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Coolest 68k Powerbooks to own?

ironhalo

Active member
Hi all. I’ve only collected and repaired 68k compact Macs thus far, but I’m interested in adding at least one Powerbook to the collection. In your opinions what are the coolest 68k Powerbook models?

Fwiw I found the below thread that has some great info regarding various models’ repairability, but in this case I’m really looking more for opinions on your favorite “cool factor” model, or “if you had to choose only one”…


Thanks!
 
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3lectr1cPPC

Well-known member
If you want color, I'd recommend either a 540c or a 190cs modded with a PowerBook 5300c or 5300ce LCD panel. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The 180c is a pretty nice system as well but it's fairly slow, expensive, and RAM is unobtainium.

If you don't need color, there are a few nice ones. The 100 is great if you want to put the effort into repairing one and don't mind a passive matrix screen. The 140/145/145B are great if you don't mind passive matrix. The 170/180/540 are also all great but they nearly all suffer from LCD tunnel vision.

The Duos have reliability problems and need accessories to make file transfer easy, and they also have bad keyboards. I wouldn't recommend one unless you want to invest in the Duo system of doing things.
 

3lectr1cPPC

Well-known member
Depends... the 500 series logic board is very reliable, provided there isn't any corrosion. LCDs are starting to have cap failures though - depends on the one you end up with. They have hinge issues but the rest do too. There really isn't a reliable PowerBook that doesn't need work done. The 500 Series are on the better end compared to others in most ways, but their very proprietary power supplies are hideously unreliable.
 

croissantking

Well-known member
Another vote for the 540c - fairly reliable and high spec, plus great industrial design. Crap PSU as @3lectr1cPPC says though, yes. I am a fan of the 140-180 models too but reliability is very poor.
 

3lectr1cPPC

Well-known member
The 165 isn't a bad machine, but the LCD on it (even recapped) is pretty crappy. I'd actually recommend the 140/145 over it most of the time - the 140 and 145 are monochrome machines, and the 165 is 16-color grayscale. That may sound better, but the 165 passive matrix screen ghosts/artifacts worse than the 140/145 monochrome screens do. You have to choose whether you want more "color" or better quality.
 

RetroTechTom

New member
The 165 isn't a bad machine, but the LCD on it (even recapped) is pretty crappy. I'd actually recommend the 140/145 over it most of the time - the 140 and 145 are monochrome machines, and the 165 is 16-color grayscale. That may sound better, but the 165 passive matrix screen ghosts/artifacts worse than the 140/145 monochrome screens do. You have to choose whether you want more "color" or better quality.
I need to get a replacement LCD for my 145 since the recap sadly didn't fix it

Duke09 attempted to fix it for me but it didn't work despite the recap work that he did
 

3lectr1cPPC

Well-known member
Sometimes that happens if the cap damage is bad enough. It can get inside the ribbon cabling going into the LCD panel and ruins it - that's not able to be replaced.
 

Trash80toHP_Mini

NIGHT STALKER
If you want color, I'd recommend . . . a 190cs modded with a PowerBook 5300c or 5300ce LCD panel.
Concur. Nix on the Blackbirds, though. Seems to me that nothing worthwhile in the way of high end upgrades are available. It's akin to being the TAM of PBs to my way of thinking. Pricing and availability of the really good stuff is ludicrous, too many well heeled crazies in those markets.

PB190cs is WiFi card compatible and PCMCIA bootable. Forget about finding the high end PCMCIA adapter module for 5xx. Is that required for WiFi? Don't believe the hogwash on LEM about Ethernet being downgraded to only 16bit in the 190 via PCMCIA card or it being cheapened by the move to IDE. The entire internal setup for peripherals on the FuglyBirds is the same 6030 16bit bus used right up through the 1400. IDE is just as fast as slowpoke SCSI in previous 'Books. The high capacity drives in many a top tier 5xx were IBM IDE platters sitting atop an unobtanium SCSI->IDE adapter, IIRC.

As icing on the cake, the 190cs version's 8MB on the floor makes its MaxMem config 40MB, also beating out the 540 by 4MB. :)

If you don't need color, there are a few nice ones. The 100 is great if you want to put the effort into repairing one and don't mind a passive matrix screen.
Amen, the PB100 was my first portable computer bought new in its gorgeous sub-notebook form factor. Its sleek Sony industrial design makes the rest of the 100 series look very clunky by comparison.

I cut my teeth on its perfectly usable screen. Then core software requirements had me grudgingly moving on to the passive matrix Duo 230 with a much worse KBD. It was just fine in the day for portable use and I was lucky to buy the full System in one shot from a NYMUG buddy. The only thing I needed to buy was a SCSI MicroDock for heavy hitting portable use case when dragging the MiniDock along wasn't an option. Work had a DuoDock and home had that MiniDock setup from the package deal until I got a Duodock+ and TPD for home use.

The 140/145/145B are great if you don't mind passive matrix.
I'd steer clear of anything in that line, screens top out at only 640x400 in the 145b. The 640x480 passive matrix panel of the 150 is just fine for portable use.***

Duo memory module upgrade makes it the most powerful of the 100 series for portable use by far. Max of 40MB is five times that of the 145b and almost three times that of the "Top End" 180c. 150 even beats the 540 by 4MB!

IDE is a Godsend!

*** static setup use is a different story when it comes to choosing a 'Book.

The Duos have reliability problems and need accessories to make file transfer easy, and they also have bad keyboards. I wouldn't recommend one unless you want to invest in the Duo system of doing things.
Concur, though I've had no reliability problems, 2300c spun up just fine recently for ancient bookkeeping files retrieval. That was my first PPC code compatible system in use for about a year as my main Graphics Workstation, bought as a refurb, IIRC.

Surprised nobody has mentioned the 1400c/166! That was my step up from the 2300c when it was time to set up a WarDriver playtoy. I've still got a considerable portion of my once two foot+ stack of those puppies. Love 'em to death. G3 upgrades are relatively available as opposed to the dearth of lowly 603e upgrades for the 'Birds.

Others I like very much, but those are the highlights and my nitpicks about the runners up others have mentioned.
 
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3lectr1cPPC

Well-known member
I'd steer clear of anything in that line, screens top out at only 640x400 in the 145b. The 640x480 passive matrix panel of the 150 is just fine for portable use.***

Duo memory module upgrade makes it the most powerful of the 100 series for portable use by far. Max of 40MB is five times that of the 145b and almost three times that of the "Top End" 180c. 150 even beats the 540 by 4MB!
I’d recommend a 145 over a 150 any day unless you really know what you’re getting into. The 150’s screen is slightly higher resolution, but it looks terrible, far worse than the 145’s display, and the 160/165 display. The RAM is a nice extra but the high capacity modules are very expensive.
The 150 also has worse plastics than the already bad rest of the 100 series, and they’re just generally worse built. They ship with a way worse keyboard (that can be swapped for a better one from any other 100 series PowerBook, I think), and they lack a lot of I/O. And they use a varta clock battery that leaks and ruins a large chunk of them.
That really leaves the only advantages as the RAM ceiling, the IDE hard drive, and the resolution. They’re a fun curiosity, but I think you’d end up never buying another PowerBook again if you picked a 150 as your first one.
To be clear, I have a 150 and enjoy it. But the 145 is a better overall choice, in my opinion. And I do think the 150 is over-hated, just not the best option.
 

Byrd

Well-known member
The 150 also has worse plastics than the already bad rest of the 100 series, and they’re just generally worse built.

Can confirm, even though the molds look the same as older PowerBooks, the plastic is so much cheaper and prone to long cracks in the housings, have bought three of these and they all break in very similar ways. Can be a good vintage machine though with onboard IDE but don't bother with it unless it has the RAM adapter installed.

I'm currently restoring 5 x PowerBook 500 (520, 520c, 540, PPC), yes there are issues with LCDs and the plastics are very thin and prone to "yellowing" (in the case of grey plastics, it goes more of a warm yellow), but if you find a good one they are the ones to keep. One 100uF 25V capacitor that always leaks, the battery terminals can snap, and caps in the LCD need replacement if game but need to be very delicate.
 

ironhalo

Active member
Awesome feedback so far, thanks a million everyone. Lots of truly helpful info here. I think so far I'm leaning toward either a PB100 for that original vintage PB vibe (I really dig the trackball), or a PB190cs for the color and expandability. The 540c certainly appeals to me too, but as others have mentioned the prices on the units and parts I've seen are pretty outrageous.
 

akator70

Well-known member
My recommendations:
  • 140, 145, or 170 for System 6 compatibility and because they're good B&W PowerBooks.
  • 165c or 180c for 68030 color and System 7 variations. These have video out with a dongle so they can be used with an external monitor.
  • 520c, 540c, or 550c for the top end of the 68K line. These have video out with a dongle so they can be used with an external monitor.
If I were still using a 68K PowerBook as my primary computer, I would go for the active matrix models. The active matrix models are great, but I don't think the passive matrix displays are as bad as most here make them out to be. You can usually get a good condition passive matrix model for a lot less than the active matrix ones, and since I only use my 68K PowerBooks for a few hours each week it isn't necessary for me to spend the extra $.
 

jmacz

Well-known member
Having taken the leap from desktop (compacts as well the various II series and quadras), the laptops are in no way like the desktops in terms of reliability. I have a fully restored 540c and 5300c. But I have to really baby them, constantly worried about the screens (the 5300c just started vinegar syndrome), I open the lids gingerly even though they have been reinforced. I honestly have felt like I am walking on eggshells with them. As others have said, some models are better than others, but the really weak plastics across most of them plus the fact that you handle them a lot since they are laptops, means it’s stressful. Still a lot to love about them and I enjoy the 540c immensely, but it’s another level compared to the desktops. And concur, 500 series parts, upgrades, accessories are insane in terms of price and availability. I do have a working custom power supply for the 500 series. That was fun to make :)
 

Trash80toHP_Mini

NIGHT STALKER
I’d recommend a 145 over a 150 any day unless you really know what you’re getting into.
I must have been lucky with my find, plastics seem about average compared to the couple that have crossed my path. I've avoided the too big ball 100's like the plague, so nasty as compared to the 100's medium ball in its far more refined case. That had me ready to rock the micro ball of the Duos!

Anyone in the market for a 150 needs to make sure to get the memory adapter board included. All but the very smallest of available Duo Cards will top it out well past the 8MB max of more pedestrian 100s, smallest available module at all will match it.

Lack of i/o isn't necessarily a problem on a road machine, which was my reason for "collecting" a 150. It was the last hurrah of the 68030 'Books just as the 190cs was the last hurrah of the 68040 'Books. Both made the transition to IDE and higher memory ceilings than their predecessors, which makes them breakthrough machines to my way of collecting.

The 150’s screen is slightly higher resolution, but it looks terrible, far worse than the 145’s display, and the 160/165 display.
Haven't seen the comparison, doesn't seem much worse than my precious, bought new PB100. An additional 80 lines of pixels was not to be sneezed at in the day. Today, the additional 120 rows of pixels of my 1920x1200 panel very obviously letterboxes a 1080p image, far superior!

Side note: collectors have no feel for the "usability" of passive displays IRL back when cost was a major factor involved in going portable. You put what you could afford, new or used into your bag and hit the road running.

I live in a 68K/PPC dream world of what ifs when it comes to my collection, practicality be damned! 🤪
 

Cory5412

Daring Pioneer of the Future
Staff member
I realize this isn't super useful but just to add: The best machine w/re any given hobby is the one in your hands.

If you can find and fix any 68k PowerBook, that will be the coolest one, because it's the one you've got.

We're multiple decades beyond the idea of any one of these things being the best one for practical reasons making any sense whatsoever, so ultimately it's down to what you can find, what problems you want to deal with (which I suppose is a little bit practical), and what you can or can't just do without.

We can point to almost every single computer Apple made before a certain point, especially laptops, and go "here are all the problems with that one" -- and that's extremely true, but, that's gonna really be the case for basically any laptop over a certain age at this point.

+1 huge agree on the concept of "the bad ones probably aren't as bad as the people are saying".

If you're pretty new to the platform, or you want one just to say you have one and specific functionality isn't all that important, I'd say be willing to let your budget or practicality concerns lead you one direction or another. Most of the common "tourist" stuff should work fine on basically any powerbook, maybe save the 100, but even then most 68000 compact mac stuff should run fine on the 100, so it's still fine for tourism, you just need to be more careful about software.

If you have existing vintage Mac experience and know you need specific things like ethernet, certain audio hardware, display mirroring, color, a certain local storage capacity (>4GB say on '040s), etc etc, then definitely check out everymac or whatever and let those things guide what you do.

For better or worse, these things started falling apart 15+ years ago, so putting one together is probably gonna be expensive, time consuming, annoying, frustrating, and difficult regardless of which one it is. (I had a 540 and a 520. They got like 3 hours of battery life between all the modules I got! At least one of them had a pretty big disk and a generous ram module! and I passed them along because both of their display hinges were extremely broken, in a way I didn't-and-don't have a way to fix, and, again, that was 2007.)

The one pre-2008 Mac laptop I've had that's felt "reliable" has been my PowerBook 180, but even it's not perfect with some of the screen stuff that happens on B&W laptops.
 

akator70

Well-known member
For better or worse, these things started falling apart 15+ years ago, so putting one together is probably gonna be expensive, time consuming, annoying, frustrating, and difficult regardless of which one it is. (I had a 540 and a 520. They got like 3 hours of battery life between all the modules I got! At least one of them had a pretty big disk and a generous ram module! and I passed them along because both of their display hinges were extremely broken, in a way I didn't-and-don't have a way to fix, and, again, that was 2007.)

That's a really good point: I wouldn't be particularly happy with my 68K PowerBooks if I didn't have a 3D printer to make replacement mounts as I have yet to encounter one that doesn't have at least a few of those broken. And epoxy skills, and...
 

MacUp72

Well-known member
having restored a 540 and 540c I must say these are nice machines, but the 190cs is evenly good imho..ok, the design factor comes in and there the 540 are great. I wish the 190 had internal ethernet but a the 3Com Etherlink III pcmcia card still does a good job. This card works best witj older Macs not with the 3400c/2400c.

BlueScsi is the most useful tool with these fellas, no more abandoned/half working/still expensive mechanical devices, just setting up some hda files, copy them over to the SD and off you go.

Another advantage of 68k PB's is they are usable 68k portables eg for setting up vintage mac networking spaces..
 
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3lectr1cPPC

Well-known member
Haven't seen the comparison, doesn't seem much worse than my precious, bought new PB100. An additional 80 lines of pixels was not to be sneezed at in the day. Today, the additional 120 rows of pixels of my 1920x1200 panel very obviously letterboxes a 1080p image, far superior!
The 150 shipped with either a Casio or Sharp screen. I have the Casio (which seems to be most common) and it's terrible - way more blue than the 100/145, worse artifacting, poor contrast, and very noticeably worse response times. It's possible the Sharp screen's a bit better, not sure as I've never seen one. The 100 and 145's LCD are both from Sharp.
Of my passive matrix PowerBooks, my 100 looks the best (really dang good for STN), then the 145 is decent, and the 150 is the worst.
 
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