to do more and more in my advanced years. Looking at the new MacBook Air with their lower pricing made me think of my first Mac, which coincidently was also a Mac notebook – the PowerBook 100.

The PowerBook line was introduced way back in 1991. This was an important turning point, at least in my opinion, for Apple. Their first attempt at a notebook was impressive, but nobody would call it portable. With help from Sony, Apple came up with the PowerBook line. The first models included the PowerBook 170, 140, and my first Mac, the 100.

apple-powerbook-100The PowerBook 100 (PB100) was unique compared to the 170 and 140. It had no internal floppy drive. This allowed the 100 to be much thinner and lighter than the other two models, which had floppy drives. You need to remember that this was 1991 and the CD ROM didn’t show up in a Mac notebook for another five years.

The PB100 weighed in at 5.1 pounds. It measured 1.8 by 11 by 8.5 inches. The screen was the lower-cost passive matrix screen showing one color with a resolution of 640 by 400. It had the typical ports for a Mac back in the early 90s. It had an ADB (keyboard/mouse), Apple serial (printers and modems), SCSI (a non-standard HDI-30 port), external floppy, RJ-11 (if modem was installed), and sound out. There was no microphone port and no video output of any type.

Inside the PB100 was a 16 GHz Motorola 68000 microprocessor. The Mac Classic, the Mac desktop at the time, had the same 68K chip but running at only 8Mhz (yes that is MHz not GHz). The Classic also had a super sharp monochrome display, but it only showed 512 by 342 pixels. This meant that the PB100 was twice as fast and showed almost 70% more pixels. All this and the PB100 was truly portable.

So back to the day I purchased my first Mac. At the time, the Mac Classic was priced at $999, which was remarkable as it was the lowest priced Mac yet made. The PB100 had a list price of $2499, but was discounted at most stores. The local Mac computer store was putting together orders for teachers and schools and I was able to get in on this special deal. I was able to purchase a PowerBook 100 with 4MB of RAM and a 20MB (THAT’S MB) hard drive. It also had the internal modem and external floppy drive. I got it for $999. I was on cloud nine even though I was now quite broke.

We fast-forward about 22 years to find Apple’s lowest priced notebook is the new MacBook Air 11-inch. With the latest updates to the Air, Apple was able to make minor speed improvements, but also dropped each model’s price by $100. This makes the 11-inch base model only $899. For $999, you can get the 13-inch model.

So for the same $999, how far has the Apple notebook line come.

PowerBook 100 MacBook Air 13-inch
16MHz 68000 Motorola CPU Intel Haswell Core i5 1.4GHz CPU
20MB 2.5-inch SCSI HD 128GB SSD hard drive
4MB SDRAM (max. 8MB) 4GB DDR3 RAM (non-upgradeable)
9-inch 640 by 400 pixel monochrome display 13-inch 1440 by 900 pixel 16 million colors
Lead-acid battery (2-4hrs) Lithium Ion battery (up to 10hrs)
Mac OS 7.5.3 OS X 10.9.2
11x8.5x1.8 inches and 5.1 pounds 12.8x8.94x0.68 and 2.96 pounds
Trackball with single button Glass multi-touch track pad
All fun aside, the PowerBook 100 (along with the 140 and 170) were amazing machines for their time. I was lucky enough to be able to get in on the fun for only $1000. The PB100 was $2499 when introduced. The 140 was $2899 and the 170, which had an active matrix screen, was $4599. Doesn’t that put things into perspective?


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