A 20th Anniversary Tribute to a Misunderstood Machine

By  |  Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Macintosh PortableOn September 20th 1989, Apple announced its first true portable computer, which it called–logically enough–the Macintosh Portable. And ever since, folks have been tearing it down: It was too big and heavy, the screen was hard to read, and it offered too little for too much money. Whenever anyone starts to list Apple’s worst flops, you can be pretty sure the Portable will come up.

Only one person I know, however, has literally torn down the Mac Portable. That would be computer historian extraordinaire Benj Edwards, who not only owns a vintage example but dissected it on his workbench. He documented the process with photographs, and I’m delighted to say that we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of this unusual but important Apple computer with his report on what he found–from a huge honkin’ lead-acid battery to the signatures of the Mac engineering team.

View Inside the Macintosh Portable slideshow.


Read more: , , ,

4 Comments For This Post

  1. Matt Sharpe Says:

    He literally tore at it?

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    Interesting language question! He didn’t literally tear it. But Webster defines “tear down” as to disassemble, so yeah, he literally tore it down. On the other hand, it also defines it as to vilify, so anyone who insults the Mac Portable is literally tearing it down.

    I probably should have said that Benj is the only person I know who’s -physically- torn down a Mac Portable. And he is.


  3. Seumas Says:

    The Mac Portable was a terrific self-defense device when walking the mean streets late at night.

  4. Robert Says:

    I bought one of these at a Habitat for Humanity Thrift store about four years ago. For $5.00. No battery, no adapter, but so what. $5.00. I used an adapter from my old PB100, plugged in a new 9 volt battery (for the PRAM) and after a few tries it booted up. Supposedly the Portable won’t start without the lead-acid battery installed, but trust me, it will. Tell you the truth, out of all the portable macs I’ve had, and I have had just about all of them, it’s second only to my 12″ PBG4. I still have it, and even use it once in a while, ( it has Word 5.1 on it ) but the HD is just about dead. No the screen isn’t that great, but it’s better than the one on my old 190. The keyboard is great though, easily my favorite of ANY mobile computer I’ve ever had. As good as an Extended II, in my opinion. I learned to type on a typewriter, and have never really liked not POUNDING the keys. No problem on the Portable, just pound away.
    One more thing I love about it. Taking it apart is a snap. The only tool you need is a paper clip to undo the palm rest. Everything else snaps apart ( and back together ).
    I took it all apart without a manual or anything. It’s really easy, and it’s fun to see how well engineered and thought out this “failure” was. Laptop, no, but it was never meant to be one. That’s why they called it “Portable”. (Plus the battery lasted 9-10 hours).