Recycled Computing

No Money Down: The Resurrected PowerBook

- 2010.03.23

12 inch PowerBook with a working display
12" PowerBook with a working display.

Well, it has been a frantic week, but I finally have a 12" PowerBook G4 laptop upand running with a working display.

The PowerBook G4, with its compact 10.9" x 8.6" footprint, presagesthe current netbook craze by seven years and has been missed by Applefans ever since it's demise. One of the complaints about the MacBook Air was that the 12.8" x8.94" footprint was too wide. The 12" PowerBook has the smallestfootprint of any PowerBook capable of running Mac OS X.*

I've always wanted one, so when the old (we have a new one) athleticdirector's 12" PowerBook G4 proved too much for Mr. Mike, our residentcomputer fixer, to bring back to life - it had a broken LCD - he gaveit to me with an iBook LCD screen to "see what I could do". I tried tosee if the iBook LCD would fit and when it didn't, our brave andindustrious editor, Dan Knight, sent me a stripped 12" PowerBook with aworking screen.

12 inch PowerBook parts
My shelf of 12" PowerBook parts.

At this point, as you will see in the accompanying photo, I had ashelf of parts. I didn't know if Dan's donor's main circuit board wouldwork, so I took the donor apart until I reached the point where I couldtake out the board. I replaced the board from the original PowerBookand rebuilt the donor with the DVD drive from the original, a 160 GBhard drive I had lying around, and a 256 MB RAM stick from a spare (andnon-working) PismoPowerBook.

If you are counting RAM (128 MB on the board plus the 256 MB stickequals 384 MB), you know that I can't get Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard on it, as theinstaller requires 512 MB. I have not spent any cash onthis project yet, but if I'm going to get some memory, I may as well gowhole hog and buy as much as I can. For around $50, I can max out theRAM to 1.125 GB and run Leopard (but not OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, whichrequires an Intel-based Mac). Not too bad for a computer that almostwent to the computer graveyard.

In the meantime, I'm running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger on it and enjoyingthe experience. The 12" runs hot, so I installed TemperatureMonitor on it, and so far it is staying within the properparameters.

The other thing that you notice with the 12-inch is that the old galis heavy. At 4-and-a-half pounds or so, no one is going to confuse itwith a netbook. But if you are an elderly curmudgeon like me, you stillfeel that metal is better than plastic.

I look at the "Ouch Corner" (see The Apple Patient) onthe original chassis and can't help but wonder what would have happenedto a plastic body computer if it had to survive an impact like that. Itprobably would have been shipped out to the computer graveyard. LEM

* The smallest footprint was the PowerBook 2400c, at 10.5" x 8.5" (90.1square inches), and the runner up was the PowerBook 100, which had an 11.0" x 8.5"footprint (93.5 square inches). At 93.74 square inches, the 12"PowerBook was the third-smallest.

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