The PowerBook 520c

PowerBook 520c icon

32×32 pixel icon for the PowerBook 520c

My first laptop computer was a PowerBook 520c. I purchased it in October 2003, eight years after Apple discontinued the product.

It was great.

I don’t remember why, exactly, I decided to get this. I think I was still fairly “into” the Macintosh at the time, and that the 520c had something of a reputation on the web as a very good Mac in its time. One of my friends in college had one at that time, I believe. Plus, its codename was “Blackbird” and that’s pretty cool.

I’m still can’t say, at this point, exactly what prompted me to buy an obviously obsolete laptop in the first place. But it was a ton of fun over the next few years.

It was a bit of a project. After buying the laptop, I had to buy a power adapter so I could charge it. Then either initially, or later on, I found that the screen’s backlight went bad. I ordered a new one, then for one reason or another it just proved unworkable to substitute for the old one. So, I ended up buying a whole new top half… But the total for all of this was slightly under $100, compared with an original retail price of nearly $3,000. “Y’know, depreciation.”

I think that I definitely got my money’s worth.

At the time I was using this laptop it had just reached the status of obviously out of date, I think. It looked like an earlier generation, for one thing. Though a very handsome design, it featured a substantial frame around the screen; by 2003 people had gotten used to the upper part of a laptop being just about all screen, and I got one or two curious inquiries when I had the 520c out in public. For that matter, speaking of the screen, “520c” indicated that this was the color model, which was still optional when it came out. It had a floppy drive and Apple serial ports. It think it also had this odd infrared communication technology that never really caught on, though despite (remarkably) having access to another Mac with the same feature I never got it to work.

As a result this was mostly a toy; most of what I achieved in getting things to work was simply entertaining myself in the process. I certainly wasn’t running design software. The 520c had a 25mhz processor, and while it supposedly supported OS 8, I think System 7 was realistically its limit.

Yet one could do stuff with it. Obviously it was a perfectly good word processor. I could get it onto the internet, too, either using ethernet (with an appropriate adapter) or by dialing up with its built-in modem. (I still had only dial-up internet at home, anyway, in those times.) I don’t even remember what I used as a browser… maybe iCab? It didn’t matter a whole lot, because the 2003 World Wide Web was largely too resource-intensive. I bookmarked a number of the “low-bandwidth” versions still offered by some sites.

For e-mail, I actually found a near-modern client that I could run on this old beast, though. The fine Mulberry program had quit support for System 7, but only recently, and I was happy sending and receiving messages in style with my vintage PowerBook.

Eventually, I parted company with the Blackbird. Realistically, I probably got most of my fun from it even before moving across country in 2005. Then at some point, one of the hinges got stiff, and the plastic to which it was attached snapped. At that point, I basically retired it, and eventually found someone to take it off my hands. Perhaps the base acquired the third screen of its existence, or maybe the whole just became a parts computer.

Still, good memories. And I still have a number of notes and URLs from those days, in a folder sporting the keen custom icon atop this post.

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