Mac Daniel's Advice

The Strong Value of the Lombard PowerBook G3

Dan Knight - 2003.03.19

This week we're looking at each of these G3 PowerBooks in turn. As with all Macs, each has strengths and weaknesses. To simplify things, we'll typically use the street names Kanga, WallStreet, Lombard, and Pismo for these 'Books.

For a quick overview of the four lines, see our Guide to G3 PowerBooks.

Lombard

Depending on their configuration, the original PowerBook G3 and PowerBook G3 Series models weighed between 7 and 8 pounds. Introduced in May 1999, Lombard cut up to two pounds from that, PowerBook G3weighing in at 5.7-6.1 pounds. It was also thinner at just 1.7" thick.

At first glance, Lombard and WallStreet look a lot alike. Both have the same footprint, curvaceous design, and black finish. The quickest way to distinguish Lombard from WallStreet is the translucent brown keyboard, which leads Apple to call this model the PowerBook G3 (Bronze Keyboard).

Although Lombard was even faster than WallStreet - it was available with either a 333 MHz or 400 MHz G3 - it also had better battery life, optimistically rated at 5 hours by Apple. As with WallStreet, Lombard could run with two batteries for double that.

Unlike WallStreet, which had two drive bays, Lombard has only one. Due to the thinner design, drive bay accessories are not compatible between the WallStreet and Lombard, although Lombard and Pismo use the same drive bay.

Also unlike WallStreet, Lombard has only a single PC Card slot.

Modern

Lombard was the first thoroughly modern PowerBook. Unlike the transitional WallStreet models, Lombard uses NewWorld ROMs, includes two USB ports, and has no ADB support. The more modern architecture means it doesn't suffer from the 8 GB OS X boot partition limitation of WallStreet.

Video uses the ATI Rage LT Pro chipset and includes 8 MB of VRAM. It's not enough to rock with Quartz Extreme, but it is a bit step forward from the 2-4 MB VRAM video of the PowerBook G3 Series.

A DVD-ROM drive was standard on the 400 MHz Lombard and an option with the 333 MHz model.

Memory expansion is officially supported to 512 MB using SO-DIMMs, and Lombard included a 4, 6, or 10 GB hard drive from the factory.

Used 333 MHz Lombards are generally selling for a bit over US$500 on eBay these days, and the 400 MHz version is usually near the $650 mark, all depending on configuration and condition.

I'd say the 333 MHz Lombard is definitely worth the $100 premium over the 300 MHz WallStreet based on improved video, NewWorld ROMs, increased battery life, two USB ports, and that 11% additional speed. The 400 MHz Lombard seems a bit steep in comparison (30% higher price vs. 20% higher clock speed and DVD), especially in comparison with current prices on the newer 400 MHz Pismo.

Upgrades

Lombard has two memory slots, and 128 MB modules sell for as little as $19 today. 256 MB comes as low as $46, so there's no reason in the world not to have at least 192 MB (64 MB stock plus a 128 MB upgrade) in a Lombard.

Today's 5400 rpm hard drives, especially the ones with 2 MB and 8 MB caches, can significantly improve hard drive performance. I put 20 GB in my PowerBook G4 last year for about $100, and prices are even better today. If you can afford it, skip right past the 4200 rpm drives to the faster ones.

If you need more horsepower, you can turn the Lombard into a 500 MHz G4 barnstormer with the PowerLogix BlueChip G4 LS upgrade for $399. This includes a 1 MB backside cache, twice as large as the standard Lombard CPU. This appears to be the only processor upgrade currently offered for Lombard.

One other thing you might want to add is FireWire. You should be able to find a FireWire PC Card for $85 or so if you want to add the Mac's fastest port to your Lombard.

At either 333 or 400 MHz, Lombard makes a wonderful classic Mac OS computer, whether that's Mac OS 8.6 or some version of OS 9. But OS X is more demanding.

Mac OS X

Even the entry-level 333 MHz Lombard is a decent performer under Mac OS X, although more speed definitely makes for a more enjoyable Jaguar experience. The video is a definite improvement over WallStreet as well, and you don't need to partition a new hard drive to install Mac OS X.

If you want to use OS X on a Lombard, you want no less than 192 MB of memory - and more is always better. Give OS X lots of breathing room for best performance. At today's prices, a pair of 128 MB modules for $38 plus shipping should be affordable, and if you can swing $92 plus postage for two 256 MB modules, even better. OS X loves lots of free memory.

Regardless of what Apple claims about minimum system requirements, you need a hard drive larger than 4 GB, and 4 GB is really pushing it once you have some applications installed and need to run the 10.3 updater that's bound to show up someday. If you have a 4 or 6 GB hard drive, look into a 10 GB hard drive as a practical minimum. And ante up for a 5400 rpm drive if possible - because virtual memory is always active in OS X, you don't want the hard drive slowing you down.

If you already have a 400 MHz Lombard, it might not make economic sense to invest $400 in a G4 upgrade. You'll only see a 25% speed boost in the classic Mac OS, but the G4 will help the Quartz rendering engine in OS X.

But if you've got a 333 MHz Lombard, that $400 upgrade gives you 50% more power most of the time - plus the benefit of the AltiVec velocity engine in OS X and select applications. In fact, if you're buying with the intent of upgrading, go for the entry-level Lombard. It's not a cheap way to get a G4 PowerBook (there is no cheap way), but it's far more economical than a used PowerBook G4/400 or 500.

Conclusion

Prior to OS X, I often stated that a 300-350 MHz G3 was all the power most users needed most of the time. By that yardstick, if you're still using the classic Mac OS, the Lombard offers plenty of power at a reasonable price.

However, OS X has increased demand on the hardware. I'm running a PowerBook G4/400 under Jaguar and find it just comfortably up to the task most of the time. Sometimes it feels a bit fast, more often it feels somewhat sluggish. And that's with 512 MB of memory and a fast hard drive.

Lombard can run OS X competently, but it's no speed demon under the demands of this incredibly robust, visually demanding operating system. With a 500 MHz G4 upgrade, it's probably an excellent OS X machine.

Still, you have to put it in perspective. A refurbished 700 MHz 14" iBook or used 550 MHz PowerBook G4 is going to cost a lot more than a Lombard - maybe more than a Lombard plus a G4 upgrade. And neither has the expansion bay.

Buying a Mac, new or used, is always about compromise. How much you want vs. how much you can afford. What you need vs. what you want. If you plan on using OS X on a laptop, Lombard is a better machine than WallStreet, and the 333 MHz model is a particularly good value.

On Friday we'll look at Pismo and see if it's an even better value than the 400 MHz Lombard at today's prices. LEM

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