The Wallstreet PowerBook G3: The Best PowerBook for the Mac Museum
The Mac Museum isn’t just about collecting Apple hardware. It’s about collecting Apple software and Macintosh applications as well. The idea is to preserve Macs in time as they were when they were new. Some of the Macs that I collect already contain copies of software from their era that I want to save – applications, utilities, and operating systems – and it’s important that I have a way to collect it in a central location. I also need to copy software back onto those Macs to restore them to what they ran in their era. The problem is that I have limited ways of getting that data to and from of many of those Macs.
For example, I have a black and white all-in-one Macintosh SE/30 that I bought when I was in high school. The SE/30 was a high end machine when it was released in 1989 but nowadays it’s showing its age. From a storage perspective, it has an 80 MB hard drive and a 1.44 MB floppy disk drive. That’s it. Moving data around is difficult. It doesn’t have a Ethernet so I can’t connect it to my network for file transfer. Forget wireless. Forget USB. The only way for me to transfer data is to a) find and install a rare and expensive Ethernet expansion card to connect it to my network, b) copy all of the data to floppy disk (~30 disks) and transfer them one by one, or c) transfer all of the data by serial cable to another Mac that has more options. The options for getting files onto it are pretty much the same.
I have successfully figured out how to copy the data off of my SE/30, but it was no small task. I had to first connect it to my PowerBook 1400cs (1996) using LocalTalk over a serial cable. LocalTalk was built into every Mac until USB was introduced in 1997. It allows easy networking between two Macs and hums along at the blazing speed of 28 Kilobytes per second, a rate that takes almost 25 minutes to copy 40 MB of data. I can copy the data from my SE/30 to my 1400cs over LocalTalk, but at that point there is still no way to move the data to a central location because the 1400 also lacks Ethernet, Wireless, and USB capabilities.
Up until recently I was stuck with this situation and ended up having folders of applications from three other Macs just sitting on the 1400’s hard drive. I purchased a Quadra 660AV recently which has Ethernet so I can connect it to my network and it solved my problem. All I had to do to move the data was to transfer it to the Quadra over LocalTalk, then connect the Quadra to my network and transfer the data to my web server over AppleTalk, then finally transfer the data from my web server to my external hard drive where I want it to live for the time being. Easy, right? And that’s only to get data from an older Mac. Getting data to one is even worse.
It’s obvious that I need to figure out a better solution because I will continue to collect Macs and I will continue to copy data to and from them. What I need is a Mac that’s old enough to connect to my Macs over LocalTalk, but new enough to connect directly to my network and backup drive over Ethernet. I also need something portable so that I don’t have to lug a desktop machine around with me. From a technical perspective, the Mac needs to have a serial port, Ethernet, USB, and ideally CD-ROM and floppy drives. This means that I need a PowerBook and there are two that come to mind: the PowerBook 3400c (1997) and the PowerBook G3 (1998). Both have serial ports and floppy drives for communication with older Macs and both have Ethernet for communication with newer Macs. Both can run Mac OS 9 and can run it reasonably well (the G3 is better, of course). Neither has USB, but it can be added to the G3 via a CardBus PC card. The 3400 is out of luck. That leaves the PowerBook G3 as my perfect machine.
Now this isn’t just any old PowerBook G3. I already own a PowerBook G3 but it’s too new. My G3, the 1999 “Bronze Keyboard” or “Lombard” model, actually includes USB, but does it at the expense of the serial port. So in order to do what I need, I have to get the 1998 PowerBook G3 Series or “Wallstreet” model. It has all of the features that I need and it can even run Mac OS X if necessary for extra compatibility. Consequently, I also want one for the museum because it’s a bit different than the Lombard G3.
The Wallstreet G3 was Apple’s first radical product redesign since Steve Jobs took over the company. It was defined by rounded edges, gentle curves, and ergonomic bulges. It was dark black with a white Apple logo on top of the screen flanked by an area of rubber to provide grip. It was the first Apple laptop to offer a 1024×768 pixel screen, the first to offer 13″ and 14″ screen sizes, and the first to offer CardBus PC cards. It was a huge departure from Apple’s previous boxy laptops. It has two PC card slots for expansion as well as two expansion bays that can take a battery, CD drive, DVD drive, floppy drive, Zip drive, or additional hard drives. It’s major criticism was that it was large – weighing almost 8 lbs and 2 inches thick. The 1999 “Lombard” revision reduced the thickness by 20% and cut 2 lbs off of the weight.
I’m excited that I found a solution to my problem and to add another Mac to my collection. Now I’m on the hunt for a good deal on a Wallstreet G3. I’ll report on how it works out once I find one.