Article: Are the 500 Series Dated?

by on November 15, 2000

I wrote this article because I’ve seen mixed opinions about the 4-6 year-old PowerBook 500 series. If you are not familiar with them, they are the first PowerBooks based on the 040 processor, the first to use NiMH batteries, and the first to have an expansion bay. The models in this family are the 520 (passive matrix grays), 520c (passive matrix color), 540 (active matrix grays), 540c (active matrix colors), & 550c (active matrix color, larger screen, black case instead of gray, & sold only in Japan). Used prices are from $50-$400 US.

The 500 series is said to be ‘dated’ in appearance by some, and others think its design is evident in the Wallstreet G3 series. Some people like the 5300 series’ design better, because it includes PCMCIA slots, a real expansion bay, infrared, and other nifty gadgets. They say that it looks more modern, like the 3400c & Kanga G3 (3500c), and that the computer still looks new-ish in today’s computing world.


What about all the nifty stuff that was in the 500 series that wasn’t in the 5300s and newer? Take for example, the AAUI port. The 500 series had built in ethernet that can be used with coax, RJ-45, and anything else with the right (cheap) transceiver. The 5300 series and newer needs a PCMCIA card for this (an extra expensive add-on). The 500 series has 2 battery bays and one can be turned into a PC Card cage. This means that the 500 series can take PCMCIA cards with the rare (today) PC Card cage. The 5300s have PCMCIA slots built in, but you are restricted to only one battery. The 5300 expansion bay is only good for a floppy drive, MO, Zip, or a hard drive, but not CD-ROM. The 500 series have stereo speakers and a 19.2k modem. The 5300 uses a cheesy speaker that channels the stereo into a small mono speaker. Modems are required to be PCMCIA cards – so you already have the PCMCIA slots full to make the 5300 like a 500 series. Also, you don’t need a dongle for the 500’s modem – it has a real phone jack on the back. Even though it’s only 19.2k, it is speedy enough for most work. You can also add a modem through the serial port, or a PCMCIA card (if you get the card cage). Back on the subject of speakers – the design of two speakers on the 500’s lid has been used by other computer companies – Acer, Compaq, & Texas Intruments.


Is the 500 series’ design dated? Not really – the newer PowerBooks also have on-board ethernet and a built in modem. Sure some of the technology is old, but they are perfectly well designed (or maybe even better designed than the 5300 series that replaced them). You want to talk about a PowerBook that looks dated? The 100 series. It doesn’t matter what your computer’s design is – just as long as it gets the job done. Heck, I wrote this article on my trusty 540c.

This post has been filed in Articles