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Vectronic's PowerBook 180

Blue Arrow Archives Section:  Apple Laptops Collection Archive

Vectronic's Collections (New Site):  PowerBook 180

Originally Published:  Aug. 12, 2008

The PowerBook 180 is arguably the best grayscale classic chassis PowerBook produced by Apple, but at the time of its release, it was extremely expensive beginning at about $3,870 US. The PowerBook 180 has a 68030, 33 MHz processor with integrated PMMU and 68882 FPU. My PowerBook 180 has its original 80 MB SCSI hard drive and the maximum RAM of 14 MB. It has the same form factor as the PowerBook 140 and weighs a hefty 6.8 pounds. The PowerBook 180 replaced the PowerBook 170, one of Apple's three original PowerBooks. Like the PowerBook 170, the PowerBook 180 has a single internal 1.4 MB floppy disk drive. The PowerBook 180 originally shipped with Mac OS 7.1, but mine has been updated to System 7.5.5. The latest version of Mac OS officially supported by the PowerBook 180 is System 7.6.1.

Floppy disk in drive

The PowerBook 180 shipped with an impressive array of ports. It has a printer port, modem port, video out port, sound in port, sound out port, Apple Desktop Bus port, and HDI-30 SCSI port. There is also one modem expansion slot. My PowerBook 180 has an installed 14.4K modem card with an RJ-11 telephone connector. The PowerBook 180 has a built-in microphone under the speaker grill just above the keyboard. Like the PowerBook 140 and 170, the PowerBook 180 has a port cover that snaps into place. This cover must be opened to access the power button. The cover is somewhat fragile and unfortunately many old PowerBooks have lost their covers over the years. Fortunately, my PowerBook 180 still has its port cover and it is in great shape.

Port cover up

Port cover down

The feature that sets the PowerBook 180 apart from its grayscale contemporaries is its exquisite 9.8-inch grayscale active-matrix (4-bit, 16 grays) LCD. Native resolution is 640 x 400 (4-bit). Screen contrast and brightness can be adjusted using two slider controls just above the keyboard to the right. The video out port supports an external 13-inch to 16-inch monitor. Display modes include Black & White, 4 Grays, 4 Colors, 16 Grays, and 16 Colors. The only difference I noticed in using the color modes over the gray modes is that the Apple Menu apple is solid black using the gray modes, and shows strips of different shades of gray using 16 Colors (actually colors are not possible on the grayscale LCD). The PowerBook 180 has 512K VRAM, which gives it the capability of displaying 256 colors (8-bit) on an external monitor over a variety of resolutions maxing out at 832 x 624. Below are screen captures demonstrating the differences in each display mode.

Contrast and brightness controls

"About This Macintosh" showing Mac OS and RAM

Click to View Screen Capture 1 (Black & White Mode)
Click to View Screen Capture 2 (16 Grays Mode)
Click to View Screen Capture 3 (16 Colors Mode)
Click to View Screen Capture 4 (Black & White Mode)
Click to View Screen Capture 5 (Black & White Mode)
Click to View Screen Capture 6 (4 Grays Mode)
Click to View Screen Capture 7 (Black & White Mode)
Click to View Screen Capture 8 (4 Grays Mode)
Click to View Screen Capture 9 (16 Grays Mode)
Click to View Screen Capture 10 (16 Colors Mode)

Like all the early PowerBooks, the cursor can be controlled using a trackball positioned to the front of the chassis; set in between the palm rests. The trackball can easily be removed for cleaning. For those that prefer using a regular mouse, the PowerBook 180 has an ADB port for connecting a standard Apple ADB mouse. For more comfortable typing, the PowerBook 180 has two elevation feet that can be snapped downwards to angle the chassis.

Trackball removed

Mouse connected to ADB port

The PowerBook 180 uses the same NiCd PowerBook battery as all the other classic PowerBooks. The battery that came with my PowerBook 180 has long since died, but I can still use it by plugging in a PowerBook power adapter, which is also the same adapter used by all the PowerBooks of this vintage.

PowerBook 170 battery

The PowerBook 180 is a must have for PowerBook collectors. When originally introduced, it was a fine example of both form and function, but not without an extreme price point. Although expensive, the PowerBook 180 was very popular during its production run from July 1994 to October 1995. I purchased my PowerBook 180 from a Canadian seller on eBay for around $40. It was a pleasant surprise to acquire such a fine example of the PowerBook 180 for my Macintosh collection. Vectromania

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