Today in Apple history: Pismo PowerBook is a multimedia powerhouse

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Do you remember the Pismo PowerBook?
Photo: CG Hughes/Flickr CC

Feb16February 16, 2000: Apple introduces the “Pismo” PowerBook, the best of its G3 laptops and, in the view of many, one of Apple’s best ever laptops.

The Pismo PowerBook is the first not to include the SCSI or Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) connector, and instead to opt for USB and Apple’s Emmy award-winning FireWire. Optional AirPort wireless support, tremendous battery life, and a gorgeous curvy design just makes it better.

The Pismo PowerBook was first shown off at Macworld Expo Tokyo. It followed the rugged “Wallstreet” G3 PowerBook, first released in 1998. At $3,499 for its top-end 500MHz model, it wasn’t cheap — but it was great value if you had previously bought the 1998 292MHz Wallstreet laptop for $5,600.

There was plenty to love about the Pismo PowerBook, which despite coming after Steve Jobs returned to Apple, retained a lot of the expandability that Apple had introduced to Macs in his absence. Running counter to Apple’s modern obsession with limited expandability and ditching ports wherever possible, the Pismo PowerBook came with a PC Card slot, two FireWire and USB slots, S-video out, and more. The laptop could also support plenty of additional memory and a faster processor.

With the possibility of installing dual batteries, it was possible to get 12-16 hours of real world usage from it.

Much like the earlier Wallstreet laptop, the Pismo PowerBook was tough wearing. It sported a polycarbonate plastic case, which makes it look somewhat dated compared to the aluminum laptops of today, but this gave it less of an austere feel. Add in the curvaceous design and the finished product was pleasingly tactile, as well as being durable.

Oh, and it came with both a tappable trackpad and one helluva great keyboard, too.

A multimedia laptop

The Pismo PowerBook lived up to Apple’s reputation as a company that built machines for creatives. When it came to video editing, this was the best possible option available in 2000. With 400 and 500MHz configurations, 1GB maximum RAM and an impressive 1MB CPU cache, it handled virtually anything you could throw at it.

The importance of FireWire can’t be overstated. Apple engineers first developed the technology back in 1986, but it wasn’t until Jobs’ return that it became an important Mac feature. FireWire boasted astonishing data transfer rates of up to 400Mbps — around 30 times the bandwidth of the popular USB peripheral standard.

Throw in the possibility of burning your own DVDs, and the rare-at-the-time wireless connectivity, and this was a laptop that could impress even the hardest of anti-Mac Windows users.

Do you remember the Pismo PowerBook? Leave your comments below.

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  • Dominic Shovelton

    This laptop started my obsession with mobile music making, loved everything about it. MOTU released the first Firewire interface with the 828 & Emagic Logic (before Apple purchased them) launched the EXS24 software sampler… quite literally my studio ‘in a box’… good times!

  • Furutan

    I had a colleague who had one of these. She was tiny, weighing around 80 pounds. The laptop was so heavy she had to use a wheeled tote to carry it. Unfortunately, it was very buggy as well. Lots of time in the shop.

    Another aspect was the upside-down backlit Apple logo. Jobs wanted it this way so the the owner would see it in the right orientation before opening it. This was a rare instance where customer comments actually persuaded Apple to make a hardware change, so that on later laptops the Apple was right-side up when open.

  • Peter Emery

    I was given a faulty one about 18 months ago. For some reason it won’t boot from an internal drive, so I installed OS X 10.4.11 & OS9.2.2 onto a 32 GB CompactFlash card. I already had a FireWire CF reader so combining that with the CF card means the Pismo will boot happily from that interface. I don’t lose a FireWire port, either because the reader has 2 ports.

  • ljmac43

    I used my Wallstreet for 7 years until it finally died – I still think it was the best computer design ever.

  • Theresa Strange

    Wallstreet started my road to Apple fandom. The magic hasn’t subsided since. Long live Apple!

  • Peter Briggs

    Pretty sure that is not a Pismo in the picture. It looks like the Lombard, or Bronze model, which came out in 1999. It was thinner, had wonderfully sexy translucent bronze keys, and bronze flecks built into the plastic. It also had a DVD player built in (I remember playing “The Matrix” in a pub on it, and people were gobsmacked that it was possible to do that.)

    I loved the 3400, but if I remember correctly it was a lemon: the power adaptor was soldered to the motherboard, and the solder broke easily necessitating complete replacement of the motherboard. Thank God for Apple Care, back then.