Apple System 7… On Solaris?

While the Unix operating systems Solaris and HP-UX are still in active development, they’re not particularly popular anymore and are mostly relegated to some enterprise and data center environments They did enjoy a peak of popularity in the 90s during the “wild west” era of windowed operating systems, though. This was a time when there were more than two mass-market operating systems commercially available, with many companies fighting for market share. This led to a number of efforts to get software written for one operating system to run on others, whether that was simply porting software directly or using some compatibility layer. Surprisingly enough it was possible in this era to run an entire instance of Mac System 7 within either of these two Unix operating systems, and this was an officially supported piece of Apple software.

The software was called the Macintosh Application Environment (MAE), and was an effort by Apple to bring Macintosh System 7 applications to various Unix-based operating systems, including Solaris and HP-UX. This was a time before Apple’s OS was Unix-compliant, and MAE provided a compatibility layer that translated Macintosh system calls and application programming interfaces (APIs) into the equivalent Unix calls, allowing Mac software to function within the Unix environments. [Lunduke] outlines a lot of the features of this in his post, including some of the details the “scaffolding” allowing the 68k processor to be emulated efficiently on the hardware of the time, the contents of the user manual, and even the memory management and layout.

What’s really jarring to anyone only familiar with Apple’s modern “walled garden” approach is that this is an Apple-supported compatibility layer for another system. At the time, though, they weren’t the technology giant they are today and had to play by a different set of rules to stay viable. Quite the opposite, in fact: they almost went out of business in the mid-90s, so having their software run on as many machines as possible would have been a perk at the time. While this era did have major issues with cross-platform compatibility, there was some software that attempted to solve these problems that are still in active development today.

Thanks to [Stephen] for the tip!

Teensy Stands In For The Motorola 68k

While it might not seem like it today, there was a time in the not-too-distant past where Motorola was the processor manufacturer. They made chips for everything, but the most popular was arguably the 68000 or 68k. It’s still has a considerable following today, largely among retrocomputing enthusiasts or those maintaining legacy hardware. For those wanting to dip their toes into this world, this Motorola 68000 emulator created by [Ted Fried] may be the thing needed to discover the magic of these once-ubiquitous chips.

The emulator itself runs on a Teensy 4.1, a 32-bit ARM microcontroller running at 600 MHz — giving it enough computing power to act as a cycle-accurate emulator not only for the 68000 CPU but also the local bus interface, in this case for a Mac 512K. This capability also makes it a drop-in replacement for the 68000 in these older Macs and the original hardware in these computers won’t notice much of a difference. A few tricks are needed to get it fully operational though, notably using a set of latches to make up for the fact that the Teensy doesn’t have the required number of output pins to interface one-to-one with the original hardware.

While the emulator may currently be able to replace the hardware and boot the computer, there is still ongoing development to get every part of the operating system up and working. The source code is available on the project’s GitHub page though so any updates made in the future can be found there. And if you have a Mac 128k and still haven’t upgraded to the 512k yet, grab one of these memory switching modules for the upgrade too.

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MC68k SBC with a monitor, keyboard and mouse

Motorola 68000 SBC Runs Again With A Raspberry Pi On Top

Single-board computers have been around a long time: today you might be using a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino, or an ESP32, but three decades ago you might find yourself programming a KIM-1, an Intel SDK-85, or a Motorola 68000 Educational Computer Board. These kind of boards were usually made by processor manufacturers to show off their latest chips and to train engineers who might use these chips in their designs.

[Adam Podstawczyński] found himself trying to operate one of these Motorola ECBs from 1981. This board contains a 68000 CPU (as used in several Macintoshes and Amigas), 32 kB of RAM, and a ROM program called TUTOR. Lacking any keyboard or monitor connections, the only way to communicate with this system is a pair of serial ports. [Adam] decided to make the board more accessible by adding a Raspberry Pi extended with an RS232 Hat. This add-on board comes with two serial ports supporting the +/- 12 V signal levels used in older equipment.

It took several hours of experimenting, debugging, and reading the extensive ECB documentation to set up a reliable connection; as it turns out, the serial ports can operate in different modes depending on the state of the handshake lines. When the Pi’s serial ports were finally set up in the right mode, the old computer started to respond to commands entered in the terminal window. The audio interface, meant for recording programs on tape, proved more difficult to operate reliably, possibly due to deteriorating capacitors. This was not a great issue, because the ECB’s second serial port could also be used to save and load programs directly into its memory.

With the serial connections working, [Adam] then turned to the aesthetics of his setup and decided to make a simple case out of laser-cut acrylic and metal spacers. Custom ribbon cables for the serial ports and an ATX break-out board for power connections completed the project, and the 40-year-old educational computer is now ready to educate its new owner on all the finer points of 68000 programming. In the video (embedded after the break) he shows the whole process of getting the ECB up and running.

[Adam] made a similarly clever setup with a Commodore 64 and an Arduino earlier. [Jeff Tranter] recreated a similar 68000 development board from scratch. And a few years ago we even featured our own custom-built 68k computer.

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The Amiga 2000 You Always Wanted

Back in the late 1980s, Commodore pulled the masterstroke of selling several models and generations of Amiga that were all powered by essentially the same speed 68000 and associated chipset. Sure, there were differences in the RAM and other options you could fit and later models had a few extra graphics modes. Still, the entry-level A500 did substantially the same as the high-end A2000. No matter, we the fans all wanted a 2000 anyway, though we typically found ourselves unable to afford one. It’s 2021 now though, so if you never achieved the dream of owning your own A2000, now you can build one of your own! It’s the task [Drygol] has taken on, with an A2000 made entirely from new components, save for a few salvaged Commodore-specific chips and connectors.

At its heart is a beautiful recreation of the original PCB that we’re guessing will be of great interest to owners whose NiCd batteries have leaked and corroded their originals. It’s all through-hole, but the sheer size of a motherboard still makes it a daunting prospect to solder by hand. There are a huge quantity of decoupling and ESD components that all have to be held with tape before the board is flipped over for soldering, and then all the chips are socketed. A Fat Agnes address generator was fitted on a RAM expansion daughterboard, leading to some significant problems as it proved not to be compatible and had to be removed.

The whole is put in a very low-profile PC case with appropriate risers for the Zorro slots, and then in goes a set of upgrades probably not seen in the same place since about 1993. We don’t recognize them all, but we can see accelerators, a floppy emulator, an HDD emulator using a CF card, and is that a network card we spy? This machine is still a work in progress, but we can guarantee it would have been an extreme object of desire thirty years ago. See it in action in the video below the break.

If rebuilding an Amiga interests you, we took a look at the state of the remanufactured parts scene for the platform last year.

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Recreating The Mac SE Logic Board

When [Kai Robinson] found himself faced with the difficult task of saving as many Mac SE’s as he possibly could, the logical but daunting answer was to recreate the Mac SE logic board for machines that would otherwise be scrapped. These machines are over 30 years old and the PRAM battery often leaks, destroying parts and traces. Given that the logic board is a simple through-hole two four-layer board, how hard could it be?

The first step was to get some reference photos so [Kai] set to desoldering everything on the board. The list of components and the age of solder made this an arduous task. Then a composite image was produced by merging images together using a scanner and some Inkscape magic. in graphics software.

Rather than simply putting the pins in the right place and re-routing all the netlists, [Kai] elected instead to do a copy, trace for trace of the original SE board. [Kai] and several others on the forum have been testing the boards and tracking down the last few bugs and kinks in the design. An unconnected pin here and an improperly impedance matched resistor there. Hopefully, soon they’ll have Gerbers and design files ready for anyone should they need a new logic board PCB.

It’s no secret that we love the Macintosh SE here at Hackaday. We’ve seen new custom cases for it and now new PCBs for it. It does cause the mind to ponder though and wonder, what’s next?

Thanks [Toru173] for sending this one in!

Apple’s Best Computer Gets WiFi

The greatest computer Apple will ever make isn’t the Apple II, it isn’t the Bondi Blue iMac, it isn’t the trash can, and it certainly isn’t whatever overheating mess they’re pushing out now. The best computer Apple will ever make is the SE/30, at its time a server in a tiny portable shell, and capable of supporting 128 Megabytes of RAM thirty years ago.

Over the years, people have extended and expanded the SE/30 to absolutely ludicrous degrees, but now we have a simple way of adding WiFi to this classic computer. Over on the 68kmla forums, [ants] discovered a tiny cheap card that could easily serve as an Ethernet to WiFi bridge. After attaching this card to a Danaport Ethernet card and bending some aluminum for a bracket, they had a WiFi antenna sticking out of the back of a 30-year-old computer.

But adding a WiFi card to an old computer is nothing new — this could have been done with a Pi, or if you’re a hacker, a TP-Link router flashed with OpenWRT. To really do this right, you’ll need integration with the operating system, and that’s where this build goes off the rails. [ants] wrote a WiFi extension for System 7 (with the relevant GitHub)

The problem with the Vonets WiFi card is that configuration has to be done through a browser. Since there are no modern browsers for classic macs, this meant either pulling out a PowerBook or doing the configuration through your daily driver desktop PC. The WiFi extension gets around that by giving a classic mac the ability to configure the Vonets card almost automatically. This extension also looks like how you would configure the WiFi on a modern mac, complete with the WiFi icon in the toolbar. It’s beautiful, and one of the rare examples of modern 68k mac programming.

As for what you can do by adding WiFi to a 30-year-old computer with a 16MHz processor, the answer is a resounding, ‘not much’. Your choice of browsers is limited (iCab seems to be the best), but you can load the Google homepage slowly. HTTPS isn’t going to work, and the Internet right now is full of megabytes of Javascript cruft. If you find a nice, lightweight web page — such as the Hackaday Retro Edition, for example — you’re looking at a capable web browsing machine. Of course, the real use case for giving the SE/30 WiFi is file transfer around the home network, but still: it’s WiFi for the best computer Apple ever made.

Ask Hackaday: Calling All 68k Experts

This is a tale of old CPUs, intensive SMD rework, and things that should work but don’t.

Released in 1994, Apple’s Powerbook 500 series of laptop computers were the top of the line. They had built-in Ethernet, a trackpad instead of a trackball, stereo sound, and a full-size keyboard. This was one of the first laptops that looked like a modern laptop.

The CPU inside these laptops — save for the high-end Japan-only Powerbook 550c — was the 68LC040. The ‘LC‘ designation inside the part name says this CPU doesn’t have a floating point unit. A few months ago, [quarterturn] was looking for a project and decided replacing the CPU would be a valuable learning experience. He pulled the CPU card from the laptop, got out some ChipQuick, and reworked a 180-pin QFP package. This did not go well. The replacement CPU was sourced from China, and even though the number lasered onto the new CPU read 68040 and not 68LC040, this laptop was still without a floating point unit. Still, it’s an impressive display of rework ability, and generated a factlet for the marginalia of the history of consumer electronics.

Faced with a laptop that was effectively unchanged after an immense amount of very, very fine soldering, [quarterturn] had two choices. He could put the Powerbook back in the parts bin, or he could source a 68040 CPU with an FPU. He chose the latter. The new chip is a Freescale MC68040FE33A. Assured by an NXP support rep this CPU did in fact have a floating point unit, [quarterturn] checked the Mac’s System Information. No FPU was listed. He installed NetBSD. There was no FPU installed. This is weird, shouldn’t happen, and now [quarterturn] is at the limits of knowledge concerning the Powerbook 500 architecture. Thus, Ask Hackaday: why doesn’t this FPU work?

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