Posted: May 5, 2013 Filed under: Hardware, System | Tags: Troubleshooting
The least pleasant aspect of collecting a few vintage machines is their maintenance. One of the bits of advice I often give to new vintage Mac enthusiasts is Don’t leave these Macs unused for extended periods of time; try to use them as often as you can. Usually the part that suffers most in a vintage Mac left unused for a long time is the hard drive. Over the years I’ve witnessed my good share of Macs whose hard drives didn’t come out of the long sleep (I call this phenomenon Dead On Reboot). With vintage PowerBooks another source of problems after long periods of neglect is of course the battery — this is especially the case with the Macintosh Portable and the PowerBook 100.
Another rather common problem with vintage compact Macs (from the 128K to the Classic II) are their capacitors on the logic board. With time (and neglect) these components fail and leak on the logic board itself, causing a few issues. I tried to follow my own advice, but since I own a fair number of vintage Macs and there isn’t much space for them where I live, it’s hard to keep them all in their best shape, despite my very good intentions. Having only a small desk devoted to my vintage hardware, I’ve had to resort to some kind of rotation system where, say, I use my Macintosh SE for three weeks, then I put it away and replace it with the Macintosh Classic for another three weeks, then the Colour Classic, etc. As I said, despite my best efforts, two of the compact Macs in my little collection — first the SE/30, now the Macintosh Classic as well — have started presenting the telltale symptoms of capacitor trouble.
Earlier today, after booting my Macintosh Classic, I noticed something weird: the system clock wouldn’t advance. After a bit of Web research, I found this page, Macintosh Classic Logic Board Repair with a few decent images of where the failing capacitors are located. It also has a good summary of the revealing signs of a Mac whose capacitors are starting to fail:
The Mac Classic range of computers often show a variety of symptoms but which have a common cause of failure, for example:
- Low volume or no sound.
- Real time clock not advancing.
- Power up problems with checkers and stripes etc.
- No serial or LocalTalk functionality.
My Mac Classic suffers from the first two symptoms, while the SE/30 is curiously mute only on boot (and sometimes it presents a chequered/striped screen, but restarting the machine usually makes the problem go away, at least for now). In the next days I’ll open up my compact Macs and take a look at their logic boards. The most frustrating thing for me is my lack of skills (and tools) when it comes to soldering/desoldering components. I’ll do my best to clean the logic boards and to perform some damage control. If you find yourself in a similar situation, probably a good place to ask for help/advice are the 68k Macintosh Liberation Army forums. And if you have some logic board cleaning tips to share, you’re welcome to chime in by leaving a comment. Thanks.
Posted: April 22, 2013 Filed under: Hardware, Link, Newton | Tags: Interview
This morning I read on TUAW that “Mike Culbert, a longtime Apple hardware engineer, has passed away after battling cancer. […] His contributions include numerous patents for many iPhone and iPad innovations, we now take for granted. […] He was also a key player on the Newton development team.”
I want to pay my respects by unearthing a 1997 interview that originally appeared in Portable Design Magazine and was published at this link, which now appears to be dead. A few years ago I saved the article after it was briefly discussed on the NewtonTalk list.
Here’s the article, called PDAs: a study in contrasts.
From: Portable Design Magazine
Original link: http://pd.pennnet.com/Articles/Article_Display.cfm?Section=Archives&Subsection=Display&ARTICLE_ID=52439
PDAs: a study in contrasts
Portable Design interviews David Austin, director of engineering, Mike Culbert, systems architect, and Don Porter, mechanical engineer, at the Newton Systems Group (Cupertino, Calif.).
Alex Mendelsohn, Editor-in-Chief
* * *
PD: How did the MessagePad 2000 rise from the ashes of the original Newton?
Culbert: The idea was to design a PDA for the mobile business professional. The 2000 wasn’t envisioned to compete with an organizer, but rather to replace some of the common functions people do with a laptop – and do a better job at it. We looked at the forerunner Newton 110/121/ 130 Series and learned from its mistakes, taking a rototiller to the hardware and software and re-implementing the pieces which weren’t well done the first time around.
PD: How did you come to use the Cirrus Logic (Fremont, Calif.) Voyager chipset instead of the custom silicon used in the original Newton?
Culbert: We wanted a new chipset to expand the level of integration and eliminate jelly-bean parts.
PD: Did it let you make the unit physically smaller?
Culbert: No. But we knew users complained about the lack of PCMCIA slots on the original Newton. Without two slots, they couldn’t use storage and communications PC Cards at the same time.
We were already heading for a larger form factor to accommodate an additional slot. Our concern was how to reduce cost and power while boosting performance. Cirrus was looking for a partner to help it get into the PDA market. Since we needed a chipset, we decided to offer our PDA experience to Cirrus.
PD: Did Cirrus know you were going to use the Digital Semiconductor (Austin, Texas) StrongARM SA-110 processor?
Culbert: None of us knew we were going to use it when we started out. It didn’t exist. We were instrumental in its creation. We had this great architecture from Advanced RISC Machines (ARM – Los Gatos, Calif.), which was suited for Digital’s low-power process. Digital agreed, and we went from there.
That was totally independent of the Voyager chipset. The MessagePad 2000 design was already under way using an ARM710 microprocessor. However, once we had StrongARM silicon in hand, it became clear it was a viable alternative.
Very late in the StrongARM development game we did find a serious bug in the chip’s memory-management unit when handling permission violations. It took us and Digital’s engineers about a week to nail it down. What was astounding was that Digital delivered new silicon in less than four weeks.
PD: You were developing two microprocessor architectures for one end product?
Culbert: Yes, and it was difficult. We had to manage two logic designs in parallel to keep the MessagePad on schedule and to bring the StrongArm into the design without adding risk. At the engineering validation phase, one logic board ran a 25-MHz ARM710 and the other a 162-MHz StrongArm.
PD: That must’ve really complicated software development.
Culbert: It sure did. We had to support concurrent development and ended up building a lot of prototypes. It was an administrative headache to keep these platforms running in parallel and to make sure people had all their development needs met. But, our strategy was to stay on our time-to-market schedule and retain the opportunity to move to what we felt was the appropriate processor. If we couldn’t make it work with the StrongARM, we wouldn’t lose delivering the MessagePad on schedule. But, things did work. The Newton v2.1 operating-system software ran well.
PD: Were there technical aspirins to lessen the headaches?
Culbert: Sure. We were very careful to make all the code dynamic. For the most part, the software engineers on the team didn’t have to know what processor they were writing code for. Low-level software was implemented so that either one of the existing prototypes would function with it.
PD: Did you build in any special hooks to do that?
Culbert: Yes. We made sure the StrongARM and the Voyager included hardwired software-readable version registers. These were incremented on each version of the silicon to dynamically track low-level bug fixes and work-arounds.
For complex bugs it’s handy to observe what’s happening with a logic analyzer. We have a Hewlett-Packard (Loveland, Colo.) Model 16500B for state and timing analysis, but almost never use it during hardware development. I wrote an ARM disassembler for the H-P so we could look at traces of assembly code as it’s fetched. But I often felt that if I couldn’t debug my hardware with my trusty four-channel digital storage ’scope, it couldn’t be debugged!
We also used Geoport – an Apple protocol – for our internal debugging environment. It’s a high-speed protocol that uses SDLC framing at the low level but with a synchronous serial clock. It uses what would normally be hardware handshaking pins for the clock. Geoport let us use production-level system hardware and debug our ROM code using a Mac-hosted debugger.
PD: How did you hammer out the Voyager chipset specs?
Culbert: We spent about a year working with Cirrus on that. We created a common document and Cirrus implemented its chipset to that spec.
PD: Does the Voyager CL-PS7010 standard-cell ASIC handle SDLC and Geoport?
Culbert: Yes. It’s all in hardware.
PD: Why didn’t you use off-the-shelf SDLC/HDLC chips such as the industry-standard Zilog Z8530 serial communications controller?
Culbert: We used the 8530 SCC in the original Newton. But our goal now was to integrate as much as possible – for cost reasons. The chip we now have is bigger than we’d hoped for, but it offers significant cost savings over our previous architecture using separate ICs.
PD: Is Cirrus offering these chips to the merchant market?
Culbert: No. The Voyager is available only to Newton licensees.
PD: Does it make the MessagePad 2000 unique?
Austin: It gives us a high degree of differentiation by providing a lot of capability in a small space and with low power.
Culbert: The CL-PS7010 also has a proprietary low-pin-count bus and protocol that talks to the companion CL-PS7030 PCMCIA controller. We wanted to give users the ability to hot-insert and hot-remove PC Cards while the MessagPad 2000 was running. To do this we needed a completely isolated bus, so we came up with this scheme. Thanks to the cascadable CL-PS7030, the product can have as many as four Type II PCMCIA slots using one device per slot, all talking with a multiplexed frame format to the main controller. The bus offers voltage and signal isolation from the main system.
The unit’s DRAM and flash is the main system memory. It’s placed on the protected (memory) side of the bus, not on the PCMCIA side. Flash is where we store user information that’s not dependent on the unit’s batteries. We laid out the logic circuit board to use as little as 1 Mbyte of DRAM and 2 Mbytes of flash. Should there be customer demand, we may go to other configurations. We’re shipping 4 Mbytes of flash.
PD: How do you manage the flash array?
Culbert: There’s a flash file system, but not a Microsoft-type FFS. We use a transaction-based object database. It’s very effective for random access to large amounts of data.
Austin: If you put in a flash data card, you want the device to locate that as well as what’s stored in internal flash. The system automatically takes care of things stored in multiple areas – it provides a unified view. The transaction-based object store prevents data loss due to things such as a crash. Housekeeping is handled by the system controller.
PD: How did you engineer the analog interface to the unit’s loudspeaker, microphone, and touchpad?
Culbert: We spent months working with Cirrus-subsidiary Crystal Semiconductor (Austin, Texas) on the analog CL-PS7020 chip. We took a large discrete implementation and reduced board area, cost, and power by integrating it. Crystal brings a lot of patents in the area of sigma-delta modulation to the party. The ’7020 uses a linear single-bit A/D converter that operates in bit-serial fashion.
One of the problems inherent with sigma-delta is its slowness. It’s excellent for audio, but not very good for digitizing tablet signals where there’s electrical noise in the background and you want to detect and remove that noise from your measurement. Cirrus ended up filing four patents on the technique used in the ’7020. We got an A/D that’s speed-comparable to a successive approximation converter using a sample-and-hold, but on a very small piece of silicon – and with no external hold capacitor. It has a 19 micros sampling time.
PD: The unit has a unique subminiature connector. What is it and what does it do?
Culbert: It’s called the Newton interconnect. Originally we tried to fit an 8-pin DIN in there, but weren’t happy with the impact it had on our low-profile enclosure. Don Porter, our mechanical engineer, chose a 16-pin JAE Electronics (Irvine, Calif.) connector that was more suitable.
We added enough pins to it so a user would be able to use a communications device and a keyboard simultaneously, as well as providing charging power-in and peripheral power-out. That way, customers vertically integrating the unit could add meaningful backpack electronics. We ended up with 26 pins. JAE customized it for us.
PD: Did you work similarly with other suppliers for customized parts?
Culbert: We worked closely with Maxim Integrated Products (Sunnyvale, Calif.) to enhance its standard products. The Maxim variable-frequency and pulse-width switcher offers efficiency as high as 98%. It helps let the MessagePad work for up to six weeks from four AA cells.
PD: I can audibly hear the electroluminescent backlight switcher oscillating. Isn’t that irritating to users?
Porter: It’s one of our petty annoyances, too. It runs at a fairly low frequency between about 300 Hz and 1 kHz, and any mechanical resonance amplifies that noise. We tried freeing the toroids from the glue that holds them down, but we didn’t have enough room in the enclosure to make them float. We’ve had no customer complaints about the noise, but we’re working to solve it. At least it’s quieter than a hard disk.
PD: What makes the user interface unique?
Austin: You can rotate the screen for vertical or horizontal views. Horizontal’s good for a Web page, but vertical’s better for filling out a form. Software takes care of that. The software also gives two horizontal and two vertical presentations. That was done so extended PC Cards that might have antennas or dongles hanging out of them wouldn’t get in the way of the screen.
Porter: We also put key controls to the left and right so the MessagePad accommodates left- or right-handed users. We took the button bar that was silk-screened on the original Newton and put it in software. Users can now change what they want on it. That’s also good for licensees that want a customized user interface for vertical applications.
We also designed-in a full-size pen. Most PDAs have very thin styli or telescoping pens – people tend to play with them. We wanted a full-size stylus, but we had to fight for space for it.
We also put a real loudspeaker in, not a piezo speaker. A lot of work went into the 16-bit audio subsystem behind it. It actually runs GSM cellphone compression routines. Several compression engines permit high-quality voice at a low bit rate. That’s handled in realtime using only about 2% of the StrongARM’s processing resources.
Culbert: A big challenge was electrostatic discharge. The mixed-voltage design, where the lowest voltage is 1.6 V, didn’t leave much margin for ESD. So we routed a lot of external signals – including Reset – into general-purpose inputs on the controller to de-bounce them. We actually look for ESD events in software.
We also had to carefully control ground loops from ever seeing the ESD energy. A lot of PC Cards violate the PCMCIA’s specs. Card makers connect the metal structure of a card’s case to ground pins on the connector. That gives a chassis-to-digital-ground short with virtually zero impedance. As you can imagine, in this system, where the end of the card is exposed to the user, that presented a hazard.
We put a copper-foil shield on the PCMCIA slots under the connectors to provide a plane to absorb the energy coming in on a PC Card. We wanted to get the energy off the card before it got to the connector. We went through several iterations of the logic board design as well as the copper foil.
Inside the MessagePad 2000
The MessagePad 2000 uses a 162-MHz StrongARM SA-110 microprocessor coupled with a Cirrus Logic Voyager chipset. The SA-110 dissipates less than 500 mW, delivering 925 Mips/W. DRAM, used for temporary storage during program and system code execution, also provides the heap for a NewtonScript interpreted environment and a C heap, as well as stack and temporary buffer space for serial communications.
The CL-PS7010 packs systems-level glue functions, memory and single-/dual-scan LCD controllers, and serial ports for async and SDLC AppleTalk communications. It can support an external synchronous clock to run Geoport. The CS8130 is an IR transceiver. The CL-PS7020 provides a pen digitizer and touchpad interface, a battery and temperature monitor, audio record and playback, and a clock generator. The CL-PS7030 meets PCMCIA 2.01 specs, supporting hot insertion of 3.3-V and 5-V PC Cards. A 480 x 320-pixel indium-tin-oxide-coated glass touchscreen is used. The LTC1323 is a Linear Technology (Milpitas, Calif.) single-voltage RS-422 line driver.
Although the MessagePad was designed for 100% coverage boundary scan testing, 150 test points were requested by manufacturing. These were added late in the design cycle by carefully going around the Newton’s circuit board – by hand – turning vias into test points.
[Fig. 1] The interior of the Newton MessagePad 2000 reveals conductive-coated EMI/RFI shielding on the unit’s plastic case, relatively uncrowded circuit boards, dual PC Card controller ICs, and a mezzanine board for flash memory.
[Fig. 2] Apple’s Newton Systems Group engineering director David Austin (left), confers with systems architect Mike Culbert (standing, rear), hardware designer David Drummond (seated), and engineering manager David Turnbull.
Portable Design – July, 1997
Posted: March 18, 2013 Filed under: Software, System, Welcome to Macintosh | Tags: UI
A few days back, I read with interest an article by Stephen Hackett called The Brushed Metal Diaries: An Introduction, a Trojan Horse and a History of Abuse. While many people believe that brushed metal appeared in the Macintosh’s interface with Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, Hackett tracks its arrival back to 1999 and QuickTime 4.0:
1999 was a very interesting time to be an Apple fan. The Five Flavors were the machines of choice for many, and the Newton had been dead for little over a year. Mac OS 8.6 has just shipped, with OS 9 still several months away.
In these days, Apple released Brushed Metal in to the world. While eventually the UI would take over just about everything, its beginnings were quite humble: QuickTime 4.0.
It’s true, brushed metal started to replace the ‘platinum theme’ as the chrome of an application with QuickTime 4.0, but that got the long-time Mac user in me thinking. Somehow I wasn’t completely sure that was the first time I had seen brushed metal elements in a Mac application. As you can easily see by the awfully slow pace at which I’m keeping this site updated, lately I haven’t had much time to spend with my vintage Macs. Yesterday I finally found a moment to investigate a hunch I had, and I was right: brushed metal appeared in a Mac application as early as System 7.5.x (1994-1996), in Apple CD Audio Player’s UI:
This image in particular is taken from this page at guidebookgallery.org and it shows the Apple CD Audio Player application as it appears under System 7.5.3. (I verified by booting my Quadra 950 running that same System version, but this was an easier way to obtain a very similar screenshot). As you can see, the application UI emulates the interface of a CD player, and while the ‘Normal’, ‘Shuffle’, ‘Prog’ and ‘→’ buttons are simply faux-metal, the group of buttons on the right (Stop, Play, Eject, and so on) all present a more brushed-metal look. Apple CD Audio Player was also probably the first Mac system application to support customised skins.
Posted: January 21, 2013 Filed under: Freeform, Hardware, Software, System | Tags: Setup
(Note: I published this impromptu piece last week on my main website, but I think it’s worth republishing here due to the nature of its content, and also for the benefit of those who only follow this blog.)
Right now I’m writing this in TextWrangler 2.1.3. When the post is finished, I’ll copy & paste it in WordPress’ Web interface and publish it here.
I’m writing this on a clamshell blueberry iBook G3/300. It has both Mac OS 9.2.2 and Mac OS X 10.3.9 installed on it. It has 288 MB RAM. It has what now can be considered a tiny hard drive: 3 GB. Of those 3 GB, the OS X partition only has 803.4 MB of free disk space. But everything works fine. The screen is bright: brighter than, say, my other clamshell iBook G3/466 SE, which is a newer model.
Across the table there is a PowerBook G4 12” burning a CD-RW of stuff to archive (mostly documentation and manuals in PDF format), and a PowerBook 5300ce performing a backup on a few ZIP disks.
I’m writing this with three other apps opened: Preview, NetNewsWire 2.1.5 (which is very snappy and configured with some essential feeds I want to be able to read even from this machine), and Opera 10.10, which is the last version of this fine browser that is compatible with Mac OS X 10.3.9. It has six tabs open at the moment, two of which let me keep an eye on Twitter and App.net.
I’m writing from this old iBook because 20 minutes ago I decided to boot it with the intention of downgrading it to just a Mac OS 9 machine. Once this Mac had a very long-lasting battery (more than 5 hours) and an AirPort card. But I neglected it for a long time with the battery drained, and last time I tried reviving it was all in vain. The AirPort card was removed and given to a Titanium PowerBook G4, which needed it more than this iBook.
I’m writing this while connected to the Internet via Ethernet cable. It feels quaint, but I still smiled at how quickly the iBook connected to the Internet just four seconds after plugging in the cable.
I’m writing this while the battery — oh so magically, oh so surprisingly — is recharging after refusing to do so for so long. It’s at 11% now, and in 3 hours and 35 minutes the battery indicator says it will be fully charged.
As I’m writing this, I feel my writing flowing out rather effortlessly: is this vintage, minimalistic setup? Perhaps it is. Perhaps it’s just how I roll, no matter where I am, or which device I’m writing on. But now I’m having second thoughts and maybe I won’t wipe Mac OS X. Maybe with a full battery, I’ll still find some use for this iBook. Its design may look dated, but boy is it comfortable to write on. My wrists just rest in the right position. My fingers reach every corner of the keyboard without effort. I even like the feel of this keyboard more than when I type on my MacBook Pro’s keyboard.
When you browse the Web, you realise how cramped and slightly impractical a screen resolution of 800×600 is today. But in some sites it somehow helps you focus more on the articles, while ads, banners and other visual interferences remain hidden outside the browser window’s width and height. There’s more scrolling, there’s just a bit more effort, but it’s not as annoying as you’d expect. Not for me, at least.
I’m writing this and I’m thinking about all the obsession about workflows and frictionless setups and I’m thinking “Screw it, sometimes the best workflow is what you have with you” or something like that. Maybe a bit of friction is necessary to make you go just a wee bit slower, enough to make you think about what you’re doing and not simply do stuff in auto-pilot.
I’m writing this and I’m thinking about all the obsession about when to write, and how often, and that inspiration is a myth, and that you just have to sit and write everyday, and so on. I still think that inspiration is what makes you write a bit more meaningfully. But everything works. Why does a method have to be better than another? Perhaps something starts in the most unassuming, trivial circumstances, and ends up being more meaningful than something else you’ve been mulling over for days, while consuming dozens of cups of coffee.
I’m writing this on this iBook because I love vintage technology and thankfully when it comes to working with text, I’m lucky enough to be able to use any of my Macs or devices, no matter how old, in a productive way. And that feels good.
Posted: December 28, 2012 Filed under: Link, Preferences, Welcome to Macintosh | Tags: Tips, Troubleshooting
I was looking for some SCSI-related information for an article I’m working on, and I stumbled upon a lovely website dedicated to the classic Mac OS: The Essential Mac. It’s like entering a time machine and being brought back to 1997, but definitely in a very good way. (Edited to add: The Essential Mac is actually a website that has been around since 1997, in case you’re wondering.)
I rarely feature other vintage Mac websites — my endorsement is usually made explicit by adding them to my blogroll on the sidebar, but The Essential Mac is worth a mention because it’s very well made. It covers a variety of topic in detail, it is organised like a beginner’s guide to the Mac (the pre-OS X Mac, of course), but most of all, it’s really well written. The writing style reminds me of those excellent printed manuals of the 1980s and 1990s: informative, concise, and a pleasure to read. Take a look at SCSI Voodoo, the section about the SCSI interface, to have an idea.
If you’re a Mac user who has no experience of what it was before Mac OS X, and who has just started exploring the world of vintage Macs maybe after scoring an old PowerBook for a few dollars, you’ll definitely want to check this site. And even if you’re an experienced or long-time Mac user, you’ll want to add The Essential Mac to your bookmarks to have a quick, useful classic Mac OS reference when you need one.
Posted: November 9, 2012 Filed under: Peripherals, Welcome to Macintosh | Tags: Media, Printing
While I was looking for more vintage Italian Apple brochures and leaflets, I also found some printed material from other manufacturers — mostly leaflets, small booklets and mini-magazines printed exclusively for the tech trade fairs I used to attend. While most of such non-Apple material isn’t very striking, imaginative or otherwise memorable, I stumbled upon a few little gems lovers of vintage technology will surely appreciate…
The 10 Best Things about QuarkXPress 4.0 (Front) — A cardboard leaflet from 1997. Apologies for the evident crease across the middle: since the leaflet isn’t standard A4 format, I foolishly folded it when I stored it 15 years ago.
The 10 Best Things about QuarkXPress 4.0 (Back)
Iomega Zip 100 Drive (Front) — A leaflet from circa 1996.
Iomega Zip 100 Drive (Back)
Iomega 2 GB Jaz Drive — A leaflet from 1998.
Two last-minute Apple-related bonuses:
A generic Macintosh Italian ad. Judging by the type of PowerBook the guy is holding (a 190 or 5300), I’d say this ad is from 1995-1996. I didn’t remember having this among my stuff and I certainly don’t remember seeing it around much at the time. Translation: “Take it to the max. Get Macintosh. TODAY.”
Front cover of the 1996 Italian brochure “Masters of Media”. Quoting from this press release, Masters of Media was an initiative introduced at Seybold San Francisco 1995:
Perhaps the most important single place to visit at the show will be Apple’s Masters of Media Showcase, reportedly produced at a cost of more than $1 million and featuring several Seybold Hot Picks within its walls. It will include multiple vendors with real-world workflows (print, CD-ROM and the World Wide Web). Visitors will participate in authoring, editing and distributing content across all media. The theme will be integrated marketing based on a 1984 Macintosh commercial, including the making of a video, a magazine insert, a merchandising catalog, an in-store CD-ROM kiosk, customized direct mail, a newspaper, point-of-purchase displays and Web sites.
It has three primary components: Digital Brand Building; Cross-Media Authoring and Network Color, which will rely on ColorSync 2.0 as the universal translator so that color can be consistent across a desktop network.
Among the Hot Picks appearing in this Showcase but described below are the Canon ColorGear color-management system, the Agfa Chromapress digital press and the Indigo E-Print 1000 digital press.
Like many Apple printed advertisements, the tag line started on one page and ended on the next. Here the translated message is “Should we communicate more…” and turning the page you can read “…or better?” in big black letters set in Apple Garamond in the middle of a blank space.
And that’s all — for now at least. As I revisit my archives, I may find some other materials of this kind. If I find anything worth sharing, I’ll definitely scan it and publish it here.