You can now register for the upcoming Retrochallenge Winter Warmup which runs through the month of January 2012. The competition is a great way to get involved in the retro computing community and to provide motivation for that retro project you always wanted to do but kept putting off.
Head over to the cool new Retrochallenge site and register. Even if you’re overtaken by events or mired in your own inaction and don’t finish your project, there’s no detention or visits to the headmaster’s/principal’s office.
I’m still fully acquainting myself with my recently acquired iMac G4, however my attention has now been momentarily redirected towards another machine that has come my way, a Power Mac G4 Cube. Gratefully received for a nominal fee from a friend of one of my employees the Cube is in very nice working condition and came with the original speakers, mouse, keyboard and a 15″ Studio Display. Like or loath them Cubes are difficult to ignore, from their styling to their rather ignominious past they are certainly a talking point.
Mine appears to have been a fairly early model equipped with a 450 mhz G4, 20 GB HDD and 128 MB of RAM. The previous owner had added another 576 MB of RAM, I managed to dig around and find a couple of PC 100 512 MB sticks and so pulled out and replaced two of the existing sticks maxing the Cube out at 1.5 GB. The original Maxtor drive was slow and noisy so I also pulled that out and replaced it with a somewhat quieter 40 GB IBM model.
I decided to install Leopard, interested to see how the 450 mhz G4 would cope. Using the same trick I’d employed for the iMac, I booted the Cube in target disk mode and ran the installation DVD from my G4 Mac Mini which was connected via Firewire. The installation process began and progressed quite happily before falling over after about 20 minutes.
It was at this point that I realised the Cube’s firmware had not been updated. The 4.1.9 update and instructions for its installation can be found here. Updating the firmware can only be done from OS 9 so the first step was to install this which went without a hitch. I duly followed the update firmware instructions and once successfully completed was able to install Leopard.
It seems to be running fine, I’ve had no major issues yet. I’ve already got into the habit of disabling Flash by default whether it be whilst running Safari or Firefox. I remain convinced that a combination of Flash and Leopard were responsible for killing my Power Mac G5 which had its first kernel panic whilst running some Flash content and never fully recovered. In my experience the PowerPC architecture and Flash don’t mix.
Being the first Cube that I’ve owned I’m starting to experience some of the foibles of the design, most irritating of which must be the power button which seems to have a life of its own. I’ve read reports of tape being used internally to cover the touch sensitive switch in order to reduce its sensitivity, I may try this.
My case is in very good condition but does suffer from some of the infamous hairline cracks and my Studio Display has a broken stand which appears to be a very common failing. Overall however I am absolutely thrilled to be a Cube owner at long last, especially for such a low outlay. Personally I absolutely love the design and am very impressed by the performance of the machine given its decade old specification.
I’m also pleasantly surprised by the fidelity of the speakers which at 10 watts per channel sound surprisingly good and produce good levels of bass for their diminutive size.
I shall attempt a repair of the display and may look at some other options for the HDD. I would like to fit an SSD or even have an attempt at installing the OS onto a compact flash card as I did with my Wyse Terminal although I’m not sure anyone has had any success with the later.
I’ve registered with the excellent Cube Owner forums having discovered a great deal of useful information there not least a very detailed guide to fixing the Studio Display stand.
The reasons for the Cube’s demise have been well documented but all of those reasons, valid or not, are irrelevant in the second hand market. Here we have a 10 year old machine that is still useful and remains drop dead gorgeous.
It is almost ten years since Apple released the original flat panel iMac, introduced back in 2002 I remember first seeing them in the John Lewis department store. At the time I was still hooked into the Wintel world but remember on seeing the iMac being seduced by the elegant simplicity of its design and its clear, crisp display.
At the time I could not justify the outlay and so when what seems like a very short period later (10 years but who’s counting) I noticed one going for silly money on Ebay it was time to dive in. The model I have is one of the earliest, a 700 mhz G4, 40 Gb HDD and 384 Mb of system memory. It’s in lovely condition with very few marks and in full working order.
For the £40 or so pounds that I spent on it, it seems like a whole load of engineering and design goodness and doesn’t to my eye look at all dated.
Somewhat foolishly the previous owner had not bothered to erase their files so I quickly set about securely erasing the drive and repartitioning it. This machine is one of the last that can boot into OS 9 as opposed to the running the Classic environment within OS X and I wanted to set it up as a dual boot machine as I need an OS 9 machine for some of my retro work.
Using the OS 9.2 install disk that came with the iMac I successfully installed the OS onto a 10 GB partition and then installed OS X on to the remaining 30GB’s. The OS X install disk that came with the machine was version 10.1.2 and to my surprise includes Internet Explorer 5. Having not previously owned Macs from this period (my first Mac was a G4 Mac Mini bought in 2005) I hadn’t realised that Safari had only surfaced a few years later.
I was soon on line via ethernet and took all the available updates for for both OS’s which downloaded and installed without a hitch.
The iMac feels pretty snappy in use, I’m tempted to replace the 128 MB stick of ram in the user slot with 512 MB and I have an Airport card on the way to slot in to the base.
The included mouse was non functional and the keyboard was horribly yellowed but I have plenty of spares so apart from those issues I am absolutely thrilled with to have such a lovely iMac, the plastics of the main unit and LCD are very well preserved.
I’m now going to have a play with OS 9, purely out of curiosity as I have no real experience of it and then try to decide where I can display this gorgeous machine in all its glory. I can’t imagine hiding it away it would seem too sad.
Ignoring all the prevailing advice I thought I’d have a crack at installing OS X Leopard on my newly acquired iMac G4. As it stands it falls some way short of the minimum specifications recommended by Apple and indeed when attempting to install the OS the process recognises this and refuses to continue. There are ways around this, including this method of fooling the installation software into believing the target machine meets the specs required. Please note the link to Leopardassist on that page appears to be broken, you can find it here.
Another method is to fire up the target machine in target disk mode (press and hold ‘T’ during boot) whilst connected by Firewire to another Mac that will run Leopard. You can then run the installation disk from this second machine and instruct it to install onto the original machine which will be recognised as a Firewire drive. I chose this later method as I have a Mac Mini G4 which I knew could run Leopard and given that it shares a G4 processor with the iMac would I believe offer the greatest chance of success.
The process went fairly smoothly, albeit slowly though the later was no surprise. The iMac has booted into Leopard quite happily and although it’s clearly running more slowly than a more modern Mac it’s quite useable. It’s my intention to upgrade the memory which I believe will make quite a difference, 384 MB is really not adequate, in the meantime I’ve turned off all of the dock animation effects and have ensured there are no background widgets running.
I thought it might be amusing to try Geekbench so I ran it in 32-bit mode on the iMac G4 and on my Macbook and MacPro just for comparison. the latter two machines ran the benchmark in a couple of seconds or so:-
MacPro 2 x 2.66 GHz Dual Core Xeon 5 GB Memory – 5538
MacBook 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo 2 GB Memory – 3354
iMac G4 700 MHz 384 MB Memory – DNF (45 minutes elapsed before I sympathetically terminated the process)
So I’ll see how the iMac gets on with some more memory and if it becomes obvious that Leopard is too taxing I shall revert to Tiger.
(Further Update)Have now swapped out memory in the user slot for a 512 MB stick giving a total of 768 MB.
Ran Geekbench again and it completed in roughly six minutes with a score of 345.
The BBS that I set up during this year’s Retrochallenge has been running on an old Athlon based Shuttle system that I built several years ago, it’s a nice little unit but its constant fan noise whirring in the corner of my office has started to irritate. I therefore dug into my collection of old hardware looking for something that might offer a less intrusive solution. A couple of Wyse WT9455XL Winterm units caught my eye. These units are completely silent, based on VIA Epia Mini-ITX MB’s and utilising Via C3 (Samuel 2 core) passively cooled processors.
These particular units had Windows XPe installed on 256MB DOM’s and the installations were heavily locked down to prevent users doing anything other than the task they’d been specified for. The first thing I needed to do was get into the password protected BIOS. This was pretty straightforward, I found the password ‘Fireport’ quickly via Google. I pulled out the DOM and attached a Startech IDE to CF adapter holding a SanDisk 8GB Extreme III card to the primary IDE channel and an old CD drive to the secondary and made the necessary changes in the BIOS.
Booting from the XP installation CD I converted the already partitioned and formatted compact flash card (via one of my Canon DSLR’s) from FAT32 to NTFS and started the XP installation process. It took a fair while but was mostly successful. Upon booting the new installation the system would sit at the ‘Welcome Screen’ for several minutes before continuing to boot successfully, and then other times it would stop at the same point and display the following dialogue box:-
Windows created a temporary paging file on your computer because of a problem that occurred with your paging file configuration when you started your computer. The total paging file size for all disk drives may be somewhat larger than the size you specified.
The related Microsoft support article gives the following information:-
This error message may occur if Windows tries to create a paging file on an NTFS volume, but the System and Administrators accounts do not have the correct NTFS permissions on the volume.
Initially I couldn’t figure out what was causing this problem and I also ran into problems using Windows Update which gave the following warning:-
To install items from Windows Update, you must be logged on as an administrator or a member of the Administrators group. If your computer is connected to a network, network policy settings may also prevent you from completing this procedure.
I was of course logged in as Administrator so again turned to Google hoping to find a solution. In the course of trying several remedies with no luck I noticed via Windows Explorer that XP was recognising the system drive as a removable unit. I’d forgotten that I needed to update the CF card so it would be recognised as a fixed disk.
SanDisk used to supply some software that would allow you to update their CF cards to either identify themselves as fixed or removable, it’s called ATCFWCHG.COM and can still be found in various places for download, I got a copy from RapidShare and found the instructions on how to use it here. It needs to be run from DOS so I attached a USB FDD to the Wyse unit, copied the file onto an old Windows 98 boot floppy and booted the system from it. I ran ATCFWCHG.COM using ATCFWCHG.COM /P /F from the command line and the word PASS was displayed.
Upon rebooting from the CF card the hang at the ‘Welcome Screen’ was resolved and Windows Update worked correctly, clearly the problem lay in the fact that XP will not allow you to create its page file on a removable drive, it was now recognising the drive as a fixed disk.
On that note I had to make a decision about how I was going to manage the page file given that the constant reading and writing from the disk that virtual memory requires is not good news for CF cards with their limited read\write lives. The choices were, no page file and the possible problems that can cause, a standard page file that might destroy the CF card pretty quickly or move the page file to another drive.
Given that this machine is essentially going to be doing nothing most of the time and only serving up the BBS on the odd occasion someone dials in I decided to insert the original DOM in the second IDE socket, format it and use it for the page file. Although it only offers 239MB formatted space I’m sure it will cope with the low load the system will be experiencing.
After a successful installation of the Diamond Supra Express modem in the solitary PCI slot provided I copied over all the BBS related files and fired it up. Everything is working nicely and the box is completely silent.
Only a month to go until this year’s DEC Legacy Event. Following the success of the original event, organiser and good friend Mark Wickens has confirmed it will be returning to Windermere, UK for a second year this October. Mark writes on the DEC Legacy website:-
With a focus on Digital Equipment Corporation and their legacy of hardware, software and ethos I’m also extending an open invitation to those who are interested in SGI, HP, Sun, IBM and other high end hardware to come along and share their passion with us. Several formal presentations will be mixed with plenty of hands on time with hardware brought by enthusiasts.
Do pop over to the DEC Legacy site where you can read all about the upcoming event, view a good selection of photographs of the original event and register should you choose to attend.
I’m still enjoying messing about with the Atari Portfolio and I’ve now finally got my hands on a serial interface. Much the same in appearance as the parallel interface the unit plugs into the Portfolio’s expansion bus and carries a male DB9 connector with fortunately, unlike some other retro machines, a standard pin layout.
The RS232 parameters, baud rate, parity and so on can be set via the Atari’s Setup menu with a maximum baud rate of 9600. After plugging the interface in and initialising it I had a look through the library of Portfolio software that I have downloaded from various sources and selected a terminal emulation program called ‘Acom’ from Roudley Associates.
I connected up my trusty US Robotics modem and loaded Acom. Taking a gamble I simply entered ‘atdt’ and the phone number of my BBS, the modem duly dialed the number and I was soon logging into Nostromo without problem (apart from the screen size limitations.)
Thrilled with my success I fired off the obligatory Tweet using the same method as I’d used with my PX-8 and downloaded a couple of files before successfully connecting via Telnet to another Synchronet board.
I’m also thrilled to have acquired what I believe is a pretty rare 1Mb expansion module. From what I understand these units were available from DIP, the original creators of the Portfolio and retailed in the UK for the best part of £400, a considerable outlay. I opened the unit up and replaced the CR2032 battery before connecting it to the Portfolio. It formatted without problem and I transferred a good selection of software onto it from the Zip drive, thus far it has been working without fault.
I have seen some Portfolio’s for sale that have been converted to allow the use of standard compact flash cards in the memory card slot, this would be very cool, although battling with the restriction of the original hardware is for me part of the fun. Another possible upgrade is a backlight for the display, there’s a company selling a kit specifically for the Portfolio, however the existing screen has very good contrast, certainly in comparison to the Epson PX8 so this would have to be a luxury addition.
I took some video of the Portfolio connecting to my BBS and Tweeting via Tweety Mail, completely pointless of course but somehow very satisfying.
One of my favourite retro machines is the lovely little Atari Portfolio. Originally developed in the UK by DIP the design was licensed to Atari who released the Portfolio in 1989. The unit has an 80C88 CPU running a customised version of MS-DOS called DIP DOS 2.11. There’s 128 kB of system RAM and a 256 kB ROM which contains the operating system and some built in utilities. There’s a non-backlight monochrome LCD displaying 40 characters x 8 lines.
As is the case with many retro machines the challenge is getting software onto them. Fortunately there are a number of options available with the Portfolio including a PC-Card reader unit, compact flash adapter, parallel cable transfer and the method I’m going to discuss here, attaching a parallel port Zip Drive.
I’ve already tried the cable method which requires the Portfolio parallel interface and a suitable cable. It works fine and is a good option for the occasional transfer but gets a bit tedious when you want to move a lot of files around. I decided to take the Zip Drive route as I already have a suitable drive and disks.
The first port of call then was Klaus Peichl’s site, Klaus developed the required driver, Pofozip.sys for the Atari and is still selling it for a very reasonable 8 €. A word of caution, the driver only works with the original Zip 100 parallel port drive, a later model was released which is not compatible. Klaus will kindly waive payment until you have things working, just in case you have a later drive. You’ll also need at the very least Zipman which will partition and format the zip disk in to three 32 Mb partitions, this can also be downloaded from Klaus’s site long with a couple of other utilities.
Of course you will need a method of transfering the driver and utilites to the Portfolio before you can set up your Zip Drive, I used the parallel cable and FT.com. Once transferred you need to create a config.sys file with the Portfolio’s built in editor. Press and hold the red Atari key and tap E to bring up the editor. If you’ve copied pofozip.sys to your c: drive type device=c:\pofozip.sys into the editor then press and hold the function key and tap F1 to bring up the menu, ‘Files’ should be highlighted, press return and scroll down to ‘Save As’ and save the file as config.sys on your c: drive.
Now do a CTRL ALT DEL to reboot the Portfolio and load the driver. Ensure your Zip drive is correctly connected to the parallel interface and fire up Zipman. At this point if your driver has not successfully loaded you’ll get an error message, if everything’s fine you be presented with the Zipman menu. From here you can choose which partition to format by pressing ‘P’ to select each of the three choices. Pressing ‘T’ will cycle through the format options, the option that worked for me was 32M/FAT12. I ran into problems reading and writing to the disk from Windows 95 when I tried the other options.
Format each of your partitions and you should be ready to roll. Attach the Zip drive to your Windows 95 machine (if you need Win 95 drivers for the Zip drive you can get them from Iomega here) and transfer your Portfolio files onto the Zip drive. Windows will only see the first partition but you can copy files from there to the other partitions with the Portfolio if necessary. I found that all the software I have fitted onto the one partition anyway.
Once you’ve reconnected your Zip drive to the portfolio you should be able to access all your files from the d: drive. You can move them to the other partitions now if you want to clear the d: drive and transfer more stuff onto it from your Windows machine. If you’ve got that many files for the Portfolio do let me know.
I’ve downloaded various stuff for the Portfolio, most of it from here and am working my way through trying it all. I’m also hoping I’m to acquire a serial interface for the portfolio before too long and hook up a modem. Here is some video of me loading the game ‘Phoenix’ from the Zip Drive:-
I’ve decided it’s time to upgrade to my own super cool domain to reflect the fact that my blog has pretty much become almost solely retro-computing based.
Traffic seems to be building consistently and more visitors are leaving comments which is fantastic. So I’m going to try and document more of my tinkering with retro gear as it seems to be a hobby that is gaining popularity right now.
I have a couple of projects on the go at the moment, both involving the Atari Portfolio. Firstly I’m trying to hook up a parallel Zip Drive to it for storage and easy file transfer. I also want to get hold of a serial interface and try and get it talking to a modem and hopefully my BBS – Nostromo.
I shall therefore document my success/failures in these endeavours in due course.
Today was spent fiddling with the configuration of Nostromo, the BBS I’m setting up for testing retro machines. After a considerable amount of time (much of which was spent trying to remember my mail server passwords) I managed to get the mail forwarding working so I could send e-mail from the BBS.
It then occurred to me it must be possible to Tweet via e-mail. A quick internet search later and I found Tweety Mail and duly signed up. At this stage I was only able to get mail out into the wild from the BBS by sending it to another user who had their account set to forward internal mail. I therefore set up a user account with email@example.com as their e-mail address and logged on with the PX-8.
I’m still experiencing some problems with errant text even when connecting at 300 baud but I can still navigate around and I soon managed to send an e-mail to the tweetymail user account. Much to my surprise and excitement it duly popped up on Twitter almost immediately.
I decided to shoot some video of the process. I apologise in advance for the shoddy standards, particularly the bit at the end where I hadn’t planned for moving the camera from the PX-8 to the Mac display and helpfully the camera decided to go on strike when it came to finding focus. Still it does rather sum up my Retrochallenge, unfocussed but with a clear result in the end.
I’d hoped to acquire an acoustic coupler to use with the Epson PX-8 however it wasn’t to be. Plan B involved connecting up an external modem and I therefore needed some software that would allow me to communicate with the US Robotics unit that I have, Mex from NightOwl Software was the obvious choice.
Using this guide I was able to determine which files I needed specifically for the PX-8 which were as follows:-
The MXO-PX8 overlay is I believe written specifically for the Epson Multi Function Unit which has a built in modem and sits below the PX-8 connecting via the system bus. It is therefore also necessary to include a generic Hayes compatible overlay if you need to communicate via RS232 with an external modem.
I used Filink to move all the files that I needed across to the PX-8 and saved them on disk with the TF-20 and used ASM.COM to assemble the overlays. Using MLOAD you can then generate a MEX executable tailored specifically to your PX-8/Modem set up.
In order to connect a modem to the RS232 interface on the PX-8 you need the Epson 724 cable, which is mini din to DB25. Fortunately one of my PX-8′s came with this cable and it’s not to be confused with the similar looking 725 cable which is a null modem version.
So then the moment of truth, what chance this would all work? I decided I should try and find a dial up BBS other than mine own to try. Wgoodf’s recent blog entry pointed me in the direction of the Plasma Sphere BBS which I didn’t have any luck with but this did lead me to the Arcade BBS.
A nice feature of MEX is you can use either ‘Call’ or ‘Dial’ to initiate the call, the latter will allow you to drop back into the command line and fire up other software if necessary, Kermit for instance. I stuck with ‘Call’ initially and it worked! Sort Of. Clearly there are some issues, I’m guessing buffer overruns but I’m sure these can be ironed out.
So here’s a video of me connecting to the Arcade BBS with my Epson PX-8 using Mex:-
(Update, I restricted the RS-232 port to 300 Baud and tried again with better results and have therefore updated the video, ahhh 300 baud, those were the days.)