Today in Apple history: PowerBook G3 gets thinner, lighter and bronze-er

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The PowerBook G3 Lombard brought a
The PowerBook G3 Lombard brought a "bronze" keyboard and some real enhancements.
Image: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

May 10: Today in Apple history: PowerBook G3 gets thinner, lighter and bronze-er May 10, 1999: The third-generation PowerBook G3 comes in 20 percent slimmer and 2 pounds lighter than its predecessor, but most people remember the laptop for its “bronze” keyboard.

Although it doesn’t get a new name to distinguish it from previous laptops in the lineup, fans call it “Lombard” after Apple’s internal code name (or simply the “PowerBook G3 Bronze Keyboard”).

Improving the PowerBook G3 formula

The PowerBook G3 is not my personal favorite of the laptop line. (That would be the following year’s “Pismo” PowerBook, which still stands as one of Apple’s all-time best laptops.) Still, the Lombard model proved very popular in its day.

As the (actual) name suggests, it boasted Apple’s zippy PowerPC 750 (G3) processor. Running at either 333 or 400 MHz, the Lombard clocked in higher than its predecessors. However, Apple reduced the L2 cache, which meant that sometimes the laptop ran a bit slower.

Nobody could quibble about the laptop’s battery life, though, because Apple improved it significantly over previous models. The PowerBook G3 Lombard could run for five hours on a single charge. Plus, owners could add a second battery by switching out the optical drive in the expansion bay. That doubled battery life to a whopping 10 hours.

The translucent keyboard that gave the laptop its common name was made of bronze-tinted plastic rather than metal. A DVD drive came as an optional extra for the 333 MHz model, or as standard on all 400 MHz versions.

PowerBook G3 Lombard finally brings USB ports

The Lombard introduced USB ports to the PowerBook, although the laptop retained SCSI support for what turned out to be the last time. It dropped ADB support altogether and ditched one of the PC Card slots, leaving just one.

Over the lifespan of the PowerBook G3, Apple phased out ADB and SCSI in favor of USB and the company’s Emmy Award-winning FireWire interface. Those changes made the Lombard a truly transitional laptop.

The PowerBook G3 Lombard offered 64MB of RAM, a 4GB hard drive, ATI Rage LT Pro graphics with 8MB of SDRAM, and a 14.1-inch TFT active-matrix color display. It required Mac OS 8.6 or later, but could run any Apple operating system up to OS X 10.3.9.

1999: A great year for Apple

The PowerBook G3 Lombard scored another home run for Apple. It came the year after Cupertino returned to profitability, as onlookers waited for the company to trip up.

In the end, 1999 proved a seminal year for the company. The ultra-popular iMac G3 rolled out in new colors, Apple released Mac OS 9 and the world got a glimpse of OS X for the first time.

While the new ultra-connected iBook became the most important player in Apple’s laptop lineup that year, the PowerBook G3 Lombard certainly didn’t let the team down by any measure. The $2,499 laptop packed specs far ahead of what the competition offered at the time.

Did you own this particular PowerBook G3 laptop? Leave your comments below.