The Sights and Sounds of the PowerBase 180

After two decades of sitting on a shelf, my first computer started up just fine (albeit, very slowly and loudly).

Shortly after the new year, our family began a concerted effort to clean out the basement. (That my wife was watching Marie Kondo’s Netflix series at the time may or may not have influenced this decision.) Among other things, this meant going through all of the computers that we’d acquired over the years, determining if they were still usable, transferring and archiving old files, and figuring out how to dispose of them.

And so, on a Saturday afternoon, I found myself reassembling my very first computer — a Power Computing PowerBase 180 that I bought around 1997 — on our dining room table. The PowerBase was one of many Macintosh clones that emerged in the mid-to-late ’90s after Apple licensed its technology to various companies (e.g., APS Technologies, Motorola, Power Computing, UMAX) in an effort to grow the Macintosh’s market share and generate some much-needed revenue.

(This official clone program was shut down after Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. Many execs were worried that clones were eating into Apple’s own profits while Jobs saw clones as an outdated model for saving the company.)

It’d probably been close to two decades since I last turned the PowerBase on. After several years of faithful service, it was replaced by an iMac DV SE and relegated to basements and closets. But as you can see in the video above, it started up just fine, though obviously pretty slowly (and this even though its RAM had been upgraded to 96 MB so I could run Adobe Photoshop 4.0 on it).

It was actually pretty nostalgic seeing the System 8 loader pop up, as well as the 20+ extensions and control panels loading across the bottom of the screen. They were a reminder of just how much fun you could have customizing and tweaking your Mac in the pre-OS X and macOS days. (Kaleidoscope, anyone?) And how about that fan, huh? Just listen to that baby purr.

My PowerBase was mostly empty aside from a few audio files from a short-lived musical project (which I’m still trying to figure out how to archive). But it still had many applications installed, including Netscape Navigator, Eudora Lite, and the aforementioned Photoshop 4.0. I didn’t try connecting the PowerBase to the internet — I’m pretty sure it would’ve melted the first time Navigator tried to load a modern website — but seeing them all reminded me of how I used to use computers.

I used to be incredibly anal and OCD about how my programs and files were organized. At one point, I’d even split up the PowerBase’s massive 1.2 GB hard drive into three partitions to better organize things. (Those three partitions were initially named “Cloud,” “Tifa,” and “Aeris” because I was a huge Final Fantasy VII nerd at the time. I’d even configured my Mac to use Final Fantasy VII sounds for various events, like copying files and creating folders. I actually still kind of miss that particular customization.)

Of course, the PowerBase is literally ancient by today’s standards. Even my iPhone SE is several orders of magnitude more powerful. But it was still fascinating to see (and hear) it run after all these years, and to note how much the Macintosh operating system had, and had not, changed.