Let’s talk backup

As of late, I’ve been suggesting a few great applications that are still available for PowerPC Macs (where by ‘PowerPC Macs’ I generally mean ‘PowerPC G3/G4/G5 Macs running Mac OS X’). For this article I thought I could gather a few resources and reading material related to the essential practice of backing up data.

A necessary preamble: up to the advent of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard in October 2007, my personal backup strategy was a selective, manual backup of all the data I considered vital, so I never really used any tool to perform automated backups, therefore I don’t have any real direct experience with some of the applications mentioned below. The majority of them have an impeccable reputation, though, so I guess they’ll be useful to you.

Backup tools for PowerPC Macs running Mac OS X (and Mac OS 9.2.2)

  • If you’re running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, don’t forget that a basic backup tool is built in the system itself: Time Machine. I started using it since I upgraded to Leopard and I’ve never lost a backup. Considering a few horror stories I’ve heard, I may have been lucky. My only bit of advice: let Time Machine do its job, no matter how long it takes. I never interfered, nor tinkered with it, and never had a problem.
  • Carbon Copy Cloner — A great tool to clone disks and make bootable backup copies of them. And this is just one of the many features this application offers. You can download version 3.4.7, which is compatible with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and 10.5 Leopard from this download page.
  • SuperDuper! — I have actually used SuperDuper! and it was extremely helpful in a few key circumstances. I like its interface because it really guides you every step of the way and explains what the app will do according to the options you choose. The links to download older versions of the app are provided in the sidebar of the page I’ve linked to. There are versions for Mac OS X Leopard, Tiger, Panther and even Jaguar. Customer support is fantastic. One thing worth quoting from SuperDuper’s page is this bit: Please note that SuperDuper! is not designed to back up to CDs, DVDs or Tape, and needs a location (other than the boot volume) to store the backup – typically a volume on an internal or external (FireWire) drive. SuperDuper! only copies HFS+ (Mac-native/Mac OS Extended) volumes.

SuperDuper’s developer offers another important reminder. Old-time Mac users know this already, but it may be useful especially for those who are discovering vintage PowerPC Macs only now:

Note also that USB drives do not allow booting Power PC based Macintoshes under any version of Mac OS X: this is not a SuperDuper! limitation, but one of the OS. If you would like to boot from a backup stored on an external drive, and have a Power PC based Mac, please purchase a Mac compatible FireWire drive. Intel Mac users can boot from either USB or FireWire drives.

  • Dantz Retrospect — Probably one of the backup applications for the Mac with the longest history. This is commercial software, and a licence is required even for older versions. Explore the Retrospect website and see if such software meet your needs. Older versions of Retrospect (for Mac, Windows, Linux) can be found at this page. I never used this product, but heard much praise for it over the years.
  • SilverKeeper — A free utility that used to be made available by LaCie. If you look for it on the Web, you’ll probably find the newer 2.0.2 version (for example on MacUpdate), which requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later. I have made available for download the older 1.1.4 version which supports Mac OS X 10.0 to 10.4 and can also be used under Mac OS 9.2.2. It’s a Zip archive of the SilverKeeper installer and related documentation. Let me know if you have problems extracting it.
  • SimpleBackup — I found this little utility by chance. It may be a simple solution for even older Macs. The developer calls it a “Finder alias-based backup utility.”

    In the readme file he explains how the application works: SimpleBackup is a very simple and easy to use file backup utility. I wrote it because I wanted a quick-and-easy way to back up all those files that are spread out over the hard disk, in the preferences folder, in the documents folder, certain folders and files in the applications folder, etc… I decided that I didn’t want to write a user interface for the utility, so I got the idea of letting the Finder do the work for me by using aliases. The result is a backup program that is actually easy to use! You simply navigate through your hard disk and find the files or entire folders that you want to backup that are buried in the System Folder, Applications, Documents folders etc., and tell SimpleBackup about those files/folders by using aliases.

  • SimpleBackup website (There are other interesting utilities you may want to check out there. The website is old, but the links appear to work.)

Some reading material

I think that this four-part essay on backups by Adam Engst is still worth reading and saving. It was written in 1998 but it’s full of essential pieces of advice and links to other backup software I haven’t mentioned here.

Check also this other piece by Adam Engst, written in 2001: What About Backing Up to FireWire Hard Disks?

This is a start to help you find some backup solutions and ideas, but feel free to chime in and share your suggestions/experience in the comments. Thank you!

Macintosh Classics: PopChar

The other day I was reading Longstanding Mac Apps by Shawn Blanc, and I remembered a great Mac utility that’s been around for a long time: PopChar.

PopChar was a very useful addition to my Macs and I used it regularly up to Mac OS 9.2.2. When running, it placed a little ‘P’ in the menubar (usually in the top left corner near the Apple logo, but you could customise the ‘hot spot’). Suppose you were writing a document and needed to insert a special character or a symbol and you didn’t remember the correct keyboard shortcut (or there wasn’t a direct keyboard shortcut to begin with). With PopChar installed, you clicked on the little ‘P’ and a pop-up character palette appeared. You could select the needed symbol and have it inserted right away. Fast, intuitive, and quickly out of the way.

PopChar UI

PopChar 2.7.1 in action


PopChar Control Panel

PopChar 2.7.1 Control Panel


I recalled I was using it under System 7 in the mid-1990s, but I didn’t know exactly when the very first version appeared. So I asked the developers over Twitter, and they replied:

The first version of PopChar was released in 1987. See http://www.ergonis.com/products/popchar/history/ … for a history of PopChar.

1987! Earlier than I remembered. This software has been around for 27 years. The PopChar History page does indeed save me a lot of work and you’ll find there all the details and screenshots illustrating how the software UI changed over the years. I’ll just quote here a few interesting bits:

  • PopChar has been running on all types of processors that have been used in Macs: starting with the first 68000 processors, up to the Motorola 68030, then various PowerPC models, and now Macs with multiple Intel processors in 64-bit technology.
  • Versions of PopChar have been running on all MacOS versions from System 4.2 to Mac OS X 10.8. [And of course 10.9 — evidently the page was last updated in 2012]
  • Four different development environments were involved: Turbo Pascal, Think Pascal, CodeWarrior and now Xcode.
  • Font technology has changed from simple bitmap fonts to TrueType and PostScript fonts and now OpenType.
  • To survive all these changes, PopChar has been redesigned and re-implemented from ground up again and again. These efforts were necessary to ensure steady evolution of PopChar and continuous support for our long-time customers.

Like many great applications, PopChar was born to address a specific need of the developer:

It all started back in 1987, when I tried to find a few special characters in the Symbol font. Apple’s Key Caps utility was not very helpful because I had to try all sorts of keyboard combinations to see which characters were available.

Being a software developer, I decided to write a simple utility that allowed me to select characters in a more convenient way. I wrote this utility in Turbo Pascal on a Mac Plus with 2.5 MB of memory.

It’s truly amazing to see how PopChar evolved over the years and how the developer adapted it so that it remained useful even when Mac OS started making similar features more accessible for the user.

In 2012, I decided to make PopChar even more versatile by adding features that allow designers to view and inspect fonts. New “Font Preview” and “Sample Text” views now show realistic text fragments formatted with a selected font. These new views give an impression of a font “in action”. Even more, these views can be printed to create beautiful font sheets.

I keep PopChar installed in all of my vintage Macs. It’s one of those little utilities you just can’t do without — especially if you’re discovering vintage Macs now. Once you install it, it feels like a part of the system. In all the years I’ve used it, I never encountered a single issue. It’s a well written piece of software. One last detail I want to share: it came with an elegant manual built in:

PopChar 271 manual

PopChar 2.7.1 inline documentation


If you have a modern Mac running the latest version of Mac OS X and you’re interested in this great little utility, you can read more detailed information at the PopChar X page on the developer’s site. The current version is available in English, German and French. Previous versions of PopChar X and PopChar Pro are available on the Downloads Archive page. By the way, if you’re a Windows user just passing by, know that PopChar is also available for Windows.

Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs (Part 3)

The launchers special

Here’s another brief addition to the list of useful apps that are still made available for PowerPC Macs by their developers. Since apparently application launchers are all the rage today, I thought it’d be nice to remind PowerPC users that they still have a few options out there.

  • Butler — From Butler’s website: Butler’s purpose is to ease all those routine tasks you do every day: controlling iTunes, opening programs and documents, switching users, searching for stuff on the web, and more. Butler can act as an application launcher, but can do a lot of other stuff. Among the many other tasks Butler can accomplish: open/move/copy files, access preference panes, manage bookmarks, enter text snippets, search the web, control iTunes, and so on. Make sure you check the extensive documentation provided on the website to learn how to make the most out of it. Here are the direct download links:

  • LaunchBar — LaunchBar is the oldest application of this kind, since it goes back all the way to NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP. Check this page for a summary of the many features (bear in mind that some of them may be missing from older versions). LaunchBar is available for any Mac OS X version. Visit the Legacy download page and pick the right one for your Mac.

  • Quicksilver — Another application launcher with a long history, and one I’ve tried to master many times. From the Quicksilver About page:

    An introduction to Quicksilver’s abilities include:

    • Accessing applications, documents, contacts, music and much, much more.
    • Browsing your Mac’s filesystem elegantly using keywords and ‘fuzzy’ matching.
    • Managing content through drag and drop, or grabbing selected content directly.
    • Interacting with installed applications through plugins.
  • From Quicksilver’s Download page you can download all present and pasts version of the app, going as far back as Mac OS X 10.3 Panther.

These are the first apps of this type to come to mind. I’ve always used Mac OS X’s Spotlight, so I may have forgotten other important applications (by the way, there’s no PowerPC version of Alfred — I checked). Feel free to chime in and provide suggestions. Thanks!

A final related mention: NotLight

Suppose you don’t particularly like the approach of these application launchers / file finders, and at the same time you’re not satisfied by what Spotlight offers with regard to search. There’s a little program I still love and use on my iBook G3/466 SE Graphite — NotLight, written by the excellent Matt Neuburg:

[NotLight is] a simple Spotlight front-end substitute. [...] You can do any kind of Spotlight search; seven search keys are built in, and you can add more, and you can even view and edit a search as text if you like. You can use wildcards or not, specify word-based, case-insensitive, and diacritic-insensitive searches, and construct complex searches with AND, OR, and NOT. A Date Assistant translates dates into Spotlight’s query language for you. Results are a simple list of filename and paths. Download it here.

Here’s a review of NotLight by Dan Frakes on Macworld.



  • Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs — Part 1
  • Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs — Part 2

  • Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs (Part 2)

    My previous article, Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs, published at the end of last year, got a lot of attention. I’m always looking for older PPC versions of great Mac applications graciously made available by their developers, so I thought I’d post a quick follow-up to the aforementioned article.

    Here are a few more apps you can enjoy on your PowerPC Macs (running Mac OS X 10.4 and above):

    • Ulysses — Ulysses III is one of the best Mac applications for writers. If you own a PowerPC Mac, you can’t install the latest and greatest version, but The Soulmen have made available previous versions of the app on their site. Read carefully the descriptions near each package at the link provided. The only version that is completely unlocked and doesn’t require a licence is Ulysses 1.6, for Mac OS X 10.4 and above. I installed it on my 17-inch PowerBook G4 and works just fine.
    • CloudApp — CloudApp is a very nice app to quickly share screenshots and all kinds of files. It installs a menu extra in the menubar and then it’s just a matter of dragging and dropping. It’s now on version 2.0.2, but you still can download version 1.0.3 — the last to support PowerPC Macs — at the link provided. (Requires at least Mac OS X 10.5).
    • Transmit: The best FTP client for the Mac, period. You can download older versions of Transmit from Panic’s archives at this page. I think the last version supporting PowerPC Macs is 4.1.9 — I have it on my G4 PowerBooks running Mac OS X 10.5.8 and when I select Check for Updates from inside the app, Transmit says it’s “currently the newest version available.” Of course you’ll have to purchase a licence to use the app.
    • Other Panic apps — Panic has made available previous versions of all the apps they made over the years. Check out The Panic File Museum, where you can find other great apps like CandyBar, Stattoo and Unison.
    • NetNewsWire — One of the best RSS readers for the Mac. Now in version 4 Beta, you can still download version 3.2.15 — the last supporting PowerPC Macs running at least Mac OS X 10.5 — from the Version 3 page. It’s worth reminding that older versions of NetNewsWire now can only be used to check RSS feeds manually, as they don’t support RSS services like Feedly, FeedBin, etc., that came after Google discontinued their Reader service.

    Apple will end support for AIM iChat logins on older versions of Mac OS X

    The other day, this post by MacRumors caught my eye — Apple to End Support for AIM iChat Logins on Older Versions of OS X Starting June 30:

    Apple has announced in a recent support note (via ZDNet) that it will end AIM iChat login support for users running versions of OS X below 10.7.2 Lion on June 30, 2014.

    The change will affect those who use their mac.com and me.com addresses as AIM IDs to log into iChat on older systems, as users running compatible versions of OS X Snow Leopard and OS X Lion can upgrade to OS X Mavericks for free.

    Guess what? I’m exactly among the users affected by such change. It is not a major inconvenience, but it’s an inconvenience nonetheless. My preferred setup for chatting is my 17-inch PowerBook G4 with an external iSight camera attached, and I typically use my mac.com address as AIM ID to chat. This change feels arbitrary and a ‘planned obsolescence’ kind of move on Apple’s part, and it does affect quite a number of people. (Note that, at the end of the article, it’s mentioned that the share of systems running older versions of OS X affected by this latest change is 19%, which is not exactly a small number.) When you open iChat on an older version of Mac OS X, you get this message:


    So you’re given some vague security concerns as an excuse (same goes for the linked Apple support note). I see it more as yet another move to get users to update to newer systems, and I’d like to point out that, while there are people who prefer older systems for the geekiest reasons, there are also people who still use high-end G4 and G5 Power Macs because they invested thousands of dollars (euros, pounds, etc.) on these machines — still very capable systems — and perhaps they simply can’t afford to upgrade just yet.

    Again, it’s not a huge inconvenience, but I think that when it comes to chatting, users should be left with the widest possible range of options. Anyway, bear in mind that you still can use iChat with other account types:


    After June 30, 2014, “MobileMe account” and “Mac.com” account will no longer be viable options, but you’ll still be able to use regular AIM accounts, Jabber accounts and Google Talk accounts. I suppose that ‘security’ keeps being just fine with these accounts…

    eWorld again

    Apple eWorld

    Image from Vintage Computing & Gaming

    Last year on this day I forgot to update this blog with the traditional eWorld mention. eWorld was Apple’s ill-fated online service that debuted in June 1994 — almost 20 years ago — and was shut down on March 31, 1996. Every March 31, from 2010 on, I published an eWorld-related post with some interesting links and resources about eWorld. Here are a few more:

    Past eWorld entries here on System Folder:

    Hello, iPod

    Hello ipod

    To sweeten the vintage weekend, I just wanted to share a couple of iPod-related things. The first one is the video Apple made available on its site in October 2001 when the original iPod was introduced. I found it in one of my backups, possibly lying there for the past 13 years. It’s not hard to get hold of it if you look around on the Web (I’m sure YouTube is your friend), but I’d like to offer a direct link here for documentary reasons: iPod introduction video.

    I must say, of all the Apple videos featuring Jonathan Ive, this is the one where Ive looks the most excited and possibly smiles the most. You’ll also notice someone who later left Apple to work with Palm…

    As for the second thing, I thought I could assemble a useful table listing which iPod models can be managed by PowerPC Macs running Mac OS 9.x to Mac OS X 10.5.8 and which system software and iTunes version are required. I still don’t understand why more modern iPods — such as the 7th-gen. iPod nano or the 5th-gen. iPod touch and later — support Windows software as old as XP but require Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (and an Intel Mac, of course).

    In case you acquire an old iPod model, in this table you can easily see your Mac/PC’s minimum requirements to be able to manage it.

    System requirements (Mac OS, Windows, iTunes version) iPod models
    Mac OS 9.2 or later
    Mac OS X 10.1 or later

    iTunes 2.0 or later

    Original iPod (iPod with scroll wheel)
    Mac OS 9.2.2 / Mac OS X 10.1.4 or later (Mac OS X 10.2 or later recommended)
    Windows Me, 2000, XP (Home or Professional)

    iTunes 3.0 or later

    iPod with touch wheel (2nd-gen. iPod)
    Mac OS X 10.1.5 or later (Mac OS X 10.2 or later recommended)
    Windows Me, 2000, XP (Home or Professional)

    iTunes 4.0 or later

    iPod (Dock Connector) (3rd-gen. iPod)
    Mac OS X 10.1.5 or later (Mac OS X 10.3 or later recommended)
    Windows 2000 (SP 4), XP (Home or Professional)

    iTunes 4.2 or later

    iPod mini
    Mac OS X 10.1.5 or later (Mac OS X 10.3 or later recommended)
    USB 2.0 requires Mac OS X 10.3.4 or Windows 2000 (SP 4) or Windows XP Home or Professional

    iTunes 4.6 or later

    iPod (Click wheel) (4th-gen. iPod)
    iPod U2 Special Edition
    Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later (for FireWire)

    USB 2.0 requires Mac OS X 10.3.4 or later or Windows 2000 (SP 4) or later or Windows XP Home or Professional (SP 2) or later

    iTunes 4.7 or later

    iPod photo
    iPod colour display
    iPod U2 Special Edition (colour display)
    Mac OS X 10.2.8 or Mac OS X 10.3.4 and later (Mac OS X 10.3.6 or later recommended for use with low-power USB ports)
    Windows 2000 (SP 4) or later, or Windows XP Home or Professional (SP 2) or later

    iTunes 4.7.1 or later

    iPod shuffle (1st gen.)
    Mac OS X 10.2.8 or Mac OS X 10.3.4 and later (Mac OS X 10.3.4 or later recommended)
    USB 2.0 requires Mac OS X 10.3.4 or later or Windows 2000 (SP 4) or later or Windows XP Home or Professional (SP 2) or later

    iTunes 4.7.1

    iPod mini (2nd gen.)
    Mac OS X 10.3.4 and later
    Windows 2000 (SP 4) or later, or Windows XP Home or Professional (SP 2) or later

    iTunes 5.0 or later

    iPod nano (1st gen.)
    Mac OS X 10.3.9 and later
    Windows 2000 (SP 4) or later, or Windows XP Home or Professional (SP 2) or later

    iTunes 6.0 or later

    5th-gen. iPod
    Mac OS X 10.3.9 and later
    Windows 2000 (SP 4) or later, or Windows XP Home or Professional (SP 2) or later

    iTunes 7.0 or later

    5th-gen. iPod (U2 Special Edition)
    5th-gen. iPod (late 2006)
    5th-gen. iPod (U2 Special Edition – late 2006)
    iPod nano (2nd gen.)
    Mac OS X 10.4.8 or later
    Windows Vista or Windows XP Home or Professional (SP 2) or later

    iTunes 7.0 or later (2006)
    iTunes 7.4 or later (2007/2008)

    iPod shuffle (2nd gen.)
    Mac OS X 10.4.8 or later
    Windows Vista or Windows XP Home or Professional (SP 2) or later

    iTunes 7.4 or later

    iPod nano (3rd gen.)
    iPod classic
    Mac OS X 10.4.10 or later
    Windows Vista or Windows XP Home or Professional (SP 2) or later

    iTunes 7.4 or later

    iPod touch (1st gen.)
    Mac OS X 10.4.10 or later
    Windows Vista or Windows XP Home or Professional (SP 2) or later

    iTunes 8.0 or later

    iPod touch (2nd gen.)
    Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later
    Windows Vista or Windows XP Home or Professional (SP 3)

    iTunes 8.0 or later

    iPod nano (4th gen.)
    iPod classic (120 GB)
    iPod shuffle (3rd gen.)
    Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later
    Windows Vista or Windows XP Home or Professional (SP 3) or later

    iTunes 9.0 or later

    iPod shuffle (3rd gen. late 2009)
    iPod nano (5th gen.)
    iPod classic (160 GB – late 2009)
    iPod touch (3rd gen.)
    Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later
    Windows 7, Vista, or XP Home or Professional (SP 3) or later

    iTunes 10 or later

    iPod nano (6th gen.)
    iPod touch (4th gen.)

    (Data collected using Mactracker.)

    The Apple Network Server resource


    From Wikipedia:

    The Apple Network Server (ANS) is a short-lived line of PowerPC-based server computers manufactured by Apple Computer from February 1996 to April 1997, when it was discontinued due to poor sales. It was codenamed “Shiner” and originally consisted of two models, the Network Server 500/132 (“Shiner LE”, i.e., “low-end”) and the Network Server 700/150 (“Shiner HE”, i.e., “high-end”), which got a companion model, the Network Server 700/200 (also “Shiner HE”) with a faster CPU in November 1996. They are not a part of the Apple Macintosh line of computers; they were designed to run IBM’s AIX operating system and their ROM specifically prevented booting Mac OS. This makes them the last non-Macintosh desktop computers made by Apple to date. The 500/132, 700/150, and 700/200 sold in the U.S. market for $11,000, $15,000 and $19,000, respectively.

    Apple Network Servers are not to be confused with the Apple Workgroup Servers and the Macintosh Servers, which were Macintosh workstations that shipped with server software and used Mac OS; the sole exception, the Workgroup Server 95—a Quadra 950 with an added SCSI controller that shipped with A/UX—was also capable of running Mac OS. Apple did not have comparable server hardware in their product lineup again until the introduction of the Xserve in 2002.

    Last month, my friend the excellent Cameron Kaiser has updated a section of his awesome website. The section is called Floodgap ANSwers: The Apple Network Server Resource and it’s dedicated to this very machine. In the introduction, Cameron writes:

    In 1998, I was a working stiff at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and the bookstore had an Apple Network Server 500/132 for their inventory system which the vendor wouldn’t support anymore. It was pristine and barely used, and sat in a corner. They asked me if I wanted it for anything, and I thought it would be fun to play with, so I wiped it and started its new long life. stockholm served as my do-everything server for 14 years until I finally decommissioned it in 2012 for an IBM POWER6, but it still works today and has a place of honour in my machine room. It was never flawless, but it was dependable and fascinating and a machine deserving of more than a footnote in Cupertino’s corporate history. This site, therefore, is my weak attempt at a memorial to the best enterprise-class machine Apple ever disowned.

    Make sure to check out the various links Cameron provides on his page. I enjoyed the ANS FAQ and the AIX on ANS FAQ because, admittedly, I didn’t know much about this particular line of Apple servers and the operating system they run. I hope you’ll enjoy Cameron’s resource as much as I did. And remember to add his main website to your bookmarks, too. The typical System Folder reader will find a lot of valuable information and projects there.

    In defence of the PowerBook 5300

    PowerBook 5300

    Whenever I stumble on some article listing Apple’s ‘worst Macs’ — sometimes called Road Apples, sometimes called lemons — even before looking at the list I already know that there’s one particular Mac I’m going to find: the PowerBook 5300. I won’t say that this PowerBook was completely issue-free, but I believe that its ‘lemon’ fame is in part undeserved.

    Somehow, there’s a common denominator between the PowerBook 5300 and the Newton. Both got a bad reputation for what essentially was a non-issue, and from there it was just throwing the baby out with the bathwater. With the Newton it was the handwriting recognition (yes, it was not extraordinary in version 1.x of NewtonOS, but got amazingly better in version 2.x). With the PowerBook 5300 it was mainly the famous issue with the exploding batteries. As Dan Knight of Low End Mac writes (emphasis mine):

    Originally designed to use LithIon batteries, Apple recalled the 5300 after some of the new batteries burst into flames on the assembly line. Not only was this an embarrassment to Apple, but the PowerBook 5300 became the butt of many jokes even though none of the troublesome batteries ever made it to market.

    The PowerBook 5300 got included (obviously) in this recent article by Stephen Hackett, Some of Apple’s Lemons, which is otherwise a very well-informed and spot-on piece.

    I strongly suspect that, among the tech writers who have written such lists of ‘worst Macs ever built’, there isn’t a single one of them who has actually used a PowerBook 5300 for as long as I have. I acquired my 5300ce second-hand in late 2001. It has a 117MHz PowerPC processor, 64MB of RAM and a 1.1GB hard drive. The original owner got it new in 1995 and took good care of it, to the point that when he sold it to me, the PowerBook was in mint condition after being in use for five full years. (Only the piece of plastic covering the ports on the back was missing, but I wouldn’t consider it a big deal.) The battery still held a 40-minute charge.

    I’ve been using this PowerBook for the past 12 years without issues. Amazingly, the battery still holds enough charge to allow the PowerBook to complete the boot process.

    Apart from my specific PowerBook 5300 unit, I have a certain expertise with Macs of this vintage because during the 1990s I did a lot of freelance Mac tech support, so I handled quite a number of these laptops.

    Anyway, let’s take a look at the issues summarised by Hackett and review them one by one:

    Cracks in the plastic casing.

    I’ve witnessed this issue on very few PowerBook 5300 models. Comparatively, I’ve seen cracks in the plastic casing occurring much more frequently on clamshell iBooks, particularly around the small Apple logo beneath the screen; a problem possibly caused by tight hinges.

    My PowerBook 5300 has started showing a small crack in the casing a couple of months ago, therefore 18 years after being manufactured. I’m willing to cut it some slack at this point, eh?

    Vertical lines present on the display due to pinched ribbon cables in the hinges.

    I’ve never seen this issue in person. I was told about one case by a fellow Mac consultant years ago. I personally saw this happen a lot with PowerBook 180 and 190 models, though.

    Cracking hinges.

    A few cases, yes, and in all of them the owner admitted to not treating the PowerBook with much care. I’m not denying the issue, of course, but let’s just say that in my career as a Mac tech support freelancer, I’ve seen more cracked hinges on Titanium G4 PowerBooks than on PowerBook 5300 units. Strange that the Titanium PowerBook G4 never gets a mention among the ‘road apples’ for that, no?

    Poor performance due to the lack of a L2 cache.

    Here I can only speak subjectively. At the time it was introduced (1995), the PowerBook 5300 wasn’t certainly as fast as some of the desktop Power Macintoshes of the same era (especially the 8500 and 9500 series), but as far as laptops went, it wasn’t exactly sluggish either. Having the maximum RAM installed (64MB) and upgrading to System 7.5.3 or 7.5.5 helped a lot, too. Theoretically, the PowerBook 5300 supports system software versions up to Mac OS 9.1, but in my experience you’ll want to stop at Mac OS 7.6.1 or 8.1, and I suggest going Mac OS 8.1 only if you have maxed the RAM.

    Having used my PowerBook 5300 rather frequently over the past 12 years, I can say that, while it may not be the fastest pre-G3 PowerBook, it has proven to be a capable and reliable machine. For example, at the moment I’m writing this very article in BBEdit Lite 3.5.1 on the PowerBook 5300 itself, and there are a few apps opened in background as well:

    • Internet Explorer 5.1.7, opened on my main website.
    • Acrobat Reader 4, which by the way opens in less than 2 seconds and with two PDF documents open it only takes up less than 10MB of memory.
    • iCab 2.99, opened on Low End Mac’s website.
    • Graphic Converter 4.01, with a PICT file I needed to crop and convert to JPEG.

    There are still 39MB of contiguous RAM available, and switching from an app to another is rather seamless, considering I’m on a 19 year-old machine using Mac OS 8.1.

    Fires due to a bad Sony lithium ion batteries that overheated while charging.

    As I emphasised at the beginning by quoting that bit written by Dan Knight, that problem happened internally during production and therefore did not impact users directly.

    In conclusion, I’ve written about my personal experience with a PowerBook 5300 over 12 years of use and recalling the direct experience I had with these laptops as a freelancer doing Mac tech support in the 1990s, when these machines were new. I’m sure there are other experienced Mac users and technicians out there who will have different stories to tell; but from my perspective, I really can’t count the PowerBook 5300 among Apple’s lemons.

    Checking on my Quadra 950

    Quadra950 bezel close cc


    It didn’t boot.

    Compared to other Macs in my collection which have been in storage for a longer period (the LC II, for instance, or the Performa 630CD), I used this Quadra 950 for the last time around the second half of 2011, so it’s been a little more than two full years. Of course everything was working fine and, knowing I wouldn’t use it for a while, I stored the Quadra carefully, taking particular care in covering vents and other holes to avoid the excessive formation of dust bunnies.

    Before connecting the Quadra to keyboard, mouse and display, I opened it to take a cursory look at the amount of dirt that accumulated inside of it since the last time I used it, but finding it rather clean overall, I went on and flipped the switch (actually I pressed the Power button on the keyboard).

    The Quadra’s response: “KH-POP”, and nothing else.

    Typically this beast of a computer, with a power supply capable of delivering 303 watts of maximum continuous power (you can, for example, connect an external display to the Quadra 950 PSU and the Quadra will power itself and the display), would make a sort of “KH-DUM” sound when powered on, followed by the spinning up of the various drives and the large fan mounted against the power supply. Instead all I got was a “KH-POP,” the power light would briefly turn on, and nothing else. The Quadra 950 has a security keyswitch on the front, with three positions: OFF, ON and SECURE. According to this archived Apple Knowledge Base article,

    When the keyswitch is in the SECURE position, the ADB devices and floppy disk drive are disabled. For example, the keyboard does not generate characters, or the mouse moves but no menus can be pulled down. Also, when power is applied to the computer while the keyswitch is in the SECURE position, the computer automatically starts up.

    Turning the keyswitch in the SECURE position made my Quadra 950 cycle in a scary loop of “KH-POP KH-POP KH-POP” — it was clear that the Quadra tried to power on but could not. A very faint burnt smell was not a good sign, either.

    My first thought was: The power supply has bitten the dust, but I had my reservations. True, long periods of inactivity aren’t good for vintage Macs (or any computer, for that matter), but the Quadra 950’s power supply is considered one of the most robust, and I found it unlikely that it would give up the ghost this way. It’s just a feeling, of course, but something that happened later in my investigation may corroborate my instincts.

    Cleaning out

    I disconnected everything and started the cleaning process. I wanted to be as thorough as I could, and that meant removing the drive shelf and the power supply, then removing the large fan mounted on the power supply, inspecting each part and cleaning it gently. Then I removed all the connected NuBus cards and dusted them one by one; then I dusted the motherboard.

    Power supply

    As you can see, the power supply occupies a large part of the Quadra 950’s interior. In that empty space above it there’s the drive shelf (which I had already removed when I took the photo).

    The amazing thing to note with regard to disassembling the Quadra 950 is how simple and straightforward it is. To remove the drive shelf I only had to remove two screws. To remove the power supply — just three screws. (Of course you also have to disconnect the various data cables and power cables).

    Quadra950 inside motherboard

    Here’s the Quadra without drive shelf, power supply, speaker bezel. I also removed one of the NuBus cards (the second from the top — I have four slots occupied of the five available) to be able to disconnect all data cables with greater ease.

    This photo was taken before I dusted everything. As you can see, the Quadra was already rather clean inside.

    The NuBus cards

    For documentation purposes, let’s have a quick look at the four NuBus cards installed.

    Asante Ethernet 2

    1. AsanteFAST 10/100 NuBus Ethernet card by Asanté (Manufacture date appears to be 1996)

    Paintboard TurboXL 1

    2. Paint Board Turbo XL video card by RasterOps (Manufacture date appears to be 1993)

    4 serial ports card

    3. This one was hard to identify. It basically adds 4 serial ports to the Mac. After some digging, it appears to be either a Lightning or a Hurdler serial NuBus board manufactured by Creative Solutions, Inc. (“CSI”, as you can see on that label on the chip next to the large Zilog chip) in 1994. Here’s the related page from the original website (now archived).

    Macintosh II PC Card

    4. This one, instead, was very easy to identify. It’s a Macintosh II PC Drive Card by Apple Computer (part No. 820-0213-A). You can find more photos of this card here. It’s a rather old card (1987) that lets you connect an Apple PC 5.25″ floppy drive. I don’t have such drive — this card was already in the Quadra when I acquired it in 2003.

    After the cleaning

    After dusting and cleaning everything, I reassembled the Quadra and tried booting it again. And again, the Quadra’s response was “KH-POP,” just like before. But this time, since the room was darker, I could notice a spark on one of the NuBus cards every time I heard the “KH-POP” sound. I am not an electrician, but I’d say that this behaviour suggests that the issue may be on the motherboard (or on something connected to it, such as RAM chips or one of the NuBus cards, etc.) and not in the power supply. It looks as if every time I try powering the Quadra on, something creates a short circuit, interrupting the process. Perhaps a piece of dirt or a ‘dust bunny’ has lodged somewhere and I didn’t catch it, or a RAM chip has failed. Searching on the Web, I found someone having a very similar issue with his Quadra 950, but in his case the short circuit was caused by a pin of the main processor chip that he bent when he reinserted it after cleaning the motherboard. I haven’t touched any chip, and every RAM and VRAM memory stick looks firmly in its place.

    I have already tried booting the Quadra after removing all the NuBus cards, but it went “KH-POP” again on me. Tomorrow I will try removing all RAM chips and even the PRAM battery, and see what happens.

    I’m quite fond of this Quadra 950. I’ve used it on a regular basis from 2003 to 2006, and occasionally up to 2011. It’s the fastest 68K Macintosh I own (it has a Motorola 68040 CPU at 33MHz, two 400MB hard drives, and it used to have 28MB of RAM, which I expanded to 40MB by adding the RAM sticks I salvaged from the Quadra 700 when it died in 2005) and acted as a server in my vintage Mac LocalTalk network. I don’t want to give up on it yet. I’ve described the issue the best I can, so if you have any insight or suggestion, please do chime in — I’m all ears.


    Quadra950 rear label


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