Portables: Mac PowerBook 170


As part of the relaunch of the 'portable' Mac, Apple released three different machines for three different markets: the PowerBook 100 catered for the user on a budget, the 140 for the middle of the road user, and the 170 was for those users who demanded the very best (and weren't afraid to pay for it).

The PowerBook 170 delivered the very best performance and its combination of faster CPU, FPU and display meant that it ended up being nearly twice as fast as the 140.

While all three of the original PowerBook machines shared the same 8Mb memory 'ceiling', the 140 and the 170 could go beyond this due to their 68030 processors. Naturally the more expensive 170 did it quicker though. The other big draw for the 170 was its active matrix display. The PowerBook 100 and 140 both used the less impressive (but cheaper) passive matrix display and this was not only less impressive to look at but also slowed the system down due to its sluggish performance. The 170 didn't suffered from these problems and not only did it look good but it looked good at speed.

Despite being 'retired' in 1992, Apple produced a special edition all white PowerBook 170 in 1994, and a multicoloured unit for Japan.


Machine Macintosh PowerBook 170
Introduced 21/10/1991
Retired 19/10/1992
Cost $4600
System 7.0.1 - 7.6.1
Code Name(s) Road Warrior, Tim
CPU/Speed Motorola 68030 @ 25MHz, 68882 FPU
RAM Min/Max 2Mb/8Mb (100ns - 1xPseudostatic RAM card)
ROM (Size) 1Mb
Floppy Drive 1xSuperDrive
Hard Drive 20Mb or 40Mb
Drive Bay(s) 1x2.5" Third-height
Network LocalTalk
Audio 8 bit mono, mono mic
Video 9.8" 1-bit 640x400 active matrix
Resolution(s) 640x400 (1 bit)
Ports 2xSerial, SCSI(HDI-30), 1xADB, Audio(out), Audio(in)
Expansion Slot Proprietary modem slot
Battery NiCad
Dimensions 2.25" x 11.25" x 9.3"
Weight 6.8 lb
Power Supply External PSU or internal battery (bespoke) More...

From Experience...

And so another PowerBook came into the collection, this time in the form of the 170. I already owned a 180 and from the outside, the 170 looked to be very much more of the same - same grey case, same chunky form factor etc. There are differences though as the 170 sports only a brightness control rather than brightness and contrast. It's hardly earth shattering but these things do get noticed.

The machine was in pretty good condition until I started opening the screen and then it became pretty obvious that its previous owner had been slightly less than gentle with it. With the plastics bending at a very unhealthy angle, out came the screwdrivers and off came the case - not good. The four fixings that should hold the screen in place were still there but two of them (both on one side naturally) had sheered clean off. A dab of superglue here and a lot of preying there and everything seemed to hold in place but I don't think this thing'll be getting too much use. This may also have been the reason behind the second 'problem' - a corrupted display. The screen, while all fine and dandy one minute, would break up and corrupt the next. Having stripped it down and fixed the hinge it hasn't come back - reseating the connector between the upper half of the case and the lower half of the case obviously did the trick.

Spec wise the 170 is a little underpowered and its measly 4Mb RAM might not be the absolute bare minimum but it certainly didn't leave much free space once we'd booted (which it did, first time). Elsewhere the 40Mb hard drive seemed in good shape and came filled with all sorts of rubbish (although PhotoShop 3 is always a plus). On the back though there was a dandy little internal modem fitted and this may require some further investigation if I ever get the time and inclination.

Physically the 170 is a solid little machine but it sadly shows its age. Performance is pedestrian and it just doesn't have the expansion possibilities that could bring it anywhere near up to useful. For the occasional blast of simple word processing it's fine but beyond that... I think this is another one that'll end up gathering dust on the shelf.


LowEndMac.com - Looking for Apple info? Always start here

Site designed and maintained by TheNeil. While all content is checked and updated regularly, the author cannot be held responsible for any broken links, incorrect information or damage caused to hardware or software. Comments, contributions and criticism always gratefully received.

See that? That's the number of fools that have found their way here

Site Last Updated: 10/02/2016 15:35:29