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Seattle, WA, USA

Posted Tue Nov 03, 2020 4:44 pm

A couple of years ago, I turned around to my CTO who sat adjacent to me in the office and asked, “If you could have only one Macintosh - any, but only one - which would it be?”

He’s been a devoted Apple user since the late 1970s, and he’s owned tons of systems and devices across that timeframe. He of course had early Apple II’s, but also purchased the original 1984 Macintosh while in college.

I grew up using black and white Macs when I was on my high school newspaper in the late 1980s (I also had an Apple II+, but that’s a story for another day). The first year I was on the paper in journalism class, my freshman year, we had no computers. We had a “typesetting machine” and only my teacher, Mrs. Forehand, knew how to use it.

To my recollection it was old, archaic, and seemed to be heavily dependent on special hot-key commands to make it do what she wanted it to do. It had purely a textual output with no GUI that I can recall with a rather small, dim screen. We had to print everything out and literally glue-stick the strips of copy to large thick sheets of paper that would ultimately get photographed and printed into our school papers.

I’ll never forget how we used to have to use specialized thin black line “tape” and X-acto blades to create the boxes around certain content. That was the extent of our graphical influence on the paper’s look and feel.

The tape looked kind of like this:

This thin tape was cut into strips and we made crude boxes of it to encapsulate content, usually ad related. Or, for boxes like this:

Now, you may notice that box is in fact perfect. No mis-aligned corners or gaps, and no band-aids stored nearby for the occasional oops and slice. That’s because when I started school as a sophomore, the typesetting machine was pushed into the corner of one office and we entered a whole new paradigm of professional page layout.

On two tables facing each other we now had two Macintosh computers with black and white screens, and they were linked (presumably using an AppleTalk network) so they could share files.

I remember the first time I saw the little black and white screens, I had a know-it-all smirk on my face. I was a Commodore computer guy, and I was a gamer. Move out of my way and let me see this little thing up close.

My smirk dissolved when I saw the tiny, crisp text on the screen. To me, at the time, it looked as good as print! I couldn’t believe how sharp the text was on-screen. It looked… beautiful. And we had so many font options at our fingertips. I was floored. This was the late 80s, but I definitely remember thinking it made my C64’s chunky print programs pale in comparison. It made me feel… dated.

Honestly, my C64 was still good enough for typing up some homework but that was about it when it came to school use. However, all of my high school teachers required we write everything out in cursive. In college, typed papers were required. Today, my kids are doing all of their schoolwork - and classes - on laptops. My, how times have changed.

One of the Macs was sitting on top of a rather large box about the size of a small pizza box and several times thicker. I soon learned it was a 20MB “hard drive” which I honestly wasn’t familiar with ever using before. 20MB! I still had my Commodore 64 at home and 5.25” floppies, and the idea of that much storage was hard for me to fathom. That Mac we called “Mother” like the computer in the movie Alien. She was in charge, so to speak, and was where the pages were assembled. The other Mac was mainly for typing up our stories. This allowed the paper to be be constructed much more quickly than before without the teacher having to type everything (yay, I think?) and gave us, the students, a precision over our page designs like never before.
I sometimes not only wrote stories, but starred in them. Better than doing an actual interview with real flesh and blood people, right?

I continued to use Macs in art school in the late 1990s, but I did all of my own work on PCs at home. It was just so much cheaper, I couldn’t justify or afford the cost a Mac demanded.

It wasn’t until the year 2000 when I finally made the switch, and I purchased a red Ruby iMac. I loaded Earthlink on that Mac as well as some Adobe programs (and Diablo, natch) and it became my main machine for 3-4 years. I wrote my girlfriend love letters via email on that machine, too. We’ve been married for over 17 years now. That machine is still in my collection and I’ll always hang onto it. I love the pre-OSX classic operation system. It has a simplicity, charm, clarity and “tightness” I’ve always appreciated.

I’ve been using Macs continuously ever since. Of course, by 2002 or so I was on OS X and never turned back except when my retro-computing hobby takes me there, which has been a lot more often recently.

“If you could have only one Macintosh - any, but only one - which would it be?”

My CTO said, “Oh boy,” and he thought for all of about 4 or 5 seconds. He replied, “The Quadra 700.” This was 2 years ago. I researched that machine pretty deeply and was immediately impressed with what I found. He had used one as an engineer at Adobe in the early 1990s at the time, if I remember correctly.

At a very high level, it’s often referred to as “The Jurassic Park Computer,” as you can see it and a few others in the computer lab in several shots.

"Hold onto your butts."

That's a pretty sweet monitor, too.

It was a powerhouse computer for the times. Designed by Frog Design in San Francisco, the case alone is epic. It can be used vertically as a tower or horizontally depending on your preference and space needs. The entire machine can be deconstructed in about 2-3 minutes with only needing to remove 1 single screw. Everything (PSU, speaker, hard drive caddy, motherboard, etc.) just pops or slides out using simple pressure latches. I can literally remove the side (or top) of the case and remove the motherboard in less than 2 minutes. It’s amazing.

The Quadra 700 came out in 1991 about a year after the Amiga 3000. I plan on doing a side-by-side comparison of the two in the near future, which I think is fair. They both offer various pros and cons which I think are interesting to consider for the times.

The Q700 came from the factory with a Motorola 040 @ 25 Mhz. It could take up to 68MB of RAM and 2MB of VRAM. The Q700 also had two “NuBus” slots for video card upgrades or processor cards and the like. From what I’ve been told, an 040 @ 25 Mhz is about 2-3X as fast as an 030 at the same Mhz. And from what I’ve seen, it seems to be true.

I remember watching an Amiga documentary where one of the Amiga 3000 hardware engineers knew it was time for him to quit Commodore when they wouldn’t put the 040 in the A3000. To him, it told him Commodore “wasn’t serious” anymore and was going to quickly fall behind. Granted, when the Q700 came out it was over $5,000 retail - back then! That would have been an enormous sum today around $10,000. So, there's that. And that also likely explains why finding Quadra 700s in good condition these days is tough. It wasn't a normal machine in most people's homes, but was a powerful machine purchased by businesses for scientists, engineers and designers.

Commodore wouldn't ship a machine with an 040 until October of 1992 in the A4000. Bizarrely, they shipped another A4K model in 1993 with an 030, too.

Anyway, I began my search to see if I could find a Quadra 700 at a reasonable price. Like many big box Amigas, the Quadra 700 is not an easy machine to acquire. Most of what you’ll find is really beat up. When you do find a good looking machine it’s usually just the computer. You still need a keyboard, a mouse, a monitor. You know how it goes. And everything is so pricey it’s kind of sickening. It requires Zen master patience, if nothing else.

It took over 2 years, but I finally did find exactly what I was looking for.
And, to my delight, the one I acquired was near-mint with almost no apparent use for the past 24 years. The last date I could find stored on the hard drive was from 1996.

My model came complete with an Apple Extended Keyboard II (AEKII), ADB mouse and even an original Apple monitor. The keyboard is worth a closer look, too.

It’s a mechanical keyboard of very high quality. Interestingly, it was also the last mechanical keyboard by Apple in the early 1990s. The AEKII is the successor to the Apple Extended Keyboard (AEK) and is smaller, quieter, and more refined. It’s hard to believe it’s smaller, as it’s quite wide. Everything after it was a cheaper version with rubber domes. These are Mitumi boards, and they are called “damped” switches which are tactile and surprisingly quiet.
“The sound is dampened by small rubber inserts on either side of the slider which cushions the impact at the end of both the downstroke and the upstroke. Because of the dampening and high tactile point of the cream Alps switches, the keyboards are sometimes mistaken for having rubber dome switches.”
I actually have 2 of these keyboards. The one that came with the machine is near-perfect. However the very top edge has a slight yellowing to it. I have a theory that this weird silly plastic overlay that was to go around the top row of function keys actually caused many AEKII keyboards to yellow over time. Something about those two plastics touching each other for many years seems to have created this common problem.

My original keyboard is a M3501 BCGM3501, Made in the USA. That dates it to 1990. After finding the Minty Q700, I found a NOS keyboard of the exact same model number - one that had never been removed from its box nor used. So I got that to be what I use, and put the original in the box as a backup.

This keyboard was also designed by Frog Design, and there are two things about it that I particularly like.
1. It has a very beautiful curve to its side profile.
2. It also has a very unusual foot mechanism that allows the back edge of the keyboard to be raised or lowered with very precise control. Want it to raise up just 5 millimeters? No problem.

Anyhoo, my machine is running OS 7, and I’ll likely keep it there. I might push it to 7.5 at some stage for fun, but I’m in no rush.

As is often my way, when I get something I truly cherish I look for backups as a means of insurance. I found a semi-beaten up looking backup and got it for a very nice price. When I received it, I opened up the case to see what it looked like inside. To my surprise (and not mentioned when I bought it) it had 2 cards inside. One is a video card I’ve not been able to get working. But the other card is a DayStar 040 @ 40Mhz Quad processor upgrade! I found the software for it and have been running it in my minty machine ever since.

The backup machine’s hard drive died a tragic death after about 2 days of use. But otherwise the internal components all appear to be in excellent condition and ready for storage.

The Y2K20 Bug

When I first took my minty machine apart to inspect its various components, I discovered to my sadness that it had an ancient battery still attached to its motherboard. These aren’t VARTA batteries soldered to the board. They are ½ AA lithium 3.6V batteries. Thankfully, the design of these boards have the battery sitting in a plastic housing. So even though mine leaked, the damage was minimal. Basically just one of the legs of the battery housing itself was damaged, but the board was pristine.

In a few minutes I had the machine completely taken apart. I desoldered and replaced the PRAM battery housing with a brand new one I bought from

I popped in a new battery and put it all back together again. I turned the machine on and, to my utter confusion, saw this:

Come to find out the clocks for the early macintosh systems were never programmed to go beyond January 1, 2020. I couldn’t believe it! But then after some research I discovered this piece public domain software: SetDate. This tool lets us set our machine’s clocks up until 2042! That’s another 22 years down the road. I’ll take it.

How I got that software off the internet and over to the Mac is a whole other story, and one I'll save for another day.

We in the Commodore/Amiga community are so spoiled. We have it so damned good. The level of enthusiasm for Commodore hardware, software and innovation in the year 2020 is off the charts. Over in the Apple world, it's a completely different story. There's plenty of love, don't get me wrong. But when it comes to hardware hacking it's tumbleweeds!

In C=/Amiga, we can have new motherboards, accelerators, RAM boards, ethernet cards, brand new cases, potentially new keycaps, brand new high quality games, and on and on and on. It's incredible! Over in the classic Mac world? It's shockingly quiet.

Now, I have a theory around this. I think for a lot of people, if you want an Apple computer with a USB port, well, you just buy a newer model that fits the bill. There's just not as much of a craving for making the really old machines do what a slightly younger machine can do with zero effort, right off of Ebay. The Commodore machines are all frozen in time, so to speak. Because Commodore died, it's up to the community to grab that flag and run up that hill.

But it was surprising to me, to say the least. Only the ability to use a floppy drive emulator to help you move digital files from the internet over to a classic Mac has been invented as recently as four years ago. That's it! I imagine, and hope, there will be more tools and software created in the future to make the classic Mac scene a bit more convenient to partake in. But at least for now I've developed a system. And it's plenty good enough, and fun, for the time being.

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Lexington VA

Posted Tue Nov 03, 2020 8:52 pm

nice. the Quadra 650 was the one I lusted after. I stopped trying to find one that wasnt beat up or yellowed to the max.

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Zippy Zapp

Posted Wed Nov 04, 2020 7:56 am

Nice Post, @intric8! After Amiga I went to a DOS 486 and then in 1995/96 I went to a PowerMac 7200, thanks to my buddy who found that the 75Mhz 7200 was on closeout for $499 at Mac Zone. Not that long after it was released. I couldn't pass that up and it was my first Mac. I type this on a 2016 MacBook Pro so I have been using a combination of Macs and PCs since then.

I absolutely love the Classic MacOS era from 7 to 9, glitches and all.

But yeah it does show how advanced Commodore really was because it wouldn't be until OS X that the Mac would get some of the multi-tasking abilities that AmigaDOS had from the beginning with Mac OS up to then being cooperative multi-tasking and no protected memory. Too bad Commodore screwed it up so bad.

As for 030 vs 040 it was obviously to save money as an 040 was quite a bit more costly in those days. Apple was still selling Macs with 030 CPUs when the A4000 came out too, usually the LC systems that were common in schools in the 90s. The LC III was sold through 1994 and the LC 550 all in one until 1995. They must have been popular in education. Then they started selling gimped 040 systems, usually Performa line with 68LC040s that lacked the FPU, IIRC.

Edit: The clock thing. Yeah I found that out too on an OS8 computer as it has the same problem. OS 9 does not though. One way around it in 0S8, without the SetClock app, is to use a time server to sync the time and date. Just set it to the latest date it will go then it will sync it over the internet. I have found if it is too many years off it won't sync. The setting for the time server is in the Date/Time control panel.

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Posted Thu Nov 05, 2020 4:30 pm

Lovely story. I would agree with you. The fact that Apple is still around does remove some of the mystic and magic of older hardware. Although the 8bit Apple micros do have a very active community. It is weird. I mean the Mac community are generally rabidly faithful, but maybe a lot of them are not tech focused, they don’t feel the same way about the hardware.

Not sure if I feel the same way about the Classic Mac, but I never really used it. I do have a PowerBook G4 with MorphOS on it, but thought getting it back to it former self would be a good idea. I could then explore Classic Macs Apps.

Do you have any classic Adobe apps running on it? That would be fun to see an old vs new video of Illustrator, Photoshop etc.

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Posted Sat Nov 14, 2020 2:49 pm

Great post! And that's a beautiful machine, I'm jealous!

I'm also a Mac user, though my story with Apple is nowhere near as interesting, it's kind of funny (I became a Mac user quite begrudgingly, but fell in love with them pretty fast. My first was a G4 Quicksilver that was right at the beginning of the OS9/X transition so came with them both installed! That was very odd.) I agree about the fact that the platform continuing healthily without interruption meant the scene doesn't really "need" to exist for the classic hardware so much..

Commercially dying when the Amiga did probably saved it, in a way, or we'd be using offshoots that probably wouldn't be much like the old set up by this point..? :? I think there's a Arthurian "once and future king" element of the Amiga mythos that's at play. I spent so many years refusing to accept the Amiga would fail.. I had to take a massive break because it was too depressing to use/think about.. (a break in which I lost my OG hardware) But then seeing so many people enjoying it again now, it's still here, and still great, even just as it was. :D I'm certain using my Amiga over the last year or two has helped me enjoy my other machines more.. ! Not entirely sure how/why.

I have a Newton Emate 300 (green see-through laptop/newton mutant that appeared in a very wonky form in Batman and Robin, LOL) and the Newton scene is very dead too.. There's so much obvious threads from the Newton to the Mac and iOS/iPadOS though it's fun to spot things here and there. Also I don't think many people had Newtons at any point so its not a huge surprise it's not a buzzing scene. It was funny to run IRC on though, at one point.

I find a lot of anti-apple people around and I've never really understood it. I love PCs too, I use different machines for different things.

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Posted Sat Nov 14, 2020 3:21 pm

Mixel wrote:
Sat Nov 14, 2020 2:49 pm
...I find a lot of anti-apple people around and I've never really understood it. I love PCs too, I use different machines for different things.
Yeah, unfortunately this is an entirely human trait and a reason we have wars often. I most likely will be buried with my Amiga, but I still get excited with any form of tech.
My Mac history start with being given a Mac colour classic in 2001 or 2002. I can look back and say this was probably that beginnings of my retro collecting hobby. The hard drive was on its way out and I think booted once. Not being familiar with the system did not help and I could not find the original discs. I ended up leaving next to the trash after a few months. Something I do regret.
I was next in the process of being given one of the early gen iMacs, bondi blue I think by one of my friends and colleagues at work. Well the company decided to downsize rather dramatically and we never completed the hand over and I lost contact with him.

I still have to get the original install media for my PowerBook G4, but I still think I will hang onto this machine and my 2011 MacMini. Both machines are still very usable in these modern times.

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New Orleans, LA, USA

Posted Sun Nov 15, 2020 12:07 am

I too love my Mac. I was always a PC guy after leaving the Amiga in 1993-ish, but got tired of all the Windows problems by around 2008. At that point in my life, I had one young child, and I was not playing games any longer, so there was no need for a DIY Franken-PC gaming setup. The PC we were using for our business was becoming a never-ending headache. I wanted something that JUST WORKED right out of the box, and the iMac was it. My wife got the 2008 21" iMac (on which we still do all of our business accounting and such) and I got the 2009 iMac 27". Both are still in use, and have been powered on continuously for over 12 and 11 years, respectively! Once the OS updates started overwhelming the Core2Duo CPUs in both machines, I purchased a 2014 Mac Mini, which, sadly is the first Mini that could not be upgraded thanks to Apple soldering the memory to the mainboard (it's even worse now with them soldering the SSDs in too!). I actually won a 2016 Macbook Pro for writing product reviews, which is my "daily driver." I don't think I'll ever buy another Mac, though, due to Apple's refusing to give its users the "right to repair" their computers, which for a company that supposedly prides itself on being environmentally conscious is ridiculous. Consider the tons of e-waste Apple products generate each year, when they can only be thrown out because they cannot be repaired by the end user (or for even a reasonable cost by an authorized repair center).

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