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back to article The forgotten, fat generation of Mac Portables

One of Apple's oddest machines just turned 21, meaning that here in California we can now legally buy it a pint and raise a toast — if not to its success, at least to its good intentions. Apple Macintosh Portable The year was 1989, when Apple still had "Computer" in its name (click to enlarge) No, we're not talking about …

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The battery issue

I have one of these things, literally picked from a rubbish depot some 10 years ago! The battery was nearly dead, but I could boot the machine a couple of times after some intensive recharging and using a totally fresh 9V backup battery. Now the battery is completely expired, so it is unbootable. What a brain-dead power supply design! Waiting for the machine to become hugely expensive collectors' item...

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Anonymous Coward

Simples

It's trivial to crack open the battery and replace the Hawker Cyclon SLA cells , with a little care you can make it look like it's never been touched.

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Paris Hilton

What Mac article would be complete without Amiga mention?

While reading this article I thought about my Commodore SX-64, something like 25 pounds with no battery, not even the option for one, and a 5" CRT. Leads me to lament that Commodore never really even tried with the Amiga -- in 1989 an Amiga portable would have been great, even if just as an experiment.

It is neat to look back and see how technology matured over time, even if very over-priced. I believe it was 1990 that I saw a 386 portable with two floppies and a hard drive built in running DOS 3.3. Seemed cool, but limited to a large degree.

Oh, nostalgia.

Paris, cool, but limited to a large degree.

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Amiga portable

Someone built one out of an A600 once.

But the problem with the Amiga was the custom chips would have had to be redesigned to get lower power usage. There simply wasn't the market to do so, few people were buying x86 laptops, so even fewer would buy an Amiga version.

The Amiga was portable in the sense that you could plug it into a TV somewhere. Few people owned portables back in those days. Most laptops had very sluggish mono screens in the late 80s, early 90s. Not much use for an Amiga which was primarily a games or multimedia machine.

Colour LCDs were a bit blurry too, hence Game Gear and Atari Lynx never really took off.

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Anonymous Coward

Sharp .....

We had portable/luggable PC's running DOS 3.3 @ school in the early 90's that we were allowed to take home. Dual floppies, MSWorks on one, your work on the other. In fact some were still going on leaving 6th form in '97.

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hybrid chip

all of the interesting chips are from linear technology www.linear.com

The LT1054 is a monolithic, bipolar, switched-capacitor voltage converter and regulator.

The LTC™1040 is a monolithic CMOS dual comparator.

The one marked 0412 is the LT1004 Micropower Voltage Reference

The rest of the parts are opamps, descrete transistors, capacitors and one surface mount diode in a glass case (you dont' see those anymore). So yes, it is an eary switching regulator back when switched power supply design was still a black art.

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Boffin

Auxiliary voltages

probably for the RS232 port, creating -5V or -12V out of whatever voltage the battery supplies. Switched-cap supplies aren't the black art that switched-inductor supplies are, though. You can even build a quite competent one out of a 555 oscillator, with a few additional caps and diodes.

And glasss-cased SMD diodes (MELF) are rare now, but not at all extinct.

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Happy

555

Is there anything it can't do?

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Survive being handled by me, apparently.

I burned out five of the damn things the other day just by looking at them, or near enough. I had myself earthed and everything but they still went phut. Must be my magnetic personality (south pole - it repels everyone).

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Diode

The package is called Mini-Melf and yes you do see them, quite a lot in fact. However you are just as likely to see a signal diode in an SOD-323 package, depends which one your designer plopped onto first when cruising Farnell I guess.

Interesting to me as a Surface Mount Tech is that on this mixed technology board there are a bunch of SM Electrolytic's, even today they can cost quite a bit more than their PTH counterparts.

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"Is there anything it can't do?"

So far no luck in getting it to do the dishes and feed the cat, but apart from that?

I've heard it's the single most manufactured IC ever.

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Commodore SX-64...

God, I had one of those, with the ghastly ribbed handle that cut slots in your hand, and the ROM hacked so that Shift+Run/Stop ran LOAD "0:*",8,1 to run something from the built-in 1541 rather than from the non-existent cassette port...

(Need a Memory Lane icon...)

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Ah the SX64

I wrote a lot of software on the SX64. I was writing games software back then and picked up a job teaching computing at Butlins holiday camps. I bought the SX64 so that I could carry on writing code while living in a holiday chalet all summer. Ah those were the days.

I have no idea what happened to my SX64 I don't remember selling it but it has disappeared over the years.

I do still have my PowerBook 140 and it is still a runner.

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Boffin

SCSI fussy?

If you think SCSI was fussy and unreliable, I suggest you weren't working with the alternatives. SCSI was a breath of fresh air in a DIP-switch and twisted-cable infested, badly terminated hell of other mutually incompatible alternatives.

Of course, USB and Firewire are way, way better, but then they have the benefit of another couple of decades of development.

Happy days, they were....

GJC

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SCSI

Sadly, MACs used Apple's version of SCSI, which IIRC wasn't exactly SCSI as implemented by anyone else... Possibly explains why it seemed touchy, if you tried to connect it to anything which spoke real SCSI.

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Oh yes it was...

I guess you never tried to get early Seagate and WD drives to co-exist in the same SCSI chain.

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Boffin

USB

Dunno about USB being better - I never had SCSI chain ask for an updated driver...

Biggest issue with SCSI was that there were at least three different connectors for every speed, so that a full box of cables required an ISO container for storage.

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My first PC had SCSI

and boy was I pleased with that! An 88MB SCSI hard disk (MASSIVE in those days), backing up to an external SCSI ZIP-drive (THAT was so much faster than RS-232 (shudder)), and it could interface neatly with my scanner.

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Apple SCSI

Real SCSI, as the Lord intended it to be, uses the target (i.e., the peripheral device) to drive the transaction. Apple's SCSI as implemented in the Mac Plus, on the other hand, uses the initiator (i.e., the controller) for that function. Granted, the SCSI standard was still in development, but IIRC the roles of initiator and target were well understood back then.

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Boffin

I think I remember SCSI differently as well

It was much more reliable, and you could plug 6 HDDs in the same SCSI chain, unlike IDE which was limited to two. Well, 7 if your Mac didn't have an internal HDD.

Also, the SCSI terminator requirement wasn't needed anymore with SCSI2, the terminating device would automatically terminate itself. BTW, anyone remember the HD Removable Cartridges of that era? I used both the Jasmine Removable 45 and the MDS88 ones. That was before the iomega Jaz/Zip drives...

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Dead Vulture

SyQuest cartridges, 44MB and 88MB

I still have a half- dozen of 'em. Zip drives were just coming over the horizon; we (I + former business partner) were concerned about their flimsy construction (vis-a-vis transporting and archiving customer projects) and went SyQuest instead. *sigh* Live, learn.

<-- Roughly the same shape and heft of the SyQuest drive.

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Unhappy

Thanks....

...I've only managed to wipe that scenario from my mind and you've bought it back.

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Grenade

WD coexisting with any other brand

required deep, intense voodoo, and it made no difference if the bus was SCSI, IDE, ESDI or ST-506.

And only now that those incompatibilities are really a thing of the past it is that a single drive per channel gets to be the common configuration. Of course, as all hardware (as well as software) sucks, you'll be getting incompatibilities between controller and drive to make up for it.

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Anonymous Coward

Fittingly, a Mac Portable appears in 2010: The Year We Make Contact

in a beach scene reminiscent of the much later seaside computing demonstrated by the dear departed Eee Girl (who in turn is possibly related to the MacUser Inflatable Pool Lounger Lady).

How the Mac Portable responded to getting sand in the peripheral ports, history does not record...

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And in real space, too

NASA sent a Mac Portable into space for one of their missions - check YouTube for the video evidence. Since it has a mechanical eject floppy mechanism like all Macs of the era, they seem to be having some fun with it in zero gravity.

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Boffin

Not mac portable, but Apple IIc

The Mac Portable did not even exist when the 2010 film was made (1984, see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086837/ ), it was an Apple IIc (basically a late-model apple ][) plus an LCD screen. Would not really have worked on the beach, because it was not batter-powered (and no power cable is shown in the scene, IIRC).

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Ahh, the IIc...

My very first personally-owned computer (after I paid off the bank loan, that is). It was supposedly portable, even if not battery-operated, even though it never left my desk. I was the envy of my college classmates at the time, though :) Wish I still had it, if only for sentimental reasons.

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Disk mechanics not improved much since then

Interesting to note that while all the other hardware spec's have gone through the roof since this thing was created the hard disk "access time" has only managed to halve'ish from 28ms to 12ms. Thankfully gobs of RAM in the machines of today, and on the disks themselves, have hidden this from us.

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Grenade

Hence the evolutionary step of switching to solid state

From what I read, cos I haven't got one,; the new Airs really benefit from the flash based storage and access times of 0.1ms.

Another first for Apple, (GUI, WYSIWYG, networking, Laser printers, SCSI, no floppy, USB only, wireless network, no CD/DVD, etc.) putting solid state storage as the only configuration option for two mainstream laptop models

I know the ACME TurboLap XYZ has done it for years, but I am talking about the mainstream volume manufacturers

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Flame

Get with the times :P

Eh... don't you have an SSD or two yet?

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SCSI was no Apple first

It was an established industry standard already, although not really common in prebuilt desktop systems. Computer shops' price lists were not that much shorter for the SCSI section than for the others (MFM/RLL or IDE) though, so they sure were used by the DIY crowd. SCSI disks were only a bit pricier than the others then, too, otherwise Apple would not have chosen them. They then bastardised the SCSI standard to allow for cheaper cables ("ooh, with one ground pin for all those twisted pairs it will work just as well". Yeah, right), which did little to take away the SCSI reputation for being finicky.

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Apple's have always been over-priced

Go back a further 5 years and you could have had an Apricot Portable for much less. I used one (albeit it was my father's). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apricot_Computers

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good old hardware pron at it's best.

shame no picture of it running, but as mentioned by one of the previous commenters, i guess the battery has gone south and taken the rest of the machine with it.

all in all, good stuff. :)

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Heart

Broke one

I was working Monday to Friday on a project in Belgium and flying home at weekends, my firm was all Mac in early 1990s (home of Excel, PowerPoint, and Word in them days) and the company gave me a Macintosh Portable to take home in case there was any work I needed to do at the weekends. Bastards.

This thing was heavy, so one week I decided I couldn't be arsed lugging it through the airport and take on the plane ... so I checked it, in it's black neoprene case, into hold luggage.

When I picked it up from the carousel in London I suddenly thought ... perhaps that wasn't such a good idea, and opened the case. The Macintosh Portable had an LCD split down the middle and was totally FUBAR. Ooops.

Rather than confess to costly mistake I went into head office and managed to swap broken Macintosh Portable for perfectly working one, when no one was looking. Ah... thumbs up for the days of poor asset control.

In a previous life I had a Commdore SX-64 for work, I loved the DPI on the tiny screen.

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Boffin

NiCd memory effect

is largely urban myth. It only shows up in NiCd batteries that follow *exactly* the same cycle, to the second, over hundreds of cycles. NASA first reported it on a satellite which, over the course of an orbit, followed the same charge/discharge cycle each day. Then something happened (eclipse, equinoxe? I can't remember) and the battery refused to give any more power after it dropped to the regular lower limit, even though it should have had plenty more charge available.

Batteries in normal use don't show it, and the various clever charging techniques proposed ("always discharge fully once a week", etc.) achieve nothing, beyond perhaps battery damage if yoiu *really* fully discharge the cell.

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Actually, it's true...

But we now have the real reason why: Overcharging

The "memory effect" was caused by the primitive chargers in use back then. They never shut off. Most products sold today have a peak detect circuit, which are now much cheaper to supply.

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Happy

I also had one

Persuaded the company to get me one because it was "application compatible" with the PCs in the company, i.e. I could import and export word processor and graphic files and could read DOS floppies.

I had Word and Excel on it, before Word for Windows and Excel were available on PCs, and managed to find a SCSI to Ethernet adapter so i could network it. However as there was no compatibility between the company Netware server and Mac's networking protocols, most file transfer and printing was done via a Unix server and NFS and/or ftp.

The big advantage for me was being able to run PageMaker for DTP, and SuperPaint, a great little drawing/paint package - maybe the first to combine both functions in one package using layers. Because you could set drawing scale, you could almost use it as a 2D CAD package by entering real life measurements. The drawings could then be imported into PageMaker for reports, etc.

It was heavy, but the battery life beat contemporary "portable" PCs into a cocked hat, and the screen was crystal sharp.

I loved my first portable. (sigh)

By the way, there are battery chargers that can rescue partially sulphited lead-acid batteries, but connecting one of the correct voltage might be an issue.

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Happy

PageMaker!

That was the Mac's Killer App back in the 80's and early 90's!

At least it was for us...

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Slow processor

It was slow, but wasn't it a RISC which meant it didn't need to be quite as fast as the others?

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Happy

The 68000 range of CPU's

The CPU's weren't RISC but CISC.

They were very nice to program down to assembly level. I recall writing a boot loader for one in the early 90's . It had a nice regular instruction set and "just worked".

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Not RISC

Motorola 68000-series were not RISC, just an alternative to 8086-based PC chips - sort of like Betamax compared to VHS: probably superior but not the one that really took off.

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Boffin

Not RISC

Apple has used several CPU families in it's machines - this one is a 68K family, which is classic CISC. It was relatively powerful for it's time, though - you would often see arcade games and consoles using a Z80 to run the game logic and a 68000 for the graphics.

The RISC CPUs Apple has used are the PowerPC (from 1994 to about 2005) and the ARM (in the iPod and iPhone). The PowerPC gave the Mac performance when the 68K family eventually ran out of steam, while the ARM gives power efficiency that's needed for a handheld device.

Has anyone tried replacing the Portable's battery with a new lead-acid battery? It seems to have a custom case wrapped around it, but it shouldn't be too hard to find an electrically compatible unit, even if it requires making the machine desk-bound.

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68000 speed

As I recall, the 68000 chips ran at twice the input clock rate, unlike the Intel chips of the time, which ran at half the input clock rate. The 68000 required a 50% duty cycle clock, the Intel chips just needed a consistent rising edge. But it's been a while, I could well be misremembering.

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I wouldn't say the 68k didn't take off.

It ended up being used in everything from the Amiga, through Sega 16 bit consoles, even some wierd things like alarm systems where a z80 would have done just as well.

I'm pretty sure the 68k's legacy lives on in some miniaturised designs, too.

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I see.

Not super familiar with older macs, so thanks for the lesson.

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Happy

68000

If you ever see references to Dragonball processors, as used in PalmPilots, then these are low-power 68000 processors.

I'm sure I was poking about inside some consumer device (it may have been a Freeview TV box) recently, and came across a 68K based SoC being used as a micro-controller, which probably means that they are still being made.

The 68000 family should be regarded as one of the classic processor designs, alongside the IBM 370, the PDP/11, the MIPS-1 and possibly the 6502. Beats the hell out of the mire that Intel processors have become. Some people might also say that the NS32032 processor and maybe the ARM-1 should also be included in this list.

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@Chromatix

Don't forget that the original Newton used ARM chips too. Apple liked the look of what Acorn (under Olivetti) were doing at the time, and was a co-founder in ARM Holdings (along with, IIRC, VLSI and Acorn themselves).

I think Apple have since sold their stake (they needed the cash in the late 90s/early 2000s).

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680x0 things

The connoisseur's processor of its time. I had a Sun 3/60 with a 68020 and 68881 math co-processor in it I think. I wrote little bits of 68020 assembler to optimise long-running simulations.

There was a time when Apple's highest performing processor was a 68020 in the Laserprinter IINT (or something) - running faster than the processors in any of their computers....

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Heart

680x0

Our LaserPrinter IINTX lasted well over 10 years. It was finally sold in 1999 because my dad needed cash ... and it was *still working*. It had printed something like 80,000 pages or 180,000 pages (can't remember if the counter was one of those rollover at 99,999) by then.

The 680x0 lives on with a couple of low-power devices, notably my TI-89 used one of those. I joked with some of my friends that I could theoretically fire up System 7 or System 6.0.7 on one of those calculators!

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Coldfire

The Coldfire embedded CPUs are cut down 68000. They lack some of the more advanced features.

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