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Apple introduced the Mac community to the enduring PowerBook line of laptops on October 21, 1991. Apple introduced three models on this historic day, the PowerBook 100, the PowerBook 140, and the PowerBook 170. The PowerBook 140 and 170 share the same form factor, which we call the "classic PowerBook". Apple would go on to release several classic PowerBook models until the entire line was replaced by the PowerBook 500 series by 1995. The widely popular classic PowerBooks revolutionized the laptop computer and carved out a strong niche for Apple in this market, which is still very strong today. The PowerBook 170 stood at the top of the line in 1991 and sold for about $4,600. I purchased my PowerBook 170 for $40 in 2007.

The PowerBook 170 has a fast 25 MHz 68030 processor with a 68882 FPU. Maximum RAM is 8 MB with 2 MB residing on the motherboard. My PowerBook 170 has 4 MB of RAM.

The PowerBook 170 originally shipped with Mac OS 7.0.1. It has a full 32-bit data bus, so it can handle any version of System 7. However, the maximum RAM ceiling of 8 MB is a definite consideration. Mac OS 7.5 and above use significantly more RAM than Mac OS 7.1, so the PowerBook 170 might have issues running more powerful RAM-hungry applications in conjunction with Mac OS 7.5 or above because more of its precious RAM is devoted to its operating system. System 7 Virtual Memory helps alleviate the problem, but it is notoriously slow. Third party software solutions such as RAM Doubler handle the RAM shortage much more efficiently. My PowerBook is using Mac OS 7.5.3. It runs without system degradation, but there is only about 1.4 MB of free RAM. Running multiple applications at the same time or running RAM-intensive larger applications can slow it down considerably.

"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 (Memory Control Panel)

Click to view screen capture 6 (Monitor Control Panel)

Click to view screen capture 7 (Sound Control Panel)

Click to view screen capture 8 (Sound Control Panel)

The PowerBook 170 has a 9.8-inch active matrix monochrome display with a single resolution of 640 x 400 (1-bit). The PowerBook 170 is the only first generation PowerBook with an active matrix LCD. All three original PowerBooks have a monochrome display. The 170's black and white LCD is excellent. As shown below, there is a single slider knob used to adjust monitor brightness located on the front just under the monitor near the back right corner of the keyboard.

PowerBook 170 brightness control knob

The PowerBook 170 has the following ports: one ADB, one HDI-30 SCSI port, one serial modem port, one serial printer port, one microphone jack, and one speaker jack. The 170 has a single proprietary modem slot for an optional internal modem. My PowerBook 170 has an installed modem card with an RJ-11 telephone connector.

PowerBook 170 ports

The PowerBook 170 uses a trackball for cursor control that can be easily removed for cleaning

The PowerBook 170 shipped with either a 40 or 80 MB internal SCSI hard drive. My PowerBook 170 has an 80 MB internal hard drive. The PowerBook 170 also has an internal 1.4 MB floppy disk drive.

PowerBook 170 floppy disk drive

The PowerBook 170 uses the classic PowerBook PB1XX NiCd battery capable of about 2 hours of continuous operation. All classic PowerBooks use this same battery. It is housed under the left side palm rest. The PowerBook 170 uses the same power adapter as the other classic PowerBooks.

PowerBook 170 battery

PowerBook 170 power adapter

Apple miscalculated the demand for the high end PowerBook 170 upon its release and very early on, a persistent shortage was common. Apple originally believed that more early adopters would opt for the far less capable and far less expensive PowerBook 100. Demand for the PowerBook 100 never meet with Apple's expectations. The PowerBook 140 and 170 were so popular that Apple would go on to use the same basic chassis in the PowerBook 145, 145B, 150, 160, 165, 165c, 180, and 180c.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's PowerBook 170

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