Old Mac of the Month: The Quadra 605

This month’s post is by my friend Thomas Brand. Thomas writes at Egg Freckles, and is running in the St. Jude Marathon on my son’s team. You can learn more and donate here.

The Quadra 605 was the Power Macintosh Cube of the Quadra line. A miniature 32-bit workstation, with limited expandability but powerful specs. Like the Cube it came in a low-profile case that was never used again on any Mac. Unlike the Cube, it was available for a low-price almost anyone could afford.
At $900 USD, the 605 was the Quadra for the rest of us.

The coolest thing about the Quadra 605 was its minimal design. On the machine’s face you will find the classic rainbow Apple logo, the word Macintosh, and the Quadra 605 name badge. There is a slot for the floppy drive, a paperclip ejection hole, and that’s it. No flashing lights, knobs, or buttons. No plastic cover concealing a vacant drive bay.

The Quadra 605 was a minimal Mac before its time.

On the back you will find a rocker power switch[1], power connection, and the 605’s seven ports all lined up in a row.

On the far right is the Quadra 605’s only expansion slot, the PDS.
You won’t find a reset, or programmer’s key on this Macintosh.
Exactly what you need, and nothing you don’t.

Inside the case is much of the same.

The entire top unclips in seconds, and inside every component is laid out in a plane – nothing is above or underneath anything else, there’s no remove-the-HD-before-the-motherboard-comes-out nonsense. The best feature however – no screws on the inside. Everything clips in or out all the way from the speaker & floppy drive, to the motherboard & power supply. These boxies are a dream to work on!.

The Quadra 605 was the easiest Macintosh to ever repair. You don’t have to be a Mac Genius to work on one.

At the center of the 605’s logic board you will find the MC68LC040 CPU. Running at 25 MHz on a 32-bit bus, it had 8 kBs of on-chip L1 cache divided into two banks; 4 kBs for Data and 4 kB for Instructions.[2] Of course the 68LC040 could later be replaced with a full 68040 which included an onboard FPU that tripled the speed of floating point operations.

With 4 MBs of onboard RAM, the Quadra 605 was a usable machine under System 7.1. But in order to make the 605 really sing, you would want to stuff its single 72 pin SIMM socket full of as much memory as you could afford.
The official supported maximum RAM was 36 MBs; including the onboard 4 MBs. But after market SIMMs were also available in capacities as large as 128 MBs; all of which could be used by the Quadra 605.

Video out was supplied by a single DA15F connector, which provided multiple resolutions with up to thousands of colors using the right combination of video memory.

The Quadra 605’s two available video RAM slots could take either two 256 kB 80 ns 68-pin VRAM SIMMs, or two 512 kB SIMMs.
Installing one 512 kB and one 256 kB VRAM SIMM garbled the display.
Dual-monitor configurations were only available using a rare discrete graphics card installed in the Quadra 605’s Processor Direct Slot.

The Quadra 605 shipped with a 1.44 MB SuperDrive standard, and either 80 or 160 MBs of hard drive space. Like all desktop Macs available at the time, it also came with one audio in and one audio out, one 25-pin external DB25F SCSI connector, one 8 pin Mini-DIN Printer port, one 9 pin Mini-DIN Modem port, and a single Apple Desktop Bus connector used for connecting mice, keyboards, and other low-speed low-power peripherals.

Inside the case customers would find the 50 pin internal SCSI connector used by the Quadra 605’s hard drive, and the LC III style 68030-compatible Processor Direct Slot.

While mechanically compatible with the 68030 Processor Direct Slot, the Quadara 605’s PDS is not a true LC PDS. Instead of communicating directly with the processor it worked using emulation. Expansion cards made specifically for 030 processors such as 68881 or 68882 FPUs will not work, but popular cards like the Apple IIe Card, which allowed the 605 to emulate an Apple IIe, will.

The low-profile Quadra 605 had no room for professional full-height NuBus cards, and no chance at becoming a player in the lucrative Desktop Publishing market where expandability was paramount.

However the Quadra 605 was compatible with Apple’s Macintosh PowerPC Processor Upgrade Card which provided a 50 MHz PowerPC 601 CPU.
DayStar Digital and Sonnet manufactured 100 MHz versions of this card which could also be used in the Quadra 605.

Installation of these cards was inconvenient at best, as LC PDS expansion cards had to be removed in order to make room for the processor upgrade.

I remember installing one of the 100 MHz DayStar Digital cards in my Quadra 605. The increase in performance was the most significant upgrade I had ever experienced on a Mac until the introduction of Intel x86 CPUs.

Too bad I had to swap the PowerPC upgrade with the PDS Ethernet Card every time I wanted to get online.

A PowerPC upgrade was an inexpensive way to prolong the life of a Quadra 605, as it enabled it to run Mac OS 8.5 and beyond.
But by the time such upgrade cards hit the market, it was too late to change the Quadra 605’s fate as a unique Mac that never quite made it.

What is a Quadra 605 good for today? Not much.

My Newton MessagePad 2100 has a faster processor with more memory, and can connect to the Internet wirelessly. Your cell phone could run circles around this thing. That being said, no other headless classic desktop Mac looks this good.

The Quadra 605 despite its limitations, is a great way to experience the golden age of Macintosh software in small package that won’t look bad on your desk.[3]

Want to write about an old Mac you love? Get in touch!

  1. No soft power-on from the keyboard for the Quadra 605.  ↩
  2. An L2 cache was possible via the Processor Direct Slot.  ↩
  3. For a glimpse into the life of a real Quadra 605 fan, look no further than Dana’s 605 Obsessions fan page (I rescued it from the depth of Archive.org).  ↩

Old Mac of the Month: Titanium PowerBook G4

This month’s entry is written by Jared Sorge. Jared’s been a Mac user since 1st grade and sold them from 1999–2003 for an Authorized Reseller in the Seattle area. Currently he’s a developer of FileMaker and iOS apps. You can find him on Twitter and ADN as @jsorge, or at his blog over at jsorge.net.

image via Apple PR

In January 2001, Apple brought out the Titanium PowerBook G4. This was a landmark introduction that would influence generations of designs across the PC industry (and still holds up well today).

Back then, there was an unwritten rule that you skip the first generation of a new Apple product. They were known for some quality issues, and the TiBook was no exception. There were problems with the display hinges, the new slot-loading DVD drive (an industry first in a laptop) and the FireWire controller.

Apple spec bumped up to 550 & 667Mhz in October, adding gigabit ethernet as well as boosting the bus on the 667 to 133Mhz but the real second generation Titanium PowerBook came in April 2002.

I was waiting to buy one of these. At that point I had a Blue & White G3 and one of the Dual USB iBooks and wanted to consolidate my computing to one machine. I sold both of those computers to buy one of the 667Mhz PowerBooks. It was worth every penny.


  • 667Mhz G4 processor
  • 256MB PC133 SO-DIMM RAM
  • 30GB Hard drive
  • 15.2" Widescreen, enhanced to 1280×854 resolution
  • ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 w/ 32MB DDR SDRAM
  • Slot-loading combo drive (fixed from the original DVD-ROM drives)
  • DVI video output
  • 133Mhz system bus across all models
  • AirPort ready (the high-end 800Mhz model came with the card installed)

The big news of note in the hardware department was the display. The first couple revisions of the Powerbook G4 had an 1152×768 resolution. The DVI model upped that by 23% according to Apple’s PR. I got the computer to do video editing, and the extra resolution definitely came in handy when I would run Final Cut Pro. I loved that display. And with the extra graphics horsepower it handled Castle Wolfenstein with ease.


  • Mac OS X v10.1 and Mac OS 9.2
  • Acrobat Reader
  • Art Directors Toolkit
  • Earthlink
  • FAXstf
  • Graphic Converter
  • Internet Explorer
  • OmniGraffle
  • OmniOutliner
  • PCalc
  • PixelNhance
  • Snapz Pro X

My first reaction to researching all of this: Just look at that list of third-party software that they used to include in every one of these computers[1]. I loved using OmniOutliner for taking notes in classes. I still use OmniGraffle for flowcharting processes and prototyping some UIs. I wish Apple would get back to these older ways and bundle some more quality third-party apps, but we all know that won’t be happening.

My PowerBook G4

I loved my TiBook, so much so that I actually bought 2 of them. One of my co-workers at the time was moving to Africa and wanted to buy a machine that he knew was reliable so he paid the same amount as a new one and I bought another.

One of the sad things about the titanium design was that the case was painted. On the first day of use while taking notes in class, my metal watch actually chipped some of it away. I got around this later by using my keyboard screen protector as a cover where my watch would hit the case but by that point the damage was done (I learned my lesson before my 2nd one, which stayed pristine during my usage).

I bought the PowerBook in the middle of a weird season for me, with new computer purchases every year from 2001–2004. I replaced this PowerBook with one of the 12-inch PowerBook G4s in 2003. I’m pretty sure that I actually made money on the deal (which was a driving factor for a college student) and I really wanted the SuperDrive for burning my videos.

Selling my TiBook was a mistake, so in 2004 I sold the 12-inch PowerBook and bought a refurbished 15-inch Aluminum PowerBook G4. That machine had several repair issues and after the third time Apple replaced it with a brand new one. You guessed it, I sold it a couple months later and used those funds to buy an iMac G5.[2] That was the last computer I would purchase for home until 2009, when I upgraded to a 15-inch Unibody MacBook Pro that I still use.

The Titanium PowerBook G4 was a landmark in computing. Apple perfected its design with the DVI model, increasing the screen resolution, the speed, and ironing out the kinks from the first generation. I loved that computer, and it served me well for too short of a time.

Want to write about an old Mac you love? Get in touch!

  1. Remember when Apple and Earthlink were partners?  ↩
  2. Yes, I was certifiably crazy during those few years. And it’s odd how several of my computers that I’ve owned have been featured here on 512 Pixels.  ↩

Old Mac of the Month: The iBook (Dual USB)

This Old Mac of the Month entry is written by Brian Ashe, a Jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none when it comes to computers, networking, web app development, hardware, and design of all kinds. His website is perpetually coming soon and he neither tweets nor blogs but he loves hearing from strangers.

image courtesy of Apple PR

As Steve Jobs said in an oft-quoted interview with Newsweek in 2004, “At the critical juncture in the late ’80s, when [Apple] should have gone for market share, they went for profits. They made obscene profits for several years. And their products became mediocre.”

I graduated from college and started working in a publishing company’s design department in 1995, right at the end of that period. Back then, Macs really did cost 2-3x as much as comparable PCs, and the just-released Windows 95 really was about as good as the Mac OS of the time — better in some ways, worse in others, but overall pretty close.

When Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997, he made a lot of changes. The most visible was the introduction of the iMac in 1998 but much more important was a total change of the product lineup. Before his return, Apple had (in addition to the PowerMac and their laptops) the Performa line, which spawned 26 models in 4 years. The lineup was a mess and Steve famously cut it down to four categories: professional desktop, professional laptop, consumer desktop, and consumer laptop. (This was before the iPod existed — that was literally all they made.) However, their professional products were still a little on the pricey side, and their consumer products, as good as they were, lacked features that a lot of people wanted. There was not yet any sense of serving a “prosumer” market. The iMac had a decent CPU but it was not expandable at all beyond USB peripherals, and the original “clamshell” iBook had a larger body and lower screen resolution than other laptops of the time.

Introduced on May 1st, 2001, the white iBook was the first Mac in a long time to offer a lot of bang for the buck and lots of features. It was a clean, compact design with no wasted space — especially compared to the original iBook — and it had lots of ports, a good screen, and a low price. It was a very capable machine and you didn’t get the feeling that they left off crucial bits just to make you consider getting a PowerBook instead. (Other than lacking extended-desktop support when used with an external display, there were no artificial limitations on performance.) Oh yeah, and they ditched the wacky colors, offering only white, which was unusual for a notebook at the time and very visible but not gaudy or garish. It was the first colorful Mac to lose its color and paved the way for their trend toward minimalism, now that the colorful computers had done their job of attracting attention. Like a maturing Hollywood star, Apple products were going from flashy to classy.

Wikipedia sums up the technical advancements nicely: the new iBook was “30% lighter, and occupied less than 50% of the volume of the model it replaced, being smaller in all 3 dimensions… Apple claimed the compact design did not sacrifice durability, saying it was ‘twice as durable’ as the previous model.” Besides being smaller and lighter, the iBook gained a second speaker for proper stereo sound and its 12″ screen was bumped up to a respectable 1024×768. It came in an array of prices (originally starting at $1299) with the main options being RAM, hard disk capacity, and a choice of four optical drives: CD-ROM, CD-RW, DVD-ROM, or combo drive (combination DVD-ROM/CD-RW.)

I think it really takes a list to show just how complete this machine was:

  • 500 MHz G3 CPU
  • 64 or 128 MB RAM; max of 640
  • 10 GB hard drive
  • Optical drive
  • FireWire
  • USB
  • 10/100 Ethernet
  • 56k modem
  • Mini-VGA output (also supported composite and S-video)
  • Microphone
  • Stereo speakers
  • Headphone jack
  • AirPort-ready

A nice little bonus: the power plug was compatible with the previous-generation iBook and the current PowerBook, so charging became easier. If you went to a Mac-friendly office or conference, someone was bound to have a charger you could borrow for a bit. Apple used that one plug design for many years, only dropping it when they moved to the new MagSafe connector, which was a solid technological advancement and not just a ploy to sell more adapters.

Obviously the iBook was a lower-end line but it was a solid performer in its day. Other Macs of the time included were the PowerBook G4 (introduced just 4 months earlier) at 400 and 500 MHz, the PowerMac G4 at 466-733 MHz (the 733 MHz G4 had also just been introduced in January), and the G3 iMac at 400-600 MHz (after a refresh in February 2001.) So a 500 MHz G3 was still a decent CPU, especially in a portable. And, most amazingly of all, Apple updated the G3 iBook literally every six months, jumping to 600, 700, 800 and finally 900 MHz in less than two years and then to a G4 in six more months. It also jumped to a peppy 100 MHz front-side bus with the 600 MHz model after the first refresh in October 2001.

I waited a bit and bought an 800 MHz model in early January 2003. It was $1,149, refurbished, and I spent another $100 to bring it up to 640 MB RAM right away. (From a third party, natch.) I added an AirPort card a little later. A 30 GB hard drive made it suitable for lots of work with iMovie. Thanks to OS X 10.2’s Quartz Extreme and the iBook’s 32 MB of discreet VRAM, it ran Jaguar better than the 533 MHz dual-G4 PowerMac I had at work, which lacked a Quartz Extreme-capable card. Besides helping make OS X run a lot better than 10.1, Quartz Extreme also let you do fun party tricks, like dragging a few colorful, semi-transparent Terminal windows on top of a playing DVD window with no jittering in the movie or the windows.

Party tricks aside, I loved it to death because it was compact, powerful, and inexpensive — a rare combination to find anywhere, and certainly rare in the Apple world at the time. It was fully-featured upon its release, at a time when people were still smarting from Apple dropping SCSI and A/V options from the PowerMac, and everything else from the iMac. It had every port and feature a modern Mac user could want, including the ability to boot into OS 9, which was still useful at the time.

My iBook was the first Mac I bought new (refurbished-ness aside) and I used it almost daily for years. Before WiFi was everywhere, I’d load up a bunch of news stories in tabs and take it with me to lunch. Back then, my work sent me to conferences every so often (including WWDC in 2004) and my iBook went with me to every one. I gave it to my dad in late 2007 so he could spend some time with OS X. He didn’t use it too much but it kept ticking and one of the last things I did with it was use Internet Sharing to turn it into an access point when I visited him in early 2011. I took it back home at that time and sold it later that year. I hated to do so but I knew I’d never doing anything meaningful with it, having bought a white MacBook (also refurbished) to replace it. I couldn’t even use the iBook for a server, since I already had a G4 Mini — roughly twice as powerful and easier to store — doing that. Still, it lasted a good 8 years (and at the end, the battery still held a good 30-minute charge, thanks to me being compulsive about charging it up and running it down) and served me well all along.

Want to write about an old Mac you love? Get in touch!

Old Mac of the Month: The iMac G5

This month’s post is by Jordan Merrick, a freelance writer and web designer who runs Sparsebundle, a UK-based blog about technology, Apple, web design, video games.

This year celebrates the fifteenth anniversary of the iMac. You’d think that if we looked over the lineage of the iMac, we’d see a number of major design changes as time went on. But that’s not the case and, in fact, since the introduction of the iMac in 1998 it has had only two major design changes. Sure, it’s had a coat of paint, a change of clothes and it’s gotten bigger whilst losing weight, but the fundamental form factor of the iMac that we see today has been unchanged for almost ten years, a chinned display with (up until recently) a side-mounted optical drive. It’s a form factor that owes its beginnings to the iMac G5.

The original iMac, a CRT housed in a translucent case, saved Apple and cemented itself into popular culture that is, even today, still an iconic design. The iMac G3 bowed out after three years before the next iteration arrived.

The iMac G4 (referred to by some as the iLamp) was the first major redesign of the iMac as Apple switched to LCD screens and was a radical departure to the original iMac’s design. The iMac G3’s design had to focus around the sheer volume of a CRT. Although that limitation had gone, Apple still focused on the display and took a very original approach to mounting it on a swing arm. It was certainly unique and, love it or hate it, proved to be very popular. That form factor lasted just over two years.

On August 31 2004 at the Apple Expo in Paris, Phil Schiller took to the stage to announce "one more thing” – a complete redesign of their flagship Mac. It was the day that Apple introduced the iMac G5.

image via Apple PR

The iMac G5 was far more mature in comparison to its predecessors. This machine was simply a neutral white rectangle, less than 2” thick, held aloft by a single piece of aluminum. Gone were the cutesy colors and childish nature of the infant iMac G3 as well as the nose and lip piercings of the teenage iMac G4 that made sure it stood out of a crowd. The iMac G5 had finally grown up, moved out and got a job. It was the deliberate lack of any ostentatious characteristics in the iMac G5 that would pave the way for Apple’s minimalistic design choices over the next decade.

The iMac had finally reached adulthood.

The design was reminiscent of the iPod, and the fact was pushed by Apple in its advertising.

Aside from the design change, the big news was that iMac was finally able to benefit from a G5 processor. The G5 had found a home in the PowerMac over a year ago but due to heat and cost constraints, the iMac had been trundling along with the G4 that had already been showing signs of age. This meant that the iMac rocketed from a rather pedestrian 1.25 GHz G4 to a blisteringly hot 1.8 GHz G5 processor. The system bus speed increased accordingly, from a lowly 167 MHz to a much more sprightly 600 MHz. Throw in the addition of Serial-ATA and the iMac was now a serious alternative for the PowerMac G5, at least for those who didn’t need PCI cards.

These G5 processors ran hot, and I mean hot. The iMac G5 housed three fans in its thin frame. The iMac was ingeniously designed for heat dissipation. Along the bottom of the iMac ran a grille (behind which Apple hid the speakers) that allowed cool air to be drawn in by the fans. The top of the iMac had a thin vent that provided an escape route for rising hot air caused by the heat inside. Within the iMac ran a series of plastic channels that artificially directed the air flow. The act of the heat rising out of the iMac caused a convection current, a pressure difference in the air within, which would draw cool air in without the need of a high-speed fan. This meant the iMac could run near silent since the fans would only need to run at a minimal speed for many tasks. It might sound incredibly boring but it allowed the near-molten G5 to be fitted inside a Mac that was much closer to being a laptop than a desktop.

What was surprising about the iMac G5 was just how much was carried over from the previous iMac G4. While everyone was distracted by the change in form factor and the introduction of the G5 in its second Mac family, not a whole lot changed under the hood. It still had three USB ports, two FireWire ports, Mini-VGA, Ethernet, a 56k modem and AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth as optional components. The graphics card remained the same Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 that the iMac G4 shipped with and even the 17” and 20” LCD displays were the exact same panels Apple had already been using.

The iMac G5 was the most user-serviceable machine Apple shipped under Steve Jobs’ second reign.

Apple would often send service parts out to customers who reported a problem. This meant the customer didn’t need to find somewhere to repair it since the Apple Store hadn’t been around much at the time. At one point there was a repair program for the power supply which meant Apple provided a free service to affected customers with an iMac G5 that met certain criteria. Many customers who reported the issue were sent the service part to fit themselves, again to save the customer the hassle of visiting a service centre. I even met one customer on the Genius Bar who had been sent a logic board by Apple.

The iMac G5 had the optional Bluetooth and AirPort Extreme cards, but adding them was something customers could do themselves. You didn’t need to drag your iMac G5 to the nearest service centre, you could just buy the kit and fit it yourself. Better still, if you wanted to upgrade the RAM or hard drive in your iMac G5, no problem — go right ahead.

To upgrade or service the iMac G5, you simply lay it face-down and loosened three screws. The whole back would then pivot away like the hood of a car to reveal what must be the most exceptionally designed internals that had ever graced a computer. Everything was modular and almost everything was designed to be user-serviceable, from the hard drive to the logic board. It meant experienced technicians could do entire logic board replacements in about 15 minutes and replacing the optical drive or hard drive could be done in less than five.

image via Apple PR

As a former Apple technician, the iMac G5 will always have a special place in my heart.

This easy-open design came in handy, as the iMac G5 would be plagued with video and power issues, stemming from capacitors on the logic board and in the power supply that would burst:

Apple would end up opening a wide-reaching repair program to cover machines that were out of warranty, but afflicted with the problem.

The iMac G5 was eventually replaced just over a year later with a newer model, the first Mac with an iSight camera built-in. What it gained in additional features, it lost in serviceability. No longer was everything easily accessible and the only part the customer could upgrade was the RAM. As for servicing it, things were dramatically worse in comparison. Repair times, along with frustration, increased and the accessing the parts involved bending the bezel into all sorts of angles whilst using a credit card to jimmy it open like a door lock in an 80s cop show.

But hey, it was half an inch thinner.

Want to write about an old Mac you love? Get in touch!

Old Mac of the Month: The Original iBook

Linus Edwards is a writer who hails from Pennsylvania and has been a lifelong Apple user. You can check out his blog VintageZen and follow him on twitter at VintageZen66.

If you lined up every laptop computer made in the last twenty years end to end, one would glaringly stand out from all the others, Apple’s original iBook. While the other laptops would mostly be monotone colors in rectangular shapes, the iBook was brightly colored and in a distinctive clamshell shape. The shape was so outside the norm that some came to refer to it as the ‘Toilet Seat Mac.’ It looked radically different because it was based upon Apple’s other radically different computer, the iMac.

Editor’s Note: I reviewed this machine two years ago. For real.

In the late 90s, Steve Jobs returned to Apple and immediately started rejuvenating the company. The introduction of the iMac began that rejuvenation and firmly planted Apple in its ‘Willy Wonka’ design phase, with their computers popping with candy colors and shiny, translucent plastic.[1] While today those designs might seem rather garish, at the time they were a breath of fresh air from the beige boxes that had dominated the computer industry. The iMac was the epitome of that design aesthetic, and with its popularity, Apple realized it should bring that aesthetic to a laptop.

This was all part of Steve Jobs’ ‘four box’ strategy of simplifying Apple’s computer line into four main types of computers: a professional desktop (Power Mac), a professional laptop (Powerbook), a consumer desktop (iMac), and a consumer laptop (iBook). The iBook came last and completed the puzzle, opening up a previously untapped market of people who wanted a cheaper, more stylish, and more user friendly laptop.

Being a high school student at the time, I fit perfectly into the demographic Apple was targeting with the iBook. I had been using a Performa 630cd for almost five years, and it was starting to really show its age. My mom finally took pity on me and bought me a blueberry colored iBook at the local Sears. Yes, Sears. This was a few years before Apple Stores even existed and there were only a few places where you could actually get a Mac at the time. Sears was the only store within a few miles of our house that actually had them in stock, so that is where we went.

The original iBook cost $1,599, which was fairly pricey compared to modern day consumer laptops, but almost a thousand dollars less than the cheapest available Powerbook. It had a 300 MHz G3 processor, 6 GB hard drive, and 32 MBs of RAM. It continued Apple’s push to simplify inputs, which began with the iMac, by having only a single USB port, along with modem, ethernet, and headphone jacks. It also had a CD-Rom drive, but no CD burning or DVD compatibility, as they hadn’t reached the mainstream at the time.

I remember bringing the iBook home and it looked like a miniature UFO had landed on our dining room table. It was so much smaller than any computer I ever had, and it seemed very futuristic. I remember opening and closing its lid, in wonder of the fact it had no latch, and also that when you closed it, it would automatically go to sleep and a tiny light on the outside case would dim in and out, as if it were breathing.

Apple was definitely aiming for a cute and friendly vibe with the iBook. It came in either blue or orange colors, named ‘blueberry’ and ‘tangerine,’ which made for an almost fruit salad motif if you add in the Apple brand. It also came with a sheet of tiny stickers that one would place above the function keys that had stylized cartoons symbolizing things such as volume or brightness. It also included a handle on the hinge of the computer, so you could carry it around without a case.[2] This was definitely a computer aimed more at students than professionals.

Yet, even with all its cutesy panache, the iBook was a veritable tank of a computer. It weighed 6.6 pounds and had a very solid feel. It was made out of extremely tough plastic and rubber, so you could throw it around all you want and never worry it was going to break. Even modern day unibody Macbooks still feel rather fragile compared to the original iBook. I had it a number of years, dropped it numerous times, and never had any problems. The solidness of that iBook is what I miss most about it.

In the years I had my iBook, it went through a lot of transitions. It originally came loaded with Mac OS 8.6, but I eventually upgraded it to OS X. It also came with a built in 56K modem, but when I switched my internet to high speed DSL the modem became an unused relic. The one thing I didn’t do was upgrade it with an Airport card. The iBook was a rather revolutionary system in that it was the first mainstream computer to use wifi, through the Apple Airport card. First generation iBooks did not come with the card installed, but you could later purchase it as an add-on. However, at the time, wifi was in its infant stages and there were few places that it was actually available, so I never bothered with the upgrade.

Apple eventually completely revised the iBook in May of 2001, less than two years after its debut. That revision was an iBook in name only, as it looked nothing like the original design, instead opting for a minimalist white appearance. The iBook name continued in that iteration for a number of years and was eventually replaced by the Macbook line. I used my original iBook for about four years until finally upgrading to a used Powerbook Pismo. My iBook sat in storage for years after that, but just a few months ago I took it out, plugged it in, and it booted up perfectly. I doubt Apple will ever go back to the radical design of the original iBook in future computers, but for its time, it was a rock solid computer that deserves some credit in helping invigorate the Apple consumer laptop line.

Want to write about an old Mac you love? Get in touch! In your initial email, please indicate which Mac model you are planning to write about, so I don’t have systems covered more than once.

  1. Steve Jobs actually had an idea of giving out a golden ticket in the millionth iMac sold and dressing up as Willy Wonka to give the winner a tour of Apple’s campus.  ↩
  2. For anyone who makes fun of Android phones with kickstands, remember Steve Jobs once approved a laptop computer with a built in handle.  ↩

Old Mac of the Month: The Mighty Cat

This month’s Old Mac of the Month submission is by Thomas Brand, writer of Egg Freckles. Thomas is a great guy, a lover of old technology and one heck of a writer. If you don’t read his site, shame on you.

Before the MacBook Air, before the 12 inch PowerBook G4, and long before anyone heard the term NetBook, there was a small light and powerful machine released by Apple Computer Inc. Developed during Apple’s troubled years, this portable computer was the last of its kind. A sub notebook that weighed only 4.4 pounds, when most laptops weighed nearly twice as much. Powerful enough to work on its own without the added complexity of an optional dock, this machine boasted its speed with codenames like Comet, and Mighty Cat. Manufactured by Apple’s original arch nemesis IBM, this laptop returned the PowerBook line back to its roots, with a form factor inspired by the legendary PowerBook 100. Big in Japan, this powerful portable machine would gain a cult following of its very own, and outlive a death sentence from Steve Jobs by selling for another seven months.

Released in May 1997, the PowerBook 2400c was the successor to Apple’s popular Duo line of sub notebooks. The last small and light portable computer Apple would release until the advent of the 12" PowerBook G4 in January 2003, the 2400c had more in common with a modern day MacBook Air than the Duos of the past.

Designed to get by on its own without the additional capabilities offered by a Duo Dock, the PowerBook 2400c featured a speedy 180 MHz PowerPC 603e processor that combined with a 40 MHz 64-bit system bus, and 256 KB L2 cache, gave it twice the performance of the previous PowerBook Duo 2300. It had a beautiful 800 x 600 10.4 active matrix TFT display that put the passive display technologies of the past to shame. Featuring 1 MB of graphics memory it was one of the first PowerBooks with discrete graphics[1] and a Mini–15 display connector built-in. With a up to 80 MBs of RAM, and 2 GBs of hard drive space, you could do more, and take more with you in a portable 10.5“ x 8.4” form factor.

Like the original MacBook Air the biggest problem with the PowerBook 2400c was connectivity. For a sub notebook it had a generous collection of ports including 1 ADB, 1 serial, 1 Audio out, 1 Audio in, and 1 HD1–30 SCSI connection in addition to the onboard Mini–15 display connector. Networking was limited to a single infrared window with a max I/O of 4 Mbps, but there was no USB, no ethernet, and no built-in optical drive[2]. Unlike the MacBook Air, the PowerBook 2400c came with two Type I/II PC Card slots located behind the display, with the option of a double-high Type III PC card for added expandability. These slots could be used for everything from USB to FireWire, Ethernet to Wireless networking. While the closed minded Duos of the past grew obsolete in the internet age, the 2400c lived on thanks to its generous expandability.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple as interim CEO, one of the first things he did was slash extraneous projects, and slim down existing product lines[3]. He made sure Apple’s hardware engineers focused their talents on one of four basic categories, Home Desktop, Home Laptop, Pro Desktop, and Pro Laptop. By May 1998 Apple had its Home Desktop, the iMac, its Pro Desktop, the Power Macintosh G3, and its Pro Laptop, the PowerBook G3 Series[4]. The rest of Apple’s hardware offerings were discontinued. And it appeared the PowerBook 2400c didn’t make the cut.

Meanwhile overseas, the Japanese market was not enthusiastic about where Apple’s portable lineup was headed. The preferred ultralight Duo series had been dead for over a year, and now the PowerBook 2400c was following it to the grave. The replacement, a 7.8 lb. PowerBook G3 was not right for the Japanese, who prefer small and light notebook computers. Sales were slow. In a last ditch effort to maintain market share, Steve Jobs made a rare reverse decision. He let the PowerBook 2400c live on in Japan till the end of the year with an improved 240MHz PowerPC 603e processor in a configuration codenamed “Mighty Cat.”

The PowerBook 2400c would continue to be the preferred laptop of weight conscious Apple fans for many years. Its expansion slots meant it could continue to connect to the latest peripherals, and networking. Its detachable CPU daughter card meant it could be upgraded to a G3 running at 400 MHz. Although it was never officially sanctioned to run Mac OS X, it could make it all the way to Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar with the proper hacking. When all of my friends had PowerBook G3s I keep on using my secondhand PowerBook 2400c until the release of the first Snow Dual USB iBook in May 2001.[5] No other Macintosh has done better surviving its own obsolesce, and the wrath of Steve Jobs.

Want to write an Old Mac of the Month post? Get in touch!

  1. The Chips and Technologies HiQV32 was an early forerunner to the Intel Integrated graphics we have today.  ↩
  2. An external 1.44 MB floppy using a proprietary port was provided.  ↩
  3. Killing the Newton among other things.  ↩
  4. The iBook was still to come.  ↩
  5. I still keep my PowerBook 2400c tucked away in my closet.  ↩

Old Mac of the Month: The Performa 600

This month’s submission is by Scott Smith, a professional nerd from California, which seems radical.

I have been using Macs my entire life. As long as I can remember, from when my Dad bought a Macintosh Plus in the year I was born, there have only been Macs in the Smith Family House. Even though I am 25 years old, I would consider myself an old-time Mac user going back to System 6. However, it wasn’t really until 1993 that I realized the potential of what a computer could offer.

After making a family day trip down to MicroCenter in Orange County one day in 1993, we returned with Macintosh Performa 600, Apple Extended II Keyboard and mouse, a 13 inch Apple color display, and an assortment of CD-ROMs.

Oh, the CD-ROMs. The Performa 600 was one of Apple’s earliest machines to come with a built-in CD drive. In these early days, the Performa’s CDs were not inserted via a tray or a slot, but by a awkwardly clumsy system of placing the CDs into a caddy and then sliding it into the drive. At any rate, CDs opened up a whole new world of computing for the early 1990s. While the web and Internet were in their infancy at this time, CDs were able to contain (then) massive amounts of information.

The Performa 600’s specs were nothing to get excited about, even in it’s day. The Performa line were sold at a lower cost and bundled with software aimed for families and first time computer buyers. In many ways, it was a lower priced Macintosh IIvx. As a little kid first growing into the world of computers, the specs were not relevant or even something I was aware of. All I knew is that it could do things, and sometimes it crashed and sometimes it was slow. When that is the only experience you of, you do not see anything wrong with it.

Today, I work as a Web Designer for California Lutheran University. I can directly trace my love of graphics and computer art back to one piece of software on this old Mac. That would be Kid Pix. If I was not playing with Legos, I was seen behind a desk and a piece of paper drawing cars and airplanes. Kid Pix opened up a whole new world to me. This allowed me to follow my unencumbered youthful enthusiasm for drawing race cars, airplanes, and even early attempts at web design. The drawing brushes, fonts, special effects, and silly sound effects are all burned in my memory.

Perhaps it’s the nostalgia, or maybe it’s just what my tastes have evolved to, but there are a few games from this era have remained my absolute favorites to this day. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis was a classic Lucas Arts adventure game that combined a fantastically unique art style, music, and storytelling that has not been topped in my opinion. My other favorite was very popular Myst. While I didn’t get it right away as a young kid, it was a game from this era that in later years I really grew to appreciate. It was a game like none-other and was way ahead of it’s time in 1993.

After a few years, my parents upgraded the family computer once again and thus the family’s Macs were passed down. First to my older brother and then to me. By the time I ended up with the Performa 600 as my own, I was fast becoming proficient with the Mac OS. I was able to install Mac OS 7.6 onto this machine, the final version of the system it was able to run. When the time came for me to get the latest family Mac passed down to me, the Performa went somewhere into storage with it’s fellow computers. It would not serve any purpose today, but I look back on the Performa 600 as a significant chunk of my childhood.

Want to write about an old Mac you love? Get in touch. In your initial email, please indicate which Mac model you are planning to write about, so I don’t have systems covered more than once.

Old Mac of the Month: The Macintosh Plus

Will Hopkins is a budding IT specialist. You can find him on Tumblr and Twitter as @willjhopkins.

The first computer I remember using was a beige box with a small black-and-white monitor and a floppy drive like a mouth, lop-sided with a thumb indent. It was a Mac Plus, and I still have it.

My first Mac was our family computer, originally intended for doing taxes and the occasional batch of word processing or spreadsheet ninjary for work. Of course, we also had a floppy disk with Space Invaders, Wizard’s Fire, and (my favorite) Brickle.

This is an Old Mac of the Month post, but it’s also a love letter to Brickle. I didn’t yet need a word processor (my parents had, in fact, purchased the computer several years before I was born) but I spent a lot of time bouncing a ball at layer after layer of pixelated brick. My earliest memories of our Mac Plus mostly involve getting bored with Space Invaders, frustrated by Wizard’s Fire, and enthralled by Brickle. It was surprisingly hard for my younger self, but I persevered and learned to work within the constraints of the system.

As I grew older, I was introduced to other computers. I learned LOGO programming at school, and we owned at least one other Mac (I recall a Mac Classic). The first laptop I ever used was my dad’s PowerBook. My family briefly deviated into Windows PCs, but during college I once again returned to the fold. The rest of our computers are gone, dead or recycled, but the Mac Plus remains.

I recently called my dad to ask about our Mac plus, and learned about an interesting and rare peripheral that we also have. Evidently my dad’s employer gave him a 10 or 20MB hard drive that still sits underneath the computer. I work in IT and deal with dozens of terabytes, and it’s a humbling reminder of how quickly personal computing has compressed that 10 or 20MB of storage would be considered laughable on even the smallest portable computers today. (I don’t just mean personal computers—I wouldn’t even buy a calculator with that little space.)

While perusing that spacious hard drive, I learned about the GUI and what a file was. Long before I’d ever considered actually filing papers, I learned about digital file systems. Looking back, I barely understood what I was looking at, but I itched to learn more about them. I eagerly awaited every new computer my parents brought home, looking forward to (metaphorically) cracking them open and learning what made the ghost in the machine tick.

A computer may be, at its core, a plastic box full of somewhat valuable minerals but it’s not just that. My family’s Mac Plus may have been too early to be part of my formal education, but it certainly helped pave the way for an inquisitive spirit and a love of hands-on learning. It was, and will remain, my favorite computer.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and the Mac Plus now has difficulty booting properly. Floppy disks are a challenge to load. Most of the time the Mac Plus simply rests, awaiting those rare times we spend together. I am grateful for the time we have had together, and I can say for certain that the Mac Plus has changed my life for the better.

Want to write about an old Mac you love? <a href=“mailto:stephen@512pixels.net”>Get in touch</a>. In your initial email, please indicate which Mac model you are planning to write about, so I don’t have systems covered more than once.

Old Mac of the Month: Performa 5200

K.H. Schumann lives in Bonn (near Cologne), Germany, where he tortures students with his desperate attempts to teach them penal law (or drives his research fellows nuts with his ideas of streamlining their workflow) at the local university. He just started his blog ausersperspective.com a few weeks ago and is still figuring out how to share his love for and thoughts about technology with the rest of the world. If You like his writing here, You would make his day with a comment. Or just follow him and his blog on Twitter @sillyhandle.


“Are You crazy? They’re doomed!”
“A what?”
“A machine for professionals, not consumers!”
“You must have buckets of money to throw out the window!”

My story begins in the darkest of dark times, early spring of 1996. Back then, those were the usual reactions when you told somebody that you’ve purchased an Apple Macintosh Computer (calling it just “a Mac” wouldn’t do any good in a conversation).

I didn’t care about the naysayers, because my best friend was (and still is) a sound engineer, who was using Macs exclusively. So it was just natural that a good part of my extended circle of friends (musicians and sound engineers) lived in a Mac dominated world, too. But it wasn’t pleasing my peers that brought me, a 21 year old law student – and as such in no way a crazy professional with buckets full of money – to my first Mac, the mighty Performa 5200.

A road less traveled

I was in my first year at law school.

After convincing my parents that I needed a PC for my high school homework just a few years ago, I was the proud owner of a custom built Intel tower, that thundered under my desktop with all the power of its 33MhZ.

The Apple Macintosh Computer was merely a vague concept, but every time I installed a new game on my PC,[1] the installation instructions for Windows 3.1 were something like “Go into DOS mode – select CD-ROM drive – find the installation file install.exe – copy this file to…you know the drill”.

But if the game was a “hybrid”, also compatible with the Mac, the instructions for the Mac were: “Insert Game CD – double click the game icon – have fun.” That caught my eye.

The lure of the Mac became nearly irresistible with MYST, the seminal adventure game, also a “hybrid”: On the CD, there was a bonus video, showing the developers explaining the HyperCard magic that helped creating this game.[2]

But, I was 20, had not much money and a less then two year old PC. There was no way for me to become a Mac user any time soon.

Came March 1996, right after starting law school in autumn, when I learned what it means to work with a tool you can not trust:

I had to write my first university level homework. I wrote the whole thing – of course – in MS Word (getting crazier and crazier about how it handled footnotes) and, already in for three and a half weeks of my four week deadline, I just … lost 6 pages! They were totally corrupted. Just F* * *ING gone! I still don’t know why.[3]

This situation had to be dealt with; pulling all-nighters of additional work each and every time I had to write a larger academic text was not an option.
And, like a gift from heaven, around Easter 1996, I saw a newspaper ad by “American Computers”, a computer store near my hometown, that offered a range of Apple Products for “CeBIT-pricing” (models not sold at the previous CeBIT). At the low end of this range was a just discontinued all-in-one-model, called “Performa 5200” with a really reasonable[4] price tag of just 1999 DM (ca. $1000).

I could afford this!

And the most important thing: The offered machine had a little extra: a modem. That was important. I knew from my friends that you had to be a member of local Usenet group to organize spare parts in advance (because Apple would cease to exist in three months). A connection to the Internet was mandatory.

After a short period of weighing the Pros (a machine I could trust and just always wanted) and Cons (a product of a company everyone expected to be bankrupt very soon, no games), I decided to give this thing a try.[5]


After the unbearable waiting period of exactly ten days, on a sunny and warm April afternoon, I picked my new computer up at the store, paid with a cheque like a real grown-up and took the heavy box (filling 4/3 of my mother’s Ford Fiesta) home.

The unboxing experience was just a revelation:[6] A huge “Welcome” printed on the keyboard-carton; a “personal” letter by CEO Gil Amelio, assuring me what a good choice I’ve made and that he’s proud to welcome me in the community of Apple users… I was excited.


The Performa 5200 was – by today’s standards – a huge monster. But considering to the usually big displays at the time and the blockish towers, lingering and brawling under our desktops, always in a stage of war with our shins, it seemed pretty compact. Tiny even.

Compared to my PC, the Performa had the production value of a tank. No rickety CD-ROM tray: the CDs lay in a drawer on rails. When you put a Floppy into its slot, a satisfying “schlllllack!” was the answer. The thing appeared to be indestructible.

And to be honest, I didn’t care much about the specs.

I knew from my friends that the 75MhZ of the PowerPC processor weren’t in any way comparable to anything in the PC-world (“The Megahertz-Myth”), I wasn’t interested in the power of the integrated Video Card that delivered amazing graphics to the 15inch Monitor with up to 832×624 resolution, because I knew that anything that was on the market with a “MacOS/PowerPC” tag on it would run on my new wondertool. The 8MB of RAM stood for a stable performance for the next one or two years.

The only spec I wondered about was the 1GB (nominal) hard disk … who would ever need this amount of storage?[7]

What I really was interested in was an extra, a non-standard in the regular 5200: the aforementioned “high-speed” (oh yes, different times) 14.4k modem. That meant: The internet. In! My! Room!

Even though my father expected sudden financial death because of me, forgetting to log out over night, producing nothing else than a 500,000,000 DM telephone bill, and the real limitations of my “ISP”, the University of Bonn, giving me dial-up access for 30min (there were buttons for 60 and – our white whale – 180 minutes in the MacTCP interface, but I’ve never met anyone who ever got into these slots), the realization of having a window to the world was astonishing to me. Email was something magical back then (I could not summarize the feeling better than Mike Rhode recently did in his wonderful short essay) and so it’s no wonder that I still know my first ever emailaddress (starting with the easy to remember “uzs8su@…”).


MacOS 7.5 (I really don’t know what further subversion it was. 7.5.3?) was my first MacOS. Using it felt a bit wrong for the first days, not knowing where this came from and that went to. But after the better part of two weeks I could do things with the system I never dreamed of doing with a Windows PC. Working with a system that had UI standards!

Because I switched to the Mac because of the MSWord-disaster of ’96 (see above), I was damn sure I didn’t want to use a Microsoft product again in the foreseeable future.

So I bought Nisus Writer for my academic word processing needs (german lawyers and law scholars are crazy for footnotes and cleanly outlined texts)[8]. I loved working with it (and it really was far, far superior to any version of any other word processor I came across in my 5 years of using Nisus Writer. And I still think it’s a shame that Nisus was too late in the MacOS X game.)

My internet experience was brillianty handled be Claris Emailer that came with the Performa, browsing was done in Netscape, of course, until Internet Explorer (…) became (arguably) the best browser available for the Mac.[9]

And even my gaming needs were satisfied by the Performa! In the small market for games, there were the little gems of Ambrosia Software, Blizzard’s Warcraft titles ran on my Mac and Bungie’s FPS Marathon-series (the predecessor of the now famous HALO franchise) was like a drug.

The End

The Performa 5200 brought me through law school,[10] it let me explore how to to live and work with technology in ways I never thought of before.

It taught me the internet. It showed me what “just works” means. Trusting my computer gave me room to experiment, invited me to be creative, let me have important data in my life that didn’t live exclusively on a 1MB plastic disc. This machine was part of my life. It made me a nerd.[11]

With this computer, Apple earned my trust.

Doing a quick web research, it’s easy to find out that the Performa 5200 is considered as one of the worst Macs ever built.[12] That might be true. But if this was one of Apple’s worst machines, it is no wonder that Apple products are still considered as the finest the electronics market has to offer. The Performa 5200 outshone any other PC I knew in 1996.


At last, I gave my beloved Performa 5200 to a friend, who wanted it for the parts, in late August 2000, making way for a sage iMac[13]. But there is one thing of this old computer that still lives in a drawer in our bedroom: its heart.
I don’t know what’s left on it, my Performa’s original hard drive. Most of my work for law school, obviously, but also maybe my first emails, games I played endlessly (Escape Velocity? Damn, I loved that.) and even maybe something totally embarrassing (very likely…)?

My wife wants me to get rid of this thing. I can’t.

Want to write about an old Mac you love? Get in touch. In your initial email, please indicate which Mac model you are planning to write about, so I don’t have systems covered more than once.

  1. Even though I managed to produce at least 20 pages of homework with it, somehow it came to be that I became a DOOM 2 god.  ↩
  2. Watch it on YouTube  ↩
  3. Disclosure: Some experts in the field state that human error should not be just ruled out as a possible explanation. But only a few. Idiots.  ↩
  4. The regular price was, when I remember it correctly, nearly 4000 DM.  ↩
  5. Even if it meant an investment in a system with an overall lifespan of just four to five years max. But five years are a long, long time when you’ve just turned 21.  ↩
  6. Compared to my experiences with german computer resellers of the early 90s; most of them were more like a mixture of Comic Book Guy and the arms dealer in ‘The Simpsons’.  ↩
  7. Of course it made sense: my “professional” sound engineer-friends needed space en masse.  ↩
  8. See?  ↩
  9. That didn’t last long.  ↩
  10. Giving me the opportunity be the go-to-guy for snobby tech support for my fellow students: “I don’t have this problem…I have a Mac.” “These are the kind of Windows-User problems I just can’t relate to.”  ↩
  11. Which is, for the record, not an entirely bad thing.  ↩
  12. E.g. Performa 5200 – Low End Mac: Lasting Value  ↩
  13. Another love story, yet to be told.  ↩

Old Mac of the Month: Beige PowerMac G3

This month’s entry is written by John C. Vieira. He’s a copywriter living in Portland, Oregon. It’s very important that you read his blog at jcv.me and follow him on twitter @thelegendofjohn. Seriously, his self-esteem is directly tied to his internet popularity.

What does it mean to be the last of your kind?

The beige Power Macintosh G3 knows. It was the last beige Macintosh. It looked like every Power Mac before it but it was top of the line and it came with that ad campaign where a snail was carrying a Pentium II processor on its shell. It was the first computer to use the G3—the third generation of PowerPC processors. It could perform just as well and sometimes better, than its immediate, supposedly superior and certainly more notorious, replacement.

By now we all know the truth. The beige G3 was a last stop on the way to today’s modern Apple and it is with this context that we can fully understand what it meant to use and own a beige G3.

The first iMac appeared just a few months after the beige G3’s release (November 1997 vs. May 1998.) It had very similar specs and insides and guts, but it was clear to everyone that it was something else entirely. A different beast with gentle curves and friendly translucent Bondi blues.

There’s a rumor that says Jony Ive created Bondi blue by taking a palmful of the bluest Australian ocean water he could find and, after walking several thousands of miles back to his industrial design lab in the dank bowels of the Apple campus with that same palmful of water kept in a state of perfect tranquility by Ives’ unnaturally strong equilibrium, he used a machine that had no knobs and no buttons, but a silhouette strongly reminiscent of somehow all of the Dieter Rams-era Braun products, to turn it into a Pantone swatch while Steve Jobs massaged his shoulders.

With that Pantone swatch secure in an underground bunker within an underground bunker, Steve and Jony switched places. As Jony worked out the kinks and knots in Steve’s shoulders, Jobs started changing things. Fundamental things. He literally drove a dump truck full of floppy drives and ADB ports off of a cliff. Just to make a point. He invented the USB port by accident. He made every peripheral company swear to make matchy-matchy accessories so you never had to stop touching Bondi blue. Whether or not they were under duress when they entered this agreement, nobody could say.

That iMac changed everything we know about computers as super-fuckable consumer objects. And still there was the beige G3. Ungainly in retrospect, but an equal in practice.

How do you prove yourself in a world where you’ve been replaced by a much more handsome and popular version of yourself? If you have 233 megahertz and a G3 processor you use 233 megahertz and your G3 processor for all it is worth. You work harder.

For me using this computer to it’s potential manifested itself as hours in Claris HomePage making moderately trafficked websites about Apple (who the hell is Daring Fireball?) and going against printed requirements and logic by installing a USB card so I could burn so many mix CDs full of Minnesota-based rap music on the purple Iomega burner I got for my birthday. And if I don’t mention LucasArts adventure games and demos of varying fun and usefulness installed from the monthly MacAddict disks I will almost certainly wish I had. To save several late night emails of varying desperation sent from myself to the owner of this website, I’m mentioning them now.

The beige G3 never felt weird or wrong or outdated to me. It felt right. I was excited about the iMac and the broader implications of how it was saving Apple, but my G3 felt (and looked) just like every other Mac I’d previously owned–only better. It wasn’t a new type of hammer I had to learn to wield, it was just a bigger, badder hammer. It was more powerful than ever, and by proxy so was I.

And that’s all good, but let’s get serious here.

As a 12 year-old kid that beige Power Macintosh G3 was shaping my life. I’m now a copywriter at a design firm. We create brands and products and services—many of which you’ve used and perhaps loved. My job is to write and be clever. Knowing my work can make an experience better gives me that ‘dent in the universe’ feeling Steve Jobs spoke about. I started writing meaningfully on that G3. I typed hundreds of thousands of words into it. I began to learn how to tell a story and write a tag. Not that I knew that, I was just having fun making things.

Realistically, my experience would have been mostly the same had that beige G3 been a Bondi blue iMac but I like to think the fact that I used a beige tool instead of a translucent tool somehow made me different. More authentic. A shittier version of Hunter S. Thompsen eschewing computers to write strictly on a typewriter. I didn’t even make the choice to purchase the G3, but the fact that a computer created an emotional narrative for me is something powerful.

In my mind I had this incredible, almost sentient, underdog tool that helped me become something. In reality it was just me with an effective conduit. Either way, I’m glad Apple made something that could mean something. I still have that G3 and it still means a lot to me.

Want to write about an old Mac you love? Get in touch! In your initial email, please indicate which Mac model you are planning to write about, so I don’t have systems covered more than once.

After we talk, please submit your work in Markdown or HTML. I will be editing posts to conform to AP style, and will link to your site or Twitter account in the Editor’s Note at the top of the post.

Old Mac of the Month: the Intel iMac

This month’s entry is by Devir Kahn. He writes a site named “The Geek Companion”, hails from New York State and enjoys long walks on the beach.

“You should really buy some Apple stock,” he said.

He was my friend’s oldest brother. Dark hair and rather tall. “It’s only about 60 bucks and that number is only going up.” He was talking to my friend’s other brother whom, at the time, was trying to convince me how much better the Mac was than the PC. They were both rather obsessed with computers, but I wasn’t buying it.

“Really? Name me one thing a Mac can do that a PC can’t?” I replied, as I always would. My father and mother both had PCs and were happy with them — in fact, I was using my father’s argument against Macs. Every office I had ever been to all ran on PCs. And the thing is, he was never able to name me anything — and this time was no different.

That was six years ago.

He never did buy the stock. But since then, I’ve owned three Macs.

One day, I was over at my friends house and we were, once again, talking about the Mac. His brother was the only one in the house with one and had spent over a year saving for it. It was a bottom-of-the-line G4 iMac. It was the strangest and most intriguing looking computer I had ever seen. Today, my friend was somehow able to convince him to let us play around with it. He sat down at the computer, and then decided to simply let me just use it for a few minutes instead. I sat down at the desk as he got up. I moved the mouse from the left side of the keyboard to the right as their whole family were lefties.

“Isn’t it great how Apple makes everything so symmetrical?” my friend commented. “The mouse is no different if you’re a righty or a lefty.”

“I guess so.” I replied. I wasn’t a lefty so I didn’t really care. But the mouse was pretty slick. It was far prettier than the Dell mouse I had at home.

I started playing around with the Mac. It was so different. But it was incredible. It was fast, and elegant. Everything just looked so fantastic. He opened up some image editing program for me to toy around with. It was unbelievable. And then there was iMovie. And Photo Booth. And this sweet application he had installed that, as you inserted a CD into the slot on the side of the computer, made it look as if it was actually sliding into your desktop, behind your wallpaper.

Then he pointed out that the entire computer was the screen. There was no tower. It explained the strange looking “chin”, I thought at first. I had never realized that before.

I was so sold. I was going to get a Mac.

I spent the next week convincing my parents how important it was for me to get a Mac. They didn’t buy it, but my father did offer me the opportunity to work for him that summer to help pay for one. I already had $500 in savings. I needed exactly $500 more. That summer couldn’t come soon enough.

But eventually, it did come. And I went to work with my father every single day. And I made that $500. Then one day I took a quick peak at the Apple website to drool over the computer I was saving for, and it was no longer there. Instead, there was a new aluminum iMac. The problem was that it was more expensive by almost $200. $200 that I didn’t have.

I told my father and we both deiced to go to the Apple store that day and see if we could still purchase the older, white one. Somehow, the store manager let us as they were still on display. A man in line tried to tell me how I should get the new one instead — how they came with the new iLife. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care what Mac I got. The important thing was that I was getting one.

It turned out that the one I did get was a bottom-of-the-line Intel iMac. It was the same design as my friend’s, only that it was Intel as opposed to PowerPC. It ran Tiger.

I loved it. It was the greatest thing ever. I must’ve played with Photo Booth for a week straight.

But more importantly was that I was now a part of the Mac community. I read all the blogs and all the rumors. Anyone else that had a Mac was an immediate friend of mine. The only two kids in my whole school with Macs were both in my class. I remember the first Apple keynote that I was “in the loop” for. It was the iPhone one. Wow.

The thing was, I never really wanted a Mac. I was the PCs’ biggest advocate. That is, until I actually used a Mac. When I did, I realized that it wasn’t about what the Mac could do that the PC couldn’t — there really wasn’t much. It was about something much bigger. Something far grander. The Mac was such a better computer that my old PC that it couldn’t possibly be summed up in one sentence.

A year or two ago I replaced that old Intel iMac with a mid-range 27" iMac. My old iMac was too slow to keep up with all I wanted to do with it, but it currently sits in our den, and is the best family computer we’ve ever had. And that 27 incher is the best computer I’ve ever owned. And now I’m waiting on Mountain Lion.

It’s incredible to see how far I’ve come. How far we have come.

How far Apple has come.

He should’ve bought that stock…

Old Mac of the Month: Macintosh IIci

Editor’s Note: This month’s submission is written by Jeff Geerling. He writes a blog named Life is Prayer and hails from just north of me, up in St. Louis, MO.

If you’d like to share about an old Mac that made a difference in your life, get in touch.

Imagine a time when computing was quickly becoming mainstream; computers with graphical user interfaces were becoming the norm, and expensive Macs were not doing entirely well in the market. Early Windows-based computers were obtrusive, buggy, and required more time setting IRQs and swapping hard drive ribbon cables than they offered uninterrupted uptime.

As an engineer’s son, I was loving it.

After growing up with a three or four of computers thrown together with scrap parts and running whatever operating systems I could pull together from a friend or my Dad’s office, I was longing for a computer on which I could simply work, play, and have some fun. I had enjoyed the feeling of touching the components of the computer that made sensible words and graphics appear on the screen, but I often didn’t enjoy the fact that I had to do it (especially when I gave myself a nice shock one time!).

Enter the Macintosh

In 1992, my Dad helped me buy a Mac; our family had a Mac Plus for a time, and I had learned to love early black and white games like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and classics like Spectre or Armor Alley.

My dad allowed me to use some of the money I had saved up through sales of PCs I had built to buy a used Macintosh IIci from my brother.

I quickly dove into the case, and realized what an immense pleasure it was to operate inside the IIci; getting to the orderly insides took only a click and a pop of two little latches on the back of the top panel. Until I bought a Blue-and-White G3, I thought the IIci was the hardware-hacker’s ideal Mac.

I booted up the Mac and installed Mac OS 7.5.3 over our in-house AppleTalk network (this definitely beat swapping out 19 floppy disks, though the transfer rate was still abysmal—about 200kbps). I started finding any shareware floppies my Dad or brother had (my brother had some cutting-edge games like Pathways Into Darkness or Out of this World and the classic Dark Castle), and loading them on the (then) roomy 80 MB SCSI hard drive.

I really appreciated the integration of the Mac OS and the hardware of the IIci; when I decided to upgrade the RAM to 8 MB (from the original 2 MB), the Mac booted and was happy, and ran Photoshop LE 2.5.1 better than ever. When I installed a NuBus 10baseT network card (so I could use my Dad’s newly-installed network to access his ISDN connection to the Internet), I didn’t have to think about IRQ settings, the slot into which I installed the card, etc. In fact, I’d never spent more than a minute or two installing any of the upgrades I eventually put in my IIci:

  • 12MB of RAM
  • A 68040/33Mhz processor upgrade card — so I could run Mac OS 8
  • A Radius NuBus video card so I could drive a 1280×1024 CRT with thousands of colors and play some neat games.
  • A 512 MB SCSI hard drive (it was incredibly loud)
  • An external 2x Apple CD-ROM

I used this Mac IIci for over three years, making it the Mac I’ve used and owned the longest. I loved the simple, minimalist design so much that I decided to strip the innards and set the Mac on my dresser in lieu of other art objects until I left my parents’ house for College.

Macintosh IIci

This Mac helped teach me all the paradigms of the Mac OS graphical environment (in comparison to MS DOS’s command line, and Windows 3.x and 95/98), and taught me that there was more to computing than flicking tiny switches on daughter cards, swapping out drive cables, and replacing bad CD-ROM drives (a common occurrence on the cheap PCs I was used to building). I likely spent a hundred hours simply memorizing every system setting, experimenting with the speed of a RAM disk, and playing with Photoshop, Glider Pro, Claris Works, etc.

Developer Roots

I built my first website on this Mac IIci; it was little more than one page with a few facts about my life and family and some of my favorite pictures (scanned in with a Microtek SCSI scanner which took about 5 minutes per scan). I used Claris Home Page, but tweaked the HTML output by hand in SimpleText. I hosted the website on a Whistle InterJet that my Dad had running on a public IP address at his office.

Now that I’m a full-time web developer working in 5+ programming languages, I appreciate the simple setup I used to learn the basics of the web: HTML, JavaScript, and the HTTP protocol, all through plain text editing in SimpleText on a Mac. I truly believe that using a simple Mac helped me to focus more on the content and design of my work, even when working on parts of my projects that would rarely be seen by users. Though Steve Jobs wasn’t at Apple when the IIci was built, I think his design principles were still having a positive influence on the hardware designs coming out of Cupertino.

I wish I still had a IIci around, simply so I could pull all the parts off again and put it back together—there was something therapeutic about being able to strip an entire computer down to it’s casing (revealing signatures of the computer’s design team) and put it back together in less than 5 minutes. I credit a lot of my fundamental computer architecture understanding to the fact that I could pick apart every component of the computer—down to the CPU itself—and view the pins and jumper switches that controlled certain settings that affected how the software on the computer would run.

Looking back on the IIci and another favorite, the PowerBook 180c (a laptop with tricky Torx screws which I could field strip in less than 20 minutes), I remember with great nostalgia the times when computer hardware could be replaced on the chip-to-chip level, and voltmeters were as common as software tools like TechTool in checking the health and stability of one’s computer. Additionally, the lack of sites like iFixIt meant that I was learning the complex architecture of the computers in a truly DIY fashion.

I don’t miss the shocks, (though that only seemed to happen when I was working on PCs), but I do miss the hands-on experience I had while working on computers—especially Macs—as a kid. In today’s environment, software hacking seems to be the most enlightening form of computer learning, but it was not always so.

Since donating my IIci to a local school (I installed Netscape Navigator 2.0 so they could use it to access the Internet), I’ve owned a variety of desktop and laptop Macs, but I’ve never been taken in as much by any other Mac’s overall hardware design, even when I first held the impossibly-thin MacBook Air I’m using today.