User avatar
intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
Website

Posted Sat Mar 13, 2021 12:12 pm

Named after Pismo Beach along the beautiful central-California coast, Apple's final entry to the G3 Powerbook line is an all-time classic. And by today's standards, it's yet again another sobering example of how some things were simply done better 20 years ago.

The Macintosh machines in the early 90s through the end of the decade - including laptops - had a stunning ability to be upgraded. It was not only a selling feature, it was an expectation. Put more bluntly, they could be highly customized to one's immediate tasks without the need for a drawer full of dongles. And they had ports! Like my 2015 MBP I'm writing this with right now, oh lordy they had beautiful ports.

Basically the entire G3 Powerbook line is gorgeous, very curvy, impressively customizable, expandable and overall simply fantastic. They all included dual drive bays capable of accommodating floppy drives, CD-ROM/DVD-ROM drives, extra hard drives, or even extra batteries.

They were released in this order:

Wallstreet/Mainstreet (1998, from 233mhz to 292mhz)
PDQ (late 1998, introduced L2 cache which brought a significant performance increase)
Lombard (aka Bronze) (1999, 333mhz or 400mhz, 20% thinner and lighter with an all-new (awesome) clear brown plastic keyboard + 2 USB ports)
Pismo (2000, 2 Firewire ports and 2 USB ports, 400 or 500mhz, AGP graphics, standard DVD drive, Airport wireless, and a 100 MHz bus speed which made the Pismo jump quite a bit faster than the previous Lombard model.

I already had a Wallstreet, and I love the darn thing. It's pretty hefty, but the swappable bays and respectable CPU (292mhz) make it a very fun computer to use. I have both a floppy and CD bay I can interchange depending on the need. (Note: the Wallstreet swappable bays are not interchangeable with the Lombard/Pismo models - they're too fat!)

The "problem" I personally face with that machine is getting data to and from it. It also has 2 PCMCIA ports, and I've gotten a USB card for it, but I've never been able to get it to work with that machine. And burning CDs to get data over to that laptop is kind of a drag. No - it's not on my home network.

The one reason I've not yet sold it off is because it has Apple's proprietary ADB ports on the back, which some very cool (old) Apple devices use (keyboards, mice, etc.). Now that I've got my minty Quadra 700 with AppleCD e300 all set up, the Wallstreet has become a bit redundant.

After doing a ton of research and talking to some of my fellow old classic Mac fans, the Pismo bubbled up to the top of my focus. It's considered by many not just the best Apple laptop of that entire decade, but also one of the best "bridges" between the old Mac line and modern machines.

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lowendmac:
No Apple notebook since the Pismo was discontinued at the end of 2000 has offered the combination of superb tactile ergonomics, deep feature set, versatility, and potential for hardware updating and upgrading that the Pismo does.
To think they only produced this machine for 9 months...

It can run both macOS 9.2 and OS X (up to a point). Many folks create dual booting machines to do both. OS X allows one to more easily get online as well as use slightly better browsers than 9.2 offers. This is mainly helpful for downloading files off sites like macintoshgarden.org or macintoshrepository.com.

I've been deep in the middle of multiple classic mac projects for the past 3 months, and dragging my old trusy iMac DV out of the basement every time I need to burn a CD was starting to make me grit my teeth (and grab my lower back!).

I acquired a Pismo laptop this week listed as a parts machine.

The reCycler that listed it pulled the hard drive as a matter of doing business. I had no idea if the machine even worked so it was a gamble of sorts. I got if for $65, shipping included. On average it takes about $20 to ship one of these things at the most basic, roll-the-dice levels.

This machine is a 400Mhz G3.

Back in the day the hard drive could have been anywhere from 6gb to 18gb. I had plans to install an SSD from the get-go, so it's lack of a hdd didn't bother me one bit.

I ordered the following two parts off Amazon:

1) First, I needed an mSATA/IDE adapter. I got this one. It's listed as "mSATA Mini PCI-E SATA SSD to 2.5 inch IDE 44pin Hard Disk Case Enclosure"
2) Then I needed an ssd hard drive. I opted for a 128gb model. I ordered this one. The one I got was actually made by a company called "Dogfish" but it was the same size I wanted and it works beautifully.
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Weird that the part I ordered was not what I received, but I know now both brands work. The part I ordered had been recommended to me personally.

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The process was about as plug and play for this kind of surgery I can imagine.


You can remove the Bronze keyboard by twisting 1 tiny plastic screw and pressing two little slider switches on the keyboard. Poof! Off it comes just like that. So. SIMPLE.

Next I removed the hard drive caddy and attached the new enclosure to it. Took a couple of minutes max.

I have an original PowerBook CD that installs 9.0.2 on a machine like it would have had when it came from the factory.

Using the internal DVD/CD bay, you pop that CD (or comparable 9.2 install CD) into the bay and power on the machine holding down the "C" key. It boots the operating system right off the CD, even if your hard drive is missing or not set up yet. Once it boots, you look for a program called Disk First Aid. Looks like an ambulance.

All you have to do once that launches is Initialize your new drive. It took just a couple of seconds to do. After that, you close that program and install the CD to the new drive.

MacOS 9.0.2 took between 5-6 minutes to fully install. That was it!
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It was really quick! I miss those days SO hard.

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A friend of mine gave me a full-install of 9.2.2 so I later installed that on top of everything (it took 18 minutes).

Issues I found

After getting everything running nicely, I started to really take a close look at the machine after giving it a solid scrub with Krud Kutter. It needed it. . .

1) I discovered my number "8" key on the keyboard doesn't work. Slow trombone.
2) There is a spec of dust behind the glass of the monitor which is causing 1 vertical line of bright pixels down the screen. It's barely noticeable when the machine has booted up, but I know my OCD is going to have trouble not staring at it every day.
3) My machine didn't come with the standard DVD drive. This wasn't really an issue - almost a bonus in some ways - as it did come with a VST replacement SuperDrive. The SuperDrive can take regular floppy disks, which is awesome. But it can also use really odd 120MB "LS-120" disks which I've never heard of until now. Regardless, I had to borrow a friend's DVD drive to get my machine up and running with the install CDs.
4) All the main batteries from this era are mostly dead. To my surprise, after charging it all night long I got to 50% capacity. What that likely means is I'll have about 2 hours of charge with the machine turned off, and about 20 minutes of use with the machine turned on, give or take. Or, just enough power to move it from one room to another without too much stress. ;)
5) Most of the original rubber feet on the bottom of the case either wore off or fell off. Extremely common issue with all of the black PowerBooks.
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That line right there is being caused by one tiny speck of dust I can see at the top of the screen, behind the "glass".

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My battery in the top strip is still bright red letting me know it's a P.O.S. but at least it is semi-functional. I've not seen a very easy way to rebuild these that didn't make me worry I was building a future bomb, so it is what it is.


Other than those few issues, I will likely be very tempted to upgrade the machine to the maximum 1GB of RAM that it can handle.

Meanwhile...

Knowing early on I was going to need to get a CD reader (most of my Mac games are on CD) I found a couple here and there at various reseller sites. They were typically asking somewhere between $70-90, plus shipping. That's more than I paid for the laptop!

I knew my best bet was to find another parts machine that still had the DVD drive. I did indeed find one, missing its hard drive (don't care) and RAM (don't care). It does have a DVD drive and battery. It also (drumroll) has the 500Mhz CPU!

My plan when it arrives next week is to create a kick ass machine out of the two parts machines. Fingers crossed the new Pismo has a decent monitor. A lot of these seem to be red when you first turn them on, which fades away after a few seconds. I don't look forward to swapping monitors, but I've watched a couple of YouTube videos and it doesn't look impossible.

Then I should have a 500mhz, 1gb RAM, 128gb hdd - with fully functioning keyboard and DVD drive. It will be the perfect bridge Mac.

Feeling very optimistic with what Ive already got as the current machine is great, I've already started planning to sell off my Wallstreet machine. In with one, out with the other. Gotta reduce some of the clutter, you know what I mean?

And this is but one tiny thread of a giant sweater of a project I've been thrashing on for what feels like ages now. So funny how one thing can lead us down multiple paths before we return to the original task at hand.

Curiosities

One of the most common issues found in all Pismo/Lombard models is the PRAM will be long dead. When that happens the machines won't even boot. The fix? You just disconnect the little wire that connects the PRAM to the motheboard. In fact most folks just remove the battery pack entirely and just use a charger - treating the machine more like a desktop machine at that point.

I disconnected my PRAM before even starting the whole procedure assuming it's dead.

I looked into replacing it and discovered it was 4 spot-welded VL2330 coin batteries, like these.

I don't have a spot welder, but I've bought four of those things and am going to attempt to connect them using some conductive copper foil adhesive, like this. I've read trying to solder them together is virtually impossible as the solder simply snaps when you try and put it all together. I figure the copper tape might work - I give it a 10-20% chance. Couldn't hurt trying. Worst case I'll just keep the PRAM unplugged and use my wall outlet for the foreseeable future like everyone else seems to do.

Looking forward to getting that 500Mhz CPU! And some Dark Forces action. <3

User avatar
Zippy Zapp
CA, USA

Posted Mon Mar 15, 2021 8:02 am

Very nice! I love these old G3 PowerBooks. I have a Wallstreet with a minor CPU upgrade and a couple Lombards. Yours looks to be in fantastic shape. The coated top tends to come off and scratch so mine don't look very good in that regard.

I too miss this era of Macs and OS9. I can't explain it because modern macOS is more robust but there is something about using the classic OS that to me is just more fun.

User avatar
intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
Website

Posted Tue Mar 16, 2021 9:48 am

Last night the 500 Mhz Pismo arrived from San Pedro, CA (where I was born, incidentally). I didn't learn until much later in life that San Pedro isn't actually a city, but a "neighborhood" but I digress.

Upon opening the box, I was thrilled to see the original photos did not lie - this thing looks great. Well, at least the top shell with the monitor did. The bottom shell had a large thin crack in the central rubber leading from the Apple logo. I bet the owner didn't even realize it was there. I discovered it as I was wiping the thing down with Krud Kutter, which turned my rag black.

I set the two machines side by side and prepared my plan of attack.

I could have gone the easy route and simply moved the hard drive over from one to the other and called it a day. But no. This is what I did.

I removed both machines and disassembled them as far as I needed to, including the removal of both top-shell displays (something I'd never done before and was really hoping I didn't break anything).

The final result is 1 single amazing machine that really rocks!

NEW MACHINE HAS:


From the G3 400 MHZ:
  • BOTTOM SHELL
  • BATTERY
  • 320 MB RAM (soon to be 1GB for only $25!)
  • POWER ADAPTER

From the G3 500 MHZ:
  • 500 Mhz CPU
  • AIRPORT CARD
  • KEYBOARD (400 Mhz had 1 single dead key)
  • DVD Drive
  • TOP SHELL / MONITOR (400 Mhz had bad pixels, reddish)
And with 9.2.2 running on a brand new 128 GB SSD!

Last night, after getting it all put back together, I instantly installed Adobe Photoshop 4.0 off my original CD. I now have a pile I plan on installing this week, including Diablo, Day of the Tentacle, Star Trek 25th Anniversary, the flying toasters and more.

I love OS X, but I really love pre OS X, too. It's not nearly as good below the hood, but I agree with Zippy Zapp that there's something about it that is a lot more fun to use.

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The screen isn't screwed up anymore - this one is near-mint. This keyboard works flawlessly, and feels great! Really cool switches on these things. I guess the clear keycaps was its small nod to the wild design departure Apple was about to travel down.

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By the power of Gray Skull...!

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400 on the left, 500 on the right, and to go into surgery. It's wild how the top lip can open ALL the way flat to the floor (note: the computer on the right is on a stool; both machines are exactly the same size).


User avatar
bwldrbst

Posted Wed Mar 17, 2021 4:47 pm

I've got an old 14" iBook G4 lying around here - my wife bought it new back in 2004 or so and every now and then she tells me to throw it away - as if!

The hard drive in it died long ago and, for some reason, I decided to remove it. I was probably thinking about replacing it and installing MorphOS.

Getting at the drive in that machine is not for the faint hearted! It is definitely not intended to be user serviceable.





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