PowerBook 520/540 Plan

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Vellos's picture
Last seen: 12 years 4 months ago
Joined: Dec 19 2003 - 14:45
PowerBook 520/540 Plan

I'm becoming to be a bit aware of the limitations of using a PalmOS device with a keyboard for notes within lectures, so I've thought of another potential way to handle this. I have a (supposidly) bricked PowerBook 180 in storage, and used it through it's entire life, so I'm certain of what a MacOS 7.x machine is capable of. It would be perfect for just simply taking notes, and the 520 and 540 models in specific have ethernet through an AAUI tranceiver, net access would be fairly easy around campus.

But a few questions arise. I was hoping to find some suggestions or advisements before taking on this "project" to make a nice laptop for note taking and other lightweight things.

First off, I was thinking to prolong battery life, and perhaps even for a speed benefit, as well as making the thing damn near shockproof, removing the internal SCSI hard drive (possibly selling that on eBay), and replacing it with a PCMCIA flash reader, with perhaps a 256MB CompactFlash card, which would be larger than the hard drives those things originally shipped with. It's my understanding that the 5xx series do contain PCMCIA slots that are 16-bit compatibile, and most cheap CF readers out there support 16-bit modes. Also, I've heard that these laptops will indeed boot off of these cards in such a configuration. Can anyone confirm this?

Also, I never really did any networking in 7.x when the 180 was still in service. Is 7.5.3 and there on capable of doing DHCP configuration over the ethernet port on which the PowerBooks are equipped with?

I'm thinking with sufficient RAM, it could be an excellent laptop equipped with two batteries (eh, maybe used ones combined together would work fine after reconditioning them) for light web browsing (akin to what I do with my phone at times), IRC, and perhaps SSH connections to my Gentoo box.

Thanks for any and all help any of you can provide.

(Oh, and also, first post in nearly 2 years. Hurrah.)

Vellos's picture
Last seen: 12 years 4 months ago
Joined: Dec 19 2003 - 14:45
Ahh, almost forgot. Several

Ahh, almost forgot. Several places have spec'ed the 540 as having a "33/66Mhz" 68LC040. Is this some sort of mistake? I don't remember seeing any stock 68k Macs past 40Mhz.

moosemanmoo's picture
Last seen: 3 years 7 months ago
Joined: Aug 17 2004 - 15:24
Mmn. There's some confusion,

Mmn. There's some confusion, which is perfectly understandable.

The processor could be 66Mhz for various reasons, but it's not clock doubled. It's 33MHz. The PC card cage was an accessory that went in the left battery slot. I don't know if it will boot fom it or not. I think 7.5.3 will do DHCP, but the ethernet port is AUII, that old weird connector from the era of GeoPort Modems. You'll need a dongle for an RJ45 jack.
Battery reconditioning is a far chance. Of my two batteries, only one even is recognised, and it holds a ~2 minute charge. The smart battery controller tends to get, well, stupid, and I haven't seen a way to fix it.

Vellos's picture
Last seen: 12 years 4 months ago
Joined: Dec 19 2003 - 14:45
Ahh. I did not know that it

Ahh. I did not know that it was an actual cage, I had the idea that it was like most modern Macs or PCs where it's a physical extension of the motherboard. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for that.

And battery reconditioning not going too far? Hrm. I might want to invest in one of the so called "new" batteries out there for sale, I believe all the do with those thing is replace the cells of the battery, and it still gives off the aproximate voltage and amps. Eeh, they run about 60 bucks though, even the iBook batteries don't generally cost that much. LowEndMac did have some details about a few 3rd party freeware apps that would go through and "fix" (or at least repair) the... whatever an "intelligent" battery would have. An author there reported being able to revive two dead batteries, although I'm not sure how much charge he/she was able to get out of them.

Also, it was Apple's own documentation that called it a "33/66". As far as I know, it probably has it's default 33Mhz, probably a halved clock for "battery saving mode", like my 180 had. Anything greater than that were the PPC upgrade cards.

The battery I can deal with, but I seriously do need to know if it can boot off of a PCMCIA CF reader. Definately would lighten the load on the battery.

Last seen: 1 year 8 months ago
Joined: Dec 20 2003 - 10:38
The 040's were a bit weird in

The 040's were a bit weird in there clock timing. They require the clock frequency to be double that of the CPU frequency. So for a chip to run at 33 MHz it requires an input of 66 MHz.

Eudimorphodon's picture
Last seen: 3 weeks 2 days ago
Joined: Dec 21 2003 - 14:14
Re: The 040's were a bit weird in

redrouteone wrote:
The 040's were a bit weird in there clock timing. They require the clock frequency to be double that of the CPU frequency. So for a chip to run at 33 MHz it requires an input of 66 MHz.

There's nothing "weird" about it per-se. It was pretty common for "early" CPUs to divide the input frequency. The Intel 386 family did, for instance. (Which means, oddly enough, that a 33Mhz 486 runs with a 33Mhz clock, while a 33Mhz 386 needs 66Mhz.) The 68030 does the same thing.

The dual speeds Apple quoted in their advertising literature *were* based on a design oddity of the 68040 in that it actually requires 2 clock inputs, PCLK and BCLK, in which PCLK must be twice the speed of BCLK, in order to synchronize the internal timing circuitry. However, the effective execution speed of the CPU is the *slower* speed, and it was exceedingly disengenuous of Apple to ever quote the higher one. They did it to intentionally mislead buyers about the speed of their machines relative to 486DX2-based computers, which *are* legitimately "clock-doubled".


Edit: Links:


(Some technical hardcore about the PLL timers in the 68040)


(Search for "PCLK" or "Clock Doubling".)

DrBunsen's picture
Last seen: 4 years 1 week ago
Joined: Dec 20 2003 - 10:38
7.6.1 or 8.1 both have more m

7.6.1 or 8.1 both have more modern and stable networking than 7.5.anything. 8.1 eats a bit more RAM and can be slow on older machines.

Personally I think you'd be better off with a 1400. Built in PCMCIA, ATA hard drive (which you could replace with a CF-IDE adapter), a beautiful keyboard to type on, and your chances of finding working batteries are pretty good. They're also not "intelligent", so they deal better with recelling.

Not all 1400s came with the ethernet card installed though, and the genuine one (non-PCMCIA proprietary Apple thing that ports out the back) is hard to find. Not that you really need the genuine one with PCMCIA slots available.

And if your campus has wireless you might want to check out my signature... yes even a 540/190 can cope...

Last seen: 10 years 2 months ago
Joined: Dec 12 2005 - 07:34
This is I think my first 2 we

This is I think my first 2 weeks here. glad to have you back after 2 years. I love mac forums, are there any good ones out there beside applefritter?

Anyway, I applaud your idea of using old PowerBooks as a notetaking device. After having pretty-much destroyed my TiBook (titanium nonwithstanding, it certianly isn't famous for being particularly durable), I've decided to pre-empt its death (it has to last til the Macintel books, be that january or june) and drag an old computer to class as well.

I would also recommend looking into a 1400c (NOT cs, you don't want to look at those nasty dual-scan displays). I used to have a 1400c/133. The keyboard has a metal backing unlike most other PBs at the time, one of the reasons for its durability and awesomeness. Like the PB500 series, it can also accomodate two batteries for improved battery life. It can even be upgraded to a G3, but suffers from a paltry 64MB memory ceiling.

I got a Duo 280c for $27.50 and it is small and light (lighter, in fact tha, the current 12" PBG4!" However the keyboard sucks and the battery doesn't work. Probably gonna cost more than the computer cost to get those "minor details" fixed

So I've moved up a bit to trying to get a PB3400 and a PBG3 Kanga to work. Heavy guys, but they're tough compared to my TiBook

Willibald's picture
Last seen: 12 years 6 months ago
Joined: Jan 14 2006 - 08:06
Taking PB 540 Wireless??

I recently made the house wireless using airport express, and then saw the old PB 540c sitting on the shelf next to the 5300. Tried getting the 5300 (os 8.6) to work with the FriendlyNet lan card but the keyboard has mysteriously gone spotty with a growing number of keys not working. So, installed the card in the 540c and have it on the net via cable to the eMac. But, it would be nice to sit in Panerra and surf using Cyberdog (the only free, stable 68 browser I can find). Anyone know of any wireless pcmcia card with drivers that would work in the 540? I read that the 16 bit Orinoco will but I have not seen the driver anywhere or read where someone actually has accomplished the feat. The 540 runs 8.1 with 36mb. I really like the idea of a flash reader but seems that would trash the wireless. How about a scsi plug-in boot flash card? Could that work? The 540 has a rustic hd that just sounds like it sucks power. (Battery is also not found for recondition).

iDweeb's picture
Last seen: 2 years 8 months ago
Joined: Dec 19 2003 - 14:45
Consider buying an eMate 300

Hi, Vellos

I have a reccomendation for you if you want a laptop to take notes in class. Consider buying an emate 300. They were made by apple in 1997 and make for a good note taking machine. They're built like tanks and have killer battery life and have a screen you can write on.

These little suckers have a battery life of about 15-20 hours! This is because they are built like a PDA with flash ram instead of a hard drive, and they have a monochrome lcd display that SIPS battery juice. Some people have even gotten these things to go online via wireless internet etc. They're not technically Macs because they run off the Newton operating system which is apple's old PDA from the early-mid 1990s

They're pretty slow by today's standards and don't have top of the line graphics but I have used them for notes and sketching diagrams etc. To be honest it serves that purpose well.


You should be able to get one for well under $100.00 on ebay or here at wegener media (where I got mine) for about $60.00


The machine has built in text and drawing capablities and can sync to your mac either using the Classic environment if you're using MAC OS X or in OS 7-9.x. I have used one for over a year and am very happy with it. It also can sync with ical and address book using nSync, a freeware newton syncing app

(in case you couldn't tell I LOVE my emate)

aladds's picture
Last seen: 1 year 6 months ago
Joined: Dec 26 2003 - 16:21
Well, I have an eMate 300 and

Well, I have an eMate 300 and would agree that it is a good idea for this job. However, unless you get the upgrade it's almost useless, it'll work as a word processor or as a mobile internet terminal, but not both, with the internet packages installed you have no space to save data, also the flash cards you get generally do not work in the emate and ata support is buggy. Also the eMate only has one PCMCIA slot so it is impossible to use the internet and have a large storage card inserted at the same time, unless you connect over localtalk with an asante adaptor or with a modem/serial cable.

If you cannot find one containing the upgrade I recommend you use either a PowerBook 500 series or a 190 as they have PCMCIA (the 520(c)/540(c)/550c has it with a very rare card cage and the 190 has it anyway) this would give you the possibility of wireless, which works in the eMate too (I have done this, it works quite well).

But if you do find one with the upgrade I recommend you use it well and enjoy it! I get a good week out of the battery when in regular use and you get loads of people interested in the unit when you whip it out to do some quick typing, it also fits nicely into my school bag and has a handle for carrying normally.

Vellos's picture
Last seen: 12 years 4 months ago
Joined: Dec 19 2003 - 14:45
I've been using a Sony Clie w

I've been using a Sony Clie with a keyboard prior to working on my PowerBook 180. Being locked into that proprietary enviornment is not a good thing, as I imagine it is with the eMate. That battery life sounds decent, but the Clie would get 2 weeks to a charge.

But I've since mostly abandoned the idea of a 520/540 in favor of reviving my 180. Now, this had many advantages over my Clie, and a few disadvantages. First and foremost, I can type my notes up in BBEdit Lite (which works well, because I'm a CS major, and an editor like this that picks up on code syntax is a godsend), and save them as plain TXT files which can then be backed up on floppy and moved. This allows me to have a very compatible format (.txt) to move around and open on literally everything. After I replaced the battery, I've been getting 4 hours of battery life. Also, the screen is a very high contrast active matrix screen with a white backlight. The Clie had a green backlight, and was extremely hard on the eyes, but with it off, it was readable in normal light. The PowerBook is almost the same way, but the backlight is white and so much better.

A massive improvement is going to the 640x400 screen. This allows me to have twice as much horizontal resolution, as well as a bit more vertical. The Clie would only do "high rez" fonts, and would minimize the amount of data that could fit on a screen, but that was due mostly to the small physical dimensions of the screen. This works much better for seeing data as a whole.

Another big thing, games! While those "oft" moments, I can amuse myself with many classic Mac games, which offer much more than many of the games on the Clie. This isn't a huge deal, but it certainly comes in handy. With this comes greater audio capabilities! This thing can actually play MP3s, and all my MOD files to my heart's desire to the quality of which the Clie couldn't begin to compare to.

But otherwise, they're very similar. 33Mhz 68k series CPUs. 120ish MB of non-volatile storage. The PowerBook has a bit more over it, 1MB of system RAM vs. 8MB. 4-bit grayscale screens, but the PowerBook wins over in resolution. But when it comes to battery life, that Clie goes on for 2 weeks, while I get a maximum of 4 hours with the new NiMH battery in the PowerBook.

I think the transition was worth it. A 68040 style laptop would be more powerful with similar energy drain (that is, with no FPU, with FPU, they suck it up), and the 640x480 8-bit resolution on the c versions would make them nice Marathon laptops. But until this PowerBook 180 dies, I think I'm going to stay with it. Thanks for the suggestions though.

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