Wall Writings
My Mac Magazine #38, June ’98

Well, it’s become pretty much customary for me to mention the beginning and ending of each school year, so I’ll make no exception this time around. My freshman year of college has come to a close, and I’ve had many new and exciting experiences. However, I’m also ready for a dozen weeks or so of R & R, and I’m looking forward to spending the sunny summer days having some fun and earning some cash.

From a computer standpoint (after all, this magazine is called My Mac, not My Vacation), I’ll be happy to get away from the Windows-centric computer network at school. In the computer lab on my dorm floor, we had 13 Gateway 2000 computers, which varied from one 486-based machine to several 166MHz Pentiums. There were exactly eleven days out of the entire school year when all thirteen computers were functional for the entire day, and there were a couple of occasions when we had as few as eight computers working.

In the past nine months, I have gotten fairly comfortable with the Windows and DOS world, and have even dabbled a bit in Unix. I can appreciate some of the things that these platforms do right; I will never again speak like a Mac bigot and proclaim that everything non-Mac sucks, because that’s not the case. However, this past year has certainly reaffirmed my belief that the Macintosh is the easiest, most flexible, and least problematic computer in existence.

Where am I going with this? Well, spending the entire year with a less-than-powerful Mac LC in my dorm room and less-than-reliable PCs in the computer lab convinced me that maybe it was time I took the plunge and bought a new machine myself. Scraping together all of the funds a poor, starving college student could muster, I came up with about $1500 to spend. The question was, what to spend it on? I briefly considered buying a PC, because it would be easier to work with the campus network and the networked applications. But then, sanity slapped me in the face and I realized how crazy that thinking was. Firmly deciding that I would stay a Mac user through and through, I perused my available options… a new low-end machine, a quality used or refurbished one, possibly one of the remaining clones… and then I laid my eyes on what I knew I had to purchase:

A brand new PowerBook 1400c/133.

The prospect of having a PowerPC Mac with the convenience and portability of a laptop was irresistable. It sure would come in handy during those midnight study sessions in the library… Yes, from the moment I saw the listing in the ads in the back of Macworld, I was in love with the idea of owning that PowerBook.

OK, OK, with the amazing G3 processor, the hoopla over the iMac, and benchmarks going through the roof, the 1400 is no longer an impressive machine (in fact, it never was incredibly impressive, but I’ll get to that in a minute). However, that new PowerBook is the pride and joy of my computing life, and I consider it to be the best $1500 I ever spent.

I’m not going to go into a full-length review here, because plenty has been written about the 1400, and it is already nearing the end of its existence. I was lucky to find a 133 MHz model; the only ones Apple currently offers run at 166 MHz. But, I felt that the slight dropoff in speed was worth the couple hundred dollars in savings, especially for a computer which I plan on upgrading in the near future, anyway.

I will say that most of the reviews that have been done on the PowerBook 1400 are right on the money–it’s not flashy, not too impressive, but everything about it is rock solid. It is a very efficient, very stable machine, and it does everything I ask or want it to do without complaining. It’s 16 megs of physical RAM is the most I’ve ever had in a computer, and while I plan on buying a memory upgrade soon, the 16 megs work nicely for me as long as I have RAM Doubler installed. The 1 gigabyte hard drive isn’t overly spacious, but once again, it’s a far cry from the 250 meg hard drive in my family’s LC 575 (or the 170 meg one in my LC, for that matter!). The 8X CD-ROM drive isn’t exactly cutting-edge anymore, either, but how many CD-ROMs really take advantage of twenty-four speed drives, anyway? It’s still a lot faster than the double-speed drive I’m used to. The 133 MHz 603e processor (and measly 128K of L2 cache) isn’t about to break any speed records, but when you’re used to driving a 33 MHz 68LC040, anything seems like a Ferrari. Last but not least, the screen on the 1400c is gorgeous–when I bought my computer, the 1400c/133 and the 1400cs/166 cost about the same, and I’m glad I sacrificed some speed for the active matrix screen. It really looks awesome. Plus, even though the screen is only 11.3 inches, it feels bigger than any other monitor I’ve ever had, because of the 800 X 600 resolution (the other monitors I own–a 12 inch RGB for the LC and a built-in 14 inch on the LC 575–only support 640 X 480 resolution). So, like I said, nothing about the 1400 is flashy, but everything about it is very, very solid.

I found the transition from using a desktop computer to using a notebook computer as my primary machine a surprisingly easy one. I was extremely pleased to find that I adjusted very quickly to the PowerBook keyboard, and within a week I was typing at my usual rate of about 65 words per minute. Also, although I plan on buying a two-button mouse to plug into the ADB port, the trackpad is quite slick; I don’t just use it, I enjoy using it.

One of the biggest advantages to the PowerBook 1400 is that it’s expandable enough to be an excellent long-term investment. Right off the bat, I’m looking at buying a RAM upgrade (probably about 24 megabytes, which I can upgrade again when I get some more cash, thanks to the ingenius stackable “piggy-back” memory modules) and an expansion bay Zip drive from VST. Before the end of the summer, I hope to find an Ethernet card so I’ll be able to connect to the campus network next fall. Once I get my cash reserves built up again, I plan on buying a G3 upgrade from Newer Technology; then my PowerBook will be primed to be a powerful computer that should last me a long time.

Some friends of mine (and I know you out there are thinking it, too!) wondered why I didn’t wait just a few short weeks before buying a computer, and pick up the new entry-level G3 notebook instead. I don’t want to take anything away from Apple’s new G3 line; in all respects, they are simply awesome machines. However, for a little over $2600 I should be able to put together a 1400c with an upgraded G3 processor and 32 megs of RAM, with Ethernet, CD-ROM, floppy drive, and an active matrix screen. That would compare very well with the entry level G3 Book, which has a slightly larger (but passive) screen, a larger hard drive and faster CD-ROM drive, but lacks a floppy drive or a backside cache. Certainly the upper-level G3 laptops would run circles around my upgraded 1400c, but they also cost a lot more. In the end, I wanted to be able to buy something I could pay for up front instead of having to lease, and the 1400 was the only desirable notebook I could afford. Sure, to go through the aforementioned upgrades, I’ll end up spending a couple hundred more than the entry-level G3’s $2300 price tag, but I stand to save at least that much money by being able to pony up the cash on the spot instead of having to pay off interest on a lease, too.

I don’t mean to sound defensive in trying to justify my purchase, as that’s not my intention at all. I do want to show Mac users out there another option, though. It’s easy to get caught up in the fever pitch surrounding Apple’s new machines, and with good reason, because they are amazing computers that bode very well for the future of our favorite company. However, for you students or home users on a budget that are considering a new laptop (or desktop, for that matter; the same “buy cheap and upgrade when you can afford it” strategy works there, too), don’t overlook a good deal on a slightly older machine, especially one that’s upgradeable. For me, such a route has proven to be the perfect way to join the PowerPC crowd (albeit a little late!), and still not go entirely broke… until my tuition for next fall comes due, anyway.

Mike Wallinga

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