Black Box

The Low-End Mac Portable Gaming Page

What exactly is a powerbook 1400?

The Macintosh Powerbook 1400 is one of the finest examples of the Apple industrial design of the so called Espresso period (that is, after the Hartmut Esslinger's 'Snow White' design language, and before the Jonathan Ive's new 'iLook'). On a portable market the Espresso design language led to such fine constructions as the classic Powerbook 100 and its more sexy and classy derivative, the Powerbook 540 (codename Blackbird) that introduced some gentle curves into the Powerbook line (the wristrest, man, the wristrest...!). Even the last year's high-end Powerbook G3 (codename Pismo) bears visible marks of its Blackbird genes.

Powerbook 1400 (codename Epic) was aimed at younger and not exactly the richest consumer: a student, a wannabe writer or aspiring journalist. It was the Apple's entry level portable, with 2400 and 3400 being the more expensive, faster and better machines. However Lawrence Lam, the chief designer of the Epic understood that even a young customer needs something more than just a lower price (especially that the price was still pretty Apple-like) and introduced a revolutionary idea - customizable cover.

As far as I know, Epic is the only Macintosh portable (and - I guess - the only portable on the world) that allows the user to easily change its look. You don't need to paint it with Humbrol paints, like one of my peecee colleagues did with his Tosheiba. Just remove the regular black cover and replace it with a scratch-resistant translucent plastic one, putting below it one of 9 predesigned colorful covers (all included in the box!), or use a Claris Works template (included - with Claris Works - on your harddrive) to create your own. Or purchase a custom cover made from leather or wood from a third party vendor! This was in my opinion a peak achievement of the Espresso design language, famous from its emphasis on flexibility. I doubt if we'll ever see anything like that from Apple under Jobs and Ive leadership.

Unfortunately, the 1400 was a mark of excellence in industrial design, but from the engineer's point of view it was rather mediocre. Introduced in October 1996 and canceled in February 1998 (the longest period in history of Apple portables!), it was born in the aura of the 5300 debacle. Being the first PowerPC powerbook, 5300 was a bit too innovative and caused numerous issues, especially with its LiIon batteries. It was a huge disappointment and Apple took very conservative approach when designing its replacement - the 1400.

The result was a late-nineties computer with some early-nineties parameters, notably the 32-bit and 33 MHz system data bus (2400 and 3400 use 64-bit, 66 MHz ones), maximum RAM limit of only 64 megabytes and NiMH batteries. The latter acronym stands for 'Nickel-metal-hydride', but you should better read it as 'Not Incredibly Many Hours'. On the other hand, 16-bit graphics, stereo sound and 800*600 display give it decent multimedia capabilities. You don't need to feel like Cinderella with a 1400 even in the year 2001.

In 2001, there are still pretty good reasons to purchase a second-hand 1400. If you don't need really much speed (my profession is writing, so I don't need anything faster than the good old 68040), if you don't want to spend more than some 500 bucks, then the multimedia capabilities of this machine will turn out to be a pleasant reward. You won't regret this purchase.

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