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Vectronic's PowerBook 520c

Blue Arrow Archives Section:  Apple Laptops Collection Archive

Originally Published:  Nov. 18, 2007

Apple introduced the 500 series PowerBooks (PowerBook 520, 520c, 540, and 540c) on May 16, 1994. By 1995, this new line of PowerBooks completely replaced the classic PowerBooks first introduced in 1991. 500 series PowerBooks are powered by the 68LC040 processor, a low cost variant of the 68040 processor that draws less power and has no FPU. The 520s have a 25 MHz 68LC040 processor and the 540s have a 33 MHz 68LC040 processor. The "c" after 520 or 540 denotes the use of a color display. The 520 and 540 have a monochrome display. The 520c originally cost between $2800 and $4000 depending on options. I purchased my 520c in 2006 for $35.

Blackbird LC was Apple's code name for the 500 series PowerBooks. The PowerBook 500 series is a smart redesign of the original PowerBook concept incorporating many new innovations:

  • The first Macintosh laptop to use a trackpad instead of a trackball
  • The first PowerBook to use an intelligent NiMH battery
  • The first PowerBook with modular expandability
  • The first PowerBook with built-in stereo speakers
  • The first PowerBook with built-in Ethernet
  • The first PowerBook to automatically go to sleep when the lid is shut

PowerBook 520c trackpad

Apple was well on its way to introducing the first PowerPC Macs during the time the 500 series PowerBooks debuted. To keep the 500 series PowerBooks marketable in light of this coming change, Apple specifically designed them to be upgraded with a 100 MHz 603e Macintosh PowerBook Processor Card Upgrade that Apple first introduced in late 1995.

The 500 series PowerBooks have the ability to use two batteries at one time. Batteries can be added under each side of the palm rest. This gives the PowerBook 500 series an unprecedented 4 hours of possible battery life from the two installed batteries.

PowerBook 520c battery

Intelligent NiMH battery

The left side battery chamber also has an internal processor direct expansion slot (PDS) that allows for custom modules to be installed. Unfortunately, not many actually reached the market, so expansion options are extremely limited. The most widely used expansion option is Apple's PCMCIA module. PCMCIA cards compatible with PCMCIA modules are primarily used for memory expansion but other applications such as wireless networking exist. Apple released three revisions of this module in an attempt to support the emerging PCMCIA standard. PCMCIA later evolved into the PC Card. Unfortunately, PCMCIA modules are difficult to find.

PowerBook 520c power button (left pointing arrow key)

The 500 series PowerBooks have a full-sized keyboard with 12 function keys. Apple moved the power button from the back of the computer as it was on the previous generation PowerBooks to the keyboard located next to the F12 key. The previous generation PowerBooks are difficult to upgrade because the entire bottom half must be disassembled. The PowerBook 500 series is very easy to upgrade because the motherboard is accessible simply by removing the keyboard. As demonstrated below, the keyboard is held down by two torx screws that can be removed using a T9 torx screwdriver. The entire keyboard is a removable unit.

Two torx screws fasten the keyboard

Keyboard pulled off (hard drive and floppy drive removed)

The PowerBook 520 is the less expensive monochrome passive-matrix equivalent of the 520c. The 520c has a very good 9.5-inch color dual-scan LCD capable of 256 colors (8-bit) at a single resolution of 640 x 480. Brightness and contrast can be adjusted by two buttons located on the right front side of the display. The 520c has 512K VRAM (video RAM) and is capable of driving an external monitor over the following possible resolutions: 512 x 384, 640 x 480, 800 x 600, or 832 x 624.

Brightness and contrast controls

The PowerBook 520c has the following ports: one mini-15 video port, one ADB port, one HDI-30 SCSI port, one AAUI-15 Ethernet port, one microphone jack, one speaker jack, and one serial port that can be used for a modem or printer. The PowerBook 520c has a built-in microphone located at the middle bottom of the display. The PowerBook 520c has an internal communication slot for a modem. My PowerBook 520c has an installed modem card in this slot.

PowerBook 520c ports

Maximum RAM is 36 MB with 4 MB residing on the motherboard. My 520c has 20 MB of RAM. The 520c has a single internal 1.4 MB floppy disk drive. Apple shipped the PowerBook 520c with either a 160 MB, 240 MB, or 320 MB SCSI hard drive. I recently had to replace my 520c's original 320 MB hard drive after it unexpectedly died. These hard drives are hard to find and it is often easier to buy a whole PowerBook 520c than it is to find the hard drive alone. My PowerBook 520c currently has a 240 MB hard drive.

PowerBook 520c internal hard drive

The PowerBook 520c originally shipped with Mac OS 7.1.1 and it officially supports up to Mac OS 8.1. My PowerBook 520c is using Mac OS 7.5.5. I would suggest not going past System 7 on any 68K Mac. Mac OS 8 is noticeably ponderous on 68040 Macs and it is especially slow on a Mac with an LC 040.

"About This Macintosh" showing Mac OS and RAM

Click to view screen capture 1
Click to view screen capture 2
Click to view screen capture 3
Click to view screen capture 4 (Calculator)
Click to view screen capture 5 (Monitor Control Panel)
Click to view screen capture 6 (Memory Control Panel)

The 500 series PowerBooks were as revolutionary upon their release to the general public as the original classic PowerBooks they replaced. Apple once again stirred up the laptop market with a remarkable example of industrial design that helped usher in many conveniences consumers now expect from all marketable portable computers including stereo speakers, trackpad cursor control, modular expandability, and built-in networking capabilities. Vectromania

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