Today in Apple history: Apple introduces ‘world’s fastest’ PowerBook


The PowerBook 3400 certainly lived up to its name.
The PowerBook 3400 certainly lived up to its name.
Photo: Apple

February 17: Today in Apple history: Apple introduces 'world's fastest' PowerBook February 17, 1997: Apple launches the PowerBook 3400, a laptop the company claims is the fastest portable computer in the world.

After a rough few years for the PowerBook, this model throws down the gauntlet to rivals. It packs a PowerPC 603e processor capable of running at speeds up to 240 MHz, depending on configuration. Speedier Apple laptops will quickly overtake it. However, at the time, the PowerBook 3400 matches the speed of some impressive desktop Macs.

Apple advertised the new PowerBook as a “full-tilt multimedia” Mac. The company said the laptop possessed “enough power to watch smooth-running, full-screen QuickTime movies [and] more than enough power to surf the World Wide Web.”

The laptop featured a few nifty features. A hot-swappable bay drive let users switch out the CD-ROM drive and slide in an optical drive of their choice. (Options ranged from floppy to magneto-optical.) Better yet, this could be done without powering off the computer or putting it to sleep.

Do you remember the PowerBook 3400?
Do you remember this laptop?
Photo: Wikipedia CC

The PowerBook 3400 was also Apple’s first computer to boast PCI architecture, EDO memory and a 64-bit wide internal bus.

“The new Apple PowerBook 3400 isn’t just the fastest notebook computer in the world, it very well may be the best,” Apple’s ad noted.

PowerBook 3400: A work in progress

Starting at $4,500 and stretching up to $6,500 ($6,800 to $9,800 in today’s money), the PowerBook 3400 was a good machine for its time. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long for this world. Apple stopped manufacturing it in November 1997 — less than 10 months after introducing it as the world’s greatest laptop.

Like a lot of products launched soon after Steve Jobs’ return to Apple, it’s easy to see why customers would have been enthused at the prospect of the PowerBook 3400. Cupertino was showing its best chance in years of becoming successful again. While the PowerBook 3400 was on sale, Apple introduced its “Think Different” ad campaign, which summed up the superior alternative approach it epitomized.

In reality, however, Jobs offered minimal input on most products launched during his rise to Apple CEO. He was certainly involved with the latter stages of the launches, but they were projects he inherited from his predecessors.

The result? Many 1997-era Apple computers felt like transition pieces. They bridged the Apple of the 1990s and the company Jobs helped turn into a super-successful tech juggernaut.

Ultimately, the PowerBook 3400 gave way to the PowerBook G3 family as Apple adopted the same G3 processor for its laptops that powered its iconic iMac G3. The G3 processor also powered the iBook, Apple’s colorful clamshell laptop that arrived in 1999.

Do you remember the PowerBook 3400? Leave your comments below.