1994 Macintosh PowerBook 165 Project: Plans

Since acquiring both machines in January 2021, the 1988 Apple Macintosh “SuperSE” has received more attention than its younger sibling, an Apple Macintosh PowerBook 165 from 1994. I hope to change that soon.

In fact, I haven’t even written a post dedicated to the PowerBook 165 since February 9, 2021, when I finally received a power adapter to power the machine. Since, only one thing noteworthy has happened with the 165: I was able to briefly use it with the Apple High-Res RGB color monitor I picked up in April 2021. The test was originally successful, but failed due to power supply issues with the 165, which I’ll discuss later in this post.

And while the machine powered up just fine, there are several issues. And, even without those issues, it needs the same maintenance every other 30-year-old computer or electronic device needs, such as replacing capacitors, cleaning contacts on switches, cleaning and lubricating the internal floppy drive, and giving the machine an overall cleaning.

Functionally, two of the biggest problems are with the display. The vintage 4-bit grayscale SuperTwist Nematic (FSTN) LCD is showing usual signs of failing capacitors, which can cause odd video issues on the display. The other issue seems to be a dirty wiper or contacts in the brightness and contract controls.

The display on the PowerBook 165 needs some work.

Capacitors not only plague the LCD, but also could be the culprit behind the odd behavior the machine was exhibiting while connected to the external display. The machine worked fine for a bit, but while doing something the machine completely crashed randomly and started a “chime cycle,” just like the 1991 Macintosh Classic did with its failing analog board before I had it recapped. The computer would chime, try to boot, fail — rinse and repeat until the computer is removed from power. Oddly, when the monitor was disconnected, the PowerBook 165 began working again.

Beyond maintenance required to keep the machine running reliably for years to come, there are some other upgrades I’d like to make.

The base of the PowerBook 165, which I intend to “restore” soon.

The first of these upgrades is storage. The machine still uses its original 80 MB IBM TravelStar hard drive for storage. While this hard drive still reliably functions, they are known to have their fair share of issues. Plus, there is no space left on it, with less than 2 MB free before I started writing this post (which was saved to a floppy so I could transfer to the Classic).

I plan to replace the TravelStar with a SCSI-2-SD adapter made specifically for the PowerBook. This will be a much faster replacement over the TravelStar (or any other mechanical drive), not to mention more reliable. I’ve been using an external desktop SCSI-2-SD with the SuperSE and have no complaints so far. In fact, the speed boost the SCSI-2-SD offers over the older mechanical drives is night and day. The only real caveat to the upgrade is the loss of the mechanical drive sound, but the TravelStar isn’t that loud.

From there, I’d like to find a way to get the PowerBook 165 to work with a modern display. My goal is to eventually have enough space to permanently setup the Apple High-Res RGB monitor for use with the PowerBook or any other 68k color-capable Mac, but right now I don’t have enough space to set it up.

From there, I’d like to restore the PowerBook 165’s independence by purchasing a new battery for it — or, more specifically, likely having the current battery rebuilt with fresh cells. This will allow me to enjoy the fun of Macintosh System 7 — and my favorite 68k Mac games and software — on the road.

The PowerBook 165’s original Ni-Cad battery was slightly bulged when I got the machine. It was stuck inside, requiring partial disassembly of the laptop to remove.

The PowerBook 165 is perhaps the most capable vintage Macintosh I own. Its Motorola 68030 processor clocked at 33 MHz outpaces the ‘030 in the SuperSE (which is clocked at 25 MHz) and speeds through work that typically grinds the standard Motorola 68000 (8 MHz clock rate) found in my Macintosh Classic to a crawl. There are other features that make it stand out in my collection: the ability to display color graphics on an external display, being the first vintage Macintosh laptop in my collection, and the first System 7-native machine in my collection. And unlike my SuperSE, which can’t run all software due to its accelerator card, the PowerBook 165 is a “‘030-native” machine.

After all the work is complete, I’d like to test out by playing games requiring color graphics and doing some color desktop publishing. It will be fun to finally break away from the 1-bit monochromatic world of my compact Macs.