Friday, March 9, 2012

Powerbook Slaughter

A couple of Powerbooks were kicking around so without further ado I slaughtered them. I suppose that means this is snuff photography:

This is the first of the two I dispatched today, and I noticed afterward that someone stashed another one in a corner; I left that one alone. If I dismantled your future pride and joy from the past, I do apologize, but old laptops are dangerous things to leave around these parts.

I never had much to do with Powerbooks. They were the laptops that the irritating rich older siblings of irritating rich kids had when I was growing up and I was busy with hand-me-down IBM knockoffs at the time. But in the early 1990s -- starting with the Powerbook 100, 140, and 170 in 1991 -- Apple was really breaking new ground in the still-young laptop market. They beat the original IBM Thinkpad to market by a year. The newly-christened Powerbooks certainly looked a lot more like a modern laptop than other contemporaries.

On the dissection table today is a 180, which replaced the top-of-the-line 170 in 1992. Someone must've really cleared out their wallet for this -- the list price was $3870USD, which would be around $6300 today. A cracked LCD is what did this one in.

Well, enough standing around talking. Scalpels out. Or Torx screwdrivers, as the case may be; Apple hadn't started using stupid tamper-proof screws yet. After removing the Torx screws on the bottom -- and pesky little one on the back -- the machine splits in half pretty easily.

The battery, if installed, would sit in the lower-left corner. The bottom right unit is the hard drive, and above that is the large silver floppy drive. On the top left is the RAM card. Once removed, it looks like this:

This is probably the lowest capacity RAM card available for the machine; as you can see, there are empty spots where additional chips would be soldered for a higher-capacity card. It's cheaper for them to manufacture a single board and install various numbers of chips than to design and manufacture specific boards for each capacity.

The motherboard is in two separate units. The top board appears to carry all the expensive parts, including the CPU (the bottom-right chip, I believe, which would be a 33MHz Motorola 68030):

...and, on the underside, the math co-processor, a Motorola 68888, which is part of what distinguished this model from lower-end options.

The second half of the motherboard contains I/O controllers, power hardware, and an assortment of other details.

I'm speculating here, but I'd guess that 1) this second board is meant to act as a cheaper first line of defense against damage to the more expensive processor board, since damage often comes from broken jacks, malfunctioning peripherals, or power surges, and possibly 2) this board might be the same across the model line, meaning that they didn't have to manufacture a separate board for each.

You might notice the AMD chip towards the right-hand side; it's an AM85C80 SCSI controller, which provides the interface with the hard drive. (Macintosh succeeds as usual at using the most expensive option available.) AMD was at the time (and ever since) in bitter warfare with Intel in the microprocessor field; not only is it here coexisting in a system with a Motorola processor (another competitor) but if we look a little further down the wire to the hard drive we find this:

Yup, it's an IBM -- hardly a friend to Apple from the consumer's perspective. But this is typical of computer manufacturing; IBM, Motorola, Intel, and AMD all have such enormous variety in their sphere of operations that while it might appear that they're arch-rivals to the consumer there is often a lot of cooperation between them at lower levels.

So it's hard to argue that this wasn't a worthy machine, though priced at the ceiling of the market. In 1992 much of the world was still pretty boggled at the idea of a graphical interface with a mouse, and separately at the idea of a truly portable computer. Here was one of the first successful combinations of both ideas. Apple and others had tried before -- see for example the valiant, awkward Macintosh Portable -- but this is one of the first machines to really get it right. They sacrificed nothing in the process (except colour, perhaps, which was shortly to arrive in the 180c) and the price reflects it.

One final picture of me stepping on the computer. Not because I don't like it, but because it usually gets the Apple people really fired up.

1 comment:

  1. I love to see things being dismantled. Thanks for all that!