Today in Apple history: 1997’s ‘MacBook Air’ weighed 4.4 pounds

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pb2400
The PowerBook 2400c was Apple's ultra-thin laptop of its day.
Photo: Apple

May8May 8, 1997: Apple launches the PowerBook 2400c laptop, a 4.4 pound “subnotebook” that’s the MacBook Air of its day.

The PowerBook 2400c both predicts the future rise of speedy, lightweight notebooks, while also paying tribute to Apple’s past with a design that echoes the original PowerBook 100 in appearance. Even years later, it remains a cult favorite among many Mac users.

Impressively thin, impressively powerful

Today, a 4.4 pound laptop doesn’t sound particularly impressive. The modern MacBook weighs just a fraction over 2 pounds, making the PowerBook 2400c seem chunky by comparison. However, in the late 90s it was about half the weight of most laptops, which made it an impressive engineering feat from Apple.

Despite this, it was surprisingly powerful. Manufactured by Apple’s old rival IBM, it came with PCI-based architecture with a 180 MHz PowerPC 603e processor and 256KB of Level 2 cache. This allowed it to run the standard business applications of the time almost as well as Apple’s more powerful PowerBook 3400c, which was available around the same time.

They also looked good on the computer’s 800 x 600 10.4-inch active matrix TFT display, which was a step above what many laptops were offering at the time in terms of quality. In terms of additional specs, the PowerBook 2400c also boasted a 1.3GB IDE hard drive and 16MB of RAM, which was expandable to 48MB. Its lithium-ion battery gave between 2-4 hours of usage before needing to be recharged.

powerbook
The PowerBook 2400c was big in Japan.
Photo: Tokumeigakarinoaoshima CC

Life after Steve

Unlike Apple’s present love of ditching ports wherever possible, the 2400c came with a decent collection of ports including 1x ADB, 1x serial, 1x audio-out, 1x audio-in, and 1 HD1–30 SCSI connection, along with the onboard Mini–15 display connector. There were also 2x Type I/II PC Card slots, and the option of double-high Type III PC card for added expandability.

Later, when other Apple laptops of the era were outdated, this level of expandability gave users access to everything from USB and FireWire to Ethernet and wireless networking.

As with any lightweight laptop there were compromises, of course. To achieve the thin form factor, Apple ditched the CD-ROM drive and internal floppy drive, although it came with an external floppy.

Nonetheless, the level of expandability made the PowerBook 2400c a computer that lived well beyond just a few years. It came preloaded with the popular Mac OS 8, but could run anything from System 7 to Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, with the correct modifications. It was particularly well-liked in Japan, which favored lightweight laptops long before Western consumers.

Sadly, the PowerBook 2400c didn’t survive the wrath of Steve Jobs. When he returned to Apple and subsequently assumed full control (he took over as interim CEO just two months after the laptop was released), he began scrapping projects to streamline Apple’s offerings.

By the following year, Apple had just four major products: the iMac G3, the Power Macintosh G3, and the PowerBook G3 series laptops. The PowerBook 2400c was kicked to the curb in March 1998.

Do you remember the MacBook 2400c? Leave your comments below.

Deals of the Day

  • Furutan

    Job’s notion of a consumer laptop in the form of an iMac clamshell was definitely wonky and should never have seen the light of day. It screamed “toy!” The white iBook was a great replacement. On the pro side there was some good hardware, including the TiBook.

    One of the most interesting laptops of the 90s was the 1400 series, with clear cover insert for custom artwork (with case-colored insert for the less arty) and swappable modules for CD, floppy, and HD.

    • Jeff

      are you stupid? the whole “TOY!” thing is what saved Apple. Apple finally pushed computers into the realm of the consumer and away from the enthusiast. it lead to the new world of computer, a new paradigm. Should have never seen the light of day… Geez, dude, go back to macrumors where your negative nonsense can be posted freely without rebuttal.

      • Furutan

        Not sure what happened the reply I posted. Perhaps it will float back into existence.

        The gist of my reply: No, I’m not stupid. I was not writing about the iMac, but the iMac-styled clamshell laptop. I suggest that you actually read a post before blasting the writer.

        At the time I was in the midst of a long stint as a columnist and reviewer for a Mac magazine and I was very much on top of things. The iMac made a greater impact on society (and on design) than the Mac did when it first debuted and it flew off the shelves.

        The blue & white / orange & white clamshell laptop was a different story. Its sales were passable but not earth-shattering and there were a lot of comments about it being too cute, too playful, and too childlike. On the Windows side, the PC-heads were using this as a confirmation of their BS claim that the Mac was a toy. Apple hung on for a year before recognizing that the iMac-styled iBook was not a hit and they threw out the design and designed a rectangular white laptop.

        The clamshell iBook was on the shelves for 22 months, at which time it was replaced by the white, rectangular iBook. This was taken much more seriously and was very successful. So successful, in fact, that Apple manufactured white laptops for nine years.

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      • Treeburgerface

        Yes, that and it helped Apple’s products stand out in an ocean of beige and gray boxes.

        I wish Apple would make a bold design language move like this again. Razor edged anodized aluminum has become the “new beige”. It’s been done to death. Time for something new. I’d love to see a carbon fiber MacBook or even a fresh take on polycarbonate. Some combination of aluminum and carbon maybe. Something NEW. The PC makers are so much more adventurous with design now. Never thought I’d see the day when Apple became the stodgy, boring, overly cautious one who cares more about bean counting and keeping the ship steady than actually exciting anybody. Then you have Lenovo doing remarkably innovative stuff like the Yoga series and carbon fiber in the ThinkPad edge. You have ASUS using bamboo creatively in a laptop. Others incorporating materials like leather etc.

        What happened to Jony Ive’s imagination? I feel like maybe Job’s death killed any passion he had left. What does this guy even do all day? Apple’s shit has looked the same for more than 10 years. Ive seems depressed and listless. Time for some new blood perhaps. How many billions does the guy need? His heart isn’t in it anymore. Time to retire and go do something else artistic that he can actual manage to raise his pulse over coma level about.

    • Jeff

      I don’t know why your comments keep disappearing. but apple sold 700,000 clamshell iBooks. wikipedia, for what its worth, calls it a commercial success. apple is no stranger to derisive comments, just go back and read the macrumors comments on the release of the original iPod. I’d hardly call it a toy, though, and 700,000 units was instrumental in generating revenue to rescue apple.

    • Jeff

      and really, the computer industry needed some color. everything was black plastic in the 90s. the hippie-splash thing that happened at the end of the 90s may have been tacky, but geez… in a sea of black plastic notebooks, the iBook stood out like a sore thumb. frankly I wish they’d reissue that chasis but with MacBook Pro internals. I’d have one in a New York second!

    • Treeburgerface

      The iMac-esque iBook G3 was campy looking, but I gave it a try and I have to say, it was one of my favorite mac laptops ever. Put the cartoonish looks aside for a moment. The ergonomics were superb. It was the most comfortable laptop I’ve ever typed on to this day. Those curved organically shaped wrist rests. The nice soft, warm feel of plastic. I honestly miss it. The cold, razor sharp aluminum right angle thing make be more modern, but it’s unfriendly as hell and not nearly as comfortable. Back then Apple had a lot more imagination and levity. The colors were cool. And a built-in handle on a laptop? Genius. Sure you needed to be pretty secure in your masculinity to carry around a tangerine ibook like a purse, but at the end of the day it was an extremely comfortable laptop to use, even without a desk, it had Wifi built in when few laptops did and it got an honest 6 hours of battery life when very few laptops did. It even had an easily swapped battery and it was upgradable. They were durable AF too.

      Honestly, I wouldn’t mind at all having one now, just beefed up to modern specs with a 1920×1200 res screen on board. I’d buy that in a heartbeat. Everything now its Borg-like unfriendly sharp-edged aluminum. I miss the stuff that felt more like it was meant to be touched by humans. But it seems Apple lost any interest in evolving their design language a long time ago. Aluminum and right angles till the day we die seems to be the motto now. I think Jony Ive lost his mojo. He needs to drop some acid and hang out with spider monkeys off the coast of St. Baarts or something. There’s no sex or spark left in Apple’s designs and the current theme has been relentlessly imitated so much now that it’s long since lost any uniqueness it once had.

  • Treeburgerface

    I had one of these in college. Saved up all summer for it to replace my PowerBook 540c. Man that was a huge leap from 33 mhz 68K to 180 mhz PowerPC lol. I loved my 2400c though. What a great little machine. Got a lot of attention back them when most laptops were behemoths. The only thing similar Apple had done was the clever PowerBook Duo’s that preceded it, but those were alot less powerful and lacked all of the ports and expandability. The 2400c was one of a kind. I upgraded mine with a G3 daughter card too and kept it going for a while. For those of us who loved subnotebooks it was a long, long wait after the 2400c to see anything from Apple. It was torture watching Windows users get all these cool tiny Sony VAIO’s and stuff when Apple was offering only big PowerBooks and the iBook G3. I bought an iBook G3 anyway and it was a great machine, but I missed that tiny factor. There was no suitable replacement for the 2400c really until the Macbook Air 11″ arrived many many years later.