A few weeks back in TidBITS-138 I wrote briefly about the upcoming Macintosh PowerBook Duo 210 and 230, mostly focussing on basic specs. More information has come in since then, both good and bad, but in terms of overall design, I think that Apple has a winner with the Duos. As I said previously, the Duos weigh about 4 pounds, measure 8.5" X 11" X 1.4", support up to 24 MB of RAM, use 9", 4-bit grey-scale, backlit, supertwist LCD screens, include either 80 or 120 MB hard drives, and run with either a 25 MHz or 33 MHz 68030. They have only two ports, a serial port and an RJ-11 phone port for the internal modem’s phone line connection.
Power management will supposedly improve, and the Duos will automatically dim the screen and/or go to sleep when closed. For those that despise the sliders that the 140, 145, and 170 use for controlling the screen, the Duos will have push button brightness and contrast controls. We reserve judgement until we’ve tried it, but the sliders are decidedly inferior to the PowerBook 100’s dials. Finally, perhaps because Apple never took advantage of the motherboard/daughterboard design of the current PowerBooks (although we’ve heard rumors of some third parties working on interesting projects that involve that daughterboard), the Duos will have a single motherboard along with a light magnesium frame that provides stiffness and helps dissipate heat.
The list prices will range between $2,500 and $3,000 for the base units. The fact that Apple stuffed that much power into a four pound package is interesting in and of itself, but even better are the two docks that Apple will sell separately, the Duo Dock for about $1,200 and the Duo MiniDock for about $600.
Docks — The Duo Dock looks like nothing so much as a IIsi with a really big floppy port along the entire front. It will be two-toned, PowerBook charcoal on the bottom and Macintosh platinum on top (since people will pretty much have to use it with a PowerBook inside and a monitor sitting on top). The oversized floppy port holds the PowerBook Duo itself, sucking it in as the Mac sucks in a floppy disk. Somewhere in that process, a door in the back of the Duo flips down to expose what is supposedly a 400-pin connector that will attach to the dock internally. The Duo Dock features two NuBus slots, a slot for a math coprocessor, a SuperDrive, room for another optional hard drive, and the full set of normal Macintosh ports, including internal video. As we reported before, you can lock the Duo into the dock with a key switch so you only have to secure the dock itself (if you needed to lock it down for security reasons). Removing the Duo requires pushing an eject button – there’s no software-based SuperTrash that ejects the Duo when you drag the hard disk to the trash. The only drawback to the Duo Dock is the placement of the internal floppy drive. Apple ran out of space, so the drive sits low to the ground on the side, which means that papers and other junk on your desk will block it.
The Duo MiniDock provides essentially the same ports used by the PowerBook 145 and 170 currently with a few additions, an RJ-11 jack, sound in and out, SCSI (a totally unconfirmed rumor says that you may see more of that HDI-30 SCSI port in the future, even in desktop Macs), printer and modem serial ports, video out, ADB, floppy, and a power jack. It won’t have the floppy drive, room for an additional hard drive, or NuBus slots of the Duo Dock, hence the lower price. I suspect that users who primarily use the Duo when traveling will prefer the MiniDock so they can have a full selection of ports (they can use the ports in the hotel room since the MiniDock will be light and portable, but probably not on the plane, since the MiniDock and Duo will be less portable than just the Duo). The floppy port on the MiniDock will only work with the PowerBook 100’s HDI-20-based SuperDrive. Interestingly, the MiniDock reportedly provides Super VGA output so you can hook into one of those monitors should you need to.
Apple will also offer a sub-$150 adapter that provides only ADB and floppy ports for the Duos, which makes sense for people who don’t want all the options in the MiniDock. This adapter is more important than it sounds. Since the Duos cannot do the PowerBook 100 SCSI-disk trick, the only way to get data into them (other than by slow modem) is via LocalTalk or floppy, and the only way to get a floppy attached without one of the more expensive docks is this $150 adapter.
One detail that has gone unmentioned is the need for a keyboard and mouse. You’ll obviously need one when docked to a Duo Dock, since it sucks the complete Duo inside. By the same token, you won’t need them with the MiniDock or the adapter, since you’ll have access to the Duo’s monitor, and thus its keyboard and trackball.
More docks — MacWEEK reported this week that several third parties are working on additional docks, including two from E-Machines. The $500 PowerLink Presentor will provide gobs of video output choices along with graphics acceleration, stereo output, serial ports, and ADB and floppy ports. The $700 PowerLink DeskNet, on the other hand, will add Ethernet support, stereo input, and a SCSI connector, along with hardware pan and zoom.
I’m unsure how well third party docks will sell. E-Machines and others may face some resistance from people who feel that the dock is not merely an accessory, but an integral part of a Duo, and thus the best docks must come from Apple (I’m not saying that it’s logical reasoning, but I’ll bet it will happen). I could also see some suspicion of added incompatibilities until the third party docks had proven themselves and been reviewed in the magazines. Nonetheless, users should eventually welcome the additional flexibility as long as it doesn’t come at too high of a cost.
Modems — Although Global Village has all but sewed up the market for PowerBook modems (OK, so that’s probably a slight exaggeration and I haven’t tested any of them), Apple will attempt to make up for the mediocre modem it shipped with earlier PowerBooks with the Apple Express Modem. Like the PowerPort/Gold, Apple’s new modem will be what I call "v.everything" which means v.32bis and on down along with send and receive 9600 bps fax capabilities. Apple will sell bundles that include the modem, and no telling yet how Apple will set the pricing on those bundles.
Opinionated drooling — OK, I’ll admit it. I think the Duos and their docks are the neatest things since automatic breadmakers (I was born after sliced bread was neat). I see a dream system consisting of a 24 MB Duo 230 with an internal v.everything modem and a Duo Dock that has an extra large hard drive and a math coprocessor along with a 16" color monitor and a few NuBus cards, perhaps a VideoSpigot or something like that. You get tremendous performance when docked with the additional hard drive and the coprocessor, and the 16" monitor and NuBus slots provide everything you need when at your desk. Away from the office, however, you still have an impressive machine that only has a smaller grey-scale monitor, less disk space, no floppy, and no coprocessor, not to mention the smaller keyboard and recessed trackball. That’s still nothing to sneeze at for portable use, especially in a four pound package. The price will stay steep for a while, especially since the Duo will use a new, smaller memory card, but a Duo and Duo Dock combination will really replace the combination of a desktop Mac, a IIci say, and a PowerBook 170. I’ll bet in that light the Duo does well. The only people who won’t be able to take advantage of the Duo scheme are those like me who have their Macs doing stuff all the time via modem. If I went to Macworld and took my hypothetical Duo, I wouldn’t get any email the entire week, which would be a problem. Now if only Apple could throw in some Newton technology, I might just have to turn the SE/30 into an email server…
MacWEEK — 28-Sep-92, Vol. 6, #34, pg. 1
MacWEEK — 21-Sep-92, Vol. 6, #33, pg. 1