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2 of the fastest laptops of 1997 - Powerbook 3400c and something special


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First conquest in a while. I go through random waves of acquisitions despite having piles of projects. I'm at the point where I have enough things to work on for what would probably be a decade.

Apple's Triumph of early 1997: 3400c/180

This one was as-is, $75. I lucked out, it's mint and has 80mb RAM, Ethernet, and the 12x CD-ROM Apple touted in the ad. This is a really nice machine and it sums up the Amelio era of rapid fixes to right the sinking ship pretty well. In terms of physical quality, it's what the 5300 should have been build wise. The speakers are really good for a 1997 laptop and the TFT display is crisp. The original IBM 1.3GB HDD is quiet and works well! As soon as I applied power, the system booted into an excruciatingly slow 8.6 install, with some typical Mac software of the era - ClarisWorks, PhotoShop, and Word. My plan for this system is to have a penultimate portable System 7 box. Repairs needed? Just a battery rebuild. No Ni-CAD PRAM leak damage!

  • Motorola PowerPC 603ev 180mhz with 512k L2 Cache
  • 80mb RAM
  • 1.3gb IDE IBM HDD
  • C&T PCI Video
  • Apple 12x CD ROM
  • Apple Ethernet/Modem Combo Card
  • 800x600 TFT 12 Inch LCD
Not a Mac but a RISC Holy Grail - the RDI PowerLite 170

This one might be in fact the rarest computer I own, with a serial number of 0566. The RDI PowerLite 170 is a SPARC-based laptop, a refactored SPARCStation 5 into a large battlestation of a laptop. Powered by the Fujitsu TurboSPARC 170, this absolute unit of a laptop would absolutely have been near the top of the performance heap at the start of 1997, perhaps beaten out by the even rarer AlphaBook. This was also an eBay find, but somewhat local. The seller elected to hand deliver it to me due to the rarity of the item. Ergonomics are fantastic on the RDI. The keyboard is a true mechanical keyboard with real key travel. A small Dell-like trackball moves swiftly, and the mouse buttons click with confidence. It does need a little bit of work - no 2.5 inch SCSI hard drive, flat NVRAM battery, flat main battery, and a single blown cap on one of the power rails. Despite said blown cap, the system operates fine, probably due to there being 2 other identical capacitors on that rail. My plan for the RDI is to build a portable Solaris 2.6 battlestation, with current GNU utilities, Apple MAE, and Sun WABI for true multi-platform compatibility.

There is no other way to put it, the PowerLite is insanely cool.

  • 170mhz Fujitsu TurboSPARC
  • Sun TGX Framebuffer
  • 128mb RAM (factory)
  • 1024x768 TFT 12 inch LCD
  • Mechanical KB + Trackball
  • 10BaseT Sun Ethernet + 33kbps Serial Modem
  • Dual 2.5 inch SCSI hard drive bays
  • A downright gigantic battery pack
--Photos Soon--


Well-known member
Aww man, now I know that those PowerLite's exist, I'm going to want one now. How could you do this to me!!

Amazing finds. I love my 3400, I hope you'll have just as much fun with it as I do with mine! How much was the PowerLite?


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The RDI was $530. A lot of money for a vintage system, but in this case completely justified given the rarity. This was the first time I’ve seen a SPARC laptop for sale in years.






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That thing means business! I'll probably never have one, but that is one system to admire! I'll bet someone has before and will in the future list one not knowing what it is, from the outside it looks like any other 90s laptop, albeit a very cool looking one.


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Enjoy it, man! I keep trying to buy Tadpoles every time they show up on eBay, and I'm always massively outbid. I already have a collection of Sun workstations, but a laptop is "easier" to bring out and hack on.


Well-known member
Enjoy it, man! I keep trying to buy Tadpoles every time they show up on eBay, and I'm always massively outbid. I already have a collection of Sun workstations, but a laptop is "easier" to bring out and hack on.
The Tadpole SPARCBook systems have superior build quality to the RDI because they were made of mag-alloy instead of plastic. I think the RDI systems were more expandable and had bigger screens and larger battery packs though.

Eventually Tadpole bought RDI, then Tadpole got bought by General Dynamics. The era of SPARC laptops was over with before the end of the 2000's. The final SPARC laptop was probably the Sun Ultra 3 Mobile, which was a collab between Tadpole and NatureTech.

As for the 3400, it runs great. Very smooth!


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The RDI PowerLite now has a ZuluSCSI laptop edition installed. Works great! Insanely fast CD drive emulation. Looks like I will be able to get this thing going with the default notebook edition config. I have a new NVRAM module on order to fix the lack of date/time and constantly forgetting the MAC address.