My Powerbook Pismo Turns 10 Years Old


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Today is my birthday. I am now 36 years old and in most ways, still functional. Luckily, I haven't needed any upgrades or factory resets.

More impressive is that my laptop turns 10 this year. That is about 150 in human years. This particular laptop was built in the 20th century, when green was just a color rather than a movement. This time tested machine has some key attributes that arguably make it the greenest and most durable mass produced laptop of all time, with upgradeability, durability, and adaptability that its grandchildren can't quite simulate.

Read further to find out how this laptop survived a whole decade without becoming obsolete or outdated. My Powerbook Pismo, which currently runs OSX 10.4, and was produced in 1999, is the computer that the current macbook is modeled after, although it has some key advantages which it can attribute its longevity to.

Upgradeability and Replaceability

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The most important pieces of this machine pop out and can be replaced by relative luddites. The keyboard pops out and gives the operator good access to the hard drive, memory, airport card (yes it came with an airport card in 1999), as well as other parts, which all pop out easily, too. This makes it easy to upgrade each piece as technology improves, instead of replacing the entire computer, or paying more than the cost of a new computer to an Applechanic to fix or upgrade.

I currently run OSX 10.4. I am hesitant to upgrade it any further based on advice I received in an online forum of Pismo Heads (there are many) about the computer becoming unstable any higher than that. That's fine, I'll deal. I am running a relatively new operating system on a supposed ancient computer.

The newer version of Macbooks are all in one units, so if a sesame seed falls and gets stuck behind the letter "Y", you'll have to take it to Apple to get it fixed if you don't want to void the warranty. Same goes for most upgrades.

Swappable Drives and Compartments for Flexibility.


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On each side of the laptop, there are two bays which give this laptop flexibility and upgradability. Both the left and right bay can each store a battery. Two new batteries give this old Pismo up to ten hours of pure battery juice, making it perhaps the longest lasting off grid laptop. On my own off grid setup, this has been key, storing abundant daytime energy in the lithium batteries rather than having to draw from my lead acid batteries at night.

On the new Macbook, if the drive goes bad, it cannot be replaced by the owner since it is part of the machine. It cannot be upgraded either.

On the Pismo, the battery in the right bay can be swapped out for a CD drive, or even a floppy drive (popular in 1999) or a zip drive. A few years ago, I had a superdrive retrofitted to fit my laptop to be able to do what I have not found any other laptop to do...print customized lightscribe discs, an important tool being that I am a musician who prints CDs on the road as I go.

What it Can't Do

It has compatability issues with an iPhone, but not iPods, especially firewire ipods. It took awhile for my Pismo to adjust to my iPhone, but I eventually found a way around it. Since the USB outlets on the pismo are 1.1 and the iPhone is not backwards compatable, I had to purchase a USB 2.0 card (which was also self powered), otherwise it would get confused sometimes during the sync process.

It can't run YouTube or stream internet video. The one piece that is just too expensive to upgrade is its graphic card, over $300 to upgrade. It can however, play movies without any issues on the DVD drive.

It will be interesting to see whether any of the new generation of Laptops will still be around and functional in ten years. The newer laptop bodies, similar to newer autos, are all built in the factory as one solid piece, and I believe that this becomes a barrier, disallowing future part transplants or upgrades, and thus rendering them obsolete before their time.

Further Reading:

Survey: How Old Is Your Computer?
BuyGreen: Laptop Computers

Tags: Computing | Electronics | E-Waste

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