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Our collection of old laptops

Dug up from closets and storage bins, we found a pile of outdated laptops and were shocked by how many features, ports, and connections have been dropped over the past decade.

Locking lid clasp

There was a time not so long ago when laptops came with little lid-locks to keep everything in place. MacBooks moved to a magnetic clasp, while most other laptops now just find a way to make do without a lid-lock, thanks to a little thing we call gravity.

4:3 aspect ratio screens

The (almost) squared-off screen is about as archaic as a boxy 4:3 television set. While HDTVs jumped right into 16:9, laptops detoured for several years into 16:10 territory, and Apple's own MacBooks are now some of the only laptops left with 16:10 screens (except for the 11-inch MacBook Air).

S-Video and parallel ports

Somewhere between RCA and HDMI connections, there was S-Video. It was mostly used from the mid '90s to the early 2000s in pro video applications, because it separated brightness and color onto two separate channels.

Sitting next to it is a parallel port, mostly used for printers before those all went USB, and today, wireless.


Serial port

This is why we appreciate the Universal Serial Bus (USB). It may look like a VGA port (which it's sitting next to in this photo), but the serial port was used for...well, other things, that we now use USB for. Interestingly enough, the Sega Genesis had serial ports for its controllers.

Tiny touch pads

A look back at this PowerBook G4 almost made us do a double-take: In retrospect, it has an absurdly tiny trackpad. Recent extra-wide clickpads may have spoiled us a little, but with the growth of multitouch devices, including phones and tablets like the iPad, it's clear that we're far more touch-oriented than we were a half-decade ago.

PCMCIA slot and modem jack

We're finally saying goodbye to ExpressCard slots on most laptops, and the PCMCIA is another remnant of an era gone by. Devices ranging from external storage to modems and network cards used the slot.

We hear that modem ports are still useful for business travel to remote parts of the world, but right now we're getting along just fine with Ethernet and Wi-Fi. That's one port we probably don't need, unless we're time traveling.


Old-school raised keyboards

Laptops used to have thick keyboards that looked ripped from desktop hardware. Comfortable, yes, but also bulky. The nearly universal move to smaller, flat, raised keys has helped shrink the thickness of the laptop chassis, and are nearly universal now.

Two kinds of FireWire

We forgot that one of our old MacBook Pros actually came with both FireWire 400 and 800 ports. The original FireWire was a mainstay for iMacs, hard drives, and iPods once upon a time, and 800 never really caught on. Now, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt will duel it out for higher-speed data transfer. Hmm, maybe we're still not really consolidating after all...

PS/2 port

Before USB and Bluetooth, keyboards and mice had to be hooked up via PS/2, a technology considered "legacy" even in 2000. But it stuck around for a long time anyway, largely because of its compatibility with KVM switches (devices that let two computers share a single keyboard and mouse).

Feature we miss: Narrow screen bezels

Even on Apple laptops, it feels like screen bezels have been getting bigger and bigger. The 2001 titanium PowerBook G4 has a wafer-thin bezel by today's standards, giving a true edge-to-edge feel.

Feature we miss: Removable battery covers

Apple's move to integrated batteries that weren't user-replaceable was done in the name of longer battery life, which we appreciate. However, the trend has spread to so many devices that we're now almost surprised when we see laptops with removable batteries.

Feature we miss: Matte screens

Once upon a time, laptops had matte screens by default. The glossier edge-to-edge treatment on many newer laptops is more eye-catching, but a nightmare for reflections and glare. Many business laptops still offer this as an option, but it's almost impossible to find on consumer laptops.

Easier to carry

Yes, Scott attached a bolt-on handle to his PowerBook.


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