A Casualty on the Front Lines

No, this isn’t a misplaced war correspondent piece! The title refers to my much loved and long serving Power Mac G5 Quad, which until this week has been on the front lines of the internet as the server for the Happy Macs Gopher site.

G5 Quad

Regrettably I went into the lab mid this week to find its fans running at full throttle and the CPU temperature meter registering well over 80C. Amazingly, the machine was still running and still responding, but of course I shut it down immediately.

Thinking that it might just be a software glitch in the temperature control system, I let it cool off for an hour or so and then restarted it. It started up normally, but to my dismay, the CPU temperature meter started to climb immediately, the fans kicked up in tandem with it, and eventually I was right back to where I had started: fans at full throttle and an unacceptable CPU temperature level. I shut the machine down again to preserve what little run time it would have left at those extreme levels of heat, and pondered what to do next.

I have to conclude that the G5’s elaborate cooling system has failed after many years of faithful service. These machines are well known for this problem, but usually the failure is more catastrophic than the one I have experienced, with cooling fluid spilling out all over and staining floors, carpets and anything else in the near vicinity. I really can’t complain I suppose: 2005 to 2018 is a pretty good run for any computer …and it has not been easy service of late. As mentioned above, this machine has been on the front lines of the internet for several years now, serving up the Happy Macs Gopher site 24x7x365.

I will have a good look at it this weekend, and in the short term at least, I will replace it with my original personal Mac, a Power Mac G5 Dual 2.3 GHz. I will have to fire up the G5 Quad for a limited last run, to transfer the Gopher site off of the HDD and onto a backup drive. This will let me restore it onto the G5 Dual and get it “back on the air”. I can only hope that G5 Quad survives this final service without too much (additional) damage.

Looking forward, G5 Quads are becoming hard to find on eBay these days, and so it may be a while before I can replace my failing friend. I doubt that I can actually repair it – I lack both the time and the skills to do so. I may simply have to “harvest” all the useful components from it (hard drives, RAM, video card, etc.) and put it out to pasture permanently. This weekend’s examination will tell the tale.

RIP my long faithful friend!

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Reviving a Non-Responsive 7300/200

I am happy to report that the Happy Macs lab is once more fully operational, after a move of 100’s of miles from its old home to its new home. Of the 28 or so computers that were moved, there was only one “casualty” – my cherished Power Macintosh 7300/200.

PowerMac 7300-200 Image

It would be fair to say that over the last few years, I have lavished many months’ worth of time on it. It has been an essential test bed for almost every new concept, card or technology that I have dug into. It has been heavily upgraded, has a leading edge set of applications installed and has been so reliable that I use it to host an internal Gopher server that the rest of the lab accesses as need be.

Consequently, I was more than just a little distressed when I unpacked it, assembled it and pressed the Power button, only to be greeted by… well, nothing! OK, not quite nothing. The power light came on and the two hard disks spun up, but that was it. There was no startup chime, no video, no response to keyboard start up shortcuts and in general, no signs of intelligent life at all. Even though I packed every computer myself, and moved all of the boxes personally, the process of moving is a physically challenging one for an older machine given the inevitable bumps and bruises along the way. Had my prized 7300/200 suffered fatal damage?

At first, I was concerned, but hopeful. The boxes had been in storage for six months during the move. Perhaps the motherboard battery had expired in that time. I replaced it with a fresh one. No joy. Moving does involve inevitable physical jolts to the boxes. Had a card dislodged from its slot? I checked every card, including the removable CPU card. Everything was snug in its slot. Still no signs of intelligent life. Speaking of intelligence, in the computer world intelligence comes from the CPU. I have an upgraded 500 MHz G3 card slotted into the 7300’s CPU slot. Perhaps it had died in the transfer? I gently extracted it from its slot and replaced it with the original 200 MHz CPU card. The machine remained stubbornly silent. No chimes, no video, no life.

Sonnet 500 MHz G3

At this point I moved from “concerned” to more like “worried”. With physical bumps and bruises comes the possibility that a delicate solder joint somewhere had snapped, in which case it was simply all over (I lack both the skill and the equipment to detect and repair this sort of damage). I also considered the possibility that a cantankerous capacitor had blown somewhere, and spent no small amount of time examining the motherboard and the plug in cards for the telltale signs of cap damage. Again, this was without reward.

OK, clearly “inspiration” was not going solve this issue, so I moved on to “perspiration”. Keeping the case open, I began methodically removing every plug in card (video, IDE and USB) one at a time, and every memory module, until the machine was essentially stripped to its essence.

Power Macintosh 7300 Open

Still it gave no indication that there was any life left in it. Finally, I was left with only the plug in CPU card, which I had already ruled out as the source of the problem in my early “inspiration” testing. Still, the CPU card was all that was left, and if I was going to have admit that this machine was dead, I was going to (re)try this first.

I know that you know what happened next, because the perversity of inanimate objects almost predicts it! I replaced the 500 MHz G3 with the original 200 MHz 604e, powered up for what I thought would be the last time, and was greeted with a robust startup chime! I hardly believed my ears! The machine proceeded to execute the boot process, although it quickly ran into trouble due to a critical shortage of RAM. Ultimately, a minimal version of Mac OS 9.1 managed to project itself onto the display and there was life!

So… I had lost the 500 MHz G3 CPU after all! Well… not so fast. I am nothing if not methodical, and so now I extracted the 200 MHz CPU and replaced it once more with the (by now very suspect) 500 MHz CPU and applied power once more. Once more the machine chimed vigorously and booted into a minimal Mac OS 9.1. This is NOT what I expected, but it was very welcome indeed. I powered down and repeated to be sure that this was a sustainable result. It was.

After that, I slowly, methodically began replacing everything that I had pulled out of the machine. The RAM was first, and with a full complement of RAM came a full boot of Mac OS 9.1. The video card was next, then the IDE card, restoring access to the second hard disk and finally, the USB card. When it was all said and done, I had simply removed everything and replaced it all. I had of course reseated everything in the process, vs. just checking that everything was snugly in its slot, but nothing more.

Reseating the CPU seemed to be the breakthrough point, but I had done that much earlier to no effect. I really have no idea exactly what caused the original failure, nor do I have any real idea how what I did resolved it. However, it IS resolved, and the machine has been starting up reliably ever since.

The moral of this story? Be patient, be methodical and try everything at least twice! The machine is not dead until you give up on it!

 

Happy Macs Lab Progress, Mac IIfx and Apple IIgs

At long last, the corporate relocation that has shuttered the Happy Macs lab for the past six months is finally complete. It has been a long and tortuous process but at last it is done. Our new home has a large and custom-built space in the finished basement that will grow into the Happy Macs lab over the coming weeks. Last weekend, most of the vintage computing equipment that will populate the lab was moved from the safely of the climate controlled storage locker where it has spent the last several months to its final staging area, our garage. Over the next few weeks, I will be unpacking the boxes and situating the systems in the lab, slowly bringing it all back online.

In the interim, while any sort of progress has been limited, my passion for vintage Macs has not gone entirely unsatisfied. I have kept a watchful eye ever open, and over these past few months I have acquired two rare and precious goodies that will feature in upcoming posts: a Macintosh IIfx (the “wicked fast” Macintosh) and an original copy of the ORCA/C compiler and development environment for the Apple IIgs.

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The Macintosh IIfx will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog, but the mention of anything related to the Apple II probably will. To be fair, the Apple IIgs is NOT a Macintosh, and so would appear to be outside of the scope of this blog. However, like many Macintosh-related blogs and user groups, I am making an exception for the Apple IIgs. While it is true that it is not a Macintosh, it is a very close relative. From a GUI perspective, an Apple IIgs running its’ GS/OS operating system is nearly indistinguishable from a Macintosh running System 6.

The Apple IIgs is in fact a fascinating “what if” machine in Apple’s history, one that I will delve into it in more detail in an upcoming series of posts. As a teaser, what would you think of a true 16-bit Apple II, featuring the first color user interface Apple had ever fielded, with a fully mouse driven GUI that looks (and acts) for all the world like Macintosh System 6, and which outsold all other Apple products, including the Macintosh(!), in its first year on the market? Would you find that interesting? I did, and the more I dug, the more fascinating this Apple II – Macintosh hybrid became. Stay tuned for more!

That’s it for now. I am pleased to report that this blog has not gone away – it has just been on a relocation-mandated hiatus.

Networking Your System 6 Mac

At this point in our series of posts about System 6, we have explored why you might be interested in System 6, what sorts of Macintosh units you might want to purchase to support that interest, and what minimum “starter kit” of software you might need to get you started in this new environment. Now it is time to load your System 6 machine up with the software you really need to make productive use out of the system.

There are two “usual” ways of doing this, networking the new machine with other Macs you may have, so that you can simply load new software across the network, and attaching mass storage devices such as an Iomega Zip drive or a CD-ROM and transferring the software in that way. This post explores the first of these two topics, networking your System 6 Macintosh. The last and final post in this series on System 6 will explore second option, adding mass storage.

The word “networking” deserves a little exploration of its own, in order to set the context for this post. There are two major forms of networking that could we could pursue: Apple’s own AppleTalk and the ubiquitous (today) Internet.

AppleTalk is an Apple proprietary set of protocols that allows two or more Macintoshes, along with other compatible devices, to communicate with each other. AppleTalk can run over either a simple serial connection between two or more units (LocalTalk) or it can run over Ethernet (EtherTalk), and thus address any compatible machines on your local home network.

In addition to AppleTalk, most people will want to get their new System 6 machine onto the Internet and the Web, and so this is an objective as well. We take this later objective with a grain of salt however, remembering that while a System 6 machine can make excellent use of many Internet resources, there is very little, if anything, that a System 6 machine can do on the web.

A practical consequence however of wanting both AppleTalk and Internet connectivity is that we will focus on AppleTalk over Ethernet… EtherTalk. Thus, this is the context in which we pursue “networking” in this post.

For the most part, we will need to start from scratch. Out of the box, your new System 6 installation will typically not come with AppleTalk, any form of TCP/IP stack (needed for the Internet) or even any form of Ethernet drivers.

To achieve our objective to AppleTalk over Ethernet, and the ability to access the Internet/web, we need to install both networking hardware and networking software.

Let’s start with the hardware. In order to accomplish networking, your machine needs to have network interface hardware at its disposal. Your machine may come with networking hardware built in, or you may need to install a NuBus network interface card (NIC) of your choice. Apple provided a range of Nubus NIC cards at the time, and similar cards were available from other vendors as well. I recommend the Apple NIC cards of the period to start with, simply because the drivers are largely available as part of the NSI 1.4.5 package.

This is what I did with my Macintosh IIsi. I purchased (on eBay) a Mac IIsi-specific PDS-to-Nubus extender, and an Apple NuBus NIC card. I physically installed this hardware before I began my networking software upgrade, and as a result the drivers for the new NIC went in as a seamless part of the NSI software install.

That’s the hardware – onto the software. You will need to install the following software, in order:

1/ Apple Network Software 1.4.5 (AppleTalk – will run over LocalTalk to start with)

2/ Ethernet drivers for the NIC hardware that is either built into, or you have installed on, your System 6 machine. As mentioned above, remember that drivers for many Apple NIC Cards are included in NSI 1.4.5.

3/ MacTCP 2.0.6, providing you with a System 6 compatible TCP/IP (Internet) stack.

As you approach your networking software installation, your new System 6 machine provides no networking support at all. Both the Network and the TCP/IP control panels are not present, and the Chooser control panel in all likelihood contains only one or more printer selections, and no AppleTalk selection, looking rather like this:

Chooser, No AppleTalk Selection

Like many things Macintosh however, transforming this into what you want is almost painfully easy.

In my case, I used my Power Macintosh 7300 to burn a copy of NSI 1.4.5 (the last version of Network Software to support System 6) onto a floppy. I fed that floppy into my Mac IIsi and it mounted it cleanly on the desktop with no issues. I executed the installer and it ran to completion also with no issues. Following a restart, I had a full AppleTalk client installed AND a shiny new Network control panel, supporting the shifting of my AppleTalk connection between LocalTalk and EtherTalk.

Network Control Panel

So far, so good. If EtherTalk networking was the objective, we would be done at this point.

However, the objective is EtherTalk networking AND Internet connectivity, and so you need to proceed to the final step, which is installing MacTCP. In this case, you will want MacTCP 2.0.6, although an earlier version may work. When I expanded the .sit file for MacTCP 2.0.6, I got just a file called MacTCP. Presuming that this was either an extension or a control panel, I copied it into the System folder and restarted. Success! I now had a MacTCP control panel, supporting both LocalTalk and EtherTalk selections.

MacTCP Control Panel 01 with LocalTalk and EtherTalk

A word of warning at this point. If you are used to more “modern” TCP settings such as you might find in later versions of Mac OS, you may be unpleasantly surprised by MacTCP’s presentation. The Internet was a fairly new thing in System 6’s time, and this is reflected in the sometimes arcane settings that MacTCP 2.0.6 presents to you. It may take some inspired tinkering, and perhaps just a little time, to get MacTCP to configure the things you will want to configure, but rest assured – it can be done.

MacTCP Control Panel 02 Advanced Options

Regrettably, this article is being written after the fact from notes that I made at the time (as I write this, the Happy Macs lab remains in storage as part of our present corporate move) and so I can’t include specific instructions for each MacTCP control. However, I recommend setting your IP address manually (I’ve never had much luck with modern DHCP servers, such as you will almost certainly have in your cable/DSL box, and early versions of Mac OS), setting your subnet mask to 255.255.255.0, and setting both your Gateway address and your Name Server address to the IP address of your local home router (which will typically be your home’s cable modem or DSL box). 192.168.0.1 was a common default address for many cable/DSL boxes for some time. Readers who have Comcast Xfinity boxes may find that 10.0.0.1 works for them.

Anyway, with a bit of tinkering, I successfully bludgeoned MacTCP into configuring the settings I wanted and restarted my Mac. When the boot was finished, I was pleased to see that the Chooser control panel now “saw” the other vintage Macs on the Happy Macs Lab network (specifically those that were turned on and which had AppleTalk networking enabled) indicating that AppleTalk over Ethernet was up and running on my System 6 Mac.

System 6 Chooser w Quadra 840AV Selection

But better still, when I fired up MacTCP Ping, it not only successfully pinged the other Macs visible on the Happy Macs Lab network but ALSO successfully pinged multiple external web sites! My Mac IIsi was on the Internet!

MacTCP Ping

I had to sit back and marvel at this point. An incredible amount of newly installed hardware and software (the NIC card, its’ drivers, MacTCP and MacTCP Ping) had all just working perfectly – and in perfect harmony – the “first time out of the box”, allowing my Mac IIsi to reach outside the limited confines of the Happy Macs Lab and out onto the wild, wild west of the Internet. As I said earlier, the whole thing had been almost painfully easy.

Reflecting on that, being able to ping other servers on the Internet was perhaps quite a technology tour de force, but in the end, it is not terribly useful. So, what did one do with an internet-networked System 6 Mac “back in the day”? Why, one Gophered of course! Gopher, a very capable text-based precursor of the web, was THE way to share information at the time, and has been discussed at length in several earlier posts of this blog. System 6, as you may well guess, had an excellent Gopher client in the form of the third party program TurboGopher 1.0.8b4 (an earlier version of the TurboGopher 2.x series which features prominently in the aforementioned blog posts on Gopher).

I installed TurboGopher 1.0.8b4, fired it up and pointed it at the current “daddy” of Gopherspace, Floodgap Systems’ gopher.floodgap.com server (port 70). TurboGopher got right through and displayed their home page perfectly, if somewhat more slowly than I was accustomed to… which is to be expected I suppose – the Mac IIsi is a 20 MHz 68030 machine, after all.

gopher.floodgap.com

Assuming that you have been following along and installing hardware and software on your machine as you go, from this point on, the internet is an open resource to your System 6 Mac. Remember however that the web is not! I have experimented with some of the very early web browsers that would run under System 6, but have had no (none, zero, nada) usable results. You can network your Macs, you can Ping Internet servers, you can FTP files and you can cruise through Gopherspace… but you cannot surf the web with your networked System 6 Mac.

So there you have it then! Networking your System 6 Mac with Ethernet can be a simple and enabling experience. Best of luck to you in your efforts in this regard!

p.s.> Networking via LocalTalk, on the other hand, has eluded me completely thus far! Just before the Happy Macs Lab was packed up, I was working on networking two System 6 Macs exclusively over LocalTalk, with no MacTCP involved, and was getting absolutely nowhere! I DID manage to connect to an ImageWriter printer I have using just LocalTalk, but that was as far as I could get. I could not get the two Macs to “see” each other over LocalTalk. This may become the topic of additional posts at a future time, once I figure it all out! In the meantime, just a word to the wise. It does not appear to be as simple to LocalTalk two or more Macs as it is to EtherTalk them over MacTCP.

p.p.s> All of the software mentioned in this post is available in the System 6 section of the Happy Macs Gopher server, happymacs.ddns.net, port 70… or rather, will be very soon. Regrettably, as I write this (April 2018), the Happy Macs Gopher server is presently offline due to our corporate move. However, it should be back on the net no later than the end of May 2018. Watch this blog for notification of its renewed presence. Until then, most, if not all, of the above mentioned software can be found on the web with a bit of luck and a lot of inspired Google’ing.

Happy Macs Lab, Gopher Server Are on the Move

The Happy Macs Lab and the Happy Macs Gopher site are on the move! I am moving to a new location for work and am now “between homes”. For the next few months, I am living in temporary housing while our new home is being completed, and that means that both the Happy Macs Lab and the Happy Macs Gopher server are both completely “off the air”.

This is a corporate move and so we did not have to pack anything, but I couldn’t bear the thought of ham-fisted movers disassembling and packing up my precious Macs (please no offense is intended if you happen to be a mover!) and so over the last month or so, I have been doing the job myself. Finally, this past weekend, it was time to load it all into a truck and drive it to our new location. As you can see below, I selected U-Haul for the job.

20180217_171855

On each of the past several weekends, I have loaded up the car and taken down my most precious or most delicate Macs, a carload at a time. This past weekend, EVERYTHING else was loaded into the truck and taken down. You can see that the truck was fairly fully loaded. It is amazing how much Mac related paraphernalia I have when it is put all together in one place.

20180218_120302

So, until our new home is move in ready (expected to be mid April), the Happy Macs Lab and Gopher Site are “off the air”. For those accessing the Gopher site on a regular basis, please accept my apologies, and my assurances that the site will be back on the air again as quickly as I am able to accomplish this.

You may be curious to know whether I set up any vintage Macs at my new temporary housing location. The quick answer is “yes”. Long time readers of this blog may remember that a few years ago, I made a similar move, although across a much larger distance, also for work. As with this time, the Happy Macs lab was also down for an extended duration, in that case 6 months. To retain some connection with the vintage Mac world, I brought two of my then favorite vintage Macs with me to my temporary housing location, my Power Macintosh 7300/200 and my Power Mac G5 Quad. This time around, ALL of my vintage Macs are essentially here with me in my temporary housing, but still in the boxes they were moved in and packed away neatly in an available attic. However, I have kept out a current favorite, my G3 All In One “Molar Mac”, and of course my “daily driver”, my 3.4 GHz iMac (definitely NOT a vintage Mac!). So, I am not completely out of the vintage Mac loop, just mostly.

I will keep everyone updated as things progress, and at any rate will soon be posting the two final articles in the System 6 series I was working on. These are “Networking Your System 6 Mac” and “Using External Mass Storage with Your System 6 Mac”, both of which were “in flight” when I had to tear down the lab. Stay tuned!

Happymacs Gopher Site Current and Planned Outages

A quick note to all the readers of this blog. The HappyMacs Gopher server appears to be down at present. Unfortunately I am traveling on business and will not be able to reset it until NEXT weekend. Regrettably therefore, the HappyMacs Gopher server is “off the air” until then.

Another personal note that will impact availability of the server from time to time. I have just started a new job, and we are relocating as a result. The PowerMac G5 Quad that hosts the HappyMacs Gopher site is of course coming with me (!) but on the day that it is moved, and perhaps for another day or two after, the server will be necessarily down. I will post here on the blog to let you know specifics as the details become clearer.

Our new home has a purpose built computer lab in the basement, giving the HappyMacs Lab it’s first purposely designed home. I am looking forward to getting into our new digs and getting everything set back up and running full tilt. I will publish pictures of the new lab once it is up and running.

Despite the move, I am nearly finished with my next post on networking System 6 Macs, and you can expect to see that published in the next week or two. That post will be followed by the last in the System 6 series, all about adding external mass storage to your System 6 Mac. Stay tuned!

Thanks for your patience with these temporary outages of the HappyMacs Gopher server and I will get it back on the air just as soon as I can.