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trigf

Apple's magneto-optical drive and miniature CD-ROM drive - The PowerBook 5300 accessories that never were. Or were they?

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I'd like to put together a thread to gather information on a couple of PowerBook 5300 accessories that may or may not exist, and may or may not have seen the light of day. Read on to gather what I've found. 

 

Documented by former Apple engineers in the book, AppleDesign: The Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group, the PowerBook 5300 was not going to be the first Powerbook to ship with a CD-ROM drive. Instead of featuring a standard 5.25 inch CD-ROM drive, a marketing executive pushed to brand the M2 (the 5300's code name) as the "smallest" full-featured laptop available. This meant that there was no room in the chassis for a full sized CD-ROM drive. Instead, the engineering team began work on a 3.5 inch cartridge-based magneto-optical drive. As far as I can tell, this magneto optical drive has never seen the light of day.

 

This article (and the Wikipedia article using it as citation) is the only reference to the first-party magneto optical drive I've ever seen. VST/LaCie, Fujitsu and Logitech all had expansion bay magneto-optical drives on the market in the late 90's, but there is nothing but the digital whisper of an Apple-branded version. If I had to guess, I would say that Apple pulled the plug quietly, and left this need to be fulfilled by third party solutions. 

 

 

 

This brings me to the next piece of impossible-to-find hardware for the PowerBook 5300 - the miniature CD-ROM drive only ever seen in prototype form, in the 1996 blockbuster film, Independence Day. As David (Jeff Goldblum) and his father are traveling to Washington DC, David is shown trying to stick a miniature 80mm CD-ROM into a CD-ROM tray, mounted in the expansion bay of his PowerBook XXXX. Never shown is David getting the CD-ROM onto the spindle, or shutting the disc tray. I note that in the brief moment that the tray is visible, it looks nothing like the CD-ROM drives that would ship in the upcoming 1400 and 3400. 

 

All other close up scenes of the PowerBook XXXX clearly show a standard floppy drive in the expansion bay. Fun fact: You can also see a prototype "M-2" label where it would normally have the PowerBook 5300 label. David's Powerbook also appears to be running System 7.5.x, with Apple's Appearance Manager from Mac OS 8 installed, giving the OS the Platinum appearance that would appear with OS 8's release.

 

Barring an interview with Jeff Goldblum about a tiny, insignificant detail from a movie he did 23 years ago, I am apt to believe that this was simply a Hollywood prop. I'm confident that this 3.5 inch CD-ROM drive has never been seen outside of that movie, specifically that scene, in any form. I am creating this thread to document further developments in researching the prototype devices, and possibly one day hunting them down. 

 

To be continued...

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I don't know what they were thinking with the 3.5" CDROM. I've only ever seen maybe ten retail CDs in that format and I doubt any developers were terribly excited to accommodate another weird Apple decision, especially one so unnecessary. If they had moved a few things around internally (such as the IR module and using flip-down feet instead of the spring-loaded ones) they probably could've shoehorned a full-size CD drive in the 5300's case with only an extra cm or so of depth. But of course arbitrary and unreasonable management ruins everything, as usual.

 

As for the 3.5" MO, like every other Apple drive it would have been built by someone else and who would have then slapped on a sticker with an Apple logo. 98% chance it would have been a Fujitsu unit (like the ones VST and Logitec ultimately used), though at the time IBM also made MOs, and Olympus was a noted manufacturer of high-speed MOs, though both were mostly focused on desktop devices. I'm sure that if MOs were more popular in the States they would have brought it to market, but between the expense and poor availability of the disks outside of Japan, I guess they figured it wasn't worth the trouble. Or, perhaps they couldn't get a deal with Fujitsu to make the drives to Apple specifications.

 

What would also be interesting would be a collection of 3rd party expansion bay models that aren't a Zip drive. Apparently there were some internal power supplies built, but what else was actually available? I have a VST MO 230 (sadly dead) but that's the only other thing I've seen for these machines.

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A couple other vendors were working on stuff for the smaller CD-ROM format, but none of that ever really materialized for Macintosh, so it would either have to be something where most support switched over to the smaller format by default (which would've been fine in many tray-loading systems, but not in caddies) or where software would have to be published twice.

 

Regarding MO from Apple: I think that would've been interesting. It would be, to my knowledge, the only instance of Apple building something other than DVD/CD/Floppy for their own machines on their own.

 

Most of the wording from any source about any future PowerBook model (1400 in particular) suggested that third parties could have built them, not that Apple itself had been considering it.

 

15 hours ago, Franklinstein said:

But of course arbitrary and unreasonable management ruins everything, as usual.

I mean, it's well known that, essentially, the period between when Jobs left and came back (we'll call it 1986 to 1997) are when Apple had its worst leadership. But, "the smallest machine" is an actual, specific goal, and PowerBooks had operated for years with external CD drives with no troubles, so I don't see how this is a problem. A bummer, yes, proof that the later 1/2/3 approach where there were a few different models meeting different needs was probably important? yes. "ruined"? eeeehhhhh... no.

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17 hours ago, Franklinstein said:

I don't know what they were thinking with the 3.5" CDROM. I've only ever seen maybe ten retail CDs in that format and I doubt any developers were terribly excited to accommodate another weird Apple decision, especially one so unnecessary. If they had moved a few things around internally (such as the IR module and using flip-down feet instead of the spring-loaded ones) they probably could've shoehorned a full-size CD drive in the 5300's case with only an extra cm or so of depth.

If you lose the switchblade feets and remove almost all of the partition between battery and floppy module, filing it to but a sliver, you can hack a non-removable 1400 CD-ROM drive into the 5300. It's been done, the adapter was never made to make it work, but it will fit. Another CM of depth mmight have done it or a bit shaved off the battery case and it might have worked in the same form factor. 3400c with stereo speakers and a big screen pretty much fixed that form factor.

 

I've got a Power Adapter for the expansion bay of the 5300/190.

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5 hours ago, Cory5412 said:

I mean, it's well known that, essentially, the period between when Jobs left and came back (we'll call it 1986 to 1997) are when Apple had its worst leadership. But, "the smallest machine" is an actual, specific goal, and PowerBooks had operated for years with external CD drives with no troubles, so I don't see how this is a problem. A bummer, yes, proof that the later 1/2/3 approach where there were a few different models meeting different needs was probably important? yes. "ruined"? eeeehhhhh... no.

If external drives are no trouble to use, why bother with swappable internal drives in the first place? Just keep using external drives. At the time if I wanted a MO I probably would use an external one anyway; they were really expensive so I'd want one that could be used on more than one specific computer. 

 

I'd buy the "smallest machine" approach if the Duo 2300 didn't exist as basically a re-cased 5300. I mean, why do you need two "smallest machine" models that are essentially the same? You can hardly say the 5300 was the smallest full-featured notebook because few to no full-featured high-end PC notebooks at the time were shipping without CDROM drives, or at least they had the ability to buy the module separately. Then there's the extensive use of legacy internals; unless the book referenced above addresses this, why did they use so much obsolete junk in their flagship portable if it wasn't a management decision? I can see doing it to save money on a budget machine like the 1400 (which was again basically a re-cased 5300), but these things were upward of $6k when new, so if there was a cost savings in production it all went to profit rather than reduced retail price. If it was 1995ish and I needed a new notebook computer, I'd join Steve Jobs in getting a ThinkPad rather than one of these. Better yet, a DEC HiNote. If I really wanted a Mac at the time, I'd get a PowerBook 540c on sale with some upgrades and still likely spend less than what I would have to shell out on a base 5300c. 

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Different kettle of fish entirely. Duos were the Sub-Notebook descendants of the PowerBook 100 and the Duo System was nothing short of amazing for its time. 2300c is in no way a re-cased 5300, it's a more flexible design in several ways do to backward compatibility requirements. It was developed and released at the same time as the 5300. Duos had been in production for three years already. I was using a 230 and was glad to get my hands on a used 2300c when I finally needed to run PPC code in the field.

 

After running the 100, 230 and 2300c for over a decade, anything larger than an 11.6" NetBook feels ginormous to me. I like my 190 and 5300s very much, especially the 5300ce, but not to have carried in a bag at any time. I prefer the 1400c for its thinner form factor, larger LCD and great KBD, not to mention the G3/466 that made it work well enough using the free WiFi downtown until I bought HP_Mini almost ten years ago.

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Exactly: the Duos were supposed to be the smallest possible machine, which is why I don't get why the 5300 also had to be the smallest possible machine. Why do you need two of the smallest possible machines? You build your sub-note and then you build your big full-featured notebook, not two similar machines. 

 

Anyway the Duo 2300c and 5300c are nearly identical internally: same 100MHz 603e with no L2 cache, same 33MHz bus with 32-bit memory interface, same 60x-to-030 bridge system (though the actual chip may be slightly different between the two; I'm not interested in digging up the various Dev Notes right now), same video controller, same ATA controller (though the 2300 also had an internal SCSI port for people who were upgrading logic boards in an older Duo), same maximum RAM, same screen size and resolution, same trackpad (though oddly I think the 190 and 2300's supported tapping while the 5300's didn't). Really the only differences were some ports, the swappable drive bay, PC card support, IR, built-in modem, and Dock or lack thereof; everything else was basically the same as far as software and overall performance is concerned. 

 

As I speculated in a previous thread, it may be the Duo 2300 that is responsible for so much legacy junk being used in the 5300 (and probably the same with the Duo 280 and PB 5x0): to save money and time, the two were likely developed simultaneously with as many shared parts as possible. Because the Duo needed so much legacy stuff to work with the Dock (notably the '030 bus interface), this necessitated the 5300 also sharing a bunch of these legacy parts. As much as I like the 2300, I would have happily axed it if it meant the 5300 would have been a high-performance PCI-based system instead of the compromised generational patchwork machine we ended up with.

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9 hours ago, Franklinstein said:

If external drives are no trouble to use, why bother with swappable internal drives in the first place?

It's clear from the text Apple understood that The Standard for the kind of machine the 190/5300 were was moving. Notably, exactly as jt says, that's still a different kind of machine from the 2300.

 

The 2300 is "like" the 5300 in that it's essentially a PPC upgrade integrated into an existing platform. I haven't reviewed its dev notes to feel qualified saying it's literally a mobile 6200 the way the 5300 is, or if the starting point was different. But, that's not strictly speaking important.

 

To put it in PC terms, the 5300 was Apple's competition to a Compaq LTE or ThinkPad 700 series, where the 2300 was more like competition to a ThinkPad 500 series. It's not exact 1:1, but.

 

I don't disagree that it's kind of a bummer that the 190/5300 shipped without CD-ROM internally, 

 

6 hours ago, Franklinstein said:

Really the only differences were some ports, the swappable drive bay, PC card support, IR, built-in modem, and Dock or lack thereof; everything else was basically the same as far as software and overall performance is concerned. 

 

Notably, except of course for subbing "floppy" for "swappable drive bay", that's basically the same list of differences between the PowerBook 180 and 520/530 and their most comparable Duos.

 

Heck, it's known that the 2400 and the 3400 are close to as close as possible literally the same machine, just packaged differently, and nobody calls into question that it's viable that they're different machines. (In fact, I'd argue that it's highly likely the 2400/3400 are much closer than the 5300 and 2300 are, but that's not super duper relevant at the moment.)

 

9 hours ago, Franklinstein said:

I mean, why do you need two "smallest machine" models that are essentially the same?

So, basically, they aren't "essentially the same" - they exist in two separate product ecosystems and fill two separate roles in a laptop product line.

 

It's just like how the 7500 and 8500 are "essentially" the same and yet they both exist as justifiable, separate machines in Apple's product stack.

6 hours ago, Franklinstein said:

As much as I like the 2300, I would have happily axed it if it meant the 5300 would have been a high-performance PCI-based system instead of the compromised generational patchwork machine we ended up with.

I'm not 100% sure Apple *could* have built that system when the 5300 was launched even if it wanted to. Notably, it launched quite close to its desktop relative the 6200 and to the first PCI-based Macs, the 72 and 7/8/9500.

 

I think it's fair to say that Apple just didn't have the wherewithal to launch a totally new PCI-based laptop and a totally new PCI-based desktop family and a refreshed PowerPC based inexpensive consumer notebook all at once, at their size, with their resources, and to a certain extent, with what existed at the moment. Especially given that most people also want Apple to have built the 6200 from the ground up while still having it cost $1399 at the same time as all of this.

 

 

So, yeah, it's a bummer, but I don't think it ruined the machine any more than the 180 or 540 were ruined by not having internal CD-ROM, even though that was becoming common by that time, and ultimately, Apple really did have a lot going on at that time. I think asking them to do an awful lot more than that would've pushed some other things back, or potentially resulted in an even weirder or more problematic machine than the one we got.

 

Plus, then you get the 1400, which is essentially the bugfix for the 5300, and which, due to its re-designed enclosure, gets a CD drive added, and then the 2400/3400 come out and push the prices on the 1400 way down and you have a lineup, all PowerPC, with an "affordable, but flexible" model, an ultraportable, and a flexible premium performance powerhouse, compatible with the existing 5300/190 modules.

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