The not-so-Portable


The Outbound








MCE drives
MCE's hard drive installation kit








VST's expansion bay modules


MacAlly mouse
It comes in colors just in case you need to lend your mouse to some poor soul with an iBook.


FEATURE August 16, 2000
Road Hog
[page 2 of 5]

I'm not going to mention the sad saga of the Outbound Portable by the way, except to say that it's a sad saga. Like the desktop clone manufacturers, they made a better computer than Apple did, for a better price, until Apple drove them out of business. This was in the BS years (Between Steve), but you can still find support and spare parts for these poor beasts at a site run by one of Outbound's original tech support guys, Cory Burton.

But I digress. On to the addons.

You know the old adage to buy all the RAM you can afford? Tim's RAM Rule is to buy all the RAM you can afford, then double it. Sell blood if you have to, but don't even think of cutting this corner. The latest laptops all ship with OS 9, which, as of this writing, has some serious memory issues, not the least of which is that it hogs up at least 50 MB of RAM just to boot up.

And don't think that you'll be okay with the standard 128 if all you're going to do is a little word processing. Consider 256 the absolute minimum amount of RAM to use with a PowerBook. The 1999 model can hold up to 512—although the lower slot uses more expensive low-profile chips—and the 2000 models up to a gig. Sound like too much RAM for your needs? Then buy an iBook, punk.

Seriously, some of this is an OS 9 issue: I consider 256 the minimum for functioning on any computer running it. Microsoft Word in particular sucks up all the RAM it possibly can and doesn't release it when you quit. Feel free to insert your own Microsoft joke here: I got you started by using "Microsoft" and "sucks" in the same sentence, but you can get creative with the "taking what doesn't belong to it" theme.

A note on RAM prices: I've always bought the cheapest RAM I could find from anybody who offered a lifetime warranty, and, in 16 years of Macintosh computing, I've had precisely one chip go bad. I sent it back for prompt and cheerful replacement. Some folks swear that brand name RAM is the only way to go for your PowerBook, but I'm not persuaded. Still, I don't want to lead anyone astray—at least not on this issue—so caveat emptor.

MCE MobilStor hard drives
When I bought my PowerBook, the biggest internal drive available was 6 gigs. To paraphrase Roy Scheider's Sheriff Brody, you're gonna need a bigger boat. The 2000 PowerBooks offered the option of drives up to 18 gigs, and this, frankly, is where you'll want to begin. The good news for those of us who didn't or couldn't buy one that big at the time is that MCE (Mac Components Engineered) offers this very thing ($349) and more: Their internal drives go up to 30 gigs for only $549. They come with very clear installation instructions—it's really very easy, just a few screws and a small ribbon cable—and all the tools necessary. In addition to space, they offer significant performance improvements. I love these things.

VST Expansion Bay Zip Drive
The hot-swappable expansion bay is one of my favorite things about the G3 PowerBooks, and my favorite expansion bay drive is the VST Zip. I've loved these since I bought one for my flaming 5300: It was the only part of that computer that ever worked right. I know some folks have had problems with Iomega products over the years, but I've always had good experiences with Zips. They're also as close as we have to floppies these days, especially for transferring files from PCs. If you're buying a new PowerBook, shop around. Many vendors will make you an awesome deal on this, and some even throw it in free.

USB Floppy drive ($69)

I can't tell you how many times I've been able to save the day with a floppy disk. There are times when nothing else will do. I'll give you an example. I was on the road doing a demo of BorisFX, along with some other vendors who also offered products for this particular PC-based video editing system that sponsored our little dog and pony show. Somebody asked a question to one of the other vendors about a kind of keying that this particular product didn't handle so well, but which BorisFX does. So I opened up Photoshop on my laptop, created a couple of quick sample files, whipped up some cross-platform effects settings with Boris, popped them on a floppy and opened my presentation with my answer to the fellow's question, to much ooh-ing and aah-ing. VST and MacAlly are two of the vendors who sell these, but buy one from whoever you want. They connect via USB, which means they're dog slow, but they're best $70-ish I ever spent on my computer.

Ethernet crossover cable ($5 and up; size matters)

The best $10-ish I ever spent on my computer. Every Macintosh for the past few years has had built-in Ethernet, a fast networking protocol, but one which typically requires an outboard hardware hub to make the network run. They aren't expensive, but many folks, especially those with only one computer, haven't gotten around to buying one. A crossover cable allows two Macs with Ethernet to connect via File Sharing, and it's very often the fastest and easiest way to transfer files between two Macs. Especially two PowerBooks. It's different from a regular Ethernet cable, so be sure to specify a crossover cable when you go to buy one. I've used one of these to save the day at least as often as a floppy, and it gets bonus points for being much cooler. Mine's 12' long to provide plenty of room for connecting to desktop Macs that might not be easily moved.

MacAlly iSweetNet three-button scrolling mouse ($49)
Yes, the PowerBook comes with a nifty trackpad, but you will truly come to know the meaning of the word "pain" if you try to use it for any amount of serious work, which is, after all, why you bought the PowerBook. The pain starts in your thumb, moves to your wrist, starts throbbing in your shoulder and is screaming madly by the time it reaches your hindmost quarters. MacAlly's iSweetNet, despite the godawful name, still kicks the aforementioned hindquarters of Apple's fancy-schmantzy new optical mouse. It has two buttons and a scrolling wheel that can be programmed as a third button and is a joy to use. MacAlly has already announced an optical successor—the equally horrendously named iOptiNet—but for the same list price as Apple's mouse, puh-leeze. I keep my new Apple mouse on the shelf as a pretty tchotchke, which is all its good for.


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