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.

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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.

Actual work on vintage Macs is possible

Stephen Hackett, linking to this article by Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica, comments:

Andrew Cunningham has learned what I did back in 2008: while OS 9 is fun to play with, it’s terrible for getting actual work done.

Well, that’s debatable. And it really depends on what we mean by ‘actual work.’

I’m probably in an advantageous position, since my ‘actual work’ mainly revolves around text and writing. For that, I can be rather productive even on a PowerBook 5300 (a 117 MHz machine with 64 MB of RAM) with Mac OS 8.1, as you can read in the second part of my article, In defence of the PowerBook 5300.

I’m quite experienced when it comes to vintage Macs and optimising them to make the most of them. The Ars Technica piece by Cunningham left a bitter taste in my mouth, and as I voiced on Twitter and App.net, I believe the author (perhaps due to inexperience and impatience with vintage hardware and software) hasn’t painted a completely fair picture of how these machines and systems can actually perform.

Cunningham writes:

And connecting the PowerBook to my router required a trip to the TCP/IP Control Panel to get things working—the OS didn’t just detect an active network interface and grab an IP address as it does now.

I’d like to point out that this behaviour isn’t the standard, as far as I know. I have a few PowerPC Macs that can boot either in Mac OS X or Mac OS 9, and a Mac OS 9-only machine, a clamshell iBook G3/300 with 288 MB of RAM. Whenever I connect the iBook to my router via Ethernet, I’m automatically connected to the Internet, with no need to manually configure anything. The same happens with my PowerBook 5300 on Mac OS 8.1 — it usually auto-connects when I plug in the Ethernet cable. (Sometimes I admittedly have to check the TCP/IP control panel.)

Mac OS 9 feels much faster on the 800MHz G4 than does OS X 10.4 or 10.5, and when the system is working smoothly things open and close pretty much instantaneously. That is, unless you get a pop-up message that momentarily freezes the OS, or you have an odd, possibly memory-related crash that requires a restart.

I’m sorry if that has been Cunningham’s experience, but again, he makes it sound like something that happens so often, one would think Mac OS 9 is a completely unreliable system. It’s not, at least not in my experience. Granted, if all you’ve known is Mac OS X and expect to open as many apps in a Mac OS 9 system, you won’t enjoy the same degree of general stability. That’s because Mac OS X and Mac OS 9 manage memory differently.

With regard to Cunningham’s poor email experience on Mac OS 9, I can relate. In part. Four years ago I carried out an informal investigation, where I installed as many decent classic Mac email clients as I could find and tried to configure a Gmail account in all of them. You can find a detailed account of that experiment in my article Classic email clients vs Gmail, but in short, I found that the only email clients playing nice with Gmail were Classilla Mail in Classilla 9.x, the Netscape Mail module in Netscape 7.0.2, while the two best clients capable of full Gmail support (at least at the time, in 2010) were Microsoft Outlook 5.02 and PowerMail 4.2.1.

As for publishing articles and blog posts online using WordPress, my workaround has always been posting by email, which WordPress supports. This allowed me to post articles even using my PowerBook 5300 with Mac OS 8.1 and Mailsmith 1.1.8.

Cunningham:

[…] it goes without saying that syncing files between Mac OS 9 and any other system just isn’t going to happen (I mostly use Dropbox, but the service you use doesn’t make a difference). Even using a network share isn’t possible — Mac OS 9 doesn’t support Windows’ SMB protocol, and its version of the AFP protocol is too old to interface with my Mac Mini server running Mavericks. I was only able to do some file transfers using FTP, yet another unencrypted and insecure protocol.

And that’s why I use a Titanium PowerBook G4 running Mac OS X Tiger as a ‘server’ when I need to sync files with Dropbox. Since Dropbox (bless those guys) still supports PowerPC Macs running a version of Mac OS X as old as Tiger, I connect the OS 9 iBook to the TiBook and mount the Dropbox folder in the iBook’s desktop. The experience is seamless enough.

After trying to work in Mac OS 9, Cunningham installs Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard on his test machine, a Titanium PowerBook G4 at 800 MHz. Note that Leopard has a minimum system requirement of a G4 processor running at 867 MHz. While it’s certainly possible (as Cunningham did) to circumvent this limitation and install Leopard on a Mac with a slower processor — I had managed to install it on a 500 MHz machine — you cannot expect optimum performance.

In fact, speaking of TenFourFox — the best and most up-to-date browser for G3/G4/G5 PowerPC Macs — Cunningham writes:

In any case, TenFourFox does a respectable job of rendering pages properly, and I’m sure it runs much better on newer 1GHz-and-up aluminum PowerBooks and iMacs than it does on this old titanium G4.

It does. On my 1 GHz 12-inch PowerBook G4 and 1.33 GHz 17-inch PowerBook G4 it runs very well. But it also runs fine on my 400 MHz and 500 MHz Titanium PowerBooks.

One thing I’ll say about both OS X 10.4 and 10.5 on this hardware is that it’s laggy no matter what you’re doing.

It’s a strange assessment, that doesn’t tally with my experience at all. I have Mac OS X 10.4.11 installed on these machines:

  • A 400 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 with 1 GB of RAM
  • A 500 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 with 512 MB of RAM
  • A 450 MHz Power Mac G4 Cube with 1.5 GB of RAM
  • A 466 MHz clamshell iBook G3 FireWire with 576 MB of RAM

and Tiger isn’t laggy on any of them, especially the Cube, where the Finder is actually more responsive than on my MacBook Pro with 8 GB of RAM, running Mac OS X 10.9.5. As for Leopard being laggy on a Mac that doesn’t meet Leopard’s minimum system requirements, well, I’m not that surprised.

Stuff you take for granted on a modern, multi-core computer with an SSD and lots of RAM is totally different on a system this old. Having dozens of browser tabs open at once, playing some music or maybe a video in the background, syncing Dropbox files, even watching animated GIFs consumes precious CPU cycles that an 800MHz G4 doesn’t have to spare. Exceeding the computer’s once-impressive-but-now-paltry 1GB of RAM, something you’ll do without even thinking if you fire up TenFourFox, prompts virtual memory swapping that grinds things to a halt.

There’s nothing technically wrong with what Cunningham is saying here, but “grinding things to a halt” is a bit of an exaggeration. I’m writing this on my 17-inch 1.33 GHz PowerBook G4 with 1.5 GB of RAM running Mac OS X 10.5.8, so it’s a more capable Mac than the TiBook he used, but still, here’s a list of the applications I have currently opened:

  • MarsEdit 2.4.4
  • Sparrow (yes, version 1.2.3 was a Universal Binary)
  • The latest version of TenFourFox, with 7 tabs open
  • The Spotify Mac client (version 0.6.6.10, still working on PowerPC Macs)
  • NetNewsWire 3.2.15, with three tabs open in its built-in browser
  • An instance of Fluid (again, I held on to its last PowerPC-compatible version) running TweetDeck (the Web interface) inside of it
  • Mac OS X’s Dictionary app

The PowerBook is quite stable and doesn’t feel laggy or sluggish to me.

I ascribe Cunningham’s evaluation to his fairly limited time with the test machine, which probably wasn’t perfectly optimised to provide the best experience under Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X 10.5. I insist, you can’t expect Leopard to be very smooth on an 800 MHz Mac when it requires at least 867 MHz. You can see here that such minimum requirement has more to do with the overall performance and user experience rather than something strictly hardware-related.

Back to the initial question — Is it possible to do actual work under Mac OS 9 today? — my answer is a cautious ‘yes.’ It always depends on what you actually do for a living, of course. If you work with audio/video editing tools, for example, you can find professional software. Same goes for image editing or 3D rendering. The big difference is that you’ll have to work with vintage hardware which can do the job but not as efficiently as a modern Mac with current software.

Another thing to consider is that you’ll have to invest some time to properly optimise your vintage Mac. There’s a lot of Mac OS 9 software out there, and sometimes you have to try different applications in the same category to find the best software for what you’re trying to accomplish (like what I did with email clients). I agree, it can become a tiring and bewildering exercise, especially if you never used anything older than Mac OS X.

On one thing I very much agree with Cunningham: the most problematic aspect of using Mac OS 9 today is related to Web browsing and Internet security. Classilla is the most modern browser you can find for Mac OS 9 and the most secure, but it’s all in relative terms. All other browsers are just too old to keep up with modern websites and technologies. If you’re trying to load a certain website properly, all I can suggest is to download different browsers and try them until you find the one that best renders it. Internet Explorer 5.x, Netscape, old versions of Opera, iCab, are all worth keeping around (iCab 3.0.5, the last version supporting Mac OS 9.x, isn’t that bad for example), but it certainly is tedious work and doesn’t make for a smooth browsing experience. Classilla at least tends to favour mobile versions of popular, complex websites, to offer a bit of usability at the very least — the last time I tried, I was able to tweet using Twitter’s mobile Web interface from inside Classilla.

But security? Just forget about it. I mean, I’m not talking about viruses (practically nonexistent for the classic Mac OS), but secure transmission of data. In a nutshell, I wouldn’t use a Web browser under Mac OS 9 to transmit sensitive information (financial data, passwords protecting sensitive accounts, etc.).

When we move up the ladder a bit, however, and I’m talking Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and 10.5 Leopard, then I can safely say that actual work can be done, and the experience is much less painful than under Mac OS 9. Again, it’s a matter of being patient at the beginning, and take some time to hunt down the necessary software, but I’m still using three G4 PowerBooks and my G4 Cube as secondary machines and I’m pretty satisfied with them, especially the 17-inch PowerBook G4, which is a little powerhouse despite being a Mac that’s almost 11 years old. It is, among other things, my secondary photo archive & editing machine (it runs Aperture 2 decently), my CD/DVD burning machine and sometimes my old-PowerPC-games machine (its ATI Mobility Radeon graphics card with 64 MB of memory can still perform quite well with games produced when this machine was new, games like Quake or Unreal Tournament, for example). And of course I use it for Web browsing, email, RSS feeds, writing.

Of course, if your exploration of vintage Macs and older Mac OS and OS X versions is just something you do in the spur of the moment, and is not meant to last more than just a few days, your experience as a result is going to look pretty much similar to Cunningham’s. I hope this contribution of mine will help paint a more balanced picture of what it means to use vintage Mac hardware and software today — on a regular basis.

 


I’m always trying to find and report great apps that are still available for PowerPC G3/G4/G5 Macs. So far, I’ve written 3 articles listing a few of them:

I think they’re a good enough starting point to assemble a decent software arsenal if you have a nice Mac running Tiger or Leopard in particular.

Hello, iPod

Hello ipod

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

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

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

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

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

iTunes 2.0 or later

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

iTunes 3.0 or later

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

iTunes 4.0 or later

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

iTunes 4.2 or later

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

iTunes 4.6 or later

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

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

iTunes 4.7 or later

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

iTunes 4.7.1 or later

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

iTunes 4.7.1

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

iTunes 5.0 or later

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

iTunes 6.0 or later

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

iTunes 7.0 or later

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

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

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

iTunes 7.4 or later

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

iTunes 7.4 or later

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

iTunes 8.0 or later

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

iTunes 8.0 or later

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

iTunes 9.0 or later

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

iTunes 10 or later

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

(Data collected using Mactracker.)

The Apple Network Server resource

ANS

From Wikipedia:

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

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

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

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

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

In defence of the PowerBook 5300

PowerBook 5300

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cracks in the plastic casing.

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

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

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

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

Cracking hinges.

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

Poor performance due to the lack of a L2 cache.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Checking on my Quadra 950

Quadra950 bezel close cc

 

It didn’t boot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleaning out

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

Power supply

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

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

Quadra950 inside motherboard

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

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

The NuBus cards

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

Asante Ethernet 2

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

Paintboard TurboXL 1

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

4 serial ports card

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

Macintosh II PC Card

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

After the cleaning

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

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

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

 

Quadra950 rear label

Checking on my Macintosh LC II

Mac LCII 2014

When you have a collection of vintage Macs, even if it’s a small and unassuming one like mine, you have to perform periodical checks to verify the state of the machines. Especially when you don’t have enough space to leave all the Macs laid out and plugged in permanently.

Due to space constraints, I only have two CRT monitors. One is a relatively modern 17-inch Belinea display with a VGA connection, which is currently connected to my Power Macintosh 9500/132 and can be used as an external display with a wide range of Macs. The other is a 14-inch Macintosh Color Display, an 11-kilogram beast with a DB-15 connection that is essential to be able to use three specific machines in my collection: a Quadra 950, a Performa 630CD and a Macintosh LC II (and a PowerBook Duo 280c if I had a working DuoDock).

Yesterday I finally dusted off the Macintosh Color Display because it was time to check on those aforementioned Macs, which sadly haven’t seen much action as of late. The LC II, in particular, was last checked in 2007 (I know, mea culpa, etc.). I had also attached a label to the display with a ‘Last used’ date, and discovered it was last powered on in April 2009. I connected everything with trepidation, basically expecting the LC II’s hard drive not to spin up.

I’m glad I was wrong. As soon as I flipped the switch on the back of the LC II, the Mac booted up as if it were last used just the day before. No problems with the display either. Whew.

This LC II has 4MB of RAM, a 40MB hard drive and of course a 1.44MB floppy SuperDrive. I’m always amazed at how fast these vintage Macs boot up. It took the LC II about 20 seconds from the moment I switched it on to displaying the Desktop. I know it doesn’t have much to load, but it’s always a 16 Megahertz machine booting from a hard drive manufactured in 1993.

Speaking of hard drive, I checked it using the Norton Utilities for the Macintosh, whose version 1.1 was installed on this Mac by the previous owner (sorry for the moiré effect):

Norton Utilities 1

And Norton Disk Doctor reported no issues. Other software on this Mac includes Microsoft Word, HyperCard (both version 1, visible in the opening photo, and version 2) and the then-ubiquitous ClarisWorks. Among the utilities, a file compressor/archiver called Disk Diamond, and TattleTech. Now, according to TattleTech, this LC II was manufactured in February 1989, making it 25 years old exactly — but it’s a mistake, obviously, since the Mac LC was introduced in October 1990 and the LC II in March 1992. TattleTech checks the manufacturing date against the Mac’s serial number, which has to be manually inputted. Evidently I had transferred this copy of TattleTech, along with its preferences file, from my Macintosh SE. The label on the bottom of the LC II says that it was manufactured in 1993, so it’s ‘only’ 21 years old. And works just fine.

During the weekend I’ll clean it inside and check the floppy drive, which has become a bit unreliable, then I’ll proceed with the Performa 630CD and the Quadra 950. By the way, I’m always interested in SCSI hard drives for these machines, so if you have some working units lying around, let’s talk about it.

30 years of the Mac: my personal celebration

On my main website, I’ve published a small contribution, a personal way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Mac:

In case you didn’t notice, the Mac turns 30 today. Apple has created a fantastic mini-site to celebrate this milestone. I wanted to celebrate in my own way, going down memory lane with a bunch of photos of the Macs in my collection, the majority of which still work today.

Continue reading: Celebrating 30 years of the Mac

Useful Macintosh shortcuts

Last week I needed to force my Macintosh Colour Classic to boot from an external SCSI hard drive, and I couldn’t remember the correct keyboard shortcut to hold down at boot. After some research on the Web, I found this useful resource by Charles Poynton. Since many websites with vintage-Mac-related contents in my bookmarks are increasingly suffering from link rot, I decided to ‘reprint’ the table of keyboard shortcuts made available by Poynton. (His page also links to an even more complete shortcut list collected by Dave Polascheck: Magical Macintosh Key Sequences, where you can download a handy PDF.)

The document written by Poynton begins after the line break. I hope you’ll find these resources as useful as I did. Feel free to point out any mistakes in the comment section.


When a Macintosh is powered-up or Restarted (“booted”), various pieces of Mac ROM and System software examine the keyboard, and take special actions if certain keys are held down. This page summarizes the actions.

Booting involves several phases; startup keys take effect at different times depending upon the phase. Sometimes the same key has a different effect depending upon which phase it is sensed. Generally, you should hold the indicated keys down until the desired action takes place.

Boot ROM

Command-Option-PR Zap PRAM (double boot)
R Force PowerBook to reset the screen
Command-Option-AV Reset AppleVision Display (1.5.2 or later)
Command-Option-TV Force Quadra AV (only) to use TV as a monitor
Command-Option-XO Force Mac Classic (only) to Boot from ROM
Mouse button Eject Floppy, then boot from SCSI
Command-Option-Shift-Delete Bypass the device that is selected in the Startup Disk control panel; boot from the first bootable device other than that.
Command-Option-Shift-Delete-# Boot from a specific SCSI ID, where # is 0
through 6
C Boot from internal CD-ROM
(Most late model Macs)
N Boot from network (iMac and later models)
D Boot from the internal hard disk if the default boot device has been set to something else
Z Boot from an internal Zip drive
OF Access Open Firmware (on G3 and later models)
T Boot into FireWire Target Disk mode (on certain
FireWire-equipped Macs)

Upon appearance of the happy face, let go of any boot keys you may have needed, then immediately press any keys you need to control…

Mac OS System startup

Control Invoke MacsBug upon startup.
Option In Mac OS 9.x, on a startup disk having multiple system folders, invoke dialog to choose System Folder.
Command Boot with Virtual Memory off
Shift Disable all Extensions and Control Panels. Release Shift when the message “Extensions disabled” appears in the welcome box.
Space Open extension manager before loading Extensions or Control Panels. Release the Space bar when the Extensions Manager displays its screen.

Holding the Shift key early in the boot sequence disables all Extensions and Control Panels. Individual Extensions and Control Panels may disable themselves upon seeing the Shift key later in the boot sequence, but the timing for this is difficult to achieve! Upon loading, an Extension or Control Panel is supposed to display its icon in the “icon parade.” If the icon is displayed at boot time, but the Extension or Control Panel disables itself because the Shift key is held or some error condition is detected, it is conventional for a red X to be drawn over its icon.

Immediately upon the appearance of the (blank) menu bar, press any keys you need to control …

Finder startup

Command-Option Rebuild Desktop
Option Don’t open Finder windows
Shift Disable “Startup Items”

After startup

Lots of Finder shortcuts are documented in the online Finder Help. (p.s. Don’t delete that file: Certain Apple installers refuse to function unless that file is in its proper place.)

Command-Shift-1 (or 2, or 0) Eject a Floppy Disk [FKEYs]
Command-Option-ESC Force current app to quit.
Command-POWER Invoke the debugger (if MacsBug is installed)
G to return to interrupted code

Restart, Sleep, Shutdown

If you have a Power key, it is at the top of your keyboard, at the center or on the right hand side; it carries an incused triangle symbol.

POWER Present Restart, Sleep, Shutdown dialog – key
R for Restart, S for Sleep, ESC for cancel, or
Return for Shutdown.
Control-Command-Option-POWER Fast Shutdown
Command-Option-POWER Put late model PowerBooks & Desktops to
sleep
Control-Command-POWER Unconditional, forced reboot (the “three-finger salute”)

This document may be freely distributed for noncommercial purposes, provided that it is distributed unmodified and in its entirety, and that this copyright notice remains intact.

Charles PoyntonMac

Copyright © 2001-07-15