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PowerBook 500 series
The PowerBook 540c
DeveloperApple Computer
ManufacturerApple Computer
Product familyPowerBook
TypePortable computer
Release dateMay 16, 1994; 30 years ago (1994-05-16)
Lifespan1.9 years
DiscontinuedApril 1, 1996 (1996-04-01)
Operating systemSystem 7.1.1 (520/540 only)
System 7.5–Mac OS 8.1 or with PowerPC upgrade, Mac OS 9.1
CPUMotorola 68LC040 @ 25 MHz (520) or 33 MHz (540)
Motorola 68040 @ 33 MHz (550c)
Memory4–36 MB
Storage160–750 MB
PredecessorPowerBook 100
SuccessorPowerBook 190
The door on the 550c is removed, and some trim on the 520c is removed, showing the external interfaces.
Ports from left to right are: Power in, printer/modem, sound in, sound out, ADB, AAUI, monitor out, SCSI (HDI-30 connector), modem port, and Kensington key-lock. Note the 550c hinge cover is darker. Note the labels on the door needed to identify the internal modem (FCC info on the "PowerPort" label, Canadian on other two). The 100–240 V power supply is on top.

The PowerBook 500 series (codenamed Blackbird, which it shared with the older Macintosh IIfx) is a range of Apple Macintosh PowerBook portable computers first introduced by Apple Computer with the 540c model on May 16, 1994. It was the first to have stereo speakers, a trackpad, and Ethernet networking built-in.[1]

It was the first PowerBook series to use a Motorola 68LC040 CPU (simultaneous with Duo 280) and be upgradeable to the PowerPC architecture via a swap-out CPU daughter card (with the PowerPC and 68040 upgrades for sale), use 9.5-inch Dual Scan passive color/B&W displays, 16-bit stereo sound with stereo speakers, have an expansion bay, PC Card capability, two battery bays (and a ten-minute sleep/clock battery, which allowed for main batteries to be swapped out while in sleep mode), full-size keyboard with F1–F12 function keys, be able to sleep while connected to an external monitor and have a battery contact cover included on the actual batteries. It included a single serial port which could be to connect to a serial printer or a network via Apple's LocalTalk. In another first, it also included an AAUI port for connecting to Ethernet networks.

The 500 series was discontinued completely with the introduction of the ill-fated PowerBook 5300. The PowerBook 190 was the de facto successor to the 500 and continued the only 68LC040 processor offering as the low end of the PowerPC-based PowerBook family.

In a survey taken in November 2000, Insanely Great Macintosh ranked the 540c No. 2 on its list of the all-time best PowerBook models made.[2]


The PowerBook 500 series was introduced on May 16, 1994, with the high-end active matrix LCD PowerBook 540c and 540, with the passive matrix 520c and 520 soon after. One of its marketing highlights was the promise of a PowerPC upgrade to its CPU and PC Card (PCMCIA) expansion. The introduction of this model came at the time of Apple's changeover to the new PowerPC chip from the 68k line of CPUs, and Apple's advertising and promise of the PowerPC was the cause of headaches to the company.[citation needed] The strong demand for its ground-breaking design and Apple's incorrect market prediction that customers would wait for the fully PowerPC PowerBooks resulted in shortages early on.[3]

In August 1995 the 540 was dropped from the line, 8 MB of additional memory and the modem was offered installed from the factory, hard drive capacity was increased (from 160 and 240 to 320 and 500 MB), and the installed system upped from System 7.1.1 to 7.5. The PC Card Cage was also released, allowing Macintosh users to add PCMCIA capability to their laptops for the first time.

In 1995 Apple Japan introduced an updated version, called the 550c, with a bigger display (10.4 inches), CPU with FPU (68040), bigger hard drive, and Japanese keyboard with black case. It was only sold in Japan and never received FCC certification.

With delays for the new PowerPC PowerBook 5300, demand for the PPC upgrade mounted, and Newer Technology began to market the upgrade before Apple did, although they had produced the upgrade modules for Apple first. What's more, they offered 117 MHz versions over Apple's "100 MHz" (actually 99 MHz) offering. Soon thereafter,[when?] Newer Technology introduced a 167 MHz model that outperformed the fastest PowerBook 5300, the $6,800 5300ce, at a time when problems with that line became a real issue to Apple.

About the time Apple introduced the PowerBook 1400, Newer Technology introduced a 183 MHz upgrade with 128 KB of L2 cache that kept it ahead of the power curve in performance. Newer Technology stated they could not produce more of the 183 MHz upgrades because the supply of connectors was exhausted.

Impact on the industry

This laptop was the first in the industry to include:

And among Apple's PowerBook line the first to have:


Variations across the range

Although the 500 "Blackbird" prototypes were black, only one of the five production models was completely black; that was the 550c, sold only in Japan. The 550c differed from the four two-tone grey models in a few other key respects as well, including a larger active-matrix color screen, a combined Latin/Kana keyboard, and a full 68040 processor. The other models were all charcoal grey with darker grey trim, came with a variety of displays (active/passive matrix; color or greyscale), and used the 68LC040 processor (a low-cost variant without a math co-processor). The full-sized keyboard with 12 function keys, and 640×480 resolution display was consistent across the family.

Optional internal modem

The modem was developed with Global Village, and is a unique two-part design. The transceiver with the modem connector is installed in the back, and the modem itself is located next to the CPU daughter card. It was a V.32terbo, and had a top rate of 19.2 kbit/s, but only with other V.32terbo modems as there was no official standard. Otherwise it would drop down to 14.4 kbit/s. Due to a bug with the new combined printer/modem port, the driver had to be upgraded to 2.5.5, and the Chooser was replaced in the GV install.

Expansion bay

The 500 series of PowerBooks included the ability to use two batteries at the same time, allowing for 4 hours of battery life from two installed charged batteries. However the left battery also had an internal PDS slot that allowed for custom modules to be installed. Despite prototypes having been made, only two devices reached the market.

PCMCIA "card cage"

One is the PCMCIA module. There were three versions; RevA, RevB and RevC. The RevC is the most useful as it can take 16bit WiFi cards, allowing the possibility to get a Powerbook 5xx connected online or in the home network using a technology that was developed after the Powerbook 5xxs were discontinued by Apple. The different revisions of the PCMCIA module were released by Apple to accommodate the developing PCMCIA standard. These modules are difficult to find, and the RevC module is in particular demand because it alone works with 16-bit WiFi cards.
PC Card (PCMCIA) cage, 16-bit, 2 Type I/II or 1 Type III cards, using a 68000 CPU to convert the PC Card protocol to PDS.

FPU co-processor

The other is the FPU co-processor, to make up for the lack of one in the PowerBook's 68LC040 CPU. The FPU module uses a 68882 FPU co-processor made by Sonnet.


In total, almost 600,000 PowerBook 500 series units were produced, compared to 300,000 PowerBook 5300 units.


PowerBook 520c and 550c
An Apple PowerBook 520c

According to Apple, all of these models are obsolete.[a][4]

PowerBook 520 PowerBook 520c PowerBook 540 PowerBook 540c[5] PowerBook 550c
Timeline Introduced May 16, 1994 May 30, 1995
Discontinued June 10, 1995 September 16, 1995 October 17, 1994 August 26, 1995 April 1, 1996
Model Model number M4880
Gestalt ID 72
Codename "BlackBird LC" "BlackBird," "SR-71," "Spruce Goose" "Banzai"
Apple part (Order/SKU) no. M3981 M3984 M2807 M2809 M4286
Performance Processor 68LC040 68040
CPU speed 25 MHz 33 MHz
Built-in RAM 4 MB
Maximum RAM 36 MB
Hard drive 160 or 240 MB 160, 240, or 320 MB 240–320 MB 240–320 MB, later 500 MB 750 MB
Video Display 9.5" B&W, Dual scan passive 9.5" Color, Dual scan passive 9.5" B&W, Active Matrix 9.5" Color, Active Matrix 10.4" Color, Active Matrix
LCD resolution 640×480
Colors 16 256 64[b] Thousands[c]
OS Shipped with 7.1.1 7.5
Maximum 8.1

Video display support

Resolution* Frequency Monitor type LCD bit depth External bit depth
512×384 60 Hz MultiSync n/a 8-bit (256 color/gray)
640×400 built-in LCD 15-bit (32,768 color/gray) n/a
640×480 67 Hz VGA 8-bit (256 color/gray) 8-bit (256 color/gray)
640×870 75 Hz Macintosh Portrait Display n/a 8-bit (256 gray)
800×600 56 Hz SVGA 8-bit (256 color/gray)
832×624 75 Hz MultiSync
1024×768 60 Hz XVGA/VESA 4-bit (16 gray)
This a listing of all the resolutions and colors supported.
*To access the resolutions in the PowerBook, look in the "Monitors and Sound" control panel and list resolutions, or for older "Monitors control" 'Option-click Option' for listing.

CPU upgrades

model Sonnet Apple NUpowr 117 NUpowr 167 NUpowr 183 NUpowr G3
Maker Sonnet Apple Newer Technology
Processor 68040 PowerPC 603e PowerPC 603ev PowerPC 740
CPU speed 66/33 MHz 99 MHz 117 MHz 167 MHz 183 MHz 223 MHz?
L2 cache none 128 kB 512 kB?
Included RAM (MB) 4 MB 8 MB 0, 4, or 8 MB 0 or 8 MB 0 or 24 MB# 24 MB?#
Produced unknown 6000 "excess of 15,000" of all types of NUpowr versions (prototypes only)
Notes M3081LL/A most numerous version
# To fit the additional RAM in, removal of the modem daughter card is required.
? Newer Technology never divulged the specifications for the G3 upgrade; estimate based on current technology.


Most laptops had grayscale displays, mono speakers with only 8-bit audio out, and insufficient battery life, and some had side-mounted snap-on track balls.[according to whom?] With the built-in Ethernet (via a versatile AAUI transceiver), SCSI port (forerunner of today’s FireWire) and ADB (similar to USB), it had all the features of desktops at that time, making them the first[citation needed] viable desktop replacement laptops.

In popular culture


Timeline of portable Macintoshes
Mac transition to Apple siliconiMac ProApple WatchiPadiPhoneMac ProPower Mac G5Power Mac G4Power Macintosh G3Power MacintoshCompact MacintoshMacBook Pro (Apple silicon)MacBook Air (Apple silicon)MacBook Pro (Apple silicon)MacBook Pro (Apple silicon)MacBook Air (Apple silicon)MacBook Pro (Apple silicon)MacBook Pro (Apple silicon)MacBook Pro (Apple silicon)MacBook Pro (Apple silicon)MacBook Pro (Intel-based)MacBook Pro (Intel-based)MacBook Pro (Apple silicon)MacBook Pro (Intel-based)MacBook Pro (Intel-based)MacBook Pro (Intel-based)MacBook Pro (Intel-based)MacBook Pro (Intel-based)MacBook Pro (Intel-based)MacBook Pro (Intel-based)MacBook Pro (Intel-based)iBook G4PowerBook G4PowerBook G4iBook (white)PowerBook G3PowerBook G3PowerBook 2400cPowerBook 3400cPowerBook 1400PowerBook 5300PowerBook 500 seriesPowerBook 190PowerBook G4PowerBook 150PowerBook 500 seriesPowerBook 500 seriesPowerBook 500 seriesPowerBook 500 seriesPowerBook 160PowerBook 140PowerBook 180PowerBook 180PowerBook 160PowerBook 160PowerBook 140PowerBook 170PowerBook 140MacBook Air (Apple silicon)MacBook Air (Apple silicon)MacBook Air (Apple silicon)MacBook Air (Intel-based)12-inch MacBookMacBook Air (Intel-based)iBook G4iBook (white)iBook ClamshellMacBook Air (Intel-based)MacBook (2006–2012)PowerBook Duo 210MacBook Air (Intel-based)MacBook (2006–2012)MacBook (2006–2012)PowerBook G4PowerBook 100Macintosh PortablePowerBook G3PowerBook G3PowerBook G3PowerBook G3PowerBook G3PowerBook DuoPowerBook DuoPowerBook DuoMacintosh PortablePowerBook DuoPowerBook DuoPowerBook Duo 230Macintosh Portable


  1. ^ Apple products that have been discontinued for 7 years and no longer receive hardware support nor spare parts
  2. ^ 64 grays, though can be set to 256 grays.
  3. ^ 32,768 colors at 640×400, or 256 colors at regular 640×480


  1. ^ "Landmark Laptops: The most important notebooks in computing history – Apple PowerBook 500 Series". Laptop Magazine. Archived from the original on June 27, 2012. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  2. ^ Davison, Remy (November 29, 2000). "Top 10 Best PowerBooks of All Time". Insanely Great Mac. Archived from the original on March 24, 2006. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  3. ^ "POWER MAC TOO POPULAR". San Francisco Examiner. March 15, 1995. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved June 25, 2016.
  4. ^ "Obtaining service for your Apple product after an expired warranty". March 20, 2023. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
  5. ^ / PowerBook 520c, archived from the original on May 18, 2022, retrieved April 20, 2022
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