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PowerBook Tips and Tricks
By Chris Martin 10/30/98
Updated: 12/13/98 - added rubberized coating repair tips

Tips and Tricks | Location Manager | File Sharing | Energy Saver/Power Management | Battery Life | Sleep mode | Heat | Media Bays | PC Card slots | Display | IrDA | Memory | File Synchronization | Rubberized Surface | Repairing Rubberized Surface



First off, you have to admit, the new PowerBook G3 Series is the coolest laptop on the planet. The new PowerBook G3’s have tons of features and a very competitive price. The purpose of this article is to go over some of the things that I have learned about my new PowerBook and hopefully you will pick up a couple of things that you didn’t know.

PowerBook Hardware

If you are one of the lucky ones, take a good look at the PowerBook G3 Series and notice the little things. The Human Interface of the PowerBook hardware itself is a grand feat of engineering. The PowerBook has a rubberized gripping surface, rounded edges, white-on-black icons for the connectors on the door and the back of the unit (so when you are looking from the top you can see where everything goes.) volume, mute, brightness, and power buttons next to the keyboard, scissor-key keyboard, the list goes on and on.

PowerBook Tips and Tricks

I am always astounded at the number of PowerBook users (and Mac users in general) that have never used Location Manager. This is one of the great little utilities that can be so useful it becomes nearly indispensable. Location Manager allows your Macintosh to "remember" settings such as; AppleTalk settings, TCP/IP settings, default printer remote access and Internet settings, etc. I have settings for every site I have to visit and switch between them with the Control Strip module. When I am at home I Location Manager changes my settings to my internal IP addresses, AppleTalk, default printer, etc. when I am on the road LM changes my TCP/IP settings over to PPP, Internet Config changes my outgoing mail server, etc. It’s a wonderful time saver.

One of the coolest things about the Macintosh is the built in file sharing. On the PowerBook there are a couple of pitfalls. If Energy Saver is set to spin down the Hard Disk you can experience speed problems if the HD spins down before you try to copy files off the machine.

To get the most out of the battery mess around with the Energy saver, you’re not going to break it. The first thing that I do is change my settings to never sleep/spin down/dim when I’m on the power supply. There are also a lot of other things that you can change including; processor cycling, reducing the processor speed, turning off the power to inactive PC cards, etc.

I do not reduce the processor speed when I’m on the battery. In real life, I get around 3 hours of battery life. One of the simplest things that you can do to extend battery life is to reduce the brightness of the screen. The active matrix screens are very bright anyway and I have found that you can gain an extra 30 minutes of power just by reducing the brightness down to the minimum setting. To further extend battery life, reduce processor speed and turn on processor cycling. Leave CD-ROMs out of the drive as well, this will prevent them from spinning up during finder operations, saving files or opening files, etc. Also, upgrade to the latest PowerBook Internal Modem extension off of Apple Computers support site. I you were using the modem and you put the PowerBook to sleep, the modem would remain powered up and eat up some battery life.

Watch out for sleep mode. I never shutdown my PowerBook. Make sure that when you close the lid on the PowerBook that the light starts flashing. I once closed the lid expecting it to go to sleep, but some program somewhere prevented it. I drove two hours or so, reached in my laptop case and just about burned my hand. The computer was left on and laptop cases are good insulators.

I very rarely turn off my PowerBook. Be careful when you put your PowerBook to sleep though. I have discovered, to my dismay, after a two hour car trip that my closed PowerBook was in fact still on inside my laptop case. I pulled my PowerBook out of the case and it was extremely hot.

Ever use a PowerBook G3 Series on your lap? Then you know what I mean. This laptop not only toasts the competition, it broils. If you use the PowerBook on a flat hard surface you will not have any heat problems. Even a book or magazine placed under the PowerBook while it’s on you lap can reduce heat. The PowerBook G3 Series does have an internal fan and it will cut on to decrease heat. This will also decrease battery life if you are not on the power supply.

The new PowerBook G3 Series is very expandable. It includes one full size Media Bay that can accept full size devices such as CD-ROM and DVD drives. This bay is also a PCI slot, for which third party companies have developed PCI expansion chassis giving the PowerBook 3 or 7 PCI slots in an external case. This bay also accepts an extra battery and the smaller size devices used in the second, half size, Media Bay. The second Media Bay can accept batteries, floppy drives and hard drives. When the PowerBook is on the power supply, you can use both Media Bays populated with devices.

The PowerBook G3 Series includes two industry standard PC Card slots. These slots are card bus slots that can accept older PCMCIA Type II cards as well as the newer 32bit Card Bus cards. The benefit of Card Bus is higher bandwidth. 100Mb/s Ethernet, Video I/O cards, High Resolution video cards, etc.

The built-in active matrix and DSTN displays on the new PowerBook’s are quite impressive. On the active matrix models, the PowerBook’s also include SVGA and S-Video output. The thing to remember is that the PowerBook shuts off the external video port if there is nothing attached when it is turned on. The newer PowerBook G3’s support different resolutions on the LCD panel (640x480, 800x600, 1024x768) on the older PowerBook G3 Series you can download a program called Rez Switcher to get a similar effect. You should also be aware of stuck pixels or burned out pixels. LCD panels are much better than they used to be and there are a lot fewer defects in newer LCD screens than there used to be. Too many defects in the screen do warrant repair or replacement. Please consult the warranty information to find out how to get a defective LCD screen replaced.

Wireless is cool. Just change the AppleTalk control panels on two PowerBook’s (or two iMacs, or one of each) over to IrDA and point the computers at each other. The older PowerBook’s only support IrTalk (around 200Kb/s) the newer machines and the iMac support IrDA (4Mb/s) The newer PowerBook’s can also switch between IrDA and IrTalk protocols using the Infrared Control Panel. Also be aware of the location of the Ir port on the PowerBook G3 Series. It is placed a bit lower than the other PowerBook’s and you must aim the back of the unit up just a bit to get it to sync up to the other computer. IrDA will lower your battery life a bit, even if you are not transferring files.

The more memory the better. If your computer has to swap to virtual memory a lot, your battery life will suffer as the Hard Drive will never be able to spin down. More memory also allows your PowerBook G3 Series to run huge apps such as PhotoShop or Virtual PC.

For a guide to adding RAM - see Mike's Inside the PB G3 article

[If you're having problems with waking from sleep mode after a RAM upgrade, have the RAM replaced. This was a known issue with some early SODIMM upgrades for the PB G3-Mike]

A new Control Panel that you might want to check out is File Synchronization. It allows you to sync up common files to a server or you your desktop computer. It will detect changes on both sides and copy files so that you are using the newest one on both machines.

Be careful, it scratches easily. The rubberized surface is very thin. I already have a nick on mine. I used a black Sharpie to cover the exposed shiny surface underneath. It was just a tiny nick though. I still haven’t found the correct shade, the Sharpie is a bit too purple.

Update: Bruce Lum sends some repair tips:

Chris Martin mentions [above] how the G3 PB's rubberized surface is vulnerable to scratching and that he repaired his with a Sharpie with so, so success in matching the luxurious flat black color. Well I have found that a combination of two model railroad paint products have worked the best so far. First, use "Night Black" to fill-in the scratch then let it dry and then apply "Flat Finish" over the black. The Night Black provides the deep black color that is needed, but it's finish is too glossy, so the milky looking Flat Finish is necessary to "dull" the gloss so that the touched-up scratch more closely matches the original finish. I recommend using a very fine point camel's hair brush. I used a 3/0 brush by Marshall.

I tried at least 4 other methods, but this combination gives the most acceptable results, and since both applications are water based, any mistakes can be removed by rubbing with a dampened cloth and careful-vigorous rubbing. I didn't get a perfect match, but the repair renders the scratch nearly undetectable in normal office lighting.

Paint No. 1
Brand: Poly Scale
Type: Water Base Non-Toxic
Name: 505214 Night Black (RLM22)

Paint No. 2
Brand: Poly Scale
Type: Water Base Non-Toxic
Name: 404106 Flat Finish OC

Bruce Lum
Honolulu, Hawaii

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