RIP PowerBook



I took the picture at the top of this post sitting in Starbucks recently with my trusty, 12-year-old PowerBook G4 laptop from Apple. Those sitting around me have no idea how ancient my laptop is - they probably see the glow from the Apple logo on the back and realize that it’s just another Apple laptop.

But it’s more than just another laptop to me. It’s written over a dozen textbooks for various publishers, created countless curriculum documents for my college, and given well over a hundred presentations. It’s done the work of 20 laptops.

To keep it useable over time, I maxed out the RAM (1.25 GB) and replaced the hard drive with a PATA SSD. But it still runs an ancient version of macOS 10.5 Leopard (the last one that supports PowerPC), and mainstream apps have long forgotten the platform, including any recent versions of RDP and VPN clients needed for work connectivity.

The only modern Web browser that runs on it is TenFourFox (a Mozilla Gecko browser optimized for PowerPC), but most complex Web sites such as Gmail, Facebook, and eBay are completely unusable as the processing involved to render them takes the CPU usage to 100% continuously until the machine crashes. I can use Google and Wikipedia within TenFourFox, as well as our company Web system to check my class schedule and do attendance, but that’s about it. To check my company email, I can still use the Mail app built into macOS, and of course Microsoft Office 2008 (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) runs perfectly fine on it too. As a result, these past few years it’s basically been a presentation and email-checking machine only.

Earlier this month, my beloved PowerBook started to fail. After about 30-40 minutes of normal usage, the disk controller chips on the motherboard heat up and won’t recognize the SSD (or any other PATA hard disk that I put into it) until I let it cool down for a few hours. I’m still using it for short periods of time, but the problem is only going to get worse until the disk controller dies completely.

I really can’t complain - it’s been a great workhorse, but there’s definitely a sentimental value associated with a tool that has been used to achieve so much over the past dozen years. Will I replace it with the latest MacBook Pro? Apple is likely going to announce new versions of it later this month, but I’m not sure if I want to spend that sort of money yet. However, if it lasts anywhere near as long as my PowerBook did, it’s probably a safe investment.