Hackaday Retro Edition: AppleTalk


If you do a survey of what makes and models of classic computers manage to pull off a Retro Success by loading our Web 1.0 retro site, you’ll notice a disproportionate number of classic Macintosh computers, the cute, small all-in-one boxes with a nine-inch black or white screen. Part of this is the nigh indestructible nature of these boxes, and part of this is the networking built into every classic Mac – AppleTalk.

The physical connections for AppleTalk is just a small breakout box with two Mini-DIN connectors (or RJ11 phone jacks for PhoneNet) attached to one of the serial ports on the Mac. This isn’t just a null modem connection, though. An AppleTalk network can support up to 32 nodes, file transfer, networked printers, and in later updates booting an Apple IIGS from a networked drive. Whenever you have a few classic Macs in one room, an AppleTalk network is bound to appear at some point, especially considering the limitations of an 800kB disk drive for sneakernetting and the fact the AppleTalk software is supplied with every version of the operating system.

[Chris] had an old dual disk Macintosh SE he had brought back from the dead, but his modern expectations of Internet On Every Computer meant this cute little compy was severely lacking. Yes, SCSI to Ethernet adapters exist, but they’re surprisingly expensive. Modems are right out because of landlines. How did he solve this problem? With AppleTalk, of course.

After picking up a pair of PhoneNet adapters, [Chris] plugged one into a PowerPC mac running OS 9. MacTCP, the Apple TCP/IP control panel for classic Mac operating systems, is able to encapsulate IP traffic into AppleTalk Packets. After turning the PowerPC mac into a router, [Chris] managed to get his all-in-one SE on the internet.

The only problem with this setup is the browser. NCSA Mosaic doesn’t have the ability to send traffic to a proxy server, but another classic Mac browser, MacWeb 2.0c does. This allowed him to load up our retro site using forgotten and long unsupported technologies.

If you have an old computer sitting around, try to load our retro site with it. Take a few pictures, and we’ll put it up in one of our Retro Roundups

17 thoughts on “Hackaday Retro Edition: AppleTalk

  1. Phonenet could handle a lot more than just 32 nodes. When I was in elementary school 25 years ago, we had an Apple IIe in every classroom. Computer lab with 20+ computers, and a few Apple IIgs’s for the Music, Art, Advanced Placement teachers. All booting from a Mac SE in the school library. Those were the days. All it took to bring the entire network crashing down was for someone to unplug a terminating resistor in one of the classrooms.

  2. To be pedantic:

    The physical layer protocol, the thing that transmits packets, is “LocalTalk”.
    The software abstraction layer that arranges the device numbers etc is “AppleTalk”.

  3. Heh heh. I have a Powerbook 180c and a vintage EtherPrint, but I haven’t logged-into retro hackaday.com with that because I’ve determined it is too easy. In about 6 months you are going to witness the most insane retro website access. ;)

  4. In 2005 I was using a Mac IIcx online with a 14.4k modem. I didn’t have the proper DIN & D-Sub connectors, so I just shoved loose wires into the ports and made sure not to bump it. Pretty much any websites that used javascript would bomb, but AOL IM worked (with a 20 second lag when you started typing a message).

    I always wanted to see if I could share the connection with my Mac Classic over localtalk, but didn’t know enough at the time to even know where to start

  5. Ahh PhoneNet. My parents worked for a local newspaper in the late 80’s / early 90s. Plenty of classic macs, including my dads personal Mac SE (company bought it one month before the SE/30 was announced – boy did they kick themselves for that) were all networked together along with a pair of LaserWriter IIs.

    For a kid of only 7 years old this was the first computer network I had seen and I was blown away, literally blown away that my dad could hit Cmd-P on his keyboard and have a physical copy print out 200 ft away.

  6. I fixed dozens and dozens of those old Quantum drives with stiction issues back in ’90s by simply adding one resistor. Extreme cases needed additional smacking of drive sideways to hard object to release heads stuck on platters, but that’s needed only once and resistor hack will take care of rest.

    Here’s pic I found from web, it’s IDE version, but same fix applies to SCSI versions as well. http://matthieu.benoit.free.fr/images/Quantum.jpg

    See that light blue resistor on middle right marked R202 on top of U212? All you need to do is solder another resistor with suitable value next to it to drop resistance between +12V input and Current Sense pin of Hitachi HA13441 motor driver chip. See datasheet for proper explanation and suitable values.

    1. I just wanted to say thank you for that information!
      I still have my first 1 GB quantum fireball SCSI drive, which happens to contain my old Mac BBS. I’d bring it out every 2-3 years for a boot to spend a few days in retroland.

      It’s worked for about 20 years now but a couple years ago started having problems spinning up. Once spinning all seems well but once powered down for a day or so and the problem returns.

      I’ll be trying this fix over the weekend.

      Maybe I should break out my SGI o2, Sparc Station, and Next cube for some hackaday netscape 1.1n happiness while in the attic…

  7. Would make an interesting contest to see who could get the most obsolete/low-powered/insane device connected to the web and rendering web pages. (or even just pulling them and able to look at the data as text)

    Too bad the closest thing I have to old/obsolete hardware is my LEGO Mindstorms RCX brick with its useless Hitachi H8/300 CPU. (it doesn’t even work anymore since the programming interface tower and software wont run on Windows 7)

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