Jun 112010

PowerBook 180c from the UK

The PowerBook 180c was Apple’s first PowerBook with an active matrix screen capable of displaying 256 colors. Introduced in June of 1993  it cost $1K more than it’s monochrome counterpart, the PowerBook 180. As lowendmac notes, the gorgeous display had took a heavy toll on the Ni-Cad battery, reducing it’s usage to about an hour before requiring recharging.

When I worked at Motorola I was loaned a 180c by Apple for a month or so, and loved it. I quickly realized that I needed to always carry a power adapter and find the chair close to power outlets in the meeting rooms. Recently I acquired a “working” 180c from an ebay auction, and after it’s transatlantic trip from the UK I set about testing it.

My first discovery was that it didn’t arrive with a power adapter (should have read that auction description a little closer). My second discovery was that the battery hadn’t been removed from the computer in at least a decade. When I was finally able to pry it carefully out I found a blue crystalline substance in the battery bay and on the outside of the battery terminals where the electrolyte has leaked out and hardened. When I opened the port cover on the back of the computer I discovered the same substance had leaked through the port openings.

leaking PowerBook battery

Leaking PowerBook battery electrolyte damage

After removing the battery I attempted to start up the PowerBook using a PowerBook 170 adapter I had on hand, and was pleased to hear a startup chime. My thrill was short-lived however, since the computer refused to proceed any farther, just repeatedly sounding a startup chime. A quick search of the internet revealed that this is a common symptom when you try to use a power adapter not intended for the 180c. The 180c needs a 24 watt adapter (model  M5652 or M4462). Fortunately I was able to locate an inexpensive original 24 watt adapter from retrotechnology.com.

Once I had the proper adapter I started up the PowerBook and it proceeded to a happy Mac screen and loaded the finder with just one issue – the top quarter of the screen isn’t illuminated. Bending the display forwards flickers it on, so I am hopeful the issue can by adjusting or replacing the internal display cable that is prone to being pinched.

It looks like the 180c will be more of a project than I anticipated. A full take-apart is needed to remove the crystallized remnants of  electrolyte in the battery bay, inside the bottom case,  on the logic board, and the rear ports. Ni-cad battery electrolyte is potassium hydroxide, and recommended cleaning solutions I’ve seen include baking soda, vinegar, and coke. Further research indicates that the blue color of the substance I found indicates that it’s copper sulphate and the recommended cleaning solution is hydrogen peroxide.


  One Response to “PowerBook 180c acquired”

  1. This is a fascinating tale Glenn. I found you while googling during repair my own PowerBook 170 which I bought new in 1991. My battery had long been the worse for wear, age in fact, and in 2009 I purchased a replacement. This charged up well initially and lasted a couple of months before the 170 again failed to start. The matter rested there until this month when a friend persuaded me to open up the batteries, I still have the old one, and locate the problem.
    The 1991 battery, Ni-Cd, was decomposing and has now gone to the local recycling facility. The 2009 replacement was made in China using Japanese Panasonic Ni-MH cells. It looks to be in fairly good condition. When I tested my power adapter (battery charger) today I found it to be faulty. That could have been the problem all along!
    I am interested in your comment that you needed a specific 180c adapter (24W). The notice on my original battery says it should be charged using M3050 however the unit originally supplied was M5140X. Whatever the case, it appears I need 7.5v, 2000mA. I am finding that is not so easy to source.
    I hope you have had success cleaning the battery corrosion products out of your 180c. I’d recommend dilute white vinegar to remove the electrolyte and that should remove a lot of the copper sulphate too. Repeated use of water should be enough to get rid of the remaining copper. Then the trick is not to be too impatient to test your work before the machine is nice and dry.
    I look forward to hearing how your 180c refurbishment progresses.