back to article The forgotten, fat generation of Mac Portables

One of Apple's oddest machines just turned 21, meaning that here in California we can now legally buy it a pint and raise a toast — if not to its success, at least to its good intentions. Apple Macintosh Portable The year was 1989, when Apple still had "Computer" in its name (click to enlarge) No, we're not talking about …


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  1. MacroRodent
    Thumb Up

    The battery issue

    I have one of these things, literally picked from a rubbish depot some 10 years ago! The battery was nearly dead, but I could boot the machine a couple of times after some intensive recharging and using a totally fresh 9V backup battery. Now the battery is completely expired, so it is unbootable. What a brain-dead power supply design! Waiting for the machine to become hugely expensive collectors' item...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      It's trivial to crack open the battery and replace the Hawker Cyclon SLA cells , with a little care you can make it look like it's never been touched.

  2. Alan W. Rateliff, II
    Paris Hilton

    What Mac article would be complete without Amiga mention?

    While reading this article I thought about my Commodore SX-64, something like 25 pounds with no battery, not even the option for one, and a 5" CRT. Leads me to lament that Commodore never really even tried with the Amiga -- in 1989 an Amiga portable would have been great, even if just as an experiment.

    It is neat to look back and see how technology matured over time, even if very over-priced. I believe it was 1990 that I saw a 386 portable with two floppies and a hard drive built in running DOS 3.3. Seemed cool, but limited to a large degree.

    Oh, nostalgia.

    Paris, cool, but limited to a large degree.

    1. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Amiga portable

      Someone built one out of an A600 once.

      But the problem with the Amiga was the custom chips would have had to be redesigned to get lower power usage. There simply wasn't the market to do so, few people were buying x86 laptops, so even fewer would buy an Amiga version.

      The Amiga was portable in the sense that you could plug it into a TV somewhere. Few people owned portables back in those days. Most laptops had very sluggish mono screens in the late 80s, early 90s. Not much use for an Amiga which was primarily a games or multimedia machine.

      Colour LCDs were a bit blurry too, hence Game Gear and Atari Lynx never really took off.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sharp .....

      We had portable/luggable PC's running DOS 3.3 @ school in the early 90's that we were allowed to take home. Dual floppies, MSWorks on one, your work on the other. In fact some were still going on leaving 6th form in '97.

  3. easyk

    hybrid chip

    all of the interesting chips are from linear technology

    The LT1054 is a monolithic, bipolar, switched-capacitor voltage converter and regulator.

    The LTC™1040 is a monolithic CMOS dual comparator.

    The one marked 0412 is the LT1004 Micropower Voltage Reference

    The rest of the parts are opamps, descrete transistors, capacitors and one surface mount diode in a glass case (you dont' see those anymore). So yes, it is an eary switching regulator back when switched power supply design was still a black art.

    1. Stoneshop

      Auxiliary voltages

      probably for the RS232 port, creating -5V or -12V out of whatever voltage the battery supplies. Switched-cap supplies aren't the black art that switched-inductor supplies are, though. You can even build a quite competent one out of a 555 oscillator, with a few additional caps and diodes.

      And glasss-cased SMD diodes (MELF) are rare now, but not at all extinct.

      1. John 62


        Is there anything it can't do?

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Survive being handled by me, apparently.

          I burned out five of the damn things the other day just by looking at them, or near enough. I had myself earthed and everything but they still went phut. Must be my magnetic personality (south pole - it repels everyone).

        2. Stoneshop

          "Is there anything it can't do?"

          So far no luck in getting it to do the dishes and feed the cat, but apart from that?

          I've heard it's the single most manufactured IC ever.

    2. Hmpty McNumpty


      The package is called Mini-Melf and yes you do see them, quite a lot in fact. However you are just as likely to see a signal diode in an SOD-323 package, depends which one your designer plopped onto first when cruising Farnell I guess.

      Interesting to me as a Surface Mount Tech is that on this mixed technology board there are a bunch of SM Electrolytic's, even today they can cost quite a bit more than their PTH counterparts.

  4. Steve the Cynic

    Commodore SX-64...

    God, I had one of those, with the ghastly ribbed handle that cut slots in your hand, and the ROM hacked so that Shift+Run/Stop ran LOAD "0:*",8,1 to run something from the built-in 1541 rather than from the non-existent cassette port...

    (Need a Memory Lane icon...)

    1. Paul Barnard
      Thumb Up

      Ah the SX64

      I wrote a lot of software on the SX64. I was writing games software back then and picked up a job teaching computing at Butlins holiday camps. I bought the SX64 so that I could carry on writing code while living in a holiday chalet all summer. Ah those were the days.

      I have no idea what happened to my SX64 I don't remember selling it but it has disappeared over the years.

      I do still have my PowerBook 140 and it is still a runner.

  5. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

    SCSI fussy?

    If you think SCSI was fussy and unreliable, I suggest you weren't working with the alternatives. SCSI was a breath of fresh air in a DIP-switch and twisted-cable infested, badly terminated hell of other mutually incompatible alternatives.

    Of course, USB and Firewire are way, way better, but then they have the benefit of another couple of decades of development.

    Happy days, they were....


    1. Steve X


      Sadly, MACs used Apple's version of SCSI, which IIRC wasn't exactly SCSI as implemented by anyone else... Possibly explains why it seemed touchy, if you tried to connect it to anything which spoke real SCSI.

      1. Aremmes

        Apple SCSI

        Real SCSI, as the Lord intended it to be, uses the target (i.e., the peripheral device) to drive the transaction. Apple's SCSI as implemented in the Mac Plus, on the other hand, uses the initiator (i.e., the controller) for that function. Granted, the SCSI standard was still in development, but IIRC the roles of initiator and target were well understood back then.

    2. Alvar

      Oh yes it was...

      I guess you never tried to get early Seagate and WD drives to co-exist in the same SCSI chain.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        ...I've only managed to wipe that scenario from my mind and you've bought it back.

      2. Stoneshop

        WD coexisting with any other brand

        required deep, intense voodoo, and it made no difference if the bus was SCSI, IDE, ESDI or ST-506.

        And only now that those incompatibilities are really a thing of the past it is that a single drive per channel gets to be the common configuration. Of course, as all hardware (as well as software) sucks, you'll be getting incompatibilities between controller and drive to make up for it.

    3. The First Dave


      Dunno about USB being better - I never had SCSI chain ask for an updated driver...

      Biggest issue with SCSI was that there were at least three different connectors for every speed, so that a full box of cables required an ISO container for storage.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

        My first PC had SCSI

        and boy was I pleased with that! An 88MB SCSI hard disk (MASSIVE in those days), backing up to an external SCSI ZIP-drive (THAT was so much faster than RS-232 (shudder)), and it could interface neatly with my scanner.

    4. Daniel B.

      I think I remember SCSI differently as well

      It was much more reliable, and you could plug 6 HDDs in the same SCSI chain, unlike IDE which was limited to two. Well, 7 if your Mac didn't have an internal HDD.

      Also, the SCSI terminator requirement wasn't needed anymore with SCSI2, the terminating device would automatically terminate itself. BTW, anyone remember the HD Removable Cartridges of that era? I used both the Jasmine Removable 45 and the MDS88 ones. That was before the iomega Jaz/Zip drives...

      1. skeptical i
        Dead Vulture

        SyQuest cartridges, 44MB and 88MB

        I still have a half- dozen of 'em. Zip drives were just coming over the horizon; we (I + former business partner) were concerned about their flimsy construction (vis-a-vis transporting and archiving customer projects) and went SyQuest instead. *sigh* Live, learn.

        <-- Roughly the same shape and heft of the SyQuest drive.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fittingly, a Mac Portable appears in 2010: The Year We Make Contact

    in a beach scene reminiscent of the much later seaside computing demonstrated by the dear departed Eee Girl (who in turn is possibly related to the MacUser Inflatable Pool Lounger Lady).

    How the Mac Portable responded to getting sand in the peripheral ports, history does not record...

    1. ThomH

      And in real space, too

      NASA sent a Mac Portable into space for one of their missions - check YouTube for the video evidence. Since it has a mechanical eject floppy mechanism like all Macs of the era, they seem to be having some fun with it in zero gravity.

    2. MacroRodent

      Not mac portable, but Apple IIc

      The Mac Portable did not even exist when the 2010 film was made (1984, see ), it was an Apple IIc (basically a late-model apple ][) plus an LCD screen. Would not really have worked on the beach, because it was not batter-powered (and no power cable is shown in the scene, IIRC).

      1. Shooter

        Ahh, the IIc...

        My very first personally-owned computer (after I paid off the bank loan, that is). It was supposedly portable, even if not battery-operated, even though it never left my desk. I was the envy of my college classmates at the time, though :) Wish I still had it, if only for sentimental reasons.

  7. Wind Farmer

    Apple's have always been over-priced

    Go back a further 5 years and you could have had an Apricot Portable for much less. I used one (albeit it was my father's). See

  8. AnonymousCoward

    Disk mechanics not improved much since then

    Interesting to note that while all the other hardware spec's have gone through the roof since this thing was created the hard disk "access time" has only managed to halve'ish from 28ms to 12ms. Thankfully gobs of RAM in the machines of today, and on the disks themselves, have hidden this from us.

    1. dave 93

      Hence the evolutionary step of switching to solid state

      From what I read, cos I haven't got one,; the new Airs really benefit from the flash based storage and access times of 0.1ms.

      Another first for Apple, (GUI, WYSIWYG, networking, Laser printers, SCSI, no floppy, USB only, wireless network, no CD/DVD, etc.) putting solid state storage as the only configuration option for two mainstream laptop models

      I know the ACME TurboLap XYZ has done it for years, but I am talking about the mainstream volume manufacturers

      1. Stoneshop

        SCSI was no Apple first

        It was an established industry standard already, although not really common in prebuilt desktop systems. Computer shops' price lists were not that much shorter for the SCSI section than for the others (MFM/RLL or IDE) though, so they sure were used by the DIY crowd. SCSI disks were only a bit pricier than the others then, too, otherwise Apple would not have chosen them. They then bastardised the SCSI standard to allow for cheaper cables ("ooh, with one ground pin for all those twisted pairs it will work just as well". Yeah, right), which did little to take away the SCSI reputation for being finicky.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Get with the times :P

      Eh... don't you have an SSD or two yet?

  9. Andy 70
    Thumb Up

    good old hardware pron at it's best.

    shame no picture of it running, but as mentioned by one of the previous commenters, i guess the battery has gone south and taken the rest of the machine with it.

    all in all, good stuff. :)

  10. StooMonster

    Broke one

    I was working Monday to Friday on a project in Belgium and flying home at weekends, my firm was all Mac in early 1990s (home of Excel, PowerPoint, and Word in them days) and the company gave me a Macintosh Portable to take home in case there was any work I needed to do at the weekends. Bastards.

    This thing was heavy, so one week I decided I couldn't be arsed lugging it through the airport and take on the plane ... so I checked it, in it's black neoprene case, into hold luggage.

    When I picked it up from the carousel in London I suddenly thought ... perhaps that wasn't such a good idea, and opened the case. The Macintosh Portable had an LCD split down the middle and was totally FUBAR. Ooops.

    Rather than confess to costly mistake I went into head office and managed to swap broken Macintosh Portable for perfectly working one, when no one was looking. Ah... thumbs up for the days of poor asset control.

    In a previous life I had a Commdore SX-64 for work, I loved the DPI on the tiny screen.

  11. Steve X

    NiCd memory effect

    is largely urban myth. It only shows up in NiCd batteries that follow *exactly* the same cycle, to the second, over hundreds of cycles. NASA first reported it on a satellite which, over the course of an orbit, followed the same charge/discharge cycle each day. Then something happened (eclipse, equinoxe? I can't remember) and the battery refused to give any more power after it dropped to the regular lower limit, even though it should have had plenty more charge available.

    Batteries in normal use don't show it, and the various clever charging techniques proposed ("always discharge fully once a week", etc.) achieve nothing, beyond perhaps battery damage if yoiu *really* fully discharge the cell.

    1. John 174

      Actually, it's true...

      But we now have the real reason why: Overcharging

      The "memory effect" was caused by the primitive chargers in use back then. They never shut off. Most products sold today have a peak detect circuit, which are now much cheaper to supply.

  12. GrahamT

    I also had one

    Persuaded the company to get me one because it was "application compatible" with the PCs in the company, i.e. I could import and export word processor and graphic files and could read DOS floppies.

    I had Word and Excel on it, before Word for Windows and Excel were available on PCs, and managed to find a SCSI to Ethernet adapter so i could network it. However as there was no compatibility between the company Netware server and Mac's networking protocols, most file transfer and printing was done via a Unix server and NFS and/or ftp.

    The big advantage for me was being able to run PageMaker for DTP, and SuperPaint, a great little drawing/paint package - maybe the first to combine both functions in one package using layers. Because you could set drawing scale, you could almost use it as a 2D CAD package by entering real life measurements. The drawings could then be imported into PageMaker for reports, etc.

    It was heavy, but the battery life beat contemporary "portable" PCs into a cocked hat, and the screen was crystal sharp.

    I loved my first portable. (sigh)

    By the way, there are battery chargers that can rescue partially sulphited lead-acid batteries, but connecting one of the correct voltage might be an issue.

    1. Daniel B.


      That was the Mac's Killer App back in the 80's and early 90's!

      At least it was for us...

  13. Lottie

    Slow processor

    It was slow, but wasn't it a RISC which meant it didn't need to be quite as fast as the others?

    1. Peter Ford

      Not RISC

      Motorola 68000-series were not RISC, just an alternative to 8086-based PC chips - sort of like Betamax compared to VHS: probably superior but not the one that really took off.

      1. climbgeek

        68000 speed

        As I recall, the 68000 chips ran at twice the input clock rate, unlike the Intel chips of the time, which ran at half the input clock rate. The 68000 required a 50% duty cycle clock, the Intel chips just needed a consistent rising edge. But it's been a while, I could well be misremembering.

      2. M Gale

        I wouldn't say the 68k didn't take off.

        It ended up being used in everything from the Amiga, through Sega 16 bit consoles, even some wierd things like alarm systems where a z80 would have done just as well.

        I'm pretty sure the 68k's legacy lives on in some miniaturised designs, too.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


          If you ever see references to Dragonball processors, as used in PalmPilots, then these are low-power 68000 processors.

          I'm sure I was poking about inside some consumer device (it may have been a Freeview TV box) recently, and came across a 68K based SoC being used as a micro-controller, which probably means that they are still being made.

          The 68000 family should be regarded as one of the classic processor designs, alongside the IBM 370, the PDP/11, the MIPS-1 and possibly the 6502. Beats the hell out of the mire that Intel processors have become. Some people might also say that the NS32032 processor and maybe the ARM-1 should also be included in this list.

          1. Bob Kentridge
            Thumb Up

            680x0 things

            The connoisseur's processor of its time. I had a Sun 3/60 with a 68020 and 68881 math co-processor in it I think. I wrote little bits of 68020 assembler to optimise long-running simulations.

            There was a time when Apple's highest performing processor was a 68020 in the Laserprinter IINT (or something) - running faster than the processors in any of their computers....

            1. Daniel B.


              Our LaserPrinter IINTX lasted well over 10 years. It was finally sold in 1999 because my dad needed cash ... and it was *still working*. It had printed something like 80,000 pages or 180,000 pages (can't remember if the counter was one of those rollover at 99,999) by then.

              The 680x0 lives on with a couple of low-power devices, notably my TI-89 used one of those. I joked with some of my friends that I could theoretically fire up System 7 or System 6.0.7 on one of those calculators!

        2. Giles Jones Gold badge


          The Coldfire embedded CPUs are cut down 68000. They lack some of the more advanced features.

        3. David Haig


          And Data General used it in its minis for many years

    2. Rob Willett

      The 68000 range of CPU's

      The CPU's weren't RISC but CISC.

      They were very nice to program down to assembly level. I recall writing a boot loader for one in the early 90's . It had a nice regular instruction set and "just worked".

      1. Stoneshop

        Much better than x86

        with its totally fscked memory model.

        For a while I wrote testing software for modules for voice response systems, which were 68k-based. Mostly C, but with splashes of assembler left and right. Pretty nice-ish all around, but the 6502 is still favourite.

    3. Chromatix

      Not RISC

      Apple has used several CPU families in it's machines - this one is a 68K family, which is classic CISC. It was relatively powerful for it's time, though - you would often see arcade games and consoles using a Z80 to run the game logic and a 68000 for the graphics.

      The RISC CPUs Apple has used are the PowerPC (from 1994 to about 2005) and the ARM (in the iPod and iPhone). The PowerPC gave the Mac performance when the 68K family eventually ran out of steam, while the ARM gives power efficiency that's needed for a handheld device.

      Has anyone tried replacing the Portable's battery with a new lead-acid battery? It seems to have a custom case wrapped around it, but it shouldn't be too hard to find an electrically compatible unit, even if it requires making the machine desk-bound.

      1. Lottie
        Thumb Up

        I see.

        Not super familiar with older macs, so thanks for the lesson.

      2. RichyS


        Don't forget that the original Newton used ARM chips too. Apple liked the look of what Acorn (under Olivetti) were doing at the time, and was a co-founder in ARM Holdings (along with, IIRC, VLSI and Acorn themselves).

        I think Apple have since sold their stake (they needed the cash in the late 90s/early 2000s).

    4. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Stewart Stevens
    Thumb Up


    Thanks for the walk through.

  15. Peter Ford

    I used one of these

    My Ph.D. supervisor had one and I borrowed it once or twice to write up some papers while travelling to see my gf on the train. It didn't seem too bad to carry, given that I had disks with all the data on which meant I didn't need a bag full of notebooks...

  16. Bilgepipe
    Gates Horns

    Memory Lane

    It's amazing how far tech has come in the last couple of decades. Just look at that compared to the Air.

    I remember getting an Elonex 33Mhz 368 tower at work in the early-mid 90's that cost three and a half grand.

  17. This post has been deleted by its author

  18. Ivan Headache

    I remember

    Being at a rather prestigeous event in Westminster and one of these was being used to log attendees (or something),

    At lunchtime on the first day - someone half-inched it.

  19. Anonymous Coward


    You to place that on the genius bar and ask for help....

  20. MojoJojo

    Not RISC

    The Motorola 68k wasn't RISC, although it was considered a fairly clean design by CISC standards. No pipelining though, so at least 4 cycles per instruction. Can't find any hard figures on clocks-per-instruction for something like a 386 chip. I suspect a 68k might do better, but then again it was quite an old design by this point, so maybe not.

    1. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Not quite

      The 68060 had dual pipelining and similar features to the Pentium. It just unfortunately had a pretty rubbish FPU with no pipelining.

      It never made its way into a Mac, they had gone PPC by then. It was used in a few very expensive Amiga expansion boards though.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Knackered legs.

    I've done the same with a netbook. I was browsing on the porcelain bus though.

    I had made it back to the middle of my lounge by the time they gave out, which resulted in a rather ungraceful sit-down on the middle of the floor.

  22. Herby

    Brings back many memories...

    I joined Apple as a contractor before this was released. After I had gone through all the introductions, I was given a tour. On the way, I was introduced "to the portable we aren't working on". My project was Appletalk for A/UX (Apple's version of System 5 unix at the time). At the product intro Jean-Louis Gasse did a complete assembly of a portable while on stage. It was a wonderful demonstration. Some of the bits included tossing a power cord over his shoulder as being unnecessary, and coming out with a glass of water in a paper bag as being necessary to assemble the unit.

    As for the bloke with a dead battery, the battery pack is a pretty standard one using lead-acid batteries (D size ones in a pack as I remember).

    Yes, it used a 68k processor. Nice device. Much better than an 80x86 for its day. I always muse what would have happened to Intel had IBM chose a 68k as the processor for the IBM-PC. It has a MUCH better processor instruction set than the Intel ones, with LOTS more registers and a large addressing space from the very start.

    Apple has changed a LOT since then (the stock is up quite a bit!) and Steve is back in the saddle. Now days cell phones have more CPU/memory than the portable did. Times have changed!

  23. GoFasterStripes


    Pretty sure my Quadra 840av had the design team signatures inside the case.

    I think it was one of the later real "Pirates of Silicone Valley" era Apple products.

    Dead end technology though :(

    1. M Gale

      Silicone Valley

      Also known as Paris Hilton's cleavage?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The Wall

      Maybe someone will sneak in, as a memoriam, all the names of those sweatshop workers who perished by their own hand (or otherwise) to bring you your current lappies :P

  24. Asiren


    Seeing as everything is clip-in, clip-out, wouldn't it be possible to short the battery out of the systerm and run the lap-brick on mains juice??

  25. eJ2095

    Didnt the 68000

    Run at 7mhz?

    Plus I am sure they used to use these in washing machines or i think they still do...

    1. M Gale

      The Sega 16 bit consoles and the Amiga...

      ...both ran at about 7.67mhz. The 68k itself could be clocked up to about 16mhz though, IIRC.

      And yes, wouldn't surprise me if you found one in a washing machine. The m68k family did get everywhere, and still does.

  26. Poor Coco
    Thumb Up


    I used a Portable one day at my first-ever graphic design job in '89. Was impressive indeed, which tells you how now-tech WE were in those days.

    But I wanted to talk about the IIfx; I used one of those in '92 to create (to my knowledge) the very first full-colour gloss magazine with entirely desktop prepress, on a IIfx. It almost killed me, but I did it.

    I recall deciding that "IIfx" stood for Too Fucking Expensive, but until the '040-powered Quadras came along it was the Cadillac. I had a poster showing the labeled components in the 'fx and I noticed that they had not just one but TWO Motorola 6502's. "Why," I thought, "Those are CPU's from my old Atari 800!" (which I'd used less than a decade before that). Know what they were used for? Driving the keyboard and mouse. One per ADB plug.

    Those 6502's were probably the first example I saw of the exponential growth of computing power. "A CPU reduced to an I/O driver! Oooh, ahhh, the magnificent power of the IIfx!"

  27. George of the Jungle

    Another former owner

    I owned one for a while. As others have said, it was impressively heavy. I have issues with shoulder separation on my left side (old hang glider injury), and I always had to make sure never to carry the beast on my left side. I slogged that thing all over the country. I replaced it with a Powerbook 190 IIRC. It became my desktop Mac for quite a while after, but I did end up selling it at one point. Don't remember how much I got for it.

  28. Anonymous Coward


    "We haven't yet cracked open a MacBook Air yet, but when iFixit did, no such evidence of the design team was found. Personally, we miss this human touch."

    Do 'SOS' messages carved with bloody fingernails by Foxconn workers/prisoners count?

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I still have my old AtariST somewhere...

    That used a 68K running at a full 8Mhz, the Amiga ran at 7.8ish, but had the clever graphics/sound chips. Compared with the PCs of the time the St and Amigas were very fast and vastly more capable machines. The basic ST came with 512KB or 1MB of ram when PC's were struggling with a few 64K pages on DOS.

    The ST used a 6502 for its keyboard controller.

    The 68K was an excellent chip to program; if I remember correctly, it had 16 x 32bit registers, though these were split between data and address registers. The difference was that the data registers could not be used to address memory.

    As for speed I remember writing a simple (integer) speed test in C and running it on my ST and a MicroVAX II at work.

    The AtariST was faster by about 5%, and about £10K cheaper. Though it didn't have anywhere near as good an OS (I still think VMS is the best designed and implemented OS ever) and the VAX was full virtual memory, multi user and a lot more expandable.

  30. pisquee


    Get a Stanley knife and open up the battery, and see what the cells actually are for replacement with modern alternatives.

    1. JonHendry

      Or jumper it out of the way

      If the problem is that the battery is dead, and is wired up in series with the power supply, so that it can't run now, why not just take out the battery and make the appropriate connections?

      You'd lose the ability to run it on the go, but it's not like you're really going to do that, but you'd gain a fair savings in weight.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Smuggling Lead is illegal now...

    ... watch out if you even try to board an airplane or cross borders lugging that thing, you could be charged with heavy metals smuggling. Using a back-strap or wheelies might prove useful in avoiding spine injuries too.

    Also beware of the 40-pounds limit for hand luggage. You can take your wallet, a coat, and not much else.

    I bet you could try to start a motorcycle with that battery... once.

    Just my coat, I'm not carrying that.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Comments, comments, a horse for my comments.

    That video connector is a DE15F, to be precise. As in subminiature 15 pins female in an E-size D-shaped shell. The apple's funky take on scsi* is an actual DB25F. The floppy connector would appear to be an apple invention somewhere in size between a DA and a DB (Dapple19F?), as it has the standard pin spacing but fits 19 pins instead of 15 or 25. Yes, ``everyone else'' gets the D-sub terminology wrong too. No reason to not mention it, though.

    Also note that hard disk drive access times have only halved in those score-and-one years. Throughput and capacity have improved far more. Of course that's physics for you, but still. And yes, flat colour-capable screens were quite a big deal. Compare the luggables with CRT, or the slightly smaller but still bigger than this things with amber plasma screens.

    Nice article though, and nicer engineering still. I'd wish more companies would put some serious thought into their products and pick a stance different from Jobs' vision. It'd be good for the overall competition. Most of us buy cheap knockoffs, but the drive needs to come from somewhere and if there's only one guy showing what way we can go, that's a bit poor.

    * Funky in the sense that regular scsi needs a 50-lead ribbon or cable, half of which are earth lines. Guess what apple did away with? Makes for cheaper cable but also for length restrictions over and above what you can expect from regular scsi. Still, it worked pretty well on the desktop. And a lot less unwieldy than a long thick shielded cable with a DD50 on each end. (sun sparc, anyone? And a bunch of others, of course.)

    On a related note, I find that USB ``just works'' for things like cup warmers, but as soon as you try to boot over it you're in trouble. Even with a known-correct setup it regularly swaps devices around so that suddenly it's trying to find boot sectors on a data device. In that it's at least as moody as scsi. In fact, due to a system bug I plain couldn't boot over it until I got that patched, and the workaround was to add a scsi card(!) to the system. And yes, that worked.

    Not to mention that USB claims it's "universal serial" but there's an awful lot of things it doesn't do. Proper serial console for one. Using it for a laplink-type cable took a shady bodge; I was rather amazed the designers had overlooked that use in the design. Actually work as fast as advertised for 2.0 speeds for another. And then there's the programming interface for the extended speeds.... No, I don't think usb is inevitably so much better than scsi. It pushed firewire out which actually does do what it says on the tin. But usb is cheaper.

  33. BorkedAgain


    I loved the fact that you could swap the trackball to the other side... Sweet!

  34. corestore

    If you want to be really retro....

    ...and review an even worse machine, dig up an Apricot Portable.

    They tried so hard... even built in voice recognition. I gave up on that very quickly, when it mistook 'fuckoff' for 'format'...

    Still have it, still works as badly as ever:

    1. stu 4


      please please sell the apricot and buy a vacuum cleaner!!

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    From bulging huge acorns ...

    I've never seen one myself, but IIRC the Macintosh Portable was a very conservative design: basically a respectable desktop Mac with the minimum necessary concessions to portability. (Apparently, the lack of a backlight was one of the users' sorest complaints: Steven Levy has a personal tale of woe on p. 257 of /Insanely Great/.) Of course, Apple followed the Portable embarrassment by almost inventing the laptop as we know it with the first, 100-series, PowerBooks. And still no Jobs in sight, either.

  36. C. Fuhrman
    Thumb Up

    Nobody can feel the weight in outer space

    Mac Portable in zero-G action...

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Something is up with prices

    The two prices mentioned on page 1 of $5500 and $10000 were converted incorrectly into present day prices (allowing for inflation). Somehow $5500 and $10000 became approx $10000 and $16500. Notice how the multiplication factors are different?!

  38. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    (click to enlarge)

    Well done, well presented and all.

    The design looks very 80's, the 'wedge-look' was big back then.

  39. deadlockvictim
    Thumb Up

    This brings back memories

    I picked up a 21-year old Mac IIfx recently, just for nostalgia's sake. A fellow I knew was getting rid of it. I wrote all of my college papers in the early nineties on Mac Pluses and SEs and it ibrought back memories.

    It's nice to play Civ I, Prince of Persia, Tetris and Risk again. I could play them on Basilisk or VMac, I suppose.

    I still think about System 6 running on a few hundred K while Windows 7 (and probably also Snow Leopard) requiring gigabytes to run, and not necessarily all that much faster at basic tasks.

  40. Robert E A Harvey


    Was this the device where the trackball could be shifted to the other end for southpaws?

  41. trag

    Not a VGA Connector

    That 15 pin connector is not a VGA connector, even though it is the same style of connector as VGA uses. It is a digital out port for the LCD panel data. If you want to use the output from that port to display video you need circuitry which will convert the digital screen display into a format that your target display will understand.

    If you connect a VGA monitor to that port you will almost certainly destroy some internal components of the Portable.

    The mystery component is indeed a power management circuit. It came in at least two different styles.

    If would be interesting to see you give the Outbound Laptop Model 125 the same treatment. It came out in 1989 or 1990 (can't remember which) weighs 9 or 10 lbs and has similar specs to the Mac Portable -- oh, and runs the Mac OS, almost forgot that tidbit.

    The main differences are that the Model 125 weighs 2/3s as much, uses a standard lead acid camcorder battery which is *still* available new, has SIMM sockets for expansion (only 4 MB max. though, not 8 MB), uses an internal 2.5" IDE hard drive (long before Apple used IDE), has a detachable keyboard with pointing device (IR interface), and has four internal SIMM sockets dedicated to a RAM Disk with a capacity up to 16 MB. With one's OS and applications on the RAM disk, the hard drive could be left spun down except when saving documents. And it booted the OS and launched apps incredibly fast.

    The disadvantages of the Model 125 were that the internal hard drive displaces the internal floppy drive -- you could not have both. SCSI connectivity required an external adapter. The SCSI adapter or the external floppy could be connected but not both at the same time. The display was passive instead of active, and the battery life was shorter.

    One notable advantage of the Model 125 was that with the SCSI adapter connected, one could put the Model 125 into Target Mode and the hard drive and Silicon Disk (RAM Disk) (if any) were available to a host computer connected via SCSI. This was a feature that Apple would not have until the first PowerBooks came out. I've been told that they actually bought this technology from Outbound.

  42. Rogan Paneer


    The wedge-shaped design?- it complements the slanting shape of an Imagewriter II.

  43. JonHendry

    fx was the bomb

    I lusted after those.

    Until I got a 68040 NeXT Cube that Cornell University was selling when they dumped the machines from an all-NeXT computer lab. Drove all the way from Philadelphia to Ithaca, NY (about 4 hours each way) to pick it up. I think I paid about $1500, in I think it was summer of 1992.

    I stripped the RAM from my SE/30 to bring the Cube up to 16MB, and didn't go back to the Mac until 2001.

  44. Joey


    My first 68000 computer was a Sinclair QL. The assembly was quite different to the Z80 I learned on and by the time I was up to speed, the machine was obsolete. I was able to carry my 68000 skills over to a Mac 512 though and use in conjuction with Lightspeed Pascal.

    1. RichyS


      So, about 2 weeks then.

  45. Ivan Headache

    My first was a QL too

    I maxed it out with RAM and had twin 4MB floppies attached to it (whatever happened to them?)

    I was always amazed that it could do so much with so little RAM (640KB) and that the PSION software suite was so capable, even then.

    I ran my business on it until I switched to Mac.

  46. Michael C

    it WAS small!

    See it's competition...

    On sale at the same time: (compaq beat them to market by a year, but the mac was still smaller)

    just 4 years earlier this is what a portable was:

    The NEC Ultralight came out about the same time as the mac, and yea, it was about the size and weight of a common portable 15" today, but it was a monochrome DOS BOX and had no internal drives other than a 2MB "silicon" drive. Add the drive, power supply, etc and it was heavier and bulkier than the Mac. The Macintosh Portable was a full fledged mac, comparable to the SE in every way, with true B&W graphics, floppy AND HDD inside, and could support up to 9MB of RAM (1MB standard). No portable released until 1991 could run more than just DOS, and the Mac was a leader in build size/weight for full power systems at the time. More lug-able than portable, yea, but the term Laptop followed 2 years later fir a grossly slower and less classed system that STILL relied on 5lbs additional stuff to make it work.

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