The Duo 280c is alive after all

From Duo System

I’ve always loved the idea behind the PowerBook Duo system, so much I think it could still be handy today without feeling obsolete. (Today we have notebook computers that can transform into tablets, no? So the concept still stands). I was really happy back in 2000 when I acquired a full Duo system consisting of a PowerBook Duo 280c, Duo MiniDock, the DuoDock II, a 14-inch Apple colour display, and an AppleDesign keyboard plus ADB mouse II. I remember using this system rather frequently in the 3-4 years following the acquisition and before purchasing a second-hand clamshell iBook G3/466. I had a battery for that Duo with enough juice to last me about a couple of hours, so I could use the Duo 280c while commuting, then recharge it while I was at the university, then more writing on the train back home and, once home, I would insert the Duo in its Dock and continue where I left off, but on a bigger display and with a full-sized keyboard.

Then the problems started. One day, after a power surge, the DuoDock II power supply died. At the time I didn’t have the options I would have today if I wanted to search for a replacement. At a local shop and Apple reseller they told me they could import the part, but when they gave me an estimate of the final price, I decided it was not worth the trouble. From then on, I would use the Duo MiniDock instead. The loss of the DuoDock meant having to extract the internal hard drive (that was bigger in storage size than the 230 MB internal one of the Duo 280c) and put it in an external SCSI enclosure. Not being able to use the DuoDock floppy drive was another loss, as it was one of the most reliable units I had ever used. Luckily I still managed to handle floppies by connecting the external floppy drive of my PowerBook 100 [image source]. I also lost Ethernet connectivity (the Duo MiniDock doesn’t have an Ethernet port), but since it was mainly used for transferring files locally, I switched to LocalTalk; slower, but better than nothing. I was still able to use the Duo in desktop configuration by connecting the 14-inch display and the AppleDesign keyboard via the MiniDock.

Then the problems continued: the display stopped working, but I had another available from another acquisition; but then of course the DB15 cable broke down. At that point I didn’t have much time to take care of what appeared to be a streak of Duo-related bad luck, so I just used the main Duo 280c unit when out and about, because it was still the lightest, most compact option for writing when not at home.

Fast forward to late 2014: one day, for no apparent reason, the Duo 280c stopped working. By that time, my vintage Mac collection had grown, and I had other machines readily available to keep carrying out the tasks I used the Duo for. But no other portable Mac was that compact and lightweight. Losing the PowerBook Duo 280c was a blow.

Imagine my joy when a very generous donor contacted me and sent me — among many other things — a complete Duo workstation with another 280c unit that was even better configured than mine (more RAM, more storage space). For a while, I enjoyed having such a workstation on my desk again. It was a bit like going back to those years when I was making the most out of it. Unfortunately, the power supply in that newer DuoDock II died shortly after. That generous donor was awesome enough to send me another power supply — which lasted for about three months. Both power supply units showed the dreaded ‘tick of death’.

Fast forward to three days ago. I’ve now moved to another apartment, and after finally settling down, I’m doing a general check-up of all my vintage machines. I plug in the Duo, and it doesn’t boot. Since everything was working seven weeks before, the first thing I thought was that I had to reset the Power Manager. I followed the instructions, but to no avail. The Duo still didn’t boot. This useful article on TidBITS reminded me to try the trick of disconnecting the internal backup battery and perform a full Power Manager reset. Nothing. The Duo wasn’t showing any sign of life.

(As you can see, at this point I could very well give a title to this saga, something like The vintage Mac conservator and the curse of the PowerBook Duo, but it seems there’s a happy ending after all.)

Now, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt after 30+ years of dealing with computers and related accessories is that everything can just stop working out of the blue, no matter its apparent reliability — and so I thought: what if the Duo’s AC power adapter is the culprit? Regrettably, I don’t have the necessary tools to test whether an adapter is working or not, so the only empirical test I could perform was to connect another adapter and see whether the Duo booted. The only viable candidate was the Macintosh PowerBook 45W AC adapter I use with my PowerBook 1400c.

AC Adapters

The connector is the same, but since it’s a more powerful adapter than the M2693 that came standard with the Duo, I was hesitant about connecting it right away. Checking the specifications, it appears that both adapters feed 24 Volts to the computer, but the slight difference in amperage (1.5A for the original Duo adapter, 1.875A for the 45W AC adapter) got me concerned. So I asked for advice on Twitter and other social networks. Thomas Brand chimed in and suggested that, provided the two adapters feed the same voltage and have the same polarity, there was no harm in connecting the 45W AC adapter to the Duo. Given his extensive experience, I trusted him and proceeded with the test.

The PowerBook Duo 280c booted instantly:

The Duo is alive

Conclusion

I apologise if it took me so long to get to the point of this post. I wanted to offer a good amount of context to explain how sad I felt when even this second Duo 280c unit appeared to be dead. I decided to write about this because perhaps there are other vintage Mac enthusiasts out there who encountered a similar situation and asked themselves: Could I just switch adapters? Will this other one work? In this case the swap worked. The general advice is: pay attention to the AC adapter’s specifications, and to the things Thomas Brand mentioned above. And be wary of third-party adapters, especially if they came cheap and from ‘unknown’ manufacturers. I hope this helps.

Reminder

As indicated in my vintage wishlist, I’m still looking for a PowerBook Duo 2300c, in whatever configuration provided the machine works. If you have one and want to donate it, I’ll assure you it will go to a good home, and I will pay the shipping costs, of course. Thank you for reading!

The strange case of the resurrected drive

When you have a few different vintage Macs to maintain, and not enough space to keep them all set up all the time, you have to perform routine check-ups to see if everything still works or if some Macs have started showing signs of old age and need attention.

A few days ago I reconnected everything in my Power Macintosh 9500/132 system after borrowing display, keyboard and trackball for other projects. The original setup of this Mac included two internal hard drives, a 2GB Seagate and a 540MB Quantum Lightning, the latter being the startup volume. After acquiring an external SCSI 4GB hard drive, I even managed to enjoy a triple-boot system for a while, with Mac OS 9.1, Rhapsody Developer Release 2, and Mac OS X 10.2 Server (installed with the help of XPostFacto).

Sometime around 2012, however, both internal drives died at the same time while trying to boot the Mac. After repeated, unsuccessful attempts at retrieving data, I took them out of the machine and, in turn, put them in an external enclosure to see if I could mount them on other vintage Macs and perform further diagnostics. I soon realised that the 2GB Seagate was a true goner after hearing the kind of mechanical noises it made after powering it up. The other drive was just silent, it didn’t even spin up. Since I didn’t know where to drop it at the time, I ended up putting it back inside the Power Macintosh 9500. The surviving drive was the external 4GB unit running Mac OS X 10.2 Server. I deleted the installation and reinstalled a fresh copy of Mac OS 9.1, and that became the startup and only volume for this Mac.

Remember, this was happening four years ago. In the following years, I’ve used the Power Macintosh 9500 on several occasions. The 540MB internal hard drive never gave the slightest sign of life, to the point that I genuinely forgot about it.

When I switched on the Mac a few days ago, it had problems booting, and appeared to get stuck at the ‘Happy Mac’ screen. It also sounded noisier than I remembered. Then I glanced at the external drive enclosure and noticed that it was turned off. So why was the Mac trying to boot anyway? And where did that noise come from? And then I remembered the dead internal drive… I switched on the external drive, force-rebooted a couple of times, and finally the Power Macintosh completed the startup process successfully. After installing a newer version of the excellent FWB Hard Disk Toolkit, here’s what it presented me after an initial scan:

#alttext#

The 540MB Quantum Lightning drive was detected on the SCSI chain. I selected it, told Hard Disk Toolkit to mount it, and it appeared on the desktop a few seconds later. Then I ran Disk First Aid. It reported minor problems that were promptly repaired. Finally — and still quite amazed — I proceeded to browse the contents of the ‘lost’ drive and everything was there, just like four years ago. I have booted the Power Macintosh 9500 several times over the past few days, and now the internal drive I thought dead years ago consistently mounts on the desktop and appears to be working properly.

This is not the first time in my long experience when a drive or peripheral goes back to functioning after an apparent death, but it is definitely the first time that such resurrection has happened four years later. I still can’t believe it.

Turning my third-generation iPod into a flash-based device

iPod 3G in box
 
After successfully upgrading my iPod mini, replacing its failed 4 GB MicroDrive with an 8 GB CompactFlash card, I wanted to try to do the same thing for my older third-generation iPod. It’s my very first iPod, a 10 GB model purchased in 2003, and it has a great deal of sentimental value to me. Sadly, its internal hard drive stopped working sometime in 2009, and I never got round to fix it. By 2009 I had many other alternatives to listen to music on the go — I had the iPod mini, an iPod shuffle, and an iPhone 3G — so what was once my only iPod was now left in a box with its accessories. Every now and then I would take it out to recharge the battery (while feeling guilty because I was neglecting it), and every now and then I would search online for a new Toshiba hard drive of bigger capacity, but prices have always been a bit too high for my tastes. But recently I started considering the CompactFlash route, and when I stumbled on a very cheap 1.8-inch drive to CF adapter on eBay, I decided to go for it.

What follows is my personal experience, not a proper guide, so your mileage may definitely vary.

Disassembling the iPod to remove the hard drive

I followed the excellent iPod 3rd Generation Hard Drive Replacement guide by iFixit. Opening the iPod was hard and cost me lots of patience, attempts, a few tiny scratches on the iPod’s white surface, and a moment of panic when I thought I had broken something inside with the putty knife I used to separate the plastic front from the metal rear of the iPod. Follow the guide faithfully and pay special attention to the warning at Step 7 regarding the disconnection of the internal headphone jack connector.

Inserting the CompactFlash card

Unlike the iPod mini, for which it was simply a matter of swapping the MicroDrive with a CF card, in this case a 1.8-inch drive to CF adapter is needed. This is what I found and bought on eBay for a few Euros:

CF adapter

At first I thought I’d have trouble inserting it the right way, but I soon found out that there’s really no risk of making mistakes once you examine how the original hard drive connects to the drive connector. A small obstacle in my path at this point was a small plastic protrusion that enters a hole in the hard drive plastic edge near the 50-pin connector (evidently to help you insert the drive in the correct orientation and to align the pins properly). When I pushed the CF adapter down, this small protrusion prevented one edge of the adapter’s connector to insert all the way down. So I clipped it with a pair of small scissors, just enough to eliminate the interference.

Then I slid the CF card in. I was satisfied with the price and quality of the 8 GB SanDisk Ultra card I got for the iPod mini, so I purchased a 16 GB card of the same brand and model.

iPod with 16 GB Card

Connecting to the Mac and iTunes

Dealing with the hardware for this kind of upgrade hasn’t been particularly challenging. But as I was browsing the Web for information in the past weeks, I stumbled on a few different horror stories of third-generation iPods being especially fussy with this upgrade, some not recognising the card, some not being recognised by iTunes, some needing firmware modifications to work, and so on and so forth. I was ready to face troubles and complications, so after inserting the CF card and connecting the drive and headphones connectors, I didn’t close the iPod just yet.

Now, this generation of iPods was the last to be able to connect to Macs and sync with iTunes over FireWire. And being the first iPod with the long-lasting 30-pin Dock connector, it could effectively connect to Macs via FireWire and to PCs (and Macs) via USB. Tempted as I was to connect it to my Intel MacBook Pro over USB, I instead connected it to the same-vintage iMac G4 over FireWire. Like I did with the iPod mini, I just put the CF card inside without formatting it, assuming it was ready to use with a DSLR camera (therefore being preformatted in FAT-32 format).

Lo and behold, iTunes 10.6.3 on the iMac instantly opened and recognised the iPod and the CF capacity, but not the Serial Number and the Software Version, though it prompted me to update, telling me that “A newer version of the iPod software is available (version 2.3)”. (Also note “Format: Windows”)

IPod recognised 1

And the quirkiness begins

Naturally, I click on Update, and the (very fast) update process begins. iTunes downloads the iPod software version 2.3, copies it on the iPod, then — a typical final step in any iPod update — the iPod disappears from the iTunes sidebar, reboots, and remounts. iTunes warns about this with a dialog box that auto-dismisses itself after a few seconds. But the iPod doesn’t reboot. On the iPod’s display the message “OK to disconnect” appears. So I disconnect, then reconnect the iPod to the Mac. iTunes opens and warns that there’s an iPod with a corrupted drive connected (Uh-oh!) and offers to restore it and update the software. I let iTunes do its thing, and I’m presented with the same situation as before: the iPod should reboot (iTunes is telling me so) but it doesn’t. On the display, again, “OK to disconnect”.

I stop and think: evidently the iPod isn’t able to complete the update process by rebooting, so this time instead of disconnecting it, I manually reset it (by holding the Menu and Play/Pause buttons). It’s the right move, because after rebooting, under the Apple logo a progress bar appears. And since there’s now a CF card inside, the firmware update proceeds at an amazing speed. After 5 seconds, the Language Setup screen appears and the iPod is fine. I quickly go to Settings > About and all information shows up correctly: iPod name, capacity, available space, Software Version, Serial Number and Model Number. Success! But…

But now iTunes doesn’t see the iPod.

I reboot the iPod, nothing. I reboot the iMac, nothing. I disconnect and reconnect the iPod, nothing. Then I remember something I read on the Web… someone complaining that after the CompactFlash upgrade their iPod could only sync with iTunes via USB. So I take a USB cable and connect the iPod to the iMac via USB. iTunes opens and immediately recognises the iPod:

IPod recognised 2

Note that now everything appears correctly, and the Format is Macintosh.

Since I don’t have music yet on the iMac, before closing the iPod for good, I want to try copying some music on it, and to check if everything is okay when plugging the headphones. So I connect it to my MacBook Pro and — whew — no problems with the latest version of iTunes. As predicted, transferring music to the flash-based iPod is really fast, and once I plug in the first pair of earphones at hand, I can hear music just fine. However I notice an interesting detail: the iPod is not charging despite being connected to a high-powered USB 2.0 port directly. Quite baffling. I disconnect it, take a FireWire cable and connect the iPod to the G4 Cube. iTunes doesn’t open, but now the iPod is charging. So, was what I read in that forum true then — that after upgrading a third-generation iPod to use a CF card, it can only be synced over USB and only be charged over FireWire?

At this point I’m still utterly puzzled by the initial fact that, after updating the iPod to the latest software version, it stopped being recognised by iTunes over FireWire and just developed this behaviour. It’s not logical. In the end, what I’ve done is just replacing the hard drive with another ‘drive’, only it has flash storage. And then I have an idea. I connect the iPod to the MacBook Pro again over FireWire (like this: [iPod] → [30-pin to FireWire 400 adapter] → [FireWire 800 to FireWire 400 cable] → [MacBook Pro]). As predicted, the iPod starts charging but iTunes doesn’t recognise it. Then I put the iPod into Disk Mode manually. With this iPod, the procedure is as follows: you toggle the Hold switch on and off (set it to Hold, then turn it off again), you press and hold the Play/Pause and Menu buttons until the Apple logo appears, then immediately press and hold the Previous and Next buttons until the Disk Mode screen appears. (Source: Apple Knowledge Base).

As soon as the iPod enters Disk Mode, it gets recognised by iTunes as usual and it keeps charging!

And then another quirky thing happens: transfer speeds when copying music on the iPod are really slow. Not exactly USB 1.1 slow, but certainly slower than USB 2.0 or FireWire 400. I still haven’t had time to figure out this particular detail, and if I find something I’ll update this article.

Other minor quirks noticed so far

  • The iPod freezes every time I eject it from iTunes after syncing. For both iTunes and the Finder, the iPod has been ejected correctly, but the iPod’s display remains stuck on the “Do Not Disconnect” screen. Rebooting the iPod puts everything in order.
  • I’ve also noticed occasional hiccups: earlier today, I selected a song and playback wouldn’t start, as if I had pressed Pause right away. The whole interface was fully responsive and registered every button press, but songs wouldn’t start playing. Putting the iPod to sleep and waking it again solved that.
  • The battery icon appears to have become rather unreliable at displaying exactly how much charge there’s left (more on this below).

Battery life

When it was a new model in 2003, this iPod had an advertised play time of 8 hours. I used it very often back then: 2003 to 2007 were the years of most intense use. Its hard drive failed gradually, and in the last weeks before finally stopping working, it got quite loud and sometimes copying music was painful, with intermittent transfer speeds, aborted copies, and so on. What I had started noticing in these circumstances was that the iPod got unusually warm, and that battery life had decreased dramatically. So I didn’t expect much when I started my test this morning after leaving the iPod to recharge overnight.

All in all I’m not disappointed. The iPod played continuously for just about three hours (backlight set to its minimum setting, 2 seconds; frequent interactions to change album and sometimes the volume). Honestly, I didn’t think it would last this long, considering the little 630 mAh lithium ion battery is 13 years old.

I also didn’t think it would last that long because the battery icon in the status bar completely misbehaved during my testing. When I disconnected the iPod after leaving it on the charger all night, I expected to see a full battery icon. Instead it was at about 60%, and during playback it trickled down to zero in about an hour. I thought that’s what little life there was left, but the iPod kept going, kept going, and played music for two more hours with the battery indicator completely empty.

Conclusion

Working iPod
Overall, I’m happy with how things turned out. The 16 GB CompactFlash card and the adapter didn’t cost much, and I spent about three hours between the ‘surgery’ and the tinkering. It hasn’t been a smooth ride like with the iPod mini, but at least I have revived this third-generation iPod, the very iPod that started the ‘digital music revolution’ for me. The iPod I used as a boot drive to work from my 12-inch PowerBook G4 when its internal hard drive failed and I was waiting for a replacement. I’m glad to see this old buddy playing music again after being left in a drawer for seven years. I still can’t fathom why this specific iPod generation is so fussy when you perform the CompactFlash upgrade, but these quirks I’ve encountered are nothing insurmountable. Ultimately what counts is that the iPod is perfectly usable (by the way, I also put it in Diagnostic Mode, and it passed all the tests), and the occasional hiccup can quickly be resolved with a reboot.

Accessing Gmail from an older version of OS X Mail

I have lost more than thirty minutes trying to solve a small but annoying problem. The solution is rather simple, but it may not be apparent at first. I hope this post can help others who have stumbled upon the same issue.

I have a low-traffic Gmail account I usually check on my Power Mac G4 Cube using Mail.app in Mac OS X 10.4.11. Since it’s low-traffic, I don’t check it very often. But today I felt that a check was long overdue, so I opened Mail, clicked the Get Mail button, and I was presented with the annoying dialog box I sometimes see when there’s a network problem, the password confirmation dialog box. It appears that the pop.gmail.com server rejected my account password, so I was prompted to insert it again. I did, repeatedly, but to no avail.

So I logged in via the Web interface — without any problem — and found a message from Google that told me Google prevented the sign-in because it is from “an app that doesn’t meet modern security standards.”

At first I thought Google had updated/changed the server ports for incoming/outgoing mail, and after tweaking a few settings (I had the outgoing server port still set to ’25’ instead of ‘465’), I tried again to download my email messages. No joy. I then tried to look for an answer in the Gmail support pages, but my frustration and annoyance prevented me from finding what I was looking for more promptly.

I was about to give up, when I noticed an error message in Mail from the Gmail server that thankfully contained the link I was searching, and access to Gmail from Mail.app under Mac OS X Tiger was restored. The essential page is this one: Allowing less secure apps to access your account. You have to make sure you reach this page after you have signed in the problematic account via the Web interface.

Look down the page until you find this bit:

Gmail less secure

Click on the “Less secure apps” section of MyAccount link and you’ll be taken to the Less secure apps page. Click the Turn on radio button to allow access for less secure apps. Now go back to Mail, check for new mail, and the messages should start downloading.

Again, I hope this helps. And I hope it’s clear that in so doing, you’re choosing to weaken the security of your Gmail account(s) in exchange for the convenience of accessing the account(s) from a vintage Mac with older software. In my case, it’s not an important or primary email account, I have been downloading mail on the Cube from that account for the past six years, and I wanted to continue to do so.

Finally: bringing Internet to my Colour Classic

Among the various goodies Richard donated me there was an Apple-branded Comm Slot Ethernet card (Part № 820-0607-A), which I hoped I could attach to my Colour Classic to bring Ethernet connectivity — and therefore Internet — to my favourite compact Mac. Now, the original Colour Classic motherboard doesn’t have a Comm Slot interface, its only expansion comes in the form of a PDS slot. Luckily, years ago I also acquired the motherboard from a Macintosh LC 580, which fits perfectly in a Colour Classic and makes for a nice overall upgrade (it has a Motorola 68LC040 at 33MHz CPU versus the original 68030 at 16MHz of the Colour Classic, and the RAM can be expanded to a maximum of 52 MB instead of the meagre 10 MB of the original motherboard). The LC 580’s motherboard also sports a Comm Slot interface, and the aforementioned Ethernet card can be installed without problems [Update: It’s actually a Macintosh LC 575 motherboard; see my clarification]:

Comm Slot Ethernet card installed

The first snag I encountered was right when I attempted to insert the motherboard with the attached Ethernet card back inside the Colour Classic. The top edge of the card, in fact, collided with a piece of plastic inside the Mac’s chassis that helps to keep the cables of the hard drive power connector in place. I took measurements and, not without difficulty, managed to cut away exactly where the plastic was blocking the card’s passage. Once firmly inserted the motherboard, I turned the Colour Classic on. The Mac booted normally, but there was no video. Suspicions fell immediately on the new card. Since the system had no way of recognising it, I thought, perhaps it defaulted to thinking that a video card was inserted in the Comm Slot, so it shut down internal video and expected an external connection. I had to make the system recognise the card.

Fortunately I had my copy of Apple’s Network Software Installer 1.5.1 on a floppy disk, which updates AppleTalk to version 58.1.5 and installs the most updated versions of a series of network extensions and drivers. I turned the Mac off, removed the card, turned the Mac on again, inserted the floppy and launched the Installer. After a few moments, AppleTalk was updated, the Apple Ethernet CS driver and related extensions installed (the following screenshot comes from a previous attempt, before I updated to AppleTalk 58.1.5):

Network install

To see if everything worked, once again I had to turn the Colour Classic off, remove the motherboard, install the Ethernet card, reinsert the motherboard and turn the Mac on. This time there was video, and the Mac booted normally.

Another good sign was when I connected an Ethernet cable from my router to the Colour Classic: the LED above the port turned on (that didn’t happen when I first attempted an EtherTalk connection between the Colour Classic and the PowerBook 1400). At this point it was merely a matter of configuring MacTCP:

MacTCP
 
MacTCP setup

The easiest way to set things up in MacTCP is to do a manual configuration. I did things right thanks mostly to two useful resources: Vintage Mac World’s Old Macintosh System Software and TCP/IP page, and the fantastic Classic Mac Networking page (scroll down until you find the MacTCP section). On this page in particular was a really useful clarification:

It is a common mistake to associate the “Server” mode of MacTCP with “DHCP Server”: this is not the case. Server mode is used with hardware MacIP routers like the GatorBox which assign the client a specified IP address from a pool of IP addresses, or with PPP which does a somewhat similar affair.

So I simply selected Obtain Address Manually, specified a Class C Address in the IP Address area, and entered my provider’s DNS addresses in the Domain Name Server Information area.

At this point, the only thing that was missing to check if the connection worked was a browser. On another floppy I had a copy of one of the earliest Mac browsers, Samba (MacWWW). I installed it and launched it. It threw some errors because it attempted to load pages at the old CERN website that are no longer at the original addresses, but once I entered a valid URL (I figured the afore-linked page at Vintage Mac World was simple enough to be loaded correctly), the webpage loaded almost instantly. I had to share my triumph:

But MacWWW 1.03 is indeed a very old browser, and today’s Web, unless you really know where to look, is too complex for this browser to load pages properly without throwing a bunch of errors. The day after I found a slightly newer browser in MacWeb 2.0. After installing it, and pointing it to the same Vintage Mac World’s webpage, the result was definitely prettier:

MacWeb 2.0

This browser, like MacWWW, can’t handle secure connections and the like, but at least is capable of loading embedded images in HTML pages correctly. The overall responsiveness is remarkable, considering the age of the hardware and the software involved.

I’m so happy that I’ve finally managed to bring the Colour Classic online. Not that I’m planning to browsing the Web much on this machine, but now that I know that it can access the Internet, I’m ready to move on to the next step, which involves configuring an email client and an email account, and even an FTP client (I’m thinking an old version of Fetch), so that I can exchange files with the Colour Classic via my own server if need be.

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

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

I currently own five Compact Macs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Overall, I can’t complain.

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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Sometimes they go quietly

PowerBook Duo 280c

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of old age

The least pleasant aspect of collecting a few vintage machines is their maintenance. One of the bits of advice I often give to new vintage Mac enthusiasts is Don’t leave these Macs unused for extended periods of time; try to use them as often as you can. Usually the part that suffers most in a vintage Mac left unused for a long time is the hard drive. Over the years I’ve witnessed my good share of Macs whose hard drives didn’t come out of the long sleep (I call this phenomenon Dead On Reboot). With vintage PowerBooks another source of problems after long periods of neglect is of course the battery — this is especially the case with the Macintosh Portable and the PowerBook 100.

Another rather common problem with vintage compact Macs (from the 128K to the Classic II) are their capacitors on the logic board. With time (and neglect) these components fail and leak on the logic board itself, causing a few issues. I tried to follow my own advice, but since I own a fair number of vintage Macs and there isn’t much space for them where I live, it’s hard to keep them all in their best shape, despite my very good intentions. Having only a small desk devoted to my vintage hardware, I’ve had to resort to some kind of rotation system where, say, I use my Macintosh SE for three weeks, then I put it away and replace it with the Macintosh Classic for another three weeks, then the Colour Classic, etc. As I said, despite my best efforts, two of the compact Macs in my little collection — first the SE/30, now the Macintosh Classic as well — have started presenting the telltale symptoms of capacitor trouble.

Earlier today, after booting my Macintosh Classic, I noticed something weird: the system clock wouldn’t advance. After a bit of Web research, I found this page, Macintosh Classic Logic Board Repair with a few decent images of where the failing capacitors are located. It also has a good summary of the revealing signs of a Mac whose capacitors are starting to fail:

The Mac Classic range of computers often show a variety of symptoms but which have a common cause of failure, for example:

  • Low volume or no sound.
  • Real time clock not advancing.
  • Power up problems with checkers and stripes etc.
  • No serial or LocalTalk functionality.

My Mac Classic suffers from the first two symptoms, while the SE/30 is curiously mute only on boot (and sometimes it presents a chequered/striped screen, but restarting the machine usually makes the problem go away, at least for now). In the next days I’ll open up my compact Macs and take a look at their logic boards. The most frustrating thing for me is my lack of skills (and tools) when it comes to soldering/desoldering components. I’ll do my best to clean the logic boards and to perform some damage control. If you find yourself in a similar situation, probably a good place to ask for help/advice are the 68k Macintosh Liberation Army forums. And if you have some logic board cleaning tips to share, you’re welcome to chime in by leaving a comment. Thanks.