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PowerBook 12" 867

Quote possibly the world's most perfect computer

A PowerBook 12 sitting on a desk, with various papers and photos in the background

The Backstory

I've been using laptops for nearly 35 years now, from an original IBM PC Convertible that ran off of two 3.5" floppies (and no hard drive) to a MacBook Pro M1, with a rogues' gallery of early 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" 867 Mhz.

That First PowerBook 12

It all started 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 technolush frenzies, ready to sell my soul for a new piece of hardware. I ended up buying a PB12 at my local Fry's (rip) (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 returned to my local Fry's, and bought a previously-owned PB12. It ended up having some technical problems, so I went back and exchanged it for my third, a shiny new one, which became my constant companion for many years 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 laptops 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."

Detailed bill of sale for my PowerBook 17

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, 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, 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.


Lid of a PowerBook 12 with a sticker covering the Apple logo

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 laptop 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 forever since I purchased the PB12 on Craigslist. Unfortunately, the cracked socket on the motherboard made it nearly unusable, and the replacement battery (from the Apple recall) dwindled to 10% of its original life. I had 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.

Yet another gratuitous photo of a PowerBook 12

And about every couple of months, I trolled Craigslist to see about finding another PB12 in primo condition, and flirted 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 made the plunge. So a few days later, 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.


An Ode to the 12-inch PowerBook G4, Apple’s first desktop-quality laptop at Macworld
Saying goodbye to a trusty powerbook g4 at exploding dog


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