Added to the collection: quite the vintage package

My recent post A few About boxes from vintage Mac applications received a lot of attention, mainly because it was first linked by John Gruber at Daring Fireball, and was then mentioned by The Loop and by The Unofficial Apple Weblog among others.

It was completely unexpected, and amazing. The feedback I received — both in the form of public comments, mentions on Twitter, and especially private emails — made me giddy, and I wanted to thank every person who wrote me (I’m still answering emails after more than two weeks from the blog post).

Another unexpected by equally thrilling side-effect of this brief moment of Internet fame was that a few people, out of the blue, got in touch to donate a few things they saw I was looking for in my vintage wishlist. One particularly generous donor and splendid fellow has been Richard, who sent me a Christmas-worthy package, which arrived this morning. So, for the mere cost of shipping, this is what I’m going to add to my collection — which in my case means, here’s what I’ll be putting to good use as soon as possible:

PowerBook Duo 280c and DuoDock II

PowerBook Duo 280c, DuoDock II, plus a spare battery for the Duo.

As with the rest of the contents of the package, I was blown away by the excellent condition of these items. And most of all I am happy to already have a replacement for my poor Duo 280c which quietly broke down just less than two months ago. And it’s a better replacement, too. It has 40 MB of RAM and a 1 GB hard drive (my old Duo had 24 MB of RAM and a 320 MB hard drive). Unfortunately, the DuoDock II’s power supply doesn’t work, but a replacement may come sooner than later. I also found a spare battery, but it appears it doesn’t hold a charge. Instead the one in the picture, that came inside the Duo, appears to be working. I may have to reset the PowerBook’s power manager, though, because — just like my old Duo started doing at some point — the Mac boots up and works correctly on the AC adapter and with the battery removed, but as soon as I insert the battery, it abruptly shuts down.

 
Iomega SCSI ZIP 100 drive

Iomega ZIP 100 drive (SCSI version).

Again, I was amazed at finding everything in like-new condition. I love vintage packaging as much as the products, so it’s great to have everything in its original box. The SCSI cable included is also great to have, as I have more vintage Macs and peripherals than working SCSI cables. That floppy you see above the drive is to install the Iomega drivers on Windows/DOS machines. It’s still sealed, of course. I tested the drive by connecting it to my Colour Classic. At first the drive was only detected by SCSI Probe, but I couldn’t mount any disk without the Iomega Driver extension. I connected my PowerBook 1400 and copied the one I loaded there, but it was too new for the Colour Classic (version 6.x). Luckily there was also an older Iomega Driver 4.2 extension, and that was the right one. After a restart, disks were recognised, mounted, formatted without issues. I also noticed how quiet the SCSI ZIP drive is compared to my (more recent) USB unit.

And speaking of disks…

 
Lots of disks

ZIP 100 disks, three SCSI terminators, an Ethernet card (Apple branded), Apple rainbow stickers, two 88 MB SyQuest cartridges and a 230 MB 3.5″ magneto-optical disk.

Yes, those are thirty-three ZIP 100 disks. I guess that, together with the dozen or so I already have, I won’t be needing more ZIP disks anytime soon! That’s about 3 GB of storage space, and I can practically back up the contents of all the working vintage Macs I have. I also love those Iomega 6-disk holders — very practical and stackable.

I still have to check, but I hope I’ll be able to install that Ethernet card on the second motherboard (from an LC580) I use when I need to speed up things with the Colour Classic. Tomorrow I’ll also check those two nice 88 MB SyQuest cartridges.

 
Logitech ScanMan Model32
Logitech ScanMan hand-held grayscale scanner Model 32 for Mac.

This has been another great surprise. I remember wanting this manual scanner so bad back in the day, but could not afford it. Now, I know that scanner technology has rendered this product obsolete, but it may be a nice solution to quickly scan a few documents while I have my Macintosh SE or SE/30 set up. When I opened the box, I was surprised by that unit looking like an external floppy drive, and I thought that Richard had actually put one in the box, taking advantage of the perfect size of the cut-out. It turns out that it’s the necessary interface for the scanner, i.e. you connect the beige box to the Mac, and the hand-held scanner to the box. Also worth noting, that Mathematica demo floppy!

Like with the ZIP 100 drive, I love to own the original packaging of the Logitech ScanMan. So I took another photo of the back of the box, which I think it’s worth sharing:

ScanMan box

 

I can’t thank Richard enough for his kindness and generosity — a true gentleman. I shall put all these items to good use and take care of them in the best possible way: it’s the right thing to do to honour donations such as this.


Not that everything was great with Palm devices, either

Netwon and WorkPad

Commenting on the final part of this article by Landon Dyer, where Dyer talks about the reasons the Newton failed compared to the Palm Pilot, Thomas Brand writes:

One of the miracles of the Palm Pilot was the reliability and ease of use of the out-of-box HotSync. The Newton came with a lot of features advertised on its box, faxing, beaming, emailing, and placing phone calls, but often those tasks were obstructed by the purchase of additional hardware and the required complication of the day.

I won’t discuss the reasons Dyer enumerates; he was a Newton developer, so his insights have certainly more value than mine. I’m just a Newton enthusiast who discovered the Newton ‘posthumously’ in 2001 and I’m still using it daily. I’m not finding particularly difficult doing stuff with my MessagePad 2100, my Original MessagePad and my eMate 300, but that’s probably because I’m using a few tools developed after the Newton was discontinued.

What I wanted to say is that — from the admittedly limited experience I’ve had with a Palm Pilot device of the same vintage — I just don’t understand how Palm users back then could put up with one drawback that strikes me (Newton user) as huge: non-persistent memory.

A few years ago I was kindly donated an IBM WorkPad 30X (which is a rebadged Palm IIIx). As you can see above and in this Flickr album I created back then, its size compared to a Newton MessagePad 2000 makes it a clear winner in portability. When I received this gift, being unfamiliar with Palm PDAs, I did some research and started looking for apps and software to make the most of the little guy. Along with the WorkPad I was also given a cradle to connect/sync with a Windows PC, so I installed HotSync and the Palm Desktop software on an old Toshiba Satellite I use when I need to connect legacy devices. I put some fresh AAA batteries in the WorkPad and started fiddling around with it for a while. I admit I liked (and still like) the WorkPad’s form factor and its well-balanced stylus.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been a regular Newton user since 2001 and I’m accustomed to how the Newton handles handwriting recognition, but learning Palm’s Graffiti system was hard. It felt awfully slow and frustrating while writing, and I never got better or faster at it. A few weeks without using the WorkPad were enough to have to re-learn Graffiti, or at least to re-acquire the speed I had gained before with some training.

But imagine my surprise when one afternoon, while I was out, the batteries in the WorkPad died, and after purchasing new ones on the fly, I found out that all the new applications I had installed and all the notes I had entered were gone. I naïvely thought that the WorkPad would behave like my Newtons and store such information safely in the event of battery failure. Now, not all was lost. I soon discovered that it was enough to connect the WorkPad to the computer and launch a HotSync session. The software correctly restored everything as it was — at the time of the last sync, of course. So not exactly everything.

This however means that if you brought the WorkPad / Palm IIIx with you on a trip (or other Palm devices characterised by the same non-persistent memory feature), you should either make sure you put powerful, long-lasting batteries in it, or bring the computer along to constantly keep things in sync. This strikes me as a bit impractical, and when that first incident happened, I was surprised at how the WorkPad and similar Palm devices were/are so dependent on a frequent, constant connection with the computer. Thankfully the Palm Desktop software is indeed very good and reliable (even the Windows version I’m using). Newtons may have less efficient sync procedures, or it may be more cumbersome to extract information from a Newton device, but I find Newtons to be more reliable and more self-sufficient PDAs. I can see the appeal a smaller, cheaper device may have had back then, but — though I’m certainly biased here — I’m not sure I understand how Palm users put up with devices so prone to potential data loss (unless duly babysat), and so dependent on syncing software and a computer. I guess Palm had a different approach to what ‘personal digital assistant’ meant, and its devices were to be considered just handy portable instruments to store information in a more transient way. Newtons have always felt more like ‘portable computers’ to me.


A few About boxes from vintage Mac applications

(Updated January 18 and January 20 with more About boxes)
 

These past three weeks or so, as you know, I’ve been doing a thorough check-up of my vintage Macs. Now that my Macintosh SE/30 has a working hard drive, I wanted to search my archives for some useful applications and utilities to put on it. My usual approach for my vintage Macs is to equip them with a base set of application software like this:

  • At least a word processor (either WriteNow or Word 5.1, mostly depending on the Mac’s age) and a text editor, such as BBEdit.
  • At least one application to do some image editing. Usually it’s an old version of Graphic Converter.
  • Often I install some old version of ClarisWorks and HyperCard, mostly because I still need to access old projects and stacks.
  • Diagnostic utilities: Norton Utilities, TechTool Pro.
  • Disk utilities such as FWB Hard Disk Toolkit.
  • ResEdit. Always useful.
  • The StuffIt suite of products, to handle compressed archives.
  • SCSI Probe, which is a great, lightweight control panel capable of scanning/resetting the SCSI chain and mount SCSI peripherals that don’t mount on the Desktop automatically for some reason.
  • Some vintage games, why not.

So the other day I was going through some old CD-ROMs and backups, and found an unmarked CD-ROM I had absolutely no idea as to its contents. Even after inserting it in the PowerBook 1400’s optical drive, and double-clicking on its icon, what was displayed was completely unassuming: a .sit archive called Mac OS 7.5.3 and a disk image simply called disk1.dsk. At first I dismissed this and just thought it was a backup of the installation disk(s) for System 7.5.3. When I finally mounted that disk image with DiskCopy, though, I found a little gold mine of vintage applications and games.

I started going through them one by one (the applications, at least; the games are more than 200!), and invoking their About boxes to find out exactly which version they were. I found some very old versions of popular applications and — equally interesting — there were also not-so-old versions of popular applications but in French and even German. I thought this exploration was worth capturing, so I took a few screenshots. Here’s a selection of the most interesting findings. Enjoy.

Aldus Pagemaker 2
Aldus PageMaker, version 2.0a
 

Adobe Illustrator 1
Adobe Illustrator 1.1 — The application only weighed 240KB.
 

Adobe Photoshop 1
Adobe Photoshop 1.0.7 — This screenshot was taken on my PowerBook 1400 running Mac OS 8.1, as you can see by the Platinum theme of the buttons. Just to give you an idea, on the Mac SE/30 this About box takes up almost the entire screen.
 

Claris Organizer 1F
Claris Organizer 1.0 in French.
 

Claris Draw 1F
ClarisDraw 1.0Fv1. The ‘F’ stands for ‘French’ of course.
 

ClarisWorks 10Fv3
ClarisWorks 1.0Fv3. Again, this is the French version.
 

ClarisWorks 3D
ClarisWorks 3.0Dv1. Here the ‘D’ stands for ‘Deutsch': this is the German version of ClarisWorks 3.0.
 

Claris HyperCard Player 2
Claris HyperCard Player version 2.1 — Not really a rare version, but I love the clipart!
 

Image Studio 06
Image Studio, distributed by Letraset, version 0.6! — When I launched this software on my PowerBook 1400, it warned me that it only supports 256 levels of grey.
 

Claris MacDraw Pro 1F
Claris MacDraw Pro 1.0Fv1. Again, in French.
 

MS Basic 200
Microsoft Basic, version 2.00. This one is pretty old.
 

Norton Utils 2F
This is a screenshot of version 2.0 of “Les Norton Utilities pour le Macintosh.”
 

Ragtime 32F
RagTime 3.2, French version.
 

Resedit 08
This is probably the most amazing find: a pre-release version 0.8 of the popular ResEdit utility.
 

Superpaint 20aF
SuperPaint 2.0a – French version. — The text in the black box animates and starts showing authors and credits.
 

WordPerfect Works 1
WordPerfect Works 1.2 — This is a software suite not unlike the more popular ClarisWorks. Though I own old copies of WordPerfect the word processor, I admit I didn’t remember there had also been an entire software suite.
 

WordPerfect Works BN
WordPerfect Works apparently has two About boxes. This one shows up after dismissing the previous one.
 

WriteNow 3F
WriteNow 3.0 in French.
 

MacDraw 17
MacDraw 1.7
 

PowerPoint 1
PowerPoint 1.0! — Originally it was called ‘Presenter’, then the name was changed to PowerPoint, and in 1987 Forethought was bought by Microsoft for several million dollars.
 

Excel 22aF
And this is Microsoft Excel 2.2a — in French.
 

StuffIt 1
StuffIt 1.0. If you’re a long-time Mac user, you surely have StuffIt Deluxe (or maybe just the Expander) on your Macs.
 

Think C 5
Think C version 5.00

 

I’m still digging through the archives, so perhaps there will be a follow-up to this post. Stay tuned.


Update: more About boxes

I’ve managed to unearth some other interesting vintage Mac applications and their About boxes. Some of them were extracted from the application resources thanks to ResEdit, since I wasn’t able to open them either on the PowerBook 1400 or the PowerBook 5300 — they threw various errors and/or forced me to restart the Mac.

Anyway, here we go with a second batch of About boxes!

Future Basic
FutureBasic 1.01
 

MacProject II
Claris MacProject II, version 2.1Fv2 (French)
 

MacPascal 73
MacPascal 7.300 — Note the date: one day before the official introduction of the Macintosh.
 

Eudora Light 3F
Eudora Light, version 3.11 in French
 

Photoshop (opt)
This is what you get when you invoke the About box in Photoshop 1.0 while holding the Option key.
 

MS Word 301F
Microsoft Word 3.01e (French version)
 

MS Word 301F2
Microsoft Word 3.01e (French version): this dialog box shows up when you first launch Word.
 

Wintype 17F
Wintype 1.7 (French) — I don’t know much about the history of this software. It’s an application for learning to type.
 

Ragtime32 opt
RagTime 3.2 (French version) — This is what you get when you invoke the About box while holding the Option key: the developers’ signatures.
 

Resedit08 2
This is another About box in ResEdit 0.8.
 

Macintosh Basics 503
Macintosh Basics, version 5.0.3. Not an About box, strictly speaking, but I thought it was cool to add this to the mix.
 

Eudora 131
Eudora 1.3.1, “Bringing the P.O. to where you live.”
 

MacDraw 094
MacDraw 0.9.4
 

MacPaint 1
MacPaint 1.0
 

Superpaint 1
SuperPaint 1.0
 

Snapz 1
Ambrosia Software’s Snapz 1.0.0, just one of the many fine Mac applications they’ve created over the years.
 

MacWWW 103
Samba, a.k.a. MacWWW, version 1.0.3
 

Printshop 13
The Print Shop 1.3 — When you invoke the About box, the icon on the top left keeps animating.
 

Zterm 101
ZTerm 1.0.1
 

ClarisCad 20IT
Claris CAD 2.0 (Italian version)
 

Impressit 112
ImpressIt 1.1.2
 

Jag1
JAG 1.0 — Jaggies are gone!
 

Lotus123 1IT
Lotus 1-2-3 for the Macintosh, version 1.00 (Italian)
 

MS Works 2
Microsoft Works 2.0
 

Omnipage 21
Caere OmniPage 2.1
 

Letrastudio 20
LetraStudio 2.0
 

Premiere 1
Adobe Premiere 1.0 — Look who wrote it…
 

Streamline 2
Adobe Streamline 2.0
 

Dimensions 1
Dimensions 1bw
Adobe Dimensions 1.0, in colour and black & white.
 

Dimensions presenter 009
Dimensions Presenter, version 0.09a.
 

More 31
More 3.1 — This is for Dave Winer… I found it, Dave!
 

Fontmonger 105
FontMonger 1.0.5
 

Fontographer 35
Fontographer 3.5
 

Satellite3d 153
Satellite 3D, version 1.5.3.
 

Soundedit 205 1
 
Soundedit 205 2
SoundEdit 2.0.5. — The About box for SoundEdit is a really nice animation. It starts with a random colour pattern, simulating a crash, then the first picture above appears, making you think that the application crashed the system. But then, the bomb turns red and explodes, revealing the full About box in the picture below. I grabbed a screen recording (sorry for the quality).
 

Soundeditpro 1
And here’s SoundEdit Pro 1.0.
 

Typestyler
TypeStyler 2.0.1 — I used to have a lot of fun with this application. Now it’s at version 11.3.5!
 

Softpcwin 30 1
SoftPC with Windows 3.0 — This is the first Windows emulator I encountered back then.
 

Softpcwin 30 2
…And here’s a screenshot of Windows 3.1 emulated inside SoftPC.
 

Diamond 46
Diamond 4.6, a rather obscure (to me) file compression software I found on the hard drive of my Macintosh LC II.
 

Norton Utilities 1 1 intro
I knew I had an even older version of the Norton Utilities: this is the start screen of The Norton Utilities 1.1…
 

Norton Disk Doctor
…and this is Norton Disk Doctor in action.
 

ShowSizes1
ShowSizes2
ShowSizes3
ShowSizes II by Jon Pugh — Another animated About box. (Thanks to Jon Pugh for sending me these screenshots.)
 

MacPaint II Secret About Box
MacPaint 2.0 secret About box, invoked by choosing the About menu while holding the space and tab keys. (Thanks to Jon Pugh for sending me the screenshot and for the information.)
 

ClarisWorks 21E
ClarisWorks version 2.1Ev3. — This is the Spanish version of ClarisWorks.
 

FilemakerPro 21E
Claris FileMaker Pro 2.1 — Spanish version.
 

Freehand 7E
Macromedia Freehand 7.0.1, Spanish version. The names of the developers keep scrolling near the application icon on the top left (exactly where the figure is pointing.)
 

Pixelpaint 1
Pixel Paint 1.1 — This application refused to launch on any of my vintage Macs. Perhaps it really wants a Macintosh II and only a Macintosh II…
 

Pixelpaint 2
Pixel Paint 2.0.
 

Soundjam MP Plus 25
Before iTunes there was SoundJam, by Casady&Greene. This is SoundJam MP Plus, version 2.5.3. It’s another animated About box — the credits keep rolling, movie-style. I captured them at the beginning, as to show the main developers.

 

 
Okay, that’s all for now. In the next days I’ll continue the journey in my software archives and see if I manage to dig up even more of these About boxes. This little gallery doesn’t want to be exhaustive — it’s more like opening a drawer full of things I used a lot back then and reminiscing. And by the way, I still use some of these programs on my vintage Macs, so it’s not just nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. Finally, it’s also a way to celebrate all those developers who shaped a fantastic era of Mac software.

Thank you everyone for the feedback!


A hard drive for the SE/30 — The long rescue

After the unexpected setback with the hard drive extracted from the Quadra 950, I once again rummaged inside a couple of boxes with stored assorted vintage stuff in search of a possible candidate. I found a few hard drives (both SCSI and IDE) in “I honestly don’t remember” conditions, so I took out three SCSI drives and put them in my external drive enclosure, connected to the Macintosh Colour Classic. The first drive, a 500 MB Quantum-something, made a few terrible clicks while trying to mount, and repeatedly failed. The second, a nice 9 GB Seagate ST39140N made a low humming noise when I powered up the SCSI enclosure, then silence. All the diagnostic tools at my disposal didn’t even detect its presence on the SCSI chain. The third, a surprisingly compact and lightweight 1.2 GB Quantum Fireball drive, powered up and made all the right little noises that indicate a possibly functioning hard drive. Also, it was immediately detected on the SCSI chain, and FWB Mounter gave me hope:

FWB Mounter

There it was, SCSI ID 4, “Recoverable”. And the adventure began.

I tried to mount it with FWB Mounter, but mounting failed after two long minutes during which the Mac appeared completely frozen. I launched FWB Hard Disk Toolkit 2.5, but the result was the same. My initial approach, I have to say, was to try to read and/or salvage any useful data stored on the drive before attempting a reformatting. Then I remembered I had a CD-ROM with a copy of DiskWarrior for the classic Mac OS (version 2.1, I think), so the fastest route was switching to a Mac with both a CD-ROM drive and a SCSI port. The PowerBook G3 Lombard was at hand, and fit the criteria. I booted in Mac OS 9.2.2, launched DiskWarrior, but it didn’t even detect the Quantum hard drive in the SCSI enclosure. I rebooted in Mac OS X Tiger and tried DiskWarrior 3 under Mac OS X. Same result. I rebooted again in Mac OS 9.2.2 and launched Disk First Aid, which did detect the drive but gave up almost immediately during the verification process, saying something along the lines of “This disk has too many errors and I can’t repair it.”

Since I still have all my Compact Macs out these days after performing a general check-up on them, I took the Macintosh Classic, connected the SCSI drive enclosure to it, and launched Norton Disk Doctor. At first, it didn’t detect the Quantum drive, but after issuing the “Show Missing Disks” command, the drive showed up. Clicking on Examine started a very long process where Norton Disk Doctor appeared to be running in slow-motion. After twenty minutes with the progress bar in the “Checking for bad blocks” test that was not progressing, I skipped the test (as soon as the Mac registered my input). When it came to checking the drive’s directory structure, Norton Disk Doctor kept throwing alarming errors. It indeed tried to fix a few issues, but I was starting to get the feeling that whatever had been on that drive was irrecoverable.

From that point on, I dropped any attempt to diagnose or repair the drive and focussed on actually trying to format and mount it.

On the Macintosh Classic I have an older version (1.8) of the FWB hard disk utilities, so I launched HDT Primer and see what it could do. HDT Primer recognised the drive and let me perform a low-level formatting, warning that the operation would take 81 minutes. I let it work and went to my studio to take care of other business. When I returned to the living-room after about an hour, HDT Primer was already done, and a dialog box informed me that the hard drive had been successfully formatted. So I went and tried to initialise/partition it, but unfortunately I kept getting errors.

Another frustrating chapter was beginning: trying different applications (on different Macs) to create partitions and logical volumes on the disk. Since I knew that that Quantum Fireball drive had bad sectors, I figured that the best course of action was attempting to partition it in different ways, so that maybe I could at least get to a point where, say, two out of three or four partitions were in a good-enough state to be mounted as volumes. After many, many fruitless efforts, and with Apple’s Drive Setup being this close to succeeding, my friend Grant Hutchinson suggested I tried using Silverlining Pro. I looked in my archives and found an old copy of Silverlining, then a newer one (Silverlining Pro 6.1). Thanks to Silverlining Pro 6.1 I could install a proper driver on the drive and managed to create two partitions of roughly 600 MB each; then, with version 6.5.8 I was finally able to initialise and mount one of those partitions.

I then used Norton Disk Doctor again to see whether such partition was good enough — and again, the “Checking for bad blocks” test was taking an inordinate amount of time, so I skipped it, assumed there were bad blocks, and let Norton perform the remaining tests. The disk passed them all, and knowing that the directory structure was sound was enough for me. With the disk now mounted on the PowerBook 1400’s desktop, I carried out some informal tests of my own, copying files to and from the partition (which I simply called “Q1″), launching applications from Q1, unmounting and mounting Q1 several times, and so forth. All went well, and I was actually surprised at seeing how fast this drive is in reading/writing files. Again, thanks to Silverlining Pro I was able to instruct the drive to mount automatically the Q1 partition when connected. Then I powered off the SCSI enclosure, disconnected the drive, changed the jumper configuration so that the SCSI ID was 0 instead of 4 (as it should be for an internal drive), opened the Macintosh SE/30 and mounted the Quantum Fireball hard drive on the metal shelf.

Drive inside the SE30

As you can see, the Quantum Fireball drive is rather slim (just so you have an idea: the former 40 MB beast of a hard drive that was inside the SE/30 weighed 850 grams, this Quantum Fireball weighs less than 250 grams).

I closed the SE/30, connected it to the mains, and turned it on for the moment of truth.

Silverlining

This, appearing at startup, was comforting. Then of course I got the floppy icon with the flashing question mark. Normal, since there wasn’t yet a valid system software installed on the drive. So I took the original set of floppy disks for System 7.0 and inserted the first one. After choosing a System 7.0 installation tailored for the Macintosh SE/30, it was time to see whether the Installer would recognise the Q1 partition… and it did! Once installation was complete, I restarted the SE/30 and it booted into System 7 in roughly 20 seconds. I was amazed and also very happy that my efforts and the time spent on this hadn’t been a complete waste…

Q1 mounted

So now the Macintosh SE/30 has a working-enough hard drive. Of course, it’s a temporary solution (the drive has a fair amount of bad sectors), but for now it’s usable, and even if I cannot take advantage of all the original 1.2 GB of storage space, a 620 MB partition for this system is far more than enough.


Careful with that Quadra drive

When I was talking about my Macintosh SE/30 in the previous article, I wrote:

The SE/30 is the most powerful and expandable of the Compact Macs I have, and I plan to do what I can to keep it in operation. At first I thought I had no useful hard drive substitute, but then it occurred to me that since my Quadra 950 isn’t currently working, I could transplant the Quadra’s internal hard drive (a 400 MB unit) into the SE/30, so I can still use the SE/30 and put an otherwise idle hard drive to work at the same time. A bit of a win-win situation.

Yesterday I did the hard drive transplant, and the outcome was, well, unexpected to say the least. But I think I’ve learnt something that’s worth sharing.

Here are two photos of the hard drive that was in my Quadra 950:

Quadrahd1.jpg

 

Quadrahd2.jpg

It’s a 400 MB Seagate ST1480N manufactured in 1991 at the latest. This drive has the same imposing size as the 40 MB Quantum ProDrive in the Macintosh SE/30, but I had to be a bit creative when mounting it on the drive shelf, because the side holes were located in different places and I couldn’t insert the screws in the same way as the previous Quantum drive that was inside the SE/30. Long story short, the procedure took me longer than expected, and when I finally reassembled the Macintosh SE/30, connected the mouse and keyboard, and connected the Mac to the mains… It didn’t turn on.

My first thought: Unbelievable… Is the power supply gone? Now? I was really bummed, for that was surely the worst timing ever. I honestly wasn’t blaming the hard drive because in all these years dealing with vintage technology (and back then, when it was current), I had never encountered an instance where a drive was preventing a Mac from even turning on. And I was sure I didn’t touch anything on or near the power supply circuitry. Still, there were no strange smells coming from the Mac, and that was kind of a positive sign. I opened up the SE/30 again, removed the hard drive, closed the SE/30, flipped the power switch again… And it booted just fine.

It was the drive, then. But how could that happen? It really was a first for me. Intrigued, I inserted the drive in the external SCSI enclosure I keep handy, and guess what? It didn’t turn on either (the power LED was just flashing, and no sounds came from the enclosure). Maybe there was something to change in the drive’s jumper configuration, but a quick check revealed that all was OK in that regard.

On a hunch, I went digging in my personal archive of Apple Service Source Manuals in PDF format. There was a document, downloaded from the Web not long ago, with the promising title Hard Drives. I opened it, and I found something interesting in a section called Drives in Quadra 900/950:

hdmanual-1.png
hdmanual-2.png

As you can see from the two figures, it appears that you have to ‘prepare’ a drive to be used inside a Quadra 900/950, by removing the terminator resistors. If you look at the second figure, those terminator resistors can be reapplied in case the hard drive has to be repurposed in another Mac or external enclosure (at least on the 400 MB model). I’m out of luck, though, because the 400 MB Seagate drive I have here was either part of the stock drives my Quadra 950 originally had, or it was prepared by the Quadra’s previous owner.

resistors-removed.jpg

The bottom line is that, in its current configuration, I can only use this hard drive in my Quadra 950 and nowhere else, and the Quadra isn’t working at the moment. That’s disappointing, and also a waste, since the drive works — well, it worked the last time I used the Quadra.

If you’re parting out a Quadra 900 or 950, keep this in mind in case you’d like to use one or more of the Quadra hard drives in another Mac. You also might acquire a Mac that doesn’t turn on: disconnect the hard drive and try turning the Mac on again. Maybe the previous owner put a drive that came from a Quadra thinking that it just was interchangeable. Not a likely scenario, but it’s rather quick check to perform, just in case.

This is what I’ve been able to ascertain from my tests and (limited) research, and I hope it helps. But if something I wrote is incorrect, or your experience is different, please let me know. Thank you.


Checking up on my Compact Macs

#alttext#

I’ve been a bit under the weather these past days, so I thought that one thing I could do while staying at home was checking up on my favourite part of my little vintage collection: the Compact Macs. This check was long overdue anyway, and what happened recently with my poor PowerBook Duo 280c had me somewhat concerned with the health of other vintage machines.

I currently own five Compact Macs:

  • A Macintosh 128K, which is the only non-working Mac of the bunch. It needs the analogue board replaced and the task involves some work with a soldering iron. I don’t have such tool, and probably wouldn’t dare use it anyway.
  • A Macintosh SE FDHD, with 2 MB of RAM and a 40 MB hard drive, running System 6.0.8.
  • A Macintosh SE/30, with 8 MB of RAM and a 40 MB hard drive, running System 7.1.
  • A Macintosh Classic, with 4 MB of RAM and an 80 MB hard drive, running System 6.0.8.
  • A Macintosh Colour Classic: its original motherboard (with a Motorola 68030 at 16 MHz) has 6 MB of RAM, then I also have the motherboard of an LC575 (with a Motorola 68LC040 at 33 MHz) with 4 MB of RAM; the Colour Classic originally had an 80 MB hard drive, replaced four years ago with a 160 MB hard drive. It currently runs System 7.1.

I first checked on the most problematic of the group, the SE/30. The two major issues it displayed before storing it away were the lack of sound and the occasional appearance of strange patterns on the screen upon booting (though different from the dreaded ‘Simasimac’ effect described for example here). I had never opened up this Mac since it was donated to me, and I feared that with these symptoms I would find a very dirty motherboard with evident signs of leaking capacitors and whatnot. But when I pulled it out, I was kind of surprised:

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I am no professional technician, granted, but this doesn’t look like the dirty, gunk-covered motherboard I was expecting. After a careful visual inspection, I really wasn’t able to detect any component with serious leaking on the outside. Of course, the Mac’s lack of sound may still indicate that a capacitor somewhere is failing (though I also wonder: what if the failure is in the thin, frail-looking speaker cable that connects to the socket located at J11 on the board?). Anyway, there was some dust laying around — again, much less than expected, considering how overall dirty the rest of the SE/30 looked when I opened it — so I blew it away and then gently scrubbed the various components with an old medium-strength toothbrush, just in case.

When I finally turned the SE/30 on, there still was no sound coming from it, but at least the screen was fine. The system did not load, though, and instead of the Happy Mac icon, I got the floppy icon with the flashing question mark. The hard drive in this machine is quite noisy and I heard it spin up. The activity LED was on. I inserted one of the floppy disks I have made, containing minimum system installations so that I can boot these Macs from the floppy drive, and the SE/30 happily booted from it. I was also amazed to discover that the backup battery still works — the Mac’s date and time were correct, with the clock being seven minutes ahead — considering this Mac had remained in storage for at least one year without power. The hard drive did not mount, as expected, so it appears that this is the only current issue with this machine (along with the lack of sound, yes).

I removed the hard drive (an old 40 MB Quantum ProDrive) to perform further testing by putting it in a very reliable external SCSI enclosure I resort to in such circumstances. I was amazed at the size of that thing. Here’s a photo: the SE/30 hard drive is on the left, while on the right you can see a later Conner 160 MB hard drive, pulled from my Colour Classic:

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I have witnessed many hard drive failures, but in my testing this drive displayed a bit of a puzzling behaviour: on the hardware side, it powers up and seems to be spinning up also, and doesn’t make strange sounds that would indicate mechanical failure. On the software side, and unlike other dead drives I have around, this drive is correctly detected on the SCSI chain and identified by tools such as SCSI Probe, Norton Disk Doctor, and the FWB Utilities. Yet it evidently is unreadable for the Macs I connected it to, and I don’t even get the “Do you want to format it?” dialog box. Norton Disk Doctor quits the Examine procedure seconds after commencing it, and FWB Mounter has probably given the first real clue as to what may be going on, claiming that it can’t read the drive’s first block.

All this to say that I’m left with the impression that this hard drive could still be salvageable, perhaps by performing some sort of low-level formatting, but I’d really like to try extracting data from it before doing so.

The SE/30 is the most powerful and expandable of the Compact Macs I have, and I plan to do what I can to keep it in operation. At first I thought I had no useful hard drive substitute, but then it occurred to me that since my Quadra 950 isn’t currently working, I could transplant the Quadra’s internal hard drive (a 400 MB unit) into the SE/30, so I can still use the SE/30 and put an otherwise idle hard drive to work at the same time. A bit of a win-win situation.

By the way, this SE/30 also comes with a SuperMac Technologies Spectrum SE/30 PDS video card, so that I can even hook up an external monitor. I tried to find more information on this card on the Web, but without much luck. If you could help me out on this, I’d appreciate it. I just like to know what kind of monitors/resolutions it supports, and whether it brings some other capabilities with it. What I’d really love to get for my SE/30, though, is an Ethernet card. If you have one, let’s talk!

SE/30 check-up summary: The machine works. Issues before storing it the last time were display artifacts and lack of sound. New issues exhibited after bringing it out of storage: failing hard drive. Corrective actions undertaken: (planned) hard drive replacement.


Next up, I checked the Colour Classic. This Mac has never given me any problem, but four years ago its internal 80 MB hard drive failed to mount and sounded like it had difficulties spinning up. My friend Grant Hutchinson kindly sent me a 160 MB replacement, and I performed what can only be described as a painful hard drive replacement, which I documented here. In that article, I wrote:

In the next days I will restore the contents of the old hard drive (what I had from the last backup I did before the incident) and see if it powers up using an external SCSI enclosure.

I remember checking it only once at the time: the drive didn’t appear to work, I was busy, so I just left the drive in the SCSI enclosure and forgot about it. Meanwhile, sometime in early 2014 the 160 MB hard drive Grant sent me stopped working. Again, having little time to do a proper check-up, I just put the Colour Classic away. What happened when I pulled out my vintage Macs and equipment a few days ago was rather amazing: the previous 80 MB hard drive I’d left in the SCSI enclosure came back to life! I tested and re-tested it with different diagnostic tools and by powering it up and down several times. It looked reliable enough, while the 160 MB unit that replaced it was looking unquestionably dead, so for the first time since I’ve owned a Mac I was doing a reverse transplant, putting the original hard drive back in the Colour Classic, and again performing the painful replacement operation (painful for my fingers). But this time I figured I’d do some minor modifications in order to make this procedure a bit less painful in the future.

If you go back for a moment to the afore-linked post about the Colour Classic hard drive replacement, you’ll notice that the hard drive in the Colour Classic is mounted on a plastic tray that slides deep in the Mac’s innards. The plastic tab on the tray’s back is just too short and too slippery to grasp to easily slide the drive out once you unplug the data and power cables. So I’ve come up with a crude but effective solution — wrapping the tab in that thin-but-strong adhesive tape used for packaging — this way next time I won’t have to hurt my fingers trying to reach the recessed tab:

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The hard drive was the only pending issue with the Colour Classic, and it has been resolved, at least for now. My distraction-free writing environment is back:

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Colour Classic check-up summary: The machine works. Issues before storing it the last time were just a failing hard drive. New issues exhibited after bringing it out of storage: none. Corrective actions undertaken: hard drive replacement.


The Macintosh SE FDHD is the best-preserved Compact Mac I own. It was a gift from a technician friend back in 2002 or 2003 and it’s just beautiful inside and out. When you open it, you immediately notice it has always been kept in a clean environment. Everything is clean as if this Mac had just come out of the factory. Not bad for an almost 25-year-old machine (decoding the serial number, this SE was manufactured in Ireland around March 1990).

Anyway, the SE didn’t have any issues the last time I used and stored it, and luckily didn’t present any new issues when checking it up the other day, apart from the backup battery, which understandably has died (it was manufactured in 1989 as reported on its label). The reason I opened up this Mac was to upgrade its RAM. While cleaning up before Christmas, I found four 30-pin RAM sticks in an envelope (1 MB each) that I pulled from the Quadra 950 when I upgraded its RAM three years ago. Seeing that a) the Macintosh SE only had 2 MB of RAM, and b) that it uses the same 30-pin RAM sticks as the Quadra, I figured I could try an upgrade. What I hoped is that my SE’s motherboard was a ‘Jumper type’ board, not a ‘Solder type’ board:

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According to the Service Source manual for the Macintosh SE, the older ‘Solder type’ motherboard “uses a solder-type resistor to identify system memory configurations; a resistor is installed in R35 for 1 MB and in R36 for 2 MB. The revised logic board uses a jumper to identify system memory.”

You see where this is going: on the ‘Solder type’ board, you have to clip the resistors as you install more RAM, while on the ‘Jumper type’ board, you just move or remove a jumper, which is immensely better if you have to revert to a previous RAM configuration in case the new sticks don’t work or are incompatible for some reason. Since I have no way of re-soldering resistors, I would leave the RAM as it was in case I had the ‘Solder type’ motherboard. As luck would have it, my SE had the ‘Jumper type’ motherboard, so the upgrade was easy.

As I was closing up the Mac, one of the screws fell and I had the distinct impression it fell inside the machine somewhere. But it was nowhere to be seen, and shaking the Mac I couldn’t hear it move. I began to freak out: I didn’t want to close up everything before finding the screw because what if it was stuck in some nook, only to move around at a later moment, with the Mac turned on, etcetera? You don’t want to have a loose screw in your Compact Mac (or in any Mac, for that matter), so I started disassembling it even more, removing both the hard drive and floppy drive. Nothing. At this point I was beginning to think that the screw had actually fallen on the floor, and indeed it had, ending up quite far away from where I was working; that’s why I had not found it when I checked the first time.

I was in a rush to reassemble the Mac and turn it on to see whether it detected the added RAM, so I ended up mounting the hard drive plus floppy drive assembly without aligning it properly. The result was that floppy disks couldn’t be inserted or ejected properly. But at least the RAM upgrade had worked, and the SE was correctly detecting the 4 MB of RAM. The following day I opened the SE again and remounted the drive assembly properly:

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The floppy drive is in the lower metal casing (where you can see that MFD-75W-01G 70557741 label), and there are four screws securing it to the chassis. To align it properly, you have to insert two metallic tabs on the front of the drive casing in two corresponding holes on the chassis plane where the drive will rest. I didn’t do that the first time, so the drive was slightly angled upward where it meets the corresponding hole on the front bezel.

After reassembling the Mac for the second time, everything looked fine and floppy disks could be inserted quite smoothly. But a new issue came up, and I still can’t understand how this could happen: now the Macintosh SE wouldn’t eject floppy disks. When you issue an Eject command from the system, you can hear the usual sounds from the floppy drive as it prepares to automatically eject the disk, you hear the motor of the eject mechanism, but it sounds as if it weren’t strong enough to physically eject the floppy. The mechanism, when triggered manually with the traditional ‘bent clip in the small hole’ method, does work. But when invoked via software, the eject mechanism sounds weak, or as if there were something preventing the eject process to go all the way. I find this rather odd: the drive worked before opening the Mac, and I doubt it was the subsequent misalignment that broke something (I immediately noticed the misalignment when inserting a floppy disk, so I didn’t even try to have the Mac eject it). The only thing I did to the drive when it was out of the Mac was removing a couple of dust bunnies. Any suggestion is quite welcome at this point.

Macintosh SE FDHD check-up summary: The machine works. Issues before storing it the last time: none. New issues exhibited after bringing it out of storage: floppy disks cannot be automatically ejected (manual eject works). Corrective actions undertaken: none so far. Additional procedures: RAM successfully upgraded from 2 MB to 4 MB.

(By the way, you may recall I only used two of the four RAM sticks pulled from the Quadra, as the Macintosh SE only needed two. The remaining two have been successfully installed on my Macintosh LCII, upgrading its RAM from 4 MB to 6 MB.)


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Last but not least, the Macintosh Classic. This is the Mac in my collection that truly has sentimental value for me, since it’s the first Mac I have personally owned. (I have used Macs since 1989, but always in work environments. My truly first personal Macs were this Classic and a PowerBook 150, acquired in 1993 and 1994 respectively.)

The only issue this Macintosh Classic was displaying prior to putting it in storage was — like the SE/30 — lack of sound. The difference between the Classic and the SE/30 with regard to this issue is that while on the SE/30 you can’t hear anything from the speaker and from the earphones when you connect them to the audio output, on the Classic there is no sound from the speaker, but you can hear it from the earphones (although it’s not quite loud). An inspection of the Classic’s motherboard didn’t reveal anything useful. Like the SE/30’s, it’s a clean-looking board, without evident traces of gunk gone wild.

Upon turning this Mac on, I was happy to see that everything was working. On closer inspection, the Classic showed just a couple of minor issues:

  1. The floppy drive is incredibly fussy, accepting or refusing the same floppies for no particular reason. It probably needs a good cleaning.
  2. The backup battery is dead.

Overall, I can’t complain.

Macintosh Classic check-up summary: The machine works. Issues before storing it the last time: lack of sound. New issues exhibited after bringing it out of storage: none.

Conclusion

My Compact Macs have regrettably remained in storage for longer than I wanted. I do my best to keep my Macs in use and in healthy conditions, but the last couple of years I’ve been really busy and trying to stay afloat financially. That eats a lot of time. I know that one of the first causes of failure in a vintage Mac is lack of use, so I expected the worst when I started this extended check-up. I was also saddened by the recent failure of the PowerBook Duo 280c and the less recent, but equally puzzling failure of the Quadra 950. I didn’t want to lose another Mac.

Thankfully, the overall conditions of these four little guys are satisfactory, and currently all of them work. I still need to do the hard drive replacement in the SE/30, but I know the drive works, so it’s just a matter of time before the SE/30 is back in service. Maybe it’s time to give some rest to the Power Macintosh 9500/132 and go back to using the Colour Classic and the SE/30 more often.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year to you all!

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Older Opera versions: untangling the mess

(This is just a quick update of some information contained in this old post.)

If you’re using a Mac with a PowerPC G4 or G5 (or a fast G3) processor, the Web browser I recommend is without doubt TenFourFox. Some people prefer Opera, and I myself have witnessed that it may be a better option on certain G3 machines — a little faster than TenFourFox, a little better than Safari itself. TenFourFox remains the most secure option, of course, but sometimes one has to accept some compromises.

The problem with Opera is understanding the minimum requirements for your machine, considering the great number of versions released during its history. In other words, you may ask yourself: I have a Mac with Mac OS 8.6, or 9.1, or OS X 10.2 Jaguar, or 10.4 Tiger, etc. — what is the most updated version of Opera I can download for my vintage system? (You can download older versions of Opera from the Opera archive.)

In the past, finding an accurate answer to that question was certainly easier than today. A quick search on Opera’s support site revealed a great page titled Opera System Requirements that neatly outlined the minimum system requirements for each version of Opera from 5.0 onward. Then, sometime in the last two years, it has been removed and modified. I searched past snapshots of that page using the ever-useful WayBack Machine and one of the most recent is this one from February 2013.

For redundancy’s sake, and to provide an easier way to retrieve this information, I’ve copied the relevant contents of that page and I’m posting them here. I hope it may be of help.


 

Opera 12
Mac OS X Leopard (10.5), or greater.
32-bit and 64-bit Intel systems supported.

Opera 11.50 to 11.64
Mac OS X Leopard (10.5), or greater.
Only Intel-based systems supported.

Opera 11
Mac OS X Tiger (10.4) or higher.
Only Intel-based systems supported.

Opera 10
Last release: version 10.63
Mac OS X Tiger (10.4) or higher.
Intel- or PowerPC-based systems supported (hence the larger file size).
[Addendum from personal experience: Opera 10.10 works under Mac OS X 10.3.9]

Opera 9
Last release: version 9.64
Mac OS X Panther (10.3) or higher [OS X Jaguar (10.2) may work but is officially unsupported]
Intel- and PowerPC-based systems supported (hence the larger file size).

Opera 8
Last release: version 8.54
Mac OS X Jaguar (10.2) or higher.
PowerPC-based systems supported.

Opera 7
Last release: version 7.54
Mac OS X Puma (10.1) or higher.
PowerPC-based systems supported.

Opera 6
Last release: version 6.03
Mac OS 9 or higher.
PowerPC-based systems supported.

Opera 5
Mac OS 7.5 – Mac OS 9 [Opera 5 will not run on OS X]
PowerPC-based systems supported.



Compact Flash performance on the PowerBook 5300: very first impressions

In my article about the recently received PowerBook 1400c, I wrote:

The intriguing part of this setup is booting from the Compact Flash card: everything is even more responsive (opening applications, opening files, saving files) and the PowerBook becomes practically silent. […]

Just for fun, I performed an informal test. I booted the PowerBook 1400 in Mac OS 8.1 from its internal hard drive, then I booted in Mac OS 7.6.1 from the CF card, then I booted in Mac OS 8.6 from the PCMCIA Toshiba hard drive, measuring boot times using my iPhone’s stopwatch (all the following are cold boots, not just restarts; all times are approximate):

  • Internal hard drive (Mac OS 8.1): 54 seconds.
  • Compact Flash card (Mac OS 7.6.1): 47 seconds.
  • PCMCIA hard drive (Mac OS 8.6): 1 minute, 12 seconds.

As you can see, on this PowerBook 1400c there isn’t a dramatic difference between booting from the internal hard drive and from the Compact Flash card. Maybe it’s because the hard drive isn’t a bad performer after all; maybe it’s because of the G3/333 processor upgrade; I don’t know. Earlier today I wanted to test a hunch I had — that the Compact Flash solution would be an even better alternative for my PowerBook 5300. This machine has just a 117 MHz processor, and a noticeably slower hard drive than the one in the PowerBook 1400.

So I inserted the Compact Flash card with Mac OS 7.6.1 in the PowerBook 5300 and performed the same test as quoted above. First I booted the PowerBook 5300 from its internal hard drive, then I selected the CF card in the Startup Disk control panel, turned off the machine, and booted it from the CF card, again measuring boot times with a stopwatch. The results:

  • Internal hard drive (Mac OS 8.1): 2 minutes, 30 seconds.
  • Compact Flash card (Mac OS 7.6.1): 1 minute, 5 seconds.

Less than half the time when booting from the CF card! True, those are two different versions of Mac OS, but the amount of extensions loaded during start-up is more or less the same.

After starting the PowerBook 5300 from the CF card, I opened control panels, applications, files, and the PowerBook 5300 felt way more responsive than when operating from the internal hard drive. And considering how noisy the 1.1 GB IBM hard drive is, one really appreciates the quiet when working from the Compact Flash card.

As I said, these are just very first impressions, and I’ll perform a more thorough investigation in the following days, but what I’ve seen so far has left me rather amazed. I expected a better performance overall, since that internal hard drive is definitely a slug, but the difference is noticeable even after a cursory examination.


Sometimes they go quietly

PowerBook Duo 280c

After spending two days trying to figure out why my beloved PowerBook Duo 280c wouldn’t boot, this morning I gave up when finally a distinctive smell of something burning and an unusually hot machine gave me the final clue, that something’s gone wrong with the internal power circuitry of the PowerBook.

I hadn’t used the Duo for three months or so. I don’t use it often, but I always like to return to this small, lightweight laptop for some writing sessions every now and then.

I purchased this little buddy second-hand sometime in 2000. I think I paid 400 Euros for it at the time, but it was well looked-after, and I got the whole package: the PowerBook Duo, the Duo MiniDock, the DuoDock II, a 14-inch Apple colour display, an AppleDesign keyboard and an ADB mouse II, and a bunch of floppy disks full of software (among which, the original disks for installing WordPerfect 3).

In the years 2000-2005, I used the PowerBook Duo a lot, and in the way it was intended to be used. Since I had managed to get hold of a new NiMH High Capacity Type 3 rechargeable battery a few months before acquiring the Duo, the little PowerBook really became my go-to machine when I was out and about. The battery lasted a lot, and when I returned home I would insert the Duo in its desktop Dock and transferred the files I created or handled during the day back to my iMac G3. I have always been a fan of the Duo concept, and I think it could still be useful today.

Anyway, in early 2005 the DuoDock stopped working after a power surge in the building I was living at the time, and since I was about to relocate to another country, I sadly had to throw the DuoDock away instead of bringing it with me to attempt repairs at a later date. I had limited space on my van, and the DuoDock was literally dead weight. Thankfully, the PowerBook Duo retained its expandability by way of the MiniDock, except for the Ethernet port, which was a serious blow to the Duo’s connectivity.

In the following years, as my vintage collection grew and I had to take care of other machines, the Duo got used less frequently, but it was always there when I needed it. Starting up became slightly more problematic after the main battery ceased to hold any significant charge. Every time I plugged the Duo, I had to remove the battery, perform a PMU reset, start the PowerBook on AC alone, then put the battery back in. To avoid performing this procedure every time I dug out the Duo, I just kept the machine plugged in even when not in use.

When I went to turn on the Duo the other day, I wanted to use it more comfortably in the living-room, so I had to unplug it from the mains in my studio and plug it in again in the living-room. So I wasn’t really surprised it didn’t boot at first, though I noticed something it didn’t usually do under similar circumstances: as soon as I plugged the AC adapter, the sleep light in the Duo display assembly came on, and nothing else happened.

I tried the procedure outlined above (remove battery, reset the PMU, etc.) multiple times. No joy.

Perhaps the PRAM battery was completely drained and it was preventing the Duo from booting. I disconnected it, and tried booting the machine again. Nothing. Just the sleep light coming on.

After browsing the Web a bit, on a discussion thread in some forum I stumbled on to a post where someone suggested checking the display switch where the latch locks the PowerBook lid when you close the computer. If the switch remains pressed for some reason, the PowerBook may think it’s in the ‘sleep’ position and won’t turn on. So I checked, but everything was okay.

I opened the PowerBook for a visual examination of the motherboard, to check for the presence of dust, corrosion, leakage, etc., in the components. The motherboard looked very clean, and nothing stood out, not even near the power circuitry. I was utterly puzzled.

The last thing to check was the Duo AC adapter itself. Honestly, I wasn’t inclined to blame it: when plugged in, it got warm as it had always done, and so did the Duo around the power circuitry area, as it had always done. I don’t have another AC adapter for the Duo, but browsing the Web and eBay, I saw pictures of working Duos connected to the 45W PowerBook adapter used by the PowerBook 5300, 1400, and G3 series. I have two of them, and I know they work, so I tried them both, but nothing would change: after plugging in the Duo, the sleep light would turn on, and no boot would follow. Repeatedly pushing the back power button resulted in the sleep light coming on and off and on again, and nothing else.

Yesterday it was getting late, so I eventually left the PowerBook Duo plugged in to resume my reviving efforts today. However, when I went to take the Duo this morning, it happened what I’ve described at the beginning of this post.

If you’re reading this, you’re a vintage Mac enthusiast like me, so I know you’ll understand when I say that I’m extremely saddened by all this. This little PowerBook is still in great shape and it just hurts to see it reduced to a pretty, useless shell. At the moment, I unfortunately cannot afford sending the motherboard to someone capable of repairing/recapping it. I really want to have a working PowerBook Duo in my collection. If you have a battered Duo 280c with a working motherboard and you’re willing to donate it, please get in touch. If you have a PowerBook Duo 2300c, it’s still in my wishlist if you want to donate it. I do my best to give vintage Macs a good home and put them to good use, but sometimes things like this happen, and it’s truly frustrating.


Added to the collection: PowerBook 1400c

PowerBook 1400c

This year, Christmas has come a bit earlier for me — I’m truly grateful to Alex Roddie for donating this beautiful PowerBook 1400c. The machine is in great shape, has very nice tech specs, and came with a bunch of extras which pretty much make it a complete system.

This is a PowerBook 1400c/166 from 1997, which means that it was already one of the best models in the PowerBook 1400 series when it came out, featuring the better active-matrix colour (TFT) 11.3″ display (the 1400cs had a DualScan passive matrix display), and the faster PowerPC 603ev CPU at 166 MHz. But what’s even better is that this unit comes with a Sonnet Crescendo G3 processor upgrade card installed, meaning its original processor has been replaced by a PowerPC 750 (G3) running at 333 MHz. It has 48 MB of RAM and an internal 2 GB hard drive.

Sonnet Crescendo sticker

And now, the extras:

  • Floppy drive module, 6x CD-ROM drive module, and VST Zip 100 drive module. All three drives work perfectly.
  • Two Transcend PCMCIA Compact Flash adapters. One includes an industrial-grade Transcend 512 MB Compact Flash card.
  • A Farallon PCMCIA Ethernet card, plus cable, plus an Ethernet cable extension (which is really useful when you have short Ethernet cables).

The PowerBook came with Mac OS 8.1 installed on the main hard drive, and a standard install of Mac OS 7.6.1 on the 512 MB CF card.

The only two ‘issues’ (between quotes, because neither really bothers me): the PowerBook doesn’t have a battery, and the CD-ROM drive module is missing the front panel. The latter, I’ve read, appears to be a common issue with this kind of modules. The drive works well and has read all the CDs I’ve thrown at it in the past few days, so I really can’t complain. As for the missing battery, even if the PowerBook had one, it would have probably held very little charge anyway, and it would have added a considerable weight to the machine. Thankfully, Alex left the empty plastic shell, so that the battery compartment looks populated from outside and there isn’t a hole where the battery is supposed to be. Normally, a PowerBook 1400 weighs 3 kilograms fully loaded. Thanks to the missing battery, my unit weighs approximately 2.7 kilograms. Not bad. (For comparison’s sake: the PowerBook G3 Lombard weighs 2.7 kilograms, the PowerBook G4 Titanium weighs 2.4 kilograms, the PowerBook G4 12″ weighs 2.1 kilograms, and the original clamshell iBook G3 weighs 3.04 kilograms.)

I’m still in the ‘playing around’ phase, importing needed applications and documents, and generally getting the feel of this machine, but I’m already impressed by its responsiveness (thanks to the G3 upgrade), its expandability and versatility, and of course by its keyboard. I had heard many people praise the PowerBook 1400’s keyboard as one of the best keyboards in an Apple laptop, and I can confirm its reputation. I was already finding the PowerBook 5300’s keyboard good enough, but the 1400’s is an order of magnitude better.

The intriguing part of this setup is booting from the Compact Flash card: everything is even more responsive (opening applications, opening files, saving files) and the PowerBook becomes practically silent. If you have a PowerBook of this vintage that has at least one PCMCIA slot, and want to try this kind of ‘solid state’ solution, check out this article on Alex Roddie’s Macintosh HD blog: Create a Compact Flash boot drive for your old PowerBook.

I also happen to own another excellent accessory that has become even more useful since this PowerBook 1400 entered my little collection: a 2 GB PCMCIA Toshiba hard drive. It’s not particularly fast, but one real advantage is that it can be used to quickly transfer files between older and newer G3/G4 PowerBooks, since it is recognised by all PowerBooks without having to be reformatted.

Just for fun, I performed an informal test. I booted the PowerBook 1400 in Mac OS 8.1 from its internal hard drive, then I booted in Mac OS 7.6.1 from the CF card, then I booted in Mac OS 8.6 from the PCMCIA Toshiba hard drive, measuring boot times using my iPhone’s stopwatch (all the following are cold boots, not just restarts; all times are approximate):

  • Internal hard drive (Mac OS 8.1): 54 seconds.
  • Compact Flash card (Mac OS 7.6.1): 47 seconds.
  • PCMCIA hard drive (Mac OS 8.6): 1 minute, 12 seconds.

(My main machine, a mid-2009 MacBook Pro, with a 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 8 GB of RAM takes no less than three minutes to complete the boot process. I really need to replace its hard drive with an SSD, but I’m digressing.)

I’m truly enjoying this ‘new’ PowerBook 1400, and it will likely replace the PowerBook 5300ce as my main vintage laptop for writing, Newton connection and QuickTake photos management. It’s simply faster, has a better keyboard, and is even more versatile. It’s a pity that its main limitation is the maximum amount of RAM — 64 MB, which was okay in 1997, but feels a bit tight especially if you own a PowerBook 1400 with a G3 processor upgrade. Due to the low amount of maximum RAM, you can’t install Mac OS X on this machine (though I guess the performance would be ridiculous even if it were possible), and even Mac OS 9.2 is problematic. All the suggestions from PowerBook 1400 owners I’ve read online point to Mac OS 8.1 and 8.6 as preferred system versions for this machine (if you have more than 24 MB of RAM installed), and I have to agree. I’m happy with the 8.1 installation that came with the PowerBook, and I’ll probably upgrade to 8.6 to see if I can get a PCMCIA Wireless card working with the PowerBook.

Final fun fact: I inserted the PowerBook 1400 serial number in TattleTech and the resulting information is that this unit was assembled in Elk Grove, California, USA on July 30, 1997.

Links

  • I think it’s worth adding Alex Roddie’s Macintosh HD blog to your bookmarks. Much like this site, it’s not updated very often, but when it is, it’s always a pleasure to read.
  • If you’re looking for PowerBook 1400-related resources, an excellent starting place is Low End Mac’s PowerBook 1400 page. There are a lot of interesting links at the bottom. You’ll occasionally stumble on a dead link, but the Wayback Machine is your friend.
  • If you’re specifically interested in reading about the Sonnet Crescendo G3 upgrade card, you’ll like the review by Joost van de Griek.

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