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The Macintosh Portable was Apple Computer's first attempt at producing a portable Mac.


First released in September 20, 1989 (model 5120), it was received with excitement from critics. However, it was met with poor sales to consumers, due in part to its high cost and excessive weight of 15.8 pounds.[1]


Seemingly no expense was spared in the construction of the machine. It featured a black and white active-matrix LCD screen in a hinged cover that covered the keyboard when the machine was not in use. The mouse function was handled by a built-in trackball on the right hand side of the keyboard. Its memory was based on expensive static RAM (SRAM) in an effort to maximize battery life.

The machine was architecturally similar to a fast Macintosh SE, using a low power version of the 68HC000 running at 16 MHz. Weighing in at 16 pounds, due in large part to the sealed lead-acid batteries used, the machine was widely considered more of a "luggable" than a portable, and compared to the PowerBook 100 series introduced a few years later, lacked the ergonomic layout that set the trend for all future laptops. On the plus side, it had a full travel keyboard, and battery life was up to 10 hours. The Mac Portable had a standard 1.44 MB floppy disk drive, an optional internal hard disk (a low-power 3.5" drive from Connor was used), and also offered the first optional internal modem in a Macintosh.

In February 1991, Apple updated the portable (model 5126) to add a backlit screen, changed the SRAM memory to less-expensive pseudo-static RAM, and lowered the price, but discontinued the model in October of the same year.


M5120 (non-backlit display)[]

M5126 (backlit display)[]

System software[]

The Portable included System 6.0.4 with a new Portable control panel and Battery desk accessory. The system software debuted the ability to Sleep (exclusive to the Portable at the time), and System Rest, an optional feature that could slow down the Motorola 68HC000 processor from 16 MHz to 1 MHz when idle and no user input has been detected for 15 seconds.[2] Version 1.3 of the Portable control panel added support for the backlit Portable. The brightness level of the backlighting could also be adjusted by the Brightness control panel included with System 6.0.7.[3]



Macintosh Portable Disk Eject in Space

On August 28, 1991, the first email from space was sent from a Macintosh Portable running AppleLink software aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis during NASA mission STS-43. The portable required little modification to make it spaceworthy, though the astronauts noted that without the presence of gravity, the disk eject mechanism would shoot out floppy disks like projectiles.[4] The astronauts also wore Seiko WristMacs which could be synced over AppleTalk.[5]


Despite the machine's disappointing sales due to its large size and high price, it was a brave attempt at making a workable portable computer, at a time when it wasn't really obvious what form such a machine should take. It was also limited by the available battery technology of the day.[1] The first truly modern portable computer was the PowerBook, but the Mac Portable was a significant step on the way, even if only to show what form such a machine shouldn't have. However, the Portable did not disappear completely with the release of the PowerBooks: the PowerBook 100 is in fact a Mac Portable compressed into a much smaller enclosure. Apple sent the Portable design to Sony, who miniaturized the components and manufactured the PowerBook 100 for Apple.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Apple Introduced Its First 'Laptop' 25 Years Ago and It Was Totally Awful by Alex Fitzpatrick, Time. 2014-09-20.
  2. Macintosh Portable: Technical Procedures, Apple Computer, Inc. p.1.29-1.32. 1989-10.
  3. Portable Control Panel 1.3, Mac GUI. 2009-09-01.
  4. Today in Apple history: Mac sends first email from space by Luke Dormehl, Cult of Mac. 2021-08-28.
  5. Rare 1988 Apple Watch predecessor 'WristMac' expected to get $25K at auction by William Gallagher, AppleInsider. 2021-11-21.
  6. PowerBook 100: How Sony Perfectly Miniaturized the 16 Pound Macintosh Portable by Leo Titus LeBron V, Low End Mac. 2007-08-08.

External links[]

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