[Update] Pismo: A Peek Under the Hood

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Date: Monday, February 1st, 1999, 00:00
Category: Archive

[update: new sections (*) include information on expansion bay devices, FireWire Disk Mode, and the Pismo developer document]

Chiba, Japan — Pismo (a.k.a. 102, PowerBook), the superstar of Macworld Expo Tokyo contains several new features that are bound to make it the most coveted PowerBook model of all time, in addition to being the fastest notebook in the world.

With Pismo, Apple packed a Universal Motherboard Architecture (UMA) logic board into what essentially is a 101 (Lombard) enclosure. The result is a 100 MHz system bus machine that benchmarks about 30% faster than it’s predecessor (400 MHz Lombard v. 400 MHz Pismo). The new model also features dual 400 Mbps bus-powered FireWire ports, an Ultra ATA/66 hard drive and a 6x constant linear velocity DVD-ROM.

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*Pismo’s case is essentially the same as 101/Lombard and although the logic board is a completely new UMA design the expansion bays are identical to Lombard. This means that only the right bay supports a PCI connector for expansion bay drives (CD/DVD/CD-RW/HD/ZIP/etc.) while the left bay will only support a battery. This is different from Wallstreet where both bays supported PCI – important for people that wanted to install software from CD onto an expansion bay hard drive.

An important improvement in Pismo is the new 12 Mbps USB ports. Unlike Lombard, which shipped with USB ports based on the New World ROM, Pismo features a UTA USB implementation with independent busses for both USB ports – like the rest of it’s UMA brethren (iMac, iBook, desktop G3 and G4). Another benefit of UMA logic board is the Airport/Airmac support. Simply pop-up the keyboard slap in an Airport PC card and BAM you are flying without wires. The Airport/Airmac antennae wrap around the perimeter of the screen, like they do in the iBook.

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Also worth noting is the fact the Pismo supports twin 2-inch SO-DIMM RAM modules, which (as opposed to Lombard and Wallstreet) allows you to install 512 MB of total SDRAM (via two high-profile 256 MB modules) without breaking the bank. Although not officially supported by Apple, Pismo is the first PowerBook that will accommodate 1 GB of SDRAM (via two 512 MB modules), the problem: 1024 MB of SDRAM draws too much power and will not allow you to sleep-swap batteries.

*Another Pismo first: FireWire Disk Mode. Pismo did away with SCSI and with it went SCSI disk mode. You can still connect the new PowerBook to another machine as an external hard drive, the functionality is simply now called FireWire Disk Mode. To enable FWDM simply hold down the “T” key on restart, the result is the blue screen (yikes!) with a yellow FireWire logo in the center.

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Because FireWire is hot swappable, you can plug in the cable after FireWire Disk Mode is enabled. I was also able to confirm that FWDM works on the new revision of Power Mac G4s (I tested it on a 500 MHz) but not on the older 350 MHz G4s or FireWire (rev. e) iMacs.

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Pismo also continues Apple’s storied tradition of naming confusion of the rest of the PowerBook G3 Series line, but with a slightly different spin. The new PowerBook is simply called “PowerBook” – not G3, not G3 series, just “PowerBook.” Can you see the technical support nightmares ahead for Apple? It will probably sound like the famous “Who’s on First?” sketch:

Support: “Ma’am, which PowerBook do you have?”
Caller: “PowerBook”
Support: “I know, but which model PowerBook?”
Caller: “PowerBook PowerBook”

Pismo also ships with the ATI RAGE Mobility 128 video controller with AGP 2X support and 8 megabytes of video memory, providing zippy graphics performance.

Aesthetically the Pismo/102 enclosure is almost identical to Lombard/101 with the obvious exception of the dual FireWire ports on the backplane. If the rear door is closed the differences between it and Lombard are subtle. What you will notice is the pulsing sleep light, a feature inherited from it’s UMA lineage.

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Another subtle but noticeable difference is the location of the PC card slot, it sits about 2.5 millimeters lower than Lombard to accommodate the Airport slot which is located directly above it.

Pismo also has the distinction of shipping with an iBook AC adapter – a major oversight. Why would you want to drag the massive translucent mall door-knob with such a sleek and svelte pro PowerBook?! Say it ain’t so Apple! I predict that there will be a run on Apple’s sleek 45 watt AC adapters and on Madsonline‘s micro AC adapter.

*For all of the technical juice on Pismo check out Apple’s developer note which is available in HTML and PDF [1262 kb].

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