Added to the collection: Power Mac G4 and other accessories

PowerMac and iMac

These past years, my vintage collection has expanded mostly thanks to generous — sometimes very generous — donors. These last additions, instead, came from a ‘rescue mission.’ It’s been a while since I did my last, and I had missed the fun. Thanks to a valuable tip from my brother-in-law, I learnt that a local design studio was getting rid of a few vintage Macs and assorted accessories and peripherals, and they were basically telling people on social media to come and get them.

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll probably understand how I felt. I couldn’t pass up such an opportunity. From the photos the design studio put online, I knew I couldn’t take much with me (there were bulky printers, several beige desktop Macintosh G3 machines, a couple of older Power Macintosh 7300, an 8600, and a few graphite Power Mac G4s, plus three boxes of miscellaneous things covered by an intricate web of Apple ADB mice and SCSI cables), so I resolved to look for useful peripherals for my data retrieval service, and to rescue at least one of those Macs. I wish I could have taken more stuff away with me, but unfortunately I just don’t have the space.

As much as I love older machines, my interest was piqued by those graphite Power Macs. When I got there, I noticed that one of them had already gone. The remaining two were very similar, but one had an internal ZIP drive, the other did not. I have several ZIP disks, plus my PowerBook 5300 and PowerBook 1400 both have ZIP modules, then I have two other external ZIP drives — one SCSI, one USB — so ZIP disks are often a quick way to pass files among my vintage Macs. So, this Power Mac G4 with an internal ZIP drive was already drawing my attention. Still, I wanted to check the specifications of both Macs to see which was the better machine. Thankfully, Apple has this nice habit of indicating a Mac’s base configuration either on a label or by printing it on the computer itself. I wasn’t in a comfortable position, crouched behind the Power Macs, trying to read the tiny labels, but I managed to catch a 400 MHz on the label of the ZIP-less Power Mac, and a 500 MHz on the ZIP-equipped one, so I chose the latter.

Then my attention turned to the various accessories scattered nearby. There were a couple of Apple Extended Keyboard II keyboards, so of course I picked up one:

AEKII

I already have one, but it has the older QZERTY Italian layout, which I find particularly difficult to adjust to. This has the equally older Spanish layout, but it’s QWERTY, and shares more keys in the same position as the US/UK/ITA Pro layout I’m more accustomed with. (I still haven’t cleaned the keyboard thoroughly, but it’s not bad after a first pass, and believe me, you didn’t want to see a photo of its original condition!)

Next up, another very interesting peripheral:

Fujitsu MO drive

It’s not a bulky floppy drive, but a 3.5″ Fujitsu 230 MB SCSI Magneto-optical drive. There was a SCSI cable in good condition attached to it, plus that SCSI passthrough terminator you see in the photo. I took the whole package.

Last month I thought to myself, It’s a pity I don’t have a USB floppy drive, it could be useful for quick data retrieval without having to take out a floppy-equipped Mac every time I need to read one. Guess what I found among the tangle of SCSI cables:

USB floppy drive

It is the typical ‘Made in China’ unbranded affair, but I briefly tested it, and it works. So no complaints here.

I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. There were other things I could have picked up — keyboards, mice, cables — and other things that would have needed further inspection and more time. Then there was at least one thing I regret not taking: a 17-inch CRT Apple Studio Display, but I really really have no space for such a cumbersome item.

Studio17 side

If you’ve never seen one in person, you can’t imagine how imposing this thing is. To give you an idea, it’s bigger than an iMac G3, and is closer to an eMac in size and bulk. It would have made a nice companion for the Power Mac G4, but I guess I’ll look for the flat-panel 17-inch Studio Display, certainly more manageable.

Just as I was leaving, beneath a pile of other non-Mac equipment, there was this nice-looking cassette deck, a TEAC V-210C, manufactured around 1988:

TEAC cassette deck

I still have hundreds of tapes, and my Sony stereo cassette deck broke down a couple of years ago, leaving an old Aiwa walkman as my sole means to listen to cassette tapes. I asked the guys of the design studio whether it worked or not and they told me something along the lines of Who knows, but take it home and find out yourself, heh heh. So I did. And it works!

More about that Power Mac G4

IMG 1173

Above I said that I chose what appeared to be the better Power Mac by having a cursory glance at the label with the base configuration attached on the back of the machine. Once home, I examined it more carefully, and I was pleasantly surprised by a little detail I’d missed. The label actually says: 500 MHz / MP / 1M CACHE / DVD-V / 256MB SDRAM / HD 40G / 56K MDM. That “MP” stands for Multi Processor, making this a Dual 500 MHz Power Mac G4!

Another bonus: it actually came with 640 MB of RAM, and equipped with a SCSI card as well, which never hurts. The Mac was apparently last used in December 2008 and contained three user accounts which were basically empty. I had to use the Mac OS X Tiger DVD to boot the Mac and enable the root account, which I used to inspect the user accounts and then delete them. Among the software goodies: a full installation of Adobe CS3, plus FreeHand, StuffIt 12, and NeoOffice.

I was happy to find four 512 MB RAM sticks in my stash, which happened to be the exact type supported by this Power Mac, and voilà — I have brought it to the maximum RAM supported: 2 GB.

About this Mac  PMG4

The Mac came indeed with a 40 GB IBM Deskstar hard drive, which I discovered to be a 7200rpm drive. A quick check with Disk Utility didn’t find any problems with it. It’s rather fast, although a bit on the noisy side. The Mac also has a Combo optical drive: it reads CDs and DVDs, and writes CD-Rs and CD-RWs. My initial tests show that it works reliably when it comes to reading discs, not so much when writing them. But what I’m most bummed about is the ZIP drive, which doesn’t seem to work. System Profiler sees it, the unit appears to work when inserting disks, but nothing happens afterwards, and disks (even formatted, known-to-work disks) aren’t mounted on the desktop or detected by Disk Utility.

I thought it was a matter of drivers, but Mac OS X Tiger doesn’t need them to read ZIP disks from an internal drive. I thought it was a matter of jumper configuration on the back of the unit, but I’ve read that its current jumper-less configuration is the right one. I’ve seen units like this go for €25-30 on eBay; I also have an excellent DVD-RW/CD-RW drive salvaged from another computer — I might replace both in the future and have a fully-working Power Mac G4. Still, I really can’t complain. The Mac works very well, and the combination of dual G4 processors, 2 GB of RAM, and a 7200rpm drive makes for a surprisingly snappy machine overall. TenFourFox is quite responsive, possibly even more than under Mac OS X Leopard on faster machines. This is the Gigabit Ethernet Power Mac G4, so network transfers are very fast as well. This Mac has space for another two internal hard drives, so I’m thinking it’s a good candidate to act as a home server of sorts. I can’t wait to put it through its paces.

Everything else works

The Apple Extended Keyboard II only has one unresponsive key, but I’m reserving judgment until I have a chance to clean it thoroughly (it’s very dirty under the keys). The USB floppy drive works. The Fujitsu Magneto-optical drive works too: I was donated a 230 MB magneto-optical disk and last night I was finally able to access it on the PowerBook 1400:

MO drive and PowerBook 1400

And, as I already mentioned above, that TEAC cassette deck works as well. I’m very happy to be able to listen to tapes (and old mixtapes) again on my hi-fi stereo.

In conclusion, I wish I could have rescued more stuff (oh, that Studio Display!) but I’m quite satisfied with what I ended up selecting. The Dual 500 MHz Power Mac G4 is the most powerful machine of all those that were up for the taking, so… mission accomplished nonetheless!

→ The Macs Apple was selling in 1996

I thought it would be interesting to offer an overview of the Macintosh models Apple was selling in 1996 and make a few related observations. In a nutshell: there was some level of organisation in what many have called the chaos of Macs available back then, and despite the long list of Mac models, the families and form factors were just a few; one of the main causes that generated confusion in the Macintosh product line was the frequent rebranding, and the progressive meaninglessness of the Performa line as the consumer choice versus the Power Macintosh as synonymous of ‘Pro’ machine.

Continue reading the article on my main website.

Added to the collection: 17-inch iMac G4

iMac G4 (front)

This year, Christmas came a bit earlier. Richard — the same generous soul responsible for this amazing donation — surprised me again with this marvellous Christmas gift that arrived on my doorstep on 21 December. It’s a first-generation (2002-2003) 17-inch iMac G4, with an 800 MHz PowerPC G4 7450 v2.1 processor, 768 MB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, tray-loading 2x SuperDrive capable of writing CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R and DVD-RW discs. It came with a fresh installation of Mac OS X 10.5.8, and even if technically Leopard isn’t supported on this machine (the minimum requirement being an 867 MHz G4 processor), the iMac handles it quite well. I’ve already started installing a minimum set of applications and, at least for now, I have no reason or interest to downgrade to Mac OS X Tiger.

iMac G4 (back)

As you can see in the photos, this iMac is in excellent condition, and thanks to Richard’s careful packaging it arrived safely to my house without unfortunate accidents during shipping. The display arm is tight and sustains the display in any position and at any angle I’ve tried it. The display is bright and flawless. The polycarbonate white is still uniformly white and, thankfully, there’s no trace of yellowing or other colour alteration I happened to see on other iMac G4 models in the past. It really looks like new.

(The blueberry Apple USB Keyboard and round USB mouse are, of course, a temporary solution. Only the main iMac unit was given to me. They were the original keyboard and mouse that came with my previous iMac G3.)

A tiny dream come true

Adding this iMac G4 to my collection means a lot to me. I’ve wanted this type of iMac since it was introduced back in early 2002. But with a starting price of €1,599 (for the 15-inch iMac G4/700 model), I just couldn’t afford it at the time. Or rather, I could have afforded it, but not after making a decision that felt right then, and foolishly sentimental in retrospect. In late 2001, my beloved iMac G3/350 blueberry broke down due to a nasty thunderstorm frying its motherboard and analogue board. I was finishing one of my first big assignments as technical translator, and that iMac G3, purchased in late 1999, had accumulated a lot of sentimental value to me. When it broke, I was really bummed and panicking because I had work to deliver on a close deadline, so my first gut reaction was to have it repaired at all costs. The technicians at the repairing centre where I took it, once they assessed the damage, told me that it would have been much more cost-effective to throw it away and buy another iMac G3 second-hand. I was too stubborn and too saddened by the loss of my iMac to listen to reason, so I ended up spending more than €1,000 to have it fixed.

When the first iMac G4 was introduced shortly after, in January 2002, I wanted to eat my hat. If I had known, I would have saved that money and used it to purchase the new iMac G4, instead of holding on to a machine that was getting old fast. And you know what happened just a few months later? The iMac G3 broke down again, thanks to another sudden, violent thunderstorm (and certainly to the poor electrical system of the old building I was living in at the time). Lesson truly learnt, I threw away the iMac G3 for good, but then I only had money for a second-hand iBook G3/466 SE FireWire. (I’m not complaining, that iBook is still working today, the only two things I’ve replaced are the battery and the DVD drive.)

But since then, two Macs always remained at the top of my wishlist: the Power Mac G4 Cube, and the iMac G4. I got my Cube itch scratched in 2006, and now, finally, unexpectedly, it’s the turn of the iMac G4. Both the Cube and the iMac G4 are, in my opinion, the coolest desktop Macs in relatively recent times — for the platinum era, I’d say the winner is the Macintosh Colour Classic, and the all-time winner remains of course the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh.

While the Cube has undoubtedly a few design quirks (the position of the ports is rather unfortunate and impractical), the iMac G4 is such a joy to use. Despite having an internal fan, it’s not much louder than the fanless Cube, and the display design is just amazing because it is such a perfect combination of wonderful æsthetics and sheer usefulness. You can have the display in front of you at just the right angle, you can easily move it to the side to show something to someone else, and when you’re sitting at the iMac, it’s like having the screen float before your eyes.

The iMac G4’s design was a staggering departure from the previous G3 model, but was also a true improvement inside and out. It was a lighter computer, with a smaller footprint, and thanks to that display design, it felt even lighter, airier. Only the short-lived 20-inch model was a little unbalanced and out of proportion — that 20-inch display was perhaps too big and heavy for the overall design of the iMac.

However, when the first iMac G5 was introduced in mid-2004, its design was a huge letdown for me. Sure, I appreciated the engineering feat of basically having a display with a whole computer inside, and having a faster G5 processor in a consumer-grade product was great, but at the time I felt that the design was a step back compared to the move from the iMac G3 to the iMac G4. Even today, when I look at the whole iMac line, the white G5 and later white Intel models are just ugly, thick desktop beasts, something rectified by the later aluminium models. And speaking of these later aluminium models, while they’ve got thinner, more beautiful and functional year after year, their design is fundamentally unchanged since 2007. They’re simply boring compared to the iMac G4, whose unique, iconic design has remained quite fresh and a reminder of that whimsical touch Apple seems to have forgotten.

Put to good use, as always

This new entry in my small collection, like other vintage Macs I own, is not going to just sit idly in my living-room as a museum exhibit. I haven’t yet decided a specific purpose for it, but its placement as the only desktop Mac outside of my studio makes it an excellent candidate for writing and collecting my thoughts in a less visually cluttered environment. It could also serve as a good media server, and it’s certainly a fantastic solution to listen to music — both my local iTunes library and streamed music via Spotify (the old PowerPC client still works and its interface is actually better than the current one).

Years ago I was given the Apple Pro Speakers you see in the photos above, by a friend who thought they were the Apple M7963 USB Speakers for the Power Mac G4 Cube. They look similar, but can’t be used with the Cube, so I kept them all this time just in case, in an unknown condition because I couldn’t attach them to any other Mac in my possession to test them. Well, it turns out they work fine and deliver a surprisingly rich sound and loudness for their size.

Having another Mac capable of writing DVDs doesn’t hurt, either. I still use optical discs as a backup solution for old files and archives. So I immediately installed the excellent Disco app to easily handle future disc burns.

As for other software, I added the usual set of essentials (for me): TenFourFox for browsing the Web, Sparrow for email, Transmit for FTP, The Unarchiver for unarchiving basically any compressed file, Hazel for a bit of automation in file handling, MenuMeters for keeping an eye on network speeds, TextWrangler and Notational Velocity for text editing and synchronised note-taking, the old Cloud.app version I’ve kept, which still works and syncs with the CloudApp service, and NetNewsWire 3.2.15 to check my feeds. Even if I don’t find a specific task for this iMac, it’s still a great general-purpose machine for doing a lot of light work — and a very cool-looking one at that.

Once again, my deepest, heartfelt thanks to Richard for his generosity.


And finally, thank you to all of you for reading and following this humble blog. My apologies for having updated it so intermittently over the course of 2015 — I’ll try to do better next year. Have a great 2016, everybody!

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.

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:

#alttext#

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:

#alttext#

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:

#alttext#

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:

#alttext#

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:

#alttext#

#alttext#

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:

#alttext#

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.)


#alttext#

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!

#alttext#

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.

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.

So I got a Wi-Fi USB adapter for my Cube

I have recently updated the configuration of my home wireless network. On the one hand, I’m finally enjoying a faster, more stable connection from my studio; on the other hand, it seems that the AirPort card in my Power Mac G4 Cube isn’t enough to keep the Cube connected to the network. The Cube tries to connect to the farthest base station, not acknowledging the one near my studio door. As far as my investigation went, it’s not because the new network configuration isn’t compatible with the older 802.11b protocol, but it appears that the second AirPort Express base station used to extend the network range sometimes broadcasts through channels that aren’t picked up by the Cube’s AirPort card.

A situation like this has many workarounds. For example:

  1. I could connect the Cube to the nearest AirPort Express base station with an Ethernet cable. The downside: the cable would be in the way when entering my studio. And I have already tripped over it in the past when I had to temporarily connect my main MacBook Pro to the network.
  2. I could connect the Cube to the MacBook Pro via Ethernet or FireWire cable and have the MacBook Pro share its Internet connection. The downside: There isn’t one, technically. The FireWire network sharing isn’t a solution for me because my Time Machine external drive is connected to the MacBook Pro via FireWire, so I could use Ethernet. Let’s say I don’t like the idea of having a Mac so dependent on another for Internet connectivity.
  3. I could set up another (vintage) Mac to connect to the home Wi-Fi network then share that connection for the Cube. The downsides: Another wireless client impacting network performance; all the redundancy and ‘waste’ of having another Mac in operation just for the sake of providing connection; and finally, like noted above, the Cube wouldn’t be an independent machine with regard to connectivity.
  4. I could search for a Wi-Fi adapter for the Cube.

Of course I chose №4, because it’s the option that makes more sense and has no significant downsides. I also went looking for USB Wi-Fi adapters, as opposed to Ethernet/Wi-Fi adapters, mostly because I thought I’d probably have more luck finding one locally (which, as it turns out, is exactly what happened).

Only one problem remained: finding a USB Wi-Fi adapter compatible with a Mac OS X version as old as 10.4 Tiger. I started searching the Web more carefully, and I also asked on Twitter and App.net for suggestions. I got two:

Both these products support Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and later versions. During my search I also found NewerTech’s MaxPower USB Wireless Adapter, but the minimum Mac OS X system supported is 10.5 Leopard.

Then I went to the city centre, to take a look around in a local electronics store. There are a lot of USB Wi-Fi adapters out there, and most of them have only Windows drivers. But after examining no fewer than fifteen different product boxes (system requirements are often in small print, half-covered by price labels and barcodes), I found this:

N150

It’s a Sitecom N150 Wi-Fi USB Adapter. On the box, it said it’s compatible with Mac OS X 10.4. After learning it costs just €12.95, I decided to take a chance and purchase it. It works, so I felt I should share, in case someone else is trying to give their vintage Macs more current Wi-Fi options.

The box contains the small USB dongle, a leaflet with instructions, and a CD-ROM with the drivers. I appreciate that the Mac drivers are neatly organised in folders with separate packages for Mac OS X 10.4, 10.5, 10.6, 10.7 and 10.8. The setup is pretty straightforward: You install the drivers, restart the Mac, insert the USB dongle, and that’s it.

On my Cube, after restarting, I noticed that an application called ‘Wireless Network Utility’ was also installed, and it opened automatically, suggesting I enabled the driver in System Preferences. System Preferences also opened, and the Network pane informed me that a new port was recognised, Ethernet Adaptor (en3). I turned off AirPort, went back to the Sitecom Wireless Network Utility, and connected to my home network:

Sitecom wnu

Of course, I can’t achieve amazing transfer speeds, since the Cube has USB 1.1 ports, but I wasn’t looking for speed — all I wanted was a reliable, stable connection. The Wireless Network Utility application is rich with features and information, and that’s quite welcome. The only minor annoyance is that there is no menu icon in the menubar, and I have to do everything by accessing this app. Also, sometimes the adapter doesn’t reconnect automatically to the network when waking the Cube from sleep, so again I have to open the app and manually select the home network. As I said, minor annoyances, since I leave the Cube on throughout the day. All in all, I’m happy with this solution, and surprised I found a network adapter with PowerPC support so easily and, above all, in a local shop.

If you have other suggestions for particularly good products in this category, feel free to add your comments. Thank you.