Acoustic Mac

Bitten by the Laptop Bug

PowerBook 3400c Gets a Homeschool Assignment

Beverly Woods - 2001.05.10 - Tip Jar

There is something decidedly disorienting about buying a ten-year-old a machine that, when new, would have cost more than your last three cars put together. Nonetheless, with the price decreases of recent years, such a things can come to seem not only possible but almost reasonable. Here's how I ended up doing this.

Our story so far: 15 months ago, I overcame my anti-computer bias (see From Luddite to Low End Mac) and purchased a refurbished iMac 350. My partner had just upgraded to a WallStreet, and the Quadra 650 we had been using went to my daughter's room.

What had seemed like a nice, fast machine a little while before now seemed slow, especially if you were trying to do anything on the Internet. My daughter used the Quadra for her writing and other projects, until a buyer was found for it. Then she was increasingly at my side, saying, "I want to use your computer!"

After saying 5,000 times that this was my iMac, and that as fun as it all looked, I was actually trying to run a business here, I decided that she had some valid points. What I was doing was important. We're home schooling, and what she was doing was also important. Lots of kids in public school get to do their work on computers. Why not get her one of her own?

OK, then what to get?

I considered getting her an early iMac and even got as far as bidding on one on eBay, but my bid didn't meet the reserve price. Meantime, a voice I'd been hearing for a while grew louder, more insistent. It came from my daughter's vicinity and repeated a single theme, with remarkably little variation: "I want a laptop," it said. "Laptop, laptop, laptop." (You are getting want to buy me a laptop...when you wake up, you will buy me a laptop...laptop...laptop...)

"What's this you say? You want a laptop? Tell you what: the budget for this is $600, max. For that, we could get an iMac or a laptop that might run more like the Quadra."

"Laptop! Even if it only does word-processing, I want a laptop!"

I couldn't imagine that word-processing alone was going to be sufficient, given that she was already designing websites. (Kids these days!) I wanted her to have, well, what I would want to have in her shoes.

She writes a lot. A writer wants to carry her projects around and be able to work on them in different locations. A writer would like to be able to prepare her work for publication, in print or on the Web, with graphics where suitable. A writer would like a laptop. A good one.

So I started looking at the specs of older PowerBooks that might be in our price range. Low End Mac, of course, was frequently consulted. A good color screen was required, I thought, for graphics work. She'd want enough processor speed and memory to happily run writing, layout, and web design programs, use the Internet, and provide some flexibility in the future. Hopefully she'll have this for a while.

It came down to a few models: the 5300 (with reservations about screen size, among other things), the 1400 (with reservations on PowerBook 3400the memory ceiling of 64 MB) and the 3400. Given our price range, the 3400 (max. RAM: 144 MB) looked like the winner.

While comparing prices on 3400s one day I ran across a deal I didn't want to pass up at a well-known reseller. At the end of the week a PowerBook 3400c/200/2G/64 MB arrived.

I had never actually seen a 3400 before. Wow! This was a great machine! Just the feel of it, the compact solidity - I coveted the near-silence of its drive, the responsiveness of the keyboard. Was I giving this fabulous thing to a ten-year-old?

Suddenly the original retail price made sense: I could understand how people had been willing to spend five grand for one of these. The fact that we could now get one for about 10% of the original price was one of the first instances I can recall wherein I felt the trickle-down economy had actually dripped in the right place.

Adhering to the principle that a gift you want yourself is the best kind to give, I set up the 3400 with some familiar software and gave it to my daughter a few days later. She was, naturally, very happy.

I looked over at the table where my partner and daughter now had their laptops set up. Suddenly my iMac looked bloated and clunky. And it sure is heavy to move.

I haven't done anything about it, but I'm afraid I've been bitten by the bug. Now I want a laptop. Not that I need one, I really can't justify it, seeing as I have my trusty iMac. But that little voice comes from inside now, saying: laptop...laptop...

After all, writers want to carry their projects around and be able to work on them in different locations. Writers would like to be able to prepare their work for publication, with graphics where suitable. A writer would like a laptop. A good one. (Maybe a G3?)

It's probably only a matter of time. LEM

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