PowerBook 12 867

Quote possibly the world's most perfect computer

Note: This story is from the archives. It might contain (way) out-of-date information.

The Backstory

I've been using laptops for nearly 15 years now, from an original IBM PC Convertible that ran off of two 3.5" floppies (and no hard drive) to a PowerBook G4 17", with a rogues' gallery of Compaqs, Dells, and HPs in the mix. And, yes, there were a few in there that I really fell in love with, like the Compaq Contura Aero 4/33 (with a nice display-mounted trackball), some random HP Omnibook (that survived a 5' drop onto concrete at DFW airport), and the tiny HP Compaq TC1100 tablet PC (underpowered but so deliciously small).

But the one that stood above the rest has always been the Apple PowerBook 12" 867Mhz.

That First PowerBook 12

It all started about four or five years ago, when the blond wood floors and shiny aluminum walls of the local Apple store started calling my name. A couple of visits later, and I found myself in the middle of yet another of my full-fledged technolust frenzies, ready to sell my soul for a new piece of hardware. I ended up buying a PB12 at my local Fry's (thanks to their no-questions-asked return policy) ... and returning it for a full refund after about 10 days.

I just wasn't ready. Yet.

Then as the days passed, with my data slowly filtering back into my corporate-issued Dell, I found myself wistfully thinking back on that PB12 ... the smooth aluminum case, the easy-winding power brick, the tactile keyboard ... and I realized I had made the wrong decision.

And so a while later I went back to my local Fry's, and bought a previously-owned PB12. It ended up having some technical problems, and I went back and ended up exchanging it for a shiny new one, which became my constant companion for quite a while afterwards.

The Dalliance

It was only after I started using Microsoft Virtual PC 6 extensively for PowerPoint, Outlook, and a few in-house corporate applications that I began to lust after another machine - like one of the new (at that time) PowerBook G4 15" 1.5GHz machines, that ran VPC like the wind. So I twisted the hell out my my wife's arm, and she ended up surprising me with "if you're going to buy a 15-inch, you might as well get a 17-inch, because you'll end up jonesing for one in a few months anyway."

So long story short, I ended up buying a PowerBook G4 17". Oh, that gigantic, glorious, desktop-sized display! The power of the 1.5GHz PowerPC chip! But it was gigantic, a lunch tray, an aluminum wing for a small aircraft, a weapon. It didn't fit on my lap, or the airplane seat-back tray, or damn near anywhere else for that matter. And then work picked up, and I needed the power of a real PC instead of an emulated one through VPC.

So off the PB17 went to some random guy on Craigslist for a wad of $100 bills. It was pretty funny - he was a little guy, probably 5'2" at best - and he brought this big friend of his (like 6'4" and 260 pounds big) along to keep an eye on the transaction and make sure he didn't get ripped off or jumped.

And I ended up back on my corporate Dell, downloading Trillian and Mozilla and Thunderbird and 3M Digital Post-It Notes, desperately trying to get back some of that OSX mojo, but never quite getting comfortable with my computing environment.

A Laptop That Batman Could Love

Fortunately, all my whining around the office perked up the ears of Alex Kass, I guy I worked with at the time, who was kind enough to give me an old PowerBook G3 'Lombard' he had sitting around in a closet. It was big, all black, and bold.

I ended up putting a couple hundred bucks into that machine, breathing new life into it with a 60GB hard drive, a new battery, a WiFi card, and a FireWire card, and it actually became pretty usable. During a business trip to Tokyo, I bought a Japanese Lombard keyboard, and pulled a lot of the keycaps over onto the US English keyboard for kind of a nice change from the usual.


But as nice as the Lombard was, I found myself wishing for a machine with Bluetooth, built-in WiFi, and a faster processor. So, I went back to trolling Craigslist for the same type of machine that I sold many moons ago: a PowerBook G4 12" 867Mhz. And not long after, I found one at a reasonable price.

I split the driving difference with the seller, meeting him 45 miles from my house at a random Starbucks. I ordered a Tall Low-Fat Mocha, he didn't order anything at all. And there it was, everything I had imagined it to be, and more - he tossed in an iSight camera and a nice bag to sweeten the deal. I drove straight home, pulled the 60GB drive from the Lombard and put it into the newly acquired PB12, and never looked back. I was back with my true love.

[And by the way, if you decide to crack open the case of a PowerBook 12 yourself to swap hard drives, make sure you're really really careful with the socket where the lead from the power switch plugs into the motherboard. It's real easy to snap it off the motherboard, and nearly impossible to repair.]


Update: It's been nearly four years since I purchased the PB12 on Craigslist. Unfortunately, the cracked socket on the motherboard has made it nearly unusable, and the replacement battery (from the Apple recall) has dwindled to 10% of it's original life. I've been using a standard-issue MacBook Pro 15" the whole time, but keep yearning for something small and café-worthy, buying an Asus eeePC 701 and an Asus eeePC 900, and pulling my Lombard back out of storage. But I still have that strange soft spot in my heart for one, reinforced by periodically seeing my friend Chris Carfi and his daily-driver PB12 that he uses to run Cerado.

And about every couple of months, I troll Craigslist to see about finding another PB12 in primo condition, and flirt with the idea of buying 'powerbook 12inch-great condition $300' or 'Aple powerbook g4 12" 250gh hd - $650', but between the ridiculous pricing and sketchy spelling, I never make the plunge. So a few days ago, I put a simple, plaintive cry on my Facebook profile, looking for a PB12 among my friends. And, would you know it, there was one out there for me. It lives on a special shelf, where I periodically give it a glance and a rub.

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