First things first
In the past months, I slowly rediscovered the underlying potential of my PowerBook 5300, and I’ve been using it more and more regularly. To the point of upgrading it. I already did a ‘survival experiment’ a couple of years ago, to demonstrate that, in the unlikely event of a general failure of all my modern Mac hardware, I could still get work done using only the PowerBook 5300. But recently I wanted to go a bit further, purchasing two small upgrades for the PowerBook and tailoring the set of installed software to render it a modern portable machine, almost up-to-date with current technologies and solutions.
But first, to have an idea of what sort of capabilities this machine offers, let’s take a look at its hardware profile:
PowerBook 5300 series
Introduced: August 1995
Discontinued: October 1996
Processor: PowerPC 603e
Processor Speed: 100 MHz (5300/5300cs/5300c) or 117 MHz (5300ce)
Coprocessor: Built-in FPU
Cache: 16 KB data, 16 KB instruction L1
System Bus: 33.3 MHz
Hard Drive: 500 (5300/5300cs/5300c), 750 MB (5300cs/5300c), or 1.1 GB (5300ce)
Media: 1.44 MB floppy
Original Mac OS: System 7.5.2 (PowerBook 5300 Enabler)
Maximum Mac OS: Mac OS 9.1
Maximum RAM: 64 MB
Graphics Card: None
Graphics Memory: 512 KB or 1 MB
Built-in Display: 9.5″ DualScan gray scale passive matrix (5300), 10.4″ DualScan color passive matrix (5300cs), 10.4″ Active matrix color (5300c/5300ce) LCD
Resolutions: 640 x 480 (5300/5300cs/5300c) 800 x 600 (5300ce)
Display Connection: Mini-15
Expansion Slots: 2 – Type II or 1 – Type III PC Card
Expansion Bays: PB 5300 Bay (90-pin)
Hard Drive Bus: ATA
Infrared: 1 – 1 Mbps
Audio In: 1 – 3.5-mm analog input jack, 1 – Built-in microphone
Audio Out: 1 – 3.5-mm analog output jack, 1 – Built in speaker
Introduced in August 1995, the PowerBook 5300 was the first PowerPC PowerBook, and the first to include a sleep-swappable drive bay. Available in multiple screen configurations, and 2 RAM/HD configurations, many 5300s shipped DOA (This was the main cause of Apple’s reputation for faulty products in the mid 90s). An IR transceiver for wireless networking was also included. The 100 MHz 5300 8/500 sold for $2,300 U.S.. The 100 MHz 5300cs, with dual-scan color, sold for $2,900 U.S. for 8/500, and $3,700 U.S. for 16/750. The 5300c with active matrix color, sold for $3,900 U.S. for 100 MHz 8/500, and $4,700 U.S. for 100 MHz 16/750. The fully loaded 117 MHz 5300ce 32/1.1GB sold for $6,800 U.S.
[Created by Mactracker, copyright 2001 – 2008 Ian Page — http://www.mactracker.ca%5D
The hardware, revamped
My PowerBook 5300 has all the specifications of the 5300ce, the later and better model, although curiously enough System Profiler reports that its processor speed is not 117 MHz, but 100 MHz. Anyway, my model has 64 MB RAM, a 1.1 GB hard drive, and when I bought it second-hand in 2002, the previous owner kindly gave me two floppy drive modules, so that I have a spare in case of failure. At that time I was wise and immediately purchased an Ethernet PCMCIA card. Wise because the PowerBook 5300 is not compatible with modern 32-bit (Cardbus) PCMCIA cards; instead, it uses the older 16-bit ones (like the Newton), and are a bit harder to find today. As regards to the system installed, although this PowerBook supports up to Mac OS 9.1, I chose to stay with Mac OS 8.1. I think it’s the best compromise between features offered and resources (memory and processor cycles) consumption.
Old PowerBooks with PC Card slots are the best to keep updated, because PCMCIA cards offer a variety of options, including USB ports (but you have to be brave and the PowerBook must support Mac OS 9), Ethernet and wireless connectivity. With the Ethernet card, my PowerBook 5300 was immediately able to be part of my home office network, exchange files with more modern Macs, and access the Internet. With the LocalTalk Bridge control panel, I could extend the possibility of accessing the home office network to all the vintage Macs, with the PowerBook 5300 being the bridge — both physically and metaphorically — between two networks, LocalTalk and EtherTalk, merged together. This way my Colour Classic could communicate with the PowerBook G4 and the iBook G3 seamlessly. All the machines could ‘see’ one another easily.
As I mentioned at the beginning, recently I wanted to expand the capabilities of the PowerBook 5300. So, just for kicks, I bought a wireless card (Wavelan Silver card by Lucent Technologies) and tried to access my home office network wirelessly.
It was a bit tricky. The Wavelan Silver card only supports WEP encryption, so I had to ‘downgrade’ the WPA Personal protection of my home network first. Then, the software to manage the 802.11b card is nowhere near the intuitiveness of the AirPort interface under Mac OS X. But it worked, and I was able to surf the Web at an acceptable pace.
The second purchase was a (somewhat rare to find) VST Zip 100 drive module. The 5300 series, as mentioned in the profile above, were the first PowerBooks to include a swappable drive bay. This means that the floppy drive is removable and another device can take its place. The only alternative in the 5300 was indeed the VST Zip 100 drive. (The PowerBook 1400 and 3400 also had the option of a CD-ROM module; later PowerBook G3s had even more options, including DVD-ROM modules and even a second battery).
Since I already own a Iomega Zip 100 USB drive that I can use with my iBook G3 and my PowerBook G4s, file exchange has got even quicker. Plus, 100 MB Zip disks offer more storage for the PowerBook 5300 than 1.44 MB floppies. If you consider that the applications and the system itself at the time of Mac OS 8 and earlier were much less bloated than now, you’ll realise that 100 Megabytes of storage (ok, 94 MB in a formatted disk) are a lot.
Software for all purposes
So, what can be done with a thoughtfully customised PowerBook 5300, a machine which is now 13 years old and runs Mac OS 8.1? More than you think. Sometimes the necessary software for a specific purpose is a bit hard to find, but not that hard if one is determined. So, to sum up, here’s what I do with my PowerBook 5300:
- Web browsing — the best options are iCab 2.99, Opera 5, Netscape Communicator 4.7 and, yes, Internet Explorer 5 (but I haven’t installed it).
- Email — usually the recommended options here are Claris Emailer and some appropriately vintage version of Eudora, but I use Mailsmith 1.1.8 (I have to thank Rich Siegel of Bare Bones Software for sending me a copy of Mailsmith 1.1.8, which can’t be obtained anymore from the Bare Bones Website. He’s been a true gentleman and helped me with my little vintage experiment. Thank you, Rich!)
- Reading RSS feeds — there are some interesting applications out there. I found Acuity 1.0b8 to be the most Mac-like. Some feeds are problematic, but most I follow are not.
- Accessing my iDisk — here’s the great thing: under Mac OS X, I’ve always found iDisk access via the Finder to be painfully, annoyingly slow. So I’ve been using Goliath 1.0.1, a WebDAV client that can provide a much faster access. I didn’t realise until recently that the good guys at webdav.org have been offering also a version for Mac OS 9 and earlier! And that’s what I use on my PowerBook 5300. And it’s (relatively) fast.
- Connecting to VPNs — a rocky road, but doable with an application called NTS TunnelBuilder.
- Controlling other machines through VNC — there are both VNC clients and VNC servers for vintage Macs. A good, simple and small VNC client running under Mac OS 8.1 is VNC Viewer. For instance, I can see the screen of my PowerBook G4 12-inch and control it with the PowerBook 5300. And with a VNC server like OS9vnc Server PPC (which, despite its name, can also be used under Mac OS 8), I can control the PowerBook 5300 from my PowerBook G4 with Mac OS X 10.5.4 using Screen Sharing (inserting the host address manually).
- Reading CD-ROM images created with Toast — Toast 3.0.1 does the trick.
- Word Processing & Text Editing — the options here and endless: from WriteNow to WordPerfect, from Nisus Writer to Word, and then of course the ever-present BBEdit (version 4.6).
- Spreadsheet — Microsoft Excel. Undeniably good at what it does.
- Reading PDF documents — under Mac OS 8.1 I think the perfect tool is Acrobat Reader 4.05.
- Image editing — old versions of Photoshop are OK but probably overkill. I stick with Graphic Converter 4.
- And more… — other applications installed include ClarisWorks 4, FileMaker 3, Norton Utilities 3.1 (the perfect version before this stuff became crappy), Aldus Pagemaker, and so on and so forth.
I manily work with text documents and the occasional HTML coding and image editing, so I generally don’t need ultra-powerful machines. With my PowerBook 5300 configured this way, it still can be used to reach the end of the work day productively. Yes, a 13-year-old machine, with 64 MB RAM and a 100 MHz processor. Yes, the infamous PowerBook many consider one of the worst Apple produced.
(The next upgrade will be a working battery, so that I really can use it wire-free!)