Segments: Slices from the Macintosh Life
Building the Dream Machine
Well, it was time to bite the bullet and start using Mac OS X, mostly because there are an ever increasing number of applications that will only run on X—especially Apple’s new free iPhoto. At the same time, I wanted full compatibility with older serial and SCSI peripheral devices. I also wanted to keep the cost down.
The starting point was a Macintosh 9600/200. The 9600 was one of the last Power Macs before the G3s, and one of the most expandable. Purchased over eBay for $180 including shipping, it came with a 4 GB hard drive and 160* MB of RAM—enough to get started. (I have found it necessary to add another 128 MB of RAM. And because I like to have a lot of applications open at the same time, I will probably add even more.)
The first step, after cleaning the dust out of the inside of the case, was to replace the processor card with a Sonnet G3/400 upgrade card (eBay, $150). This involved simply removing the 604e/200 card from the processor slot and plugging in the Sonnet. Now it was time to install OS X. OS X will not directly install on these older machines; it has to be shoehorned onto the hard drive using a free program called XPostFacto.
Next, divide the hard drive into two partitions, or as I chose to do, install a second hard drive that I happened to have on hand. The process is the same either way. First, I installed Mac 9.1 on one of the drives to handle the Classic environment. (Note: this installation cannot use 9.2 as a normal installation requires. 9.1 handles Classic applications just fine.) Then put the OS X disk in the CD-ROM drive and start up XPostFacto. Installation takes just a couple of mouse clicks. Then I immediately ran the 10.1 update installer also using XPostFacto and wound up with OS X 10.1 fully working on my 9600. The last step was to install a PCI USB card (eBay, $25) so I could use USB peripherals with the Mac. It is highly desirable, if not essential, that OS 9.1 and OS X be on separate partitions! Sometime afterward I used the Software Update panel to update the system to 10.1.3. This downloaded and installed directly from OS X.
Now I have a Mac that will run the new OS X-only software, the older so-called Classic software, and use older ADB mice and keyboards or newer USB ones (or even both at the same time), and older serial printers or newer USB ones. Full compatibility, both forward and backward. And all for a total cost of about $350.
Note: because of a lack of drivers that run under OS X, using older serial printers such as the StyleWriters requires printing from 9.1. Drivers for many newer USB printers are built in to OS X or can be downloaded from the manufacturers’ Web site. Gone is the Chooser; OS X can sense which printer is connected and choose the right driver automatically—a great improvement. However, printing in the Classic environment requires that the printer be selected in the Chooser as always.
Future expansion could include adding FireWire with a PCI card, adding more RAM, or even adding an LVD hard drive. But that’s for the future, if I ever do it. Right now I have a cheap G3 that runs OS X (my original goal) and allows me to use that old Stylewriter too (but only from OS 9).
I am writing this in AppleWorks, upgraded from the original 6.0 to 6.2.2 via the free Apple download, and it runs well under OS X. It seems just as fast as 6.1 running under 9.1. And (most) older programs that won’t run under X are simply handed off to 9.1 and run fine. All in all, a very successful experiment.
Caveats: OS X will not recognize the floppy drive or a disk in the drive. If it is necessary to read from, or write to a floppy, I must start up in OS 9.1. It does recognize devices on the SCSI chain and the serial ports. To start up the computer in OS 9, simply hold down the Option key during startup. (This requires having OS 9 on a separate drive or partition.) You can also choose OS 9 in the Startup Disk preference panel and then restart, although I have found that this doesn’t always work. Using Command-Option-Shift-Delete at startup will also work. Also it takes quite a while for OS X to start its Classic environment (over three minutes), although after it’s running, switching between the two systems is almost instantaneous.
I’m using a serial modem connected to the printer port and, although I had some problems at first getting it to operate properly, it’s working fine now. The modem port seems to be bad, but so far that’s the only fault I have found with the computer, and it’s no big deal; I connect the external modem to the printer port and the printer to a USB port. Generally speaking, the same applications seem to run somewhat slower in X than in 9, but it’s not a big difference. As I get used to X, I find I like it more and more, especially as more and more of my favorite applications and utilities come out with X-compatible versions.
All in all, I have been very pleased with this low-end approach to using OS X and expect it to satisfy my needs for some time to come.
Also in This Series
- About My Particular Macintoshes · May 2012
- From the Darkest Hour · May 2012
- Shrinking Into an Expanding World · May 2012
- Growing Up With Apple · May 2012
- Recollections of ATPM by the Plucky Comic Relief · May 2012
- Making the Leap · March 2012
- Digital > Analog > Digital · February 2012
- An Achievable Dream · February 2012
- Smart Move? · February 2012
- Complete Archive