IMac G4 Reborn With Intel NUC Transplant

Released in 2002, Apple’s iMac G4 was certainly a unique machine. Even today, its hemispherical case and integrated “gooseneck” display is unlike anything else on the market. Whether or not that’s a good thing is rather subjective of course, but there’s no denying it’s still an attention grabber nearly 20 years after its release. Unfortunately, it’s got less processing power than a modern burner phone.

Which is why [Tom Hightower] figured it was the perfect candidate for a retrofit. Rather than being little more than a display piece, this Intel NUC powered iMac is now able to run the latest version of Mac OS. He even went as far as replacing the display with a higher resolution panel, though it sounds like it was dead to begin with so he didn’t have much choice in the matter.

Somewhere, an early 2000s Apple engineer is screaming.

The retrofit starts off with a brief teardown, which is quite interesting in itself. [Tom] notes a number of unique design elements, chief among them the circular motherboard. The two banks of memory also use different form factors, and only one of them is easily accessible to the end user. Something to think about the next time somebody tells you that Apple’s “brave” hardware choices are only a modern phenomena.

There was plenty of room inside the iMac’s dome to fit the NUC motherboard, and some extension cables and hot glue got the computer’s rear panel suitably updated with the latest-and-greatest ports and connectors. But the conversion wasn’t a total cakewalk. That iconic “gooseneck” put up quite a fight when it was time to run the new wires up to the display. Between the proprietary screws that had to be coerced out with a Dremel to the massive spring that was determined to escape captivity, [Tom] recommends anyone else looking to perform a similar modification just leave the wires on the outside of the thing. That’s what he ended up doing with the power wires for the display inverter.

If you like the idea of reviving old Apple hardware but don’t want to anger the goose, you could start on something a little easier. Like putting an iPad inside of a Macintosh Classic shell.

DIY Magsafe Charger Feeds Off 12 V Solar Battery

[Steve Chamberlin] has a spiffy solar-charged 12 V battery that he was eager to use to power his laptop, but ran into a glitch. His MacBook Pro uses Apple’s MagSafe 2 connector for power, but plugging the AC adapter into the battery via a 110 VAC inverter seemed awfully inefficient. It would be much better to plug it into the battery directly, but that also was a problem. While Apple has a number of DC power adapters intended for automotive use, none exist for the MagSafe 2 connector [Steve]’s mid-2014 MacBook Pro uses. His solution was to roll his own MagSafe charger with 12 VDC input.

Since MagSafe connectors are proprietary, his first duty was to salvage one from a broken wall charger. After cleaning up the wires and repairing any frayed bits, it was time to choose a DC-DC converter to go between the MagSafe connector and the battery. The battery is nominally 12 volts, so the input of the DC-DC converter was easy to choose, but the output was a bit uncertain. Figuring out what the MagSafe connector expects took a little educated guesswork.

The original AC adapter attached to the charger claimed an output of 20 volts, another Apple adapter claimed a 14.85 V output, and a third-party adapter said 16.5 volts. [Steve] figured that the MagSafe connectors seemed fine with anything in the 15 to 20 V range, so it would be acceptable to use a 12 V to 19 V DC-DC boost converter which he had available. The result worked just fine, and [Steve] took measurements to verify that it is in fact much more efficient than had he took the easy way out with the inverter.

MagSafe has been displaced by USB-C nowadays, but there are plenty of MagSafe devices still kicking around. In a pinch, keep in mind that a little bit of filing or grinding is all that’s needed to turn MagSafe 1 into MagSafe 2.

New Depths For IMac Repair

There’s not much economic sense in fixing a decade-old desktop computer, especially when it’s the fancy type with the screen integrated into the body of the computer, and the screen is the thing that’s broken. Luckily for [JnsBn] aka [BEAN] the computer in question was still functional with a second monitor, so he decided to implement a cheap repair to get the screen working again by making it see-through.

The only part of the screen that was broken was the backlight, which is separate from the display unit itself. In order to view at least something on the screen without an expensive replacement part, he decided to remove the backlight altogether but leave the display unit installed. With a strip of LEDs around the edge, the screen was visible again in addition to the inner depths of the computer. After a coat of white Plasti Dip on the inside of the computer, it made for an interesting effect and made the computer’s display useful again.

While none of us, including the creator, recommend coating the inside of an iMac with Plasti Dip due to the risk of fire and/or other catastrophic failure, there’s not much to lose otherwise. Just don’t shove this one into the wall. Continue reading “New Depths For IMac Repair”

Retro PowerBook Gets A Mac Mini Transplant

Around these parts, seeing a classic laptop or desktop computer get revived with the Raspberry Pi is fairly common. While we’re not ones to turn down a well-executed Pi infusion, we know they can be controversial at times. There’s an impression that such projects are low-effort, and that the combination of old and new tech gains little in the way of usability due to the usability quirks of the Pi itself.

But we think even the most critical in the audience will agree that this build by [Tylinol], which sees the internals of a circa 1993 PowerBook 165c get replaced with that of a 2014 Mac Mini, is something else entirely. For one thing, there’s no question that packing a modern (relatively) desktop computer motherboard into a laptop’s body takes a lot more planning and effort than hot gluing the comparatively tiny Pi into the same space. Plus as an added bonus, anyone who counts themselves among the Cult of Mac will be happy to see the vintage machine retain its Cupertino pedigree.

So how do you get a Mac Mini inside of a PowerBook? Very carefully. As explained by [Tylinol], the inside of the PowerBook’s case was coated in graphite and conductive enough to be a problem. So after the original hardware was removed, a layer of tape was added to insulate it; though we imagine a suitably thick spray-on coating could be used as well if you don’t have that kind of patience.

Once the case was gutted and insulated, [Tylinol] added new stand-offs to mount the Mac Mini motherboard and hard drive. For anyone wondering, the 2014 model was used because the shape of the board almost perfectly fits around the trackball PCB. A board from a newer Mac could be used, but it would likely mean using an external mouse.

Which would have been a problem for [Tylinol], because one of the main goals of this build was to get the original input working. That meant adapting the Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) devices to USB, which turns out to be something of a Dark Art. But with the help of some contemporary information about the long-forgotten protocol and a Teensy 3.5, both devices are now picked up as standard USB HID.

But of course, that’s just scratching the surface. [Tylinol] also had to figure out how to swap the original display out for a modern panel, and then get the whole thing running on internal battery power. Even if you’re not particularly interested in retro Apple hardware, this is really a phenomenal build that deserves a thorough read-through.

For those of you who don’t mind getting a Pi in a PowerBook, we recently saw a recreation of Lord Nikon’s laptop from Hackers that went that route.

BeOS: The Alternate Universe’s Mac OS X

You’re likely familiar with the old tale about how Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple and started his own company, NeXT. Apple then bought NeXT and their technologies and brought Jobs back as CEO once again. However, Jobs’ path wasn’t unique, and the history of computing since then could’ve gone a whole lot different.

In 1990, Jean-Louis Gassée, who replaced Jobs in Apple as the head of Macintosh development, was also fired from the company. He then also formed his own computer company with the help of another ex-Apple employee, Steve Sakoman. They called it Be Inc, and their goal was to create a more modern operating system from scratch based on the object-oriented design of C++, using proprietary hardware that could allow for greater media capabilities unseen in personal computers at the time.

Continue reading “BeOS: The Alternate Universe’s Mac OS X”

Apple HomeKit Accessory Development Kit Gets More Accessible

Every tech monopoly has their own proprietary smart home standard; how better to lock in your customers than to literally build a particular solution into their homes? Among the these players Apple is traditionally regarded as the most secretive, a title it has earned with decades of closed standards and proprietary solutions. This reputation is becoming progressively less deserved when it comes to HomeKit, their smart home gadget connectivity solution. In 2017 they took a big step forward and removed the need for a separate authentication chip in order to interact with HomeKit. Last week they took another and released a big chunk of their HomeKit Accessory Development Kit (ADK) as well. If you’re surprised not to have heard sooner, that might be because it was combined the the even bigger news about Apple, Amazon, the Zigbee Alliance, and more working together on more open, interoperable home IoT standards. Check back in 2030 to see how that is shaping up.

“The HomeKit ADK implements key components of the HomeKit Accessory Protocol (HAP), which embodies the core principles Apple brings to smart home technology: security, privacy, and reliability.”
– A descriptive gem from the README

Apple’s previous loosening-of-restrictions allowed people to begin building devices which could interact natively with their iOS devices without requiring a specific Apple-sold “auth chip” to authenticate them. This meant existing commercial devices could become HomeKit enabled with an OTA, and hobbyists could interact in sanctioned, non-hacky ways. Part of this was a release of the (non-commercial) HomeKit specification itself, which is available here (with Apple developer sign in, and license agreement).

Despite many breathless mentions in the press release it’s hard to tell what the ADK actually is. The README and documentation directory are devoid of answers, but spelunking through the rest of the GitHub repo gives us an idea. It consists of two primary parts, the HomeKit Accessory Protocol itself and the Platform Abstraction Layer. Together the HAP implements HomeKit itself, and the PAL is the wrapper that lets you plug it into a new system. It’s quite a meaty piece of software; the HAP’s main header is a grueling 4500 lines long, and it doesn’t take much searching to find some fear-inspiring 50 line preprocessor macros. This is a great start, but frankly we think it will take significantly more documentation to make the ADK accessible to all.

If it wasn’t obvious, most of the tools above are carefully licensed by Apple and intended for non-commercial use. While we absolutely appreciate the chance to get our hands on interfaces like this, we’re sure many will quibble over if this really counts as “open source” or not (it’s licensed as Apache 2.0). We’ll leave that for you in the comments.

Honoring Chuck Peddle; Father Of The 6502 And The Chips That Went With It

Chuck Peddle, the patriarch of the 6502 microprocessor, died recently. Most people don’t know the effect that he and his team of engineers had on their lives. We often take the world of microprocessor for granted as a commonplace component in computation device, yet there was a time when there were just processors, and they were the size of whole printed circuit boards.

Chuck had the wild idea while working at Motorola that they could shrink the expensive processor board down to an integrated circuit, a chip, and that it would cost much less, tens of dollars instead of ten thousand plus. To hear Chuck talk about it, he got a cease-and-desist letter from the part of Motorola that made their living selling $14,000 processor boards and to knock off all of the noise about a $25 alternative.

In Chuck’s mind this was permission to take his idea, and the engineering team, elsewhere. Chuck and his team started MOS Technologies in the 1970’s in Norristown PA, and re-purposed their work on the Motorola 6800 to become the MOS 6502. Lawsuits followed.

Continue reading “Honoring Chuck Peddle; Father Of The 6502 And The Chips That Went With It”