Zip1400 Expansion Bay Module from VST Technologies
From the moment I got my PowerBook, I considered this as one piece of must-have hardware. My Zip drive has become an indispensable part of my daily computing, especially since my family’s desktop Mac (a LC 575) has a measly 250 meg hard drive. This isn’t quite as big of a selling point now that most computers (my new 1400 included) come with much larger hard drives (usually a minimum of 1 gigabyte), but for making simple backups, transferring larger files between non-networked computers, and storing all that miscellaneous stuff that you just don’t know what to do with (you know, those programs you don’t really use that much, but you just can’t bring yourself to trash, either…), the Zip drive is a wonderful answer.
VST’s drive lives up to its billing as the best solution for owners of PowerBooks with expansion bays. My Zip module fits a little tighter than the floppy disk and CD-ROM modules from Apple–I have to push a little harder to snap it into place, and pull a little harder to get it to come out–and it’s a tad noisy when accessing the disk for my taste, but otherwise, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this drive. The only other disadvantage is that you can’t have a Zip disk and a CD-ROM mounted at the same time (or a floppy, for that matter), which makes copying files from a CD-ROM nearly impossible without using your hard drive as a middle man. Even so, I find the convenience and portability of the VST Zip far preferable to carrying around a SCSI adapter and having to disconnect and reconnect my external Zip drive everytime I wanted to swap files with a desktop Mac. Additionally, the original $350 price tag on this baby was a little absurd, but with street prices now hovering in the much more agreeable $200-$225 range, this is one hardware purchase that just makes sense.
Kensington Two-Button Mouse
I have yet to hear one negative reaction to a Kensington product from anyone who has used one, and now I see why. I decided to save myself fifteen bucks and buy the two-button version of their mouse, but I don’t have any reason to believe that the four-button Thinking Mouse and four-button Turbo Mouse trackball aren’t top-notch products, as well.
Anyway, a quick word about the Kensington Mouse: it’s awesome. As much as I like the trackpad on my 1400, I decided that a mouse would still be nice to have around, since using one is almost instinctive for me. In light of Mac OS 8’s contextual menus, I decided a two-button mouse was a necessity, and Kensington’s fit the bill. Their MouseWorks software is intuitive and easy to use; I was pleased to see that the two buttons actually give me three programmable options: I can assign different actions for a left click, a right click, and a click on both sides at once (for me, that equals single click, control-click, and double-click, respectively). The Kensington Mouse is a delight to hold in your hand, too. It’s contours feel natural and comfortable; I like the feel of it more than Apple’s mice. I can’t say one bad thing about this product–I’m another satisfied Kensington customer.
Gravis Mac Game Pad
While I was shopping for input devices, I decided to check out one for playtime, too. While there is a myriad of joysticks, flightsticks, and such out there, the Gravis Game Pad gave me what I wanted for the right price–about $20. The best way describe the Game Pad is that it’s just like a Super Nintendo control pad, minus the “L” and “R” buttons on top. That gives you the four-way directional pad and four programmable buttons to work with. That really isn’t that many programmable buttons when you’re playing games with a lot of commands–I ran out of buttons trying to program the pad to work with Marathon–and the addition of the ‘missing’ top buttons would have really helped that situation. Still, for almost all shareware games (and some commercial ones) the Game Pad is more than adequate. Playing Ambrosia’s Mars Rising (see last month’s Game Guys column for a review) was a lot of fun with the Game Pad; it really lent the “Nintendo-esque” feel to the game.
The Gravis control panel isn’t quite as nice as Kensington’s. I thought the interface was a little confusing at first, but once I figured it out, programming the pad’s buttons for most of my favorite games was a snap. Any game that utilizes Apple’s Game Sprockets (or, more specifically, the Input Sprocket) is a cinch to set up, and programming the pad for other games isn’t that tough, either. The Game Pad also has a switch that allows you to toggle mouse control on and off. I found controlling the pointer with the pad to be more of a novelty than anything else, but it’s a fun option. Overall, the Game Pad is an inexpensive, effective way of giving Mac games a more arcade-like feel.
Digging into the Insides
Kudos to the Apple engineers who designed the 1400’s guts. I finished my shopping with a RAM upgrade from Viking and an internal Ethernet card from Farallon, and both were easy to install. The flip-up keyboard is really nifty, and it only takes unscrewing six tiny screws to access the entire inside of the machine. The RAM slot is easy to get to, as is the expansion slot; I didn’t have a problem getting either card to fit in place. The step-by-step instructions provided in the 1400’s manual were also more than adequate to guide me along. With all the slots filled now, everything sure looks tight in there! Still, the design team for the 1400 (and the other new PowerBooks) should be complimented for creating a computer that can be upgraded without needing a skilled technician to do the job.
One Little Gripe…
If I have one complaint about my PowerBook, it’s that it shipped with extremely outdated software. System 7.5.3 came pre-installed, as well as ClarisWorks 4.0, Claris Organizer 1.0, and 3.0 versions of the two web browsers. Now, some people may say that it’s my fault for purchasing a computer that’s been on the market for almost two years, but I still think the old System software is inexcusable. At least I can download the browsers for free, and I can get the upgrade discount for ClarisWorks 5.0–but I had to buy Mac OS 8.1 without a rebate! The least Apple could have done was to make sure that these notebooks shipped with 7.6 installed, so I could get the discount on upgrading to OS 8. Heck, even my family’s LC 575 shipped with System 7.5 installed! So, I’m a little miffed about that, but otherwise, I now have a fully functional, feature-rich PowerBook that is ready to act as a desktop replacement. Life is good. 🙂