'Book Value

WallStreet Was Great, but Pismo Is the King of Expandable 'Books

Charles Moore - 2011.02.18 - Tip Jar

In Too Much Focus Means Too Few Mac Expansion Options, Dan Knight notes that this week marks the fifth anniversary of the first 15" MacBook Pro shipments as well as the 11th anniversary of the unveiling the last of the expandable Mac notebooks, the Pismo PowerBook.

WallStreet PowerBook G3
WallStreet PowerBook

Dan maintains that "as much as we love the Pismo here at Low End Mac, the WallStreet PowerBook was even more expandable. And, of course, bigger and heavier."

Factually, Dan is correct. The WallStreet represented the all-time high water mark in Apple laptop expandability and versatility, with its two fully-enabled removable device/battery bays, twin CardBus slots, a full array of contemporaneous I/O ports including SCSI, S-video, VGA, and Infrared ports.

However, having owned a WallStreet and three Pismos, I without hesitation rate the Pismo as being the more desirable machine by a substantial margin - indeed, it gets my vote as the best Mac laptop ever.

Pismo PowerBook
Pismo PowerBook

The Pismo gets the nod for being almost as easy to open up and work on as the WallStreet (the hard drive isn't quite as simple to remove, requiring extraction of four Torx T-8 screws rather then a simple pull), evidently no less robust notwithstanding its more than a pound lighter weight and slimmer profile, even more successfully upgradable to G4 power, able to support OS X on boot volume partitions larger than 8 GB thanks to its New World ROM, and more usefully connectable over the long haul than the WallStreet thanks to having both FireWire and USB ports, which are still I/O standards 11 years on with upgraded speed capability (but still compatible), whereas the WallStreet represented the second-last gasp for SCSI on Mac laptops and the last for ADB and DIN-8 serial ports.

This happy combination of expandability and modern I/O connectivity has made it possible for me to continue using Pismos as production machines for an amazing 10-plus years and counting, including the one I'm typing this column on right now. While the Pismo only supports removable devices in its right-side bay (you can also stick a second battery in there and with extended life units expand battery runtime to 10-12 hours), that hasn't proved a significant shortcoming, nor has the 50% fewer CardBus slots, thanks to the daisy-chaining versatility and hot pluggability of USB and FireWire, which are represented by two ports respectively on the Pismo.

As Dan observes, since the Pismo was discontinued in January 2001, it's been downhill from there in terms of Mac laptop expansion options - no device bays, no way to add a second battery, no simple way to swap out the optical drive, and - aside from RAM and hard drive access in the unibody MacBooks and MacBook Pros - nothing nearly as easy to tear down and work on as the Pismo. PC Cards slots were gone after the last PowerBooks, and Apple has phased out the successor ExpressCard/34 slots even on its recent 15" MacBook Pro models, although the the far less flexible and versatile SD Card slot has picked up some of the slack on some MacBook Pro models. Even batteries have been non-swappable and only removable via a teardown since the 2009 refreshes.

That said, I love my Late 2008 13" Unibody MacBook, which for two years has been a flawless and able performer despite its I/O poverty, and the current crop of MacBooks, MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs are - in terms of raw performance, looks, price, and general coolness - the best value Apple has ever offered in its notebooks. I mean, whoda thunk 11 years ago (when the base Pismo was selling for $2,499 2000 dollars) that we would ever be able to buy a Mac laptop as powerful and capable as a MacBook or a 11.6" MacBook Air for less than a thousand dollars?

However, I wonder if any examples of these machines will still be in active service in their 11th year the way two of my Pismos still are.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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