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Interested but confused about 68k PowerBooks

liamur

Active member
Hi all,

This isn't a buy-sell post, it's more like a question post. I'm interested in getting a 68k PowerBook, because I want a Classic 68K Mac without having to store a Compact Mac or a pizza box+monitor. Also, the performance in the 68k PBs seems pretty good (better than a Mac Plus at least!) I was wondering if anybody could tell me about their functionality and repair:

- How much like a normal laptop are they? I have zero desire to make a 68k PB a daily driver, but can they (for example) switch from wall power to battery seamlessly? I can't lie, I think it would be fun to un-ironically go around with a 5-inch-thick laptop once in a while...:cool:
- How bad is the ghosting on the passive-matrix screens?
- Are the floppy drives in PowerBooks SuperDrives? I have seen literally no information about this, though the fact that these systems are from the 1990s suggests to me that the drives are in fact SuperDrives.
- How difficult is a screen recap? I've recapped a Sega Game Gear, which is almost all surface-mount caps, and I'm confident in my soldering skills. I get the sense, from posts I've seen here, that a recap is basically required.
- If I get a PB, I intend to replace the hard drive with a BlueSCSI. Does the BlueSCSI reduce power consumption?
- Do the screens become damaged over time? This listing's screen has streaks and white blobs, what is that?
- The kicker: what are reasonable prices? Looking at eBay, I see listings under $90 or so, is that reasonable?

I am aware that to have a useful battery, you probably have to build it yourself. Finally, if there's a source that explains this stuff, just link to that and save yourself the effort :).
 

MrFahrenheit

Well-known member
If you can afford it, the PowerBook 540c is a solid 68k portable Mac. The screen on those is active matrix color, and they feature a 68LC040 running at 33Mhz.
 

3lectr1cPPC

Well-known member
I consider myself someone who knows a good deal about 68k PowerBooks, so I’ll go ahead and address your list.

1. Yes, they can do that, but you’ll have to put in a significant amount of work to rebuild a battery.
2. I own a PowerBook 145, which has a passive matrix black and white display. The ghosting itself isn’t very bad, however the refresh rate definitely is. Grayscale passive screens are significantly worse in the ghosting regard though. They will also ghost more when the caps are going bad.
3. Yes, the drives are all 1.44MB.
4. I recapped my 145‘s display as my first real SMD soldering project, and in my opinion it isn’t that bad as long as you have a steady hand. How difficult it’s going to be is really going to come down to how bad the caps have leaked.
5. I’d imagine it would, as it doesn’t have to spin the drive up and keep the motor going like with a spinning drive. Display backlights and hard drives are the 2 big power hogs in laptops.
6. The listing you linked shows “Vinegar Syndrome” which is caused when the display’s polarizer adhesive goes bad. This isn’t too uncommon, and will end up affecting more and more panels as time passes, but storing the laptop in a non humid environment will reduce chances significantly. If it does go bad, it can be replaced and the display will work again, but this is a very involved process. Certainly doable though.
7. Under 90 is good for any PowerBook honestly, you’re not going to get a fully functional system for that money though. If you’re up for a bit of restoration work it’s certainly worth buying one at that price though.

More things you should look out for:
1. Brittle Plastics. Like desktop macs of the time, the plastics on these laptops have gone extremely brittle. On a laptop, this ends up causing big problems, the main one being the hinges. The hinges on just about every 90s PowerBook screw into plastic standoffs on the back of the display housing, and those standoffs will snap with regular use. Clever 3D printed replacements should mitigate that though. A telltail sign of this is if the back housing appears to seperate around the hinges, so if you see that in a listing, know that you’re going to have hinge issues. This affects the 100 series, duos, and the 500 series. The only PowerBook that’s immune to my knowledge is the original PowerBook 100. If you’ve got access to a 3D printer, don’t be afraid to buy one with hinge troubles. Any non affected laptop will become affected with normal use unfortunately.
2. Tunnel Vision, an issue on Active Matrix grayscale and black and white panels ONLY that causes the display to have a vignette effect that worsens the longer it’s running. Passive matrix and color displays don’t have this fault. It affects most of these panels, and it’s likely caused by moisture getting into the display due to a failed display seal.
3. Power Adapters can be tricky to find for certain models, and the originals are pretty unreliable. The 100 series uses a standard barrel jack, and you can find cheap replacements easily for under $10 on Amazon. The 500 series uses a very weird plug, and original adapters are expensive and unreliable. The PowerBook Duos are a similar story, but their plug was used on many later apple laptops, so finding chargers for those isn’t that difficult.

This is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these. Each model has it own little quirks, but I think they’re really fun to tinker around with and use. If you have questions about a particular listing you find, let me know and I’ll give you all the info I can based on the listing details.

Hope this helps!
 
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desertrout

Well-known member
Hi all,

This isn't a buy-sell post, it's more like a question post. I'm interested in getting a 68k PowerBook, because I want a Classic 68K Mac without having to store a Compact Mac or a pizza box+monitor. Also, the performance in the 68k PBs seems pretty good (better than a Mac Plus at least!) I was wondering if anybody could tell me about their functionality and repair:

- How much like a normal laptop are they? I have zero desire to make a 68k PB a daily driver, but can they (for example) switch from wall power to battery seamlessly? I can't lie, I think it would be fun to un-ironically go around with a 5-inch-thick laptop once in a while...:cool: Surprisingly modern feeling as the typing position is good and trackball is useable... and lots of options for rebuilt batteries so it can be nicely portable.
- How bad is the ghosting on the passive-matrix screens? They're really not great, never have been. The 160/165 though has external color video though fwiw. If you can find a 180, which is active matrix, it's way way better, and also has external color video... or a 180c or 540c (both color active matrix) are awesome but probably harder to find at a half-way decent price
- Are the floppy drives in PowerBooks SuperDrives? I have seen literally no information about this, though the fact that these systems are from the 1990s suggests to me that the drives are in fact SuperDrives. Yep - all Powerbooks have 1.44MB drives (well, the 100's is external, but you probably don't want one of those)
- How difficult is a screen recap? I've recapped a Sega Game Gear, which is almost all surface-mount caps, and I'm confident in my soldering skills. I get the sense, from posts I've seen here, that a recap is basically required. Well, if you get a 180 there's nothing to recap (well, a couple tiny through hole caps, nothing critical). 180c only needs display caps, and I *think* the 540c only has one SMD cap (someone correct me)
- If I get a PB, I intend to replace the hard drive with a BlueSCSI. Does the BlueSCSI reduce power consumption? Can't answer this definitively, but I can't see how it wouldn't, dramatically
- Do the screens become damaged over time? This listing's screen has streaks and white blobs, what is that? Vinegar syndrome, requiring replacement of the polarizer film (likely both sides)... can be done, but fussy. The screens are prone to impact damage, and the 170 / 180 displays are prone to 'tunneling'... so yeah, they're aging and starting to fail, and suitable replacement screens are not available.
- The kicker: what are reasonable prices? Looking at eBay, I see listings under $90 or so, is that reasonable? That, my friend, is completely subjective. I've never paid more than $70 shipped for a b/w model, expect to pay a LOT more for a colour model

I am aware that to have a useful battery, you probably have to build it yourself. Finally, if there's a source that explains this stuff, just link to that and save yourself the effort :). Bah, a quick Google search will yield that for ya ;) Should be lots of info here or on Tinker Different
Answers inline 👆
 

liamur

Active member
Thank you everybody! Sounds like from a sustainability point of view, passive matrix or color (or both, 165c anyone?) is better---I'm fine with recapping, but replacing display layers is a little more than I feel confident about.

I'm definitely looking to tinker and I am totally up for restoration work. I have a 3D printer readily available, so I might even end up designing other replacement parts.

Cool! I'm going to keep my eye on eBay and may at some point open a Trading Post thread.
 

3lectr1cPPC

Well-known member
Just so you know, any display can suffer from vinegar syndrome. I’ve seen it in photos on just about every Apple laptop model. With that being said, the chances of it happening are very low. The 165c is a fine system. I’m not sure about what caps it has, the display would be the only place with leaky SMDs but I can’t find any photos of the entire display board. I don’t think it has any, but I may be wrong. (It does have one through hole on the inverter board though, unlikely to fail though). The 180c has an active matrix color display, which is very high quality, they just have a ton of caps in the display that leak like crazy. Another thing to note is that the color 100 series PowerBooks seem to be worth much more than the grayscale ones. They are a ton of fun once restored though!
 
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Unknown_K

Well-known member
I think everybody needs at least 1 active matrix monochrome 100 series Powerbook in their collection.

While I love 68K mac desktops the laptop line has not aged well so I don't bother with them except for my one (A 170 I think).
 

3lectr1cPPC

Well-known member
The 170 is a really awesome laptop, probably my favorite, but it’s so difficult to recommend because of the tunnel vision problem that seems to affect some 90% of them at this point. I got really lucky and my 170 doesn’t have the problem, but the odds aren’t great at this point.
 

liamur

Active member
I'd rather take the bother of slow refresh than have an intermittent/time-based issue like tunnel vision. Something about technology problems like that bug me.

It's often recommended to replace capacitors in devices anyway, because a) if they haven't leaked yet, there's a moderate chance they will (particularly if the device is known to be affected by capacitor plague), and b) capacitors definitely do drift over time, and 30 years is long enough to have a meaningful impact. Of course, you do run the risk of breaking that device in the process...
 

3lectr1cPPC

Well-known member
Yeah, I went that route with one of my PB 5300 power boards. It worked fine and had no signs of bad caps but I went ahead and changed the caps anyway to prevent any future failures, and I'm planning on replacing more caps on currently working systems in the future with the same idea in mind.
 

demik

Well-known member
Good points explained above by @MrFahrenheit and @3lectr1cPPC. I would add that PowerBooks 160/165/180 and up (5xx series) can also use an external VGA screen (800x600 max) which is handy if your main _modern_ screen has an unused VGA input.

(You will need a PowerBook to DA-15 mac adapter and a DA-15 to VGA)
 

liamur

Active member
The only issue with those later models is that they use an IDE drive, and there aren't a lot of solid-state replacements for those. The mSATA adapters appear to be the only option, and those are not renowned for reliability. BlueSCSI is much more appealing to me.
 

3lectr1cPPC

Well-known member
The only 68k PowerBooks with IDE are the 150, 190 and 190cs. All the PowerPC PBs use IDE.
As far as mSata adapters go, if they work they are reliable and fast, they just don’t work well on really old IDE implementations like what Apple used before the PowerBook G3s. For those picky systems, many people have had luck with IDE to CF or SD adapters, which are readily available for less than $20.
 

Byrd

Well-known member
The only issue with those later models is that they use an IDE drive, and there aren't a lot of solid-state replacements for those. The mSATA adapters appear to be the only option, and those are not renowned for reliability. BlueSCSI is much more appealing to me.

It's the other way around - a vintage computer with IDE is much easier to make solid state over SCSI; CF to IDE adapters are cheap + a good quality CF card is cheaper and easier to work with than SCSI/SD solutions.
 

ArmorAlley

Well-known member
I agree with the posters above an a 190cs or a PB 520c/540c are probably the way to go. I'd save up about $200-300. If you are patient, you should be able to find one in or around the $100 range. I paid the equivalent $50 for mine, albeit in 2016, but then I bought it because the price was right.
With the rest, I'd get a SCSI-CD-ROM drive and an external SCSI HD and possibly the PowerBook version of the SCSI2SD (or equivalent). Although, that being said, if you can avoid opening it up, I would not open it up.

68K Powerbooks are becoming things that need tender loving care nowadays. The hinges (as mentioned above) are not unlike the knees in senior citizens. They need to be treated carefully as the plastics are becoming brittle.

What is wrong with a pizza-box mac? They don't take up much more space than a Powerbook. You could store one on its side along side a 1068x768 LCD monitor on a bookshelf. The LC-series are great macs, easily expandable and reasonably easily repaired (depending how nifty you are with things electrical). The PB540c is a lovely machine (and well worth getting) but the LC475 is much more practical.
 

rplacd

Well-known member
I'm on the "please please please no" category, as someone who has bought multiple crumbling PowerBooks 1xx to get one that screws aren't falling out from, or that doesn't have screen tunneling. Get a compact Mac.
 
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