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PowerBook Puzzle

Director of Technical Services, Baka Industries Inc.

Apple designed the original Macintosh as a closed box that the user would never need to open. All the ports were outside and easily accessible; even the battery could be changed from outside. (Of course, from day one, daring owners opened their Mac cases anyway.) When the Mac II arrived in 1987, we cheered Apple’s return to an easy-to-open case with easily-accessible slots and devices. Unfortunately, the recently-introduced 500-series PowerBooks make even the intricate Duo look like child’s play.

Recent discussion on Global Village’s OneNet support forum have focused on the difficulty of installing a PowerPort/Mercury (the new 500-series model) into one of the new PowerBooks. For example, one installation took two hours in the dealer’s service department, and the customer was charged at a fairly high labor rate for the full time. It’s easy to chide Global Village for making the modem difficult to install, but it’s not their fault. It’s even tempting to complain that the dealer shouldn’t charge for their learning curve – but who should pay for the technician’s valuable time?

Unfortunately, the new PowerBooks are much more difficult to take apart than previous models. Some press coverage has described how easy it is to open the machine, but that’s only part of the story.

In fact, the keyboard can be released by removing two screws from the underside of the PowerBook. Once that’s done, it actually is fairly easy to install a memory upgrade. Hypothetical future PowerPC-based daughterboard upgrades shouldn’t be too difficult to slide in here, either.

The modem poses the most difficulty. One part of the modem goes in the easy-to-reach area under the keyboard. The other part goes in the back of the computer where the telephone jack must live – and getting there requires taking apart virtually the entire PowerBook. Just reading how to accomplish the procedure takes noticeably longer than performing the entire modem installation on a 100-series PowerBook.

Global Village says their technicians have performed quite a few installations, and have the process down to about an hour. One service technician of my acquaintance spent nearly four hours, making sure to carefully set everything aside for easy retrieval and making sure everything went back in the right place.

Even more so than for previous PowerBook models, we highly recommend that owners of the new PowerBook 500-series models have installations done by an experienced service technician. Daring owners might find their installation attempts thwarted anyway; the required Torx 8 screwdriver bit must be longer than most, or it won’t fit in the recessed screw-holes. As it happens, that may be the least of the difficulties; since Apple doesn’t want anyone but service technicians inside these PowerBooks, Global Village doesn’t even provide installation instructions in the box. They have instead mailed detailed instructions to their dealer base.

Obviously we can’t carry around something the size of a Macintosh II just to get modularity. (The Macintosh Portable just leapt clumsily to mind, unbidden and overweight.) We would hope, however, that Apple could develop its next generation of PowerBooks with some semblance of accessibility in mind. If not for the sake of daring owners, how about for the sake of those poor service technicians?

— Information from:
Global Village tech support

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