Apple Archive

Why Choose a PowerBook Duo?

- 2001.01.05

If you are in the market for a used PowerBook, a Duo may in fact be your best choice.

What is a Duo? The Duo was Apple's sub-notebook line of portable computers. Apple wanted to be on top of the market and came up with the idea for this 3-pound notebook computer. Complete with serial port, PDS port (for the later released dock), and optional 14.4 kbps internal modem, the new Duo changed portable computing dramatically by proving that creating such a small machine was possible.

Sony and several other PC manufacturers have taken this a step further - some of their models now include built in digital cameras in notebooks that are half the size of the Duo series.

The first Duos that came out were the 210 and 230, released in October 1992. The 210 came with a 25 MHz 68030 processor, 4 MB of RAM, and an 80 or 120 MB hard drive. The 230 had a 33 MHz 68030. The Duos measures 1.4" x 10.9" x 8.5" and weighed 4.2 pounds - 2.6 pounds less than the 6.8 pound PowerBook 100 series.

At that time, there was no dock available for the Duo. In fact, the only way to use floppy disks was to buy the Duo Floppy Adapter - a little adapter that added a SCSI port and a floppy drive port (for the PowerBook 100/Duo external floppy drive).

The Duo 210 and 230 were replaced a year later by the Duo 250 and 270c. The Duo 250 came with a 33 MHz 68030, 4 MB of RAM, and a 120 or 240 MB hard drive. The 270c used the same 33 MHz 68030, but came with a 68882 FPU as well. It was the only Duo to have one. The 270c also came with 4 MB of RAM, a 240 MB hard drive, a 14.4 kbps internal modem, and a colour screen that could show 256 colours at 640 x 480 and thousands of colours at the standard Duo resolution of 640 x 400.

The 68LC040 processor was introduced into the Duo line with the Duo 280 and 280c in May 1994. The 280 and 280c were identical except that the 280c featured a colour screen. The 280 and 280c were both PowerPC upgradeable. The 280 featured 12 MB of RAM and a 240 MB hard disk. The 280c had a 320 MB hard disk.

The only PowerPC Duo was the PowerBook 2300c. This machine was a combination of the Duo 280c and the PowerBook 5300 series. In the 2300c, Apple tried to do away with the Duo name by calling it the PowerBook 2300c - even though it said "Duo" on the front. The 2300c featured a 100 MHz PowerPC 603e processor, 8 MB or 20 MB of RAM (expandable to 56 MB), and a 750 MB or 1.1 GB hard disk. The 2300c also was the only Duo to have a trackpad.

The idea of a Duo was to have a portable computer half the size of other models that had the ability to become a desktop machine. By buying a Duo Dock, you could use it as your main computer! The original Duo Floppy Adapter was just enough to use an external floppy drive to store documents on. The original Duo Dock worked great for the grayscale Duos. It even offered an option for an FPU and a hard drive - right in the dock.

The later Duo Dock, the Dock II, was meant for the colour Duos. This one had an expanded lid on it to let the slightly thicker Duo 270c and 280c fit in the dock.

Then there is the hard-to-find Duo Mini-Dock. The Mini Dock snapped onto the back of the Duo and gave it a floppy drive port, a SCSI port, an ADB port, a serial ports, sound in and out ports, as well as a pass-through port for the modem (if there was one installed in the Duo).

You have a wide choice of Duos and docks.

Why buy a Duo instead of a regular PowerBook? The Duo is lighter, smaller, and just as powerful as any other older PowerBook. They are also affordable - Duo 210's and 230's can cost as little as $30 on eBay or other online auction sites.

If you need PowerPC, I wouldn't buy a PowerBook 2300c - I would opt for a PowerBook 5300cs instead. The reason? 2300s are still too expensive; you would most likely be paying twice what it's worth. 5300cs's are selling for as little as $300 these days, but you may have to pay $500 for a 2300c with some sort of dock.

If you need colour, look at a 280c. Prices for the 270c and 280c are similar (about $200), and it's worth paying just a little bit more for the 280c's extra power - not to mention you can run Mac OS 8 on it. However, if you have an application that needs an FPU, you must buy a 270c because it was the only 68K Duo to have an FPU built in.

Before you rush out for a Duo, I will warn you that the Duo's keyboards may not be your style. They generally have a soft feel, which can make typing hard. If you get a later model Duo with a newer version of the keyboard, they aren't too bad.

If you are planning on a PowerBook, the Duo can be the right machine. Small laptop computers are the future of portable computing. (If only Apple would realize that.) By buying a Duo now - even though it's not the fastest laptop available - you are in a way keeping up with technology.

I highly recommend a Duo to everyone who needs a small machine but doesn't need great speed.

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