Thursday, April 27, 2017

Macintosh Performa 430 - Part 1

In my last post, I mentioned that I had worked on three projects, one of which was a Macintosh Performa 430.  Now I should state up front, I'm not at all familiar with the classic Mac OS.  I've been using Mac OS X since 10.3, but I had never even touched one before that.  As a long-time Windows user, I didn't find the Mac OS X interface compelling at first, and the lack of a command line, multitasking, and other sort of "power user" features made the Mac OS a non-starter for me.  But then a good friend of mine told me about Mac OS X and it's Unix base, and that's what turned me around on the operating system.  And I've generally been a satisfied user for the past 15 years or so (though I will admit that the more iOS-focused releases have made me think of jumping ship).

So at the same time that I decided to install Mac OS 9, I also decided I wanted to try out System 7.  Why?  Well, to some degree because of my Apple IIgs that I acquired about two years ago.  It was the first time trying GS/OS and not only was I surprised at how much the interface reminded me of Macintosh, but I also found I liked this interface that was closer to the classic look and feel.

With my decision to try System 7, I just had to find a machine, so off to eBay I went.  Of course, as I explained in my last post, my rush to get an iBook left me with a model that couldn't actually run OS 9, so I wanted to avoid that this time.  Unfortunately, that's where I ran into the "model hell" of 90's Apple Computer.  The Performa line, for instance, isn't a line of computers in any meaningful way.  They aren't a series of computer with similar or gradually increasing specifications.  They're just a set of computers that Apple arbitrarily applied the label Performa to.  So when looking at an eBay auction, unless you know the particulars of Apple hardware and the auction is good enough to list everything, it can be hard to know what you're getting, or how this compares with other models.

Stock photo of an SE/30
But I finally found a unit I liked, a Macintosh SE.  It seemed a bit underpowered, but I'd always that style of case.  I had heard somewhere on one of the many retro podcasts that I listen to that a Macintosh SE/30 was recommended, but I couldn't find any that were both cheap and tested to work, so I figured the SE would do.  Also I have a Floppy Emu unit (more on that later), which can emulate a hard drive as well as floppy for an SE, and I really do prefer to replace hard drives with solid state devices if at all possible.  But an eBay sniper got it from me.  It sat at $40 until the last few seconds and then suddenly jumped to $100 and beyond my bidding limit.

Photo on the eBay auction
So back to the eBay drawing board.  I knew I wanted a 68k machine and not a PowerPC, since I already had two PowerPC iBooks.  Again, the dizzying array of models confused me, but I finally found another machine I liked maybe even more than the SE, the Performa 430.  It didn't have the all-in-one case of the SE, but the "pizza box" design really appealed to me.  It also has a 68030 at 16Mhz, so twice the speed (and the same as the recommended SE/30), and could support up to 10Mb ram instead of just 4 for the SE.  The maximum ram is not as good as the SE/30 by a long shot, but the Performa 430 was considered a lower-end Mac when it was introduced.  And the best part: It was tested and cost about $50.

I ordered it on Thursday and it actually, much to my surprise, got here on Friday, but unfortunately though it had been tested it had quite a few problems.

  1. It squealed while powered on.  It emitted a sound that was reminiscent of a radio being tuned, the high-pitch squeal when the radio operator can't quite find the frequency and keeps turning the knob.
  2. The floppy didn't work.  
  3. The hard drive worked, but when the unit was left on for a relatively short period of time (5-10 mins), then it wouldn't boot properly until it had 20 mins or so to cool down.  I discovered this while trying to diagnose the floppy issue, because I rebooted several times.  Or I tried to.  When I rebooted the first time it had been on for a little while, it would try to start up, then stop and reboot on its own.  And it would just keep rebooting until I finally turned it off.
  4. Not a problem with the Performa, but an obstacle for me: I didn't have a Mac monitor.  The Mac's of this period use a DB15 for video output, but it is in two rows instead of VGA's three, so it can't connect to a standard monitor with just a VGA cable.
  5. The PRAM battery was dead.
So when I got the Performa, I of course rushed to set it up.  The video connector was the first issue that hit me, so in some frustration I ordered a connector and assumed I'd have to wait several days before I could play with my new toy.  But then I remembered that I actually had such a connector (the adapter to the left in the picture to the right).  I'm not sure why I have it, I think it might be in relation to the Apple IIgs (even though it doesn't use it, I think at the time I thought it did), but it did the trick.  I was able to connect the Performa to an older VGA flatscreen I have and it detected the resolution and worked well.  The only thing I noticed was flickering in the image.  It was perfectly usable, but not great.

When the connector that I ordered arrived (the one to the right), I set the jumpers for an LC II model (Performa models 400-430 are just an LC II model under a different name and a different software configuration, an example of the confusing mess that was Apple's method of naming models) and hooked it up.  It worked wonderfully.  The flickering was gone and the image displayed perfectly.  So if you're trying to hook up an old Macintosh to a VGA monitor, definitely go for the connector with jumpers pictured above, a Mitsubish AD-A205 instead of the simpler model above.  

With the video problem resolved, I still had to get my Performa up and running.  Fortunately, it uses an ADB keyboard and mouse, as does the Apple IIgs.  I had purchased an Apple Extended Keyboard II unit and an ADB mouse for my IIgs when I first got it, so I scavanged those for my new Macintosh.  And with that, the unit booted like a champ into System 7.

At first, I was excited, of course.  Buying off eBay is always a bit of a risk, even when you're buying from someone with a good reputation and the unit was tested.  To see it boot was a relief...until I realized it had problems.  The squeal presented itself almost immediately, and a quick search of the Internet revealed that it wasn't unique to my device.  And that there wasn't a great solution.  The floppy drive issue came up when I decided to test it by popping in a floppy disk, and this led to the discovery of the rebooting issue when it had been on for a while.  The floppy disk got stuck in the drive, so I shut it down and ejected it manually with a paper clip.  When I turned it back on, it got all the way through booting to the desktop...and then suddenly rebooted.  After that, it wouldn't even get that far before it rebooted again.

One final thought: With all the problems this machine has, did the eBay seller lie?  Technically no, and even in spirit I don't think so.  As I indicated, when I first saw it boot, I thought it was working.  And according to his description, that's pretty much all he did.  He didn't test the floppy or run a stress test over hours to see how it would respond, but he also didn't pretend he'd done this.  When we buy an old computer off of eBay, we know we're taking a risk.  A seller might say he tested the computer, but unless he specifies that he fully tested and how he did so, then we have to assume we're getting at least a partially untested machine.  So I think the seller was honest in explaining how he tested and what he saw.  

I'll talk about how I resolved each of these issues in the next entry.

Monday, April 17, 2017

My iBook and Mac OS 9

So I'm back and working on some new retro projects.  I am blaming my long silence on kids, but things have changed such that I now should have a quite a bit more free time.  By "kids," I mean my god-children, specifically the twins Harmony and Trinity.  Some time ago they and their mother had moved out to live with her fiance (a very nice guy who is also great with the girls), but they were still attending the same school so as a consequence spent every other night with me.  So while they went to bed by 8, by that time I was generally too tired to do much of anything.  But now they're attending a school close to their new home, which is about 45 minutes away in clear traffic, so they come over here a lot less.

As much as I miss having the kids around, it does have the nice benefit that I have a great deal more free time, especially during the week.  So this weekend (the kids were at their father's for Easter) I tackled a few new projects.  On Friday I received a Macintosh Performa 430 I had purchased off of eBay; on Saturday I started putting together my RC2014 kit; and on Saturday I installed Mac OS 9 on an iBook that I had gotten several weeks ago but hadn't done anything with.  I'll talk about the first two projects in later posts, but I'll talk about the iBook now since it's the simplest.

I got the iBook off of eBay (the source of all vintage computers, at least for me) several weeks ago with the express purpose of using Mac OS 9 on it.  Why did I get it?  Well, I recently discovered the joys of cheap semi-old computers on eBay.  By "semi-old" I mean computers between 10-20 years old, not old enough to be considered truly "vintage" but not new either.  I bought a Dell Latitude D610, a 12-year old computer that I promptly upgraded to 2 GB of ram and the latest version of Lubuntu, a lighter Ubuntu distribution.  I also picked up a 12" G4 iBook with Max OS X 10.4 installed.  Both I got for under $50 including shipping.  The Dell I had specific plans to use for Node.js development, but I didn't really having any plans for the G4.  It was an impulse buy, pure and simple.  I didn't even have any great excitement over using an old version of Mac OS X.  I'm primarily a Mac OS X user, and 10.4 was the first version I used when I switched from the PC.  But I didn't have any great desire to jump back in time to 10.4.

Then a thought occurred to me: What about Mac Classic OS?  Prior to Mac OS X, I always eschewed Macs in favor of Windows.  There were many things I didn't like about the old Mac operating system.  I didn't know much about them honestly, but what I did know I didn't like.  I didn't like a single button mouse.  I didn't like the lack of true preemptive multitasking.  I didn't like the lack of a command-line.  Mac OS X solved all of these for me, with I guess the exception of the single-button mouse.  But then I learned about the Ctrl key, and Mac OS X (and maybe classic Mac OS did as well) supported multi-button mice just fine, so even that was resolved.

So anyway I decided to install Mac OS 9, since it is the last version of the classic operating system.  But then I discovered that my iBook didn't support OS 9, it could only run OS X.  Also the CD-ROM drive didn't work, so installing anything would be much more challenging.

So back to eBay where I found a 12" G3 iBook, and I confirmed beforehand that it did support Mac OS 9.  $50 and several days later, I had it in my hand.  I booted up the Mac OS X 10.4 that came on while I burned a Mac OS 9.2.1 iso image I found online.  But when I booted from the image and tried to install, it said it couldn't install on this computer.  Then I tried just Mac OS 9.0.4.  Same outcome.  Then System 8.6.  Same thing.  Finally after much searching I found out that Macs (at least classic Macs) are very tied to their particular version of the operating system.  On the PC side, you can install later version and even earlier versions of an operating system on any PC.  You can even boot into DOS on a modern computer!  But with the Mac, it has to be the version that the model shipped with or later.  My iBook shipped with 9.2.2 so it had to be that version and nothing earlier.  So I downloaded a 9.2.2 iso, but it actually had an install for 9.2.1 and an upgrade for to 9.2.2, not a direct install of 9.2.2.

I did some searching and found out about the Mac OS 9.2.2 Universal Install cd.  I downloaded this, followed the instructions, and they worked perfectly!  The final thing I did, after the OS was completed, was to upgrade the machine from 256 MB ram to 640 MB, which cost about $15 on eBay for the ram module.

But alas all was still not well in my Mac OS paradise.  My iBook has an AirPort card, but I don't seem able to connect to my WiFi.  I don't think it's the card though.  In the AirPort setup, it sees my network and says it connects, but then fails to find the DHCP server, saying that it can't check the status of the network.  My theory is that it doesn't support WPA2 security protocol, which wouldn't be surprising since it is quite old.  However, when I plug a network cable in, it sees the network just fine and I can get out to the internet.  Rockin' the Internet with IE 5.5! 😁

Still, not all is happiness and cupcakes.  I tried to connect the iBook to my iMac, running the latest Sierra, but the AFP protocols aren't compatible.  I tried a few things on the net, but nothing worked.  Finally I reverted to non-secure FTP.  I have a non-secure FTP server setup on my iMac to serve up files for my DOS machines (I can't use Sierra's built-in FTP server because it is secure, so DOS client can't connect to it), so I just fired it up, made a Macintosh directory, and the iBook could pull down files without a problem using Internet Explorer.  I even downloaded Fetch, a popular FTP client from back in the day.

But one small ray of sunshine in this otherwise cloudy day network incompatibility: My G4 iBook with Mac OS X 10.4 can connect to both the Mac OS 9 iBook and my iMac!  So I can use FTP to download from my iMac to the iBook, and on the rare circumstances that I need to go the other way, I can use the G4 iBook as an intermediary.  Why not just upload via ftp, you ask?  Because I can't figure out how to configure the ftp server I'm using to allow it.  I tried multiple times while playing around with my DOS machines, and finally just gave up.

So now I have a G3 laptop running Mac OS 9.  I installed Codewarrior Pro 7.1, so I hope to do some development for it.  But as I have other projects brewing at the same time, I don't know when I'll get back to this machine.