The first Apple PowerBook laptops were delivered in 3 versions in 1991: PowerBook 100, 140, and 170. These initial PowerBooks were overall a tremendous commercial success for Apple, and are regarded historically as setting the precedent for the form factor that most laptops would follow - notably the overall size and placement of keyboard and pointing device. So it was a significant innovation for the industry at the time.

According to Wikipedia and other sources, Sony was responsible for the design of the PowerBook 100, but (I think) that means the design of the internal electronics; as opposed to the industrial design of the product. If this is to be believed, it seems odd. If Apple had already designed the 140 and 170, and managed to equip them with more features and a 32-bit processor (68030), why would Apple need Sony to "miniaturize" the 16-bit PowerBook 100 just to fit in the same form factor? Apple already fit a 68030 system, so the PB 100's 16-bit 68000 should not have presented any technical challenge at all.

I think the following (unfortunately, low-res) photos of the PB 100 and PB 170 motherboard proves a common development. The basic approach of a main board combined with a CPU+memory board and an additional memory board is shared. I can't tell from these images if any of the chips on the mainboard are shared, but they look remarkably similar. Perhaps the main board and the ASICs were pretty much the same between all three laptops, and the result of Sony's work for Apple? Though that is hard to prove without some better photos.

PowerBook 100 internals

PowerBook 170 internals

My question basically comes down to whether the historical account is correct? And, if it is correct, what was the "miniaturization" effort done by Sony and why would it only affect the PB 100 and not be reused for the 140/170?

  • 2
    The timing here suggests that Sony was asked to "miniaturize" the innards of the 100 before before Apple had started work on designing the outer appearance of the 140 and 170. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PowerBook_100#Design I'm guessing the order of events was that 100's innards were designed first, then 140/170's innards and exterior, and then 100's exterior. Also note that the 100 wasn't the exact same form factor as the 140/170. The 100 was a fair bit smaller (1.8 x 11.0 x 8.5", 5.1 lb vs. 2.25 x 11.25 x 9.3", 6.8 lb).
    – user722
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 20:30
  • 3
    I have a PB 100 laying around somewhere, if it hasn't gotten thrown away. Could open it up and look for any Sony markings. One interesting fact I remember about it was that it had a lead-acid battery.
    – Glen Yates
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 21:15
  • @RossRidge Your timeline conjecture makes sense, assuming Sony's task was just to redesign the Mac Portable motherboard to fit within a new size/shape/power specification. But it seems such an effort would have produced some critical ASICs which would have found their way into the 140/170 too.
    – Brian H
    Commented Dec 1, 2018 at 3:36

1 Answer 1


According to the Wikipedia article on the PB 170:

Though released at the same time as the PowerBook 140 and PowerBook 100, both the 140 and 170 were designed entirely by Apple, while the 100 was being miniaturized by Sony from the full-sized Macintosh Portable.

As a result, the 170 represents the very first PowerBook created by Apple, with the 100 actually representing the first design improvements, though its internal architecture is the oldest in the series.

Hence the PB-100 was indeed a shrunken Macintosh Portable, vs the PB-140 and 170. Notable about the Portable and the PB-100 were the sealed, lead acid batteries that they carried, giving them some heft.

Apparently Apple contracted with Sony to redesign the Portable into the PB-100, as a lower entry level laptop while they built the PB-140/170 from the ground up.

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