Desktop Performance In A Custom Mac Laptop

Most of us either own or have used a laptop at some point. For traveling, as a student, or even for browsing Hackaday on the couch in front of the TV, they are pretty much indispensable. They do tend to have a sharp performance reduction compared to a desktop though thanks to the thermal and battery limitations of a portable form factor. [Scott Yu-Jan] wanted to solve that in his own life by building a custom Mac laptop with none of these downsides.

Noticing that a modern iPad Mini has exactly the same width of his Mac Mini, [Scott] set about combining the two devices into a single unit that he could assemble when traveling. A 3D printed case with a traditional laptop clamshell design takes care of physically combining these two devices, and a USB-C cable between the two takes care of combining them in software thanks to Apple’s Duet program. While this has better performance than a Macbook Pro it might actually have some perks, since Apple continues to refuse to make a laptop with a touchscreen.

There are some downsides, of course. The price is higher than a comparable Macbook Pro for the iPad and Mac together, plus it doesn’t include a keyboard or mouse. It also has no battery, so it needs to be plugged in. In the follow-up video linked below, though, [Scott] notes that for him this still made sense as he uses the Mac and iPad individually already, and only works remotely at places that have power outlets readily available. For the average person, though, we might recommend something different if you really need an esoteric laptop-like machine.

Thanks to [Varun] for originally sending in this tip!

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A Macintosh-inspired desk ornament, next to a sceenshot of a classic Macintosh computer desktop

‘Desk Accessory’ Pays Homage To Macintosh

The retrocomputing community are experts at keeping vintage Apple iron running, but if you’re looking for a simpler way to pay homage to the original Mac, check out this Raspberry Pi powered ‘desk accessory’ by [John Calhoun], fittingly called ‘SystemSix’.

Housed inside a delightfully Mac-shaped piece of laser-cut acrylic, SystemSix is powered by as Raspberry Pi 3, with the graphics displayed on a sizeable 5.83″ e-ink panel. While it resembles a kind of retro-futuristic take on the ‘classic’ Macintosh, SystemSix is the illusion of a fully interactive computer. While non-interactive, the fake desktop is every bit as charming as a real Macintosh display, albeit scaled down. The desktop updates automatically with new information, and presently includes a calendar, dithered lunar phase graphic, and a local weather report.

Clearly calling it a ‘desk accessory’ is a neat play on words. The original Macintosh implemented simple desk accessory programs, such as the calculator and alarm clock, that could run alongside the main application in memory. This was the only way to run more than one application on the Macintosh, before MultiFinder added rudimentary cooperative multitasking in 1987. As such, SystemSix is a functional, stylish and quite literal ‘desk accessory’.

[John] has the full project write-up over on GitHub, and goes into great detail about maintaining the Macintosh aesthetic. For example, the lunar phase graphic uses ‘Atkinson’ dithering. This technique was pioneered by Apple programmer Bill Atkinson, the author of MacPaint and the QuickDraw toolbox on the original Macintosh (and later, Hypercard).

And in case you were wondering – yes, this is the [John Calhoun], who programmed Glider for Macintosh. Now recently retired from Apple, we’re really excited to see what other Macintosh-inspired creations he comes up with. Maybe he will come back around to his Mac-powered MAME cabinets that we covered all the way back in 2005. Or perhaps a sleeper battlestation, like the iMac G4 lampshade that was upgraded with an M1 processor.



Custom Macintosh With A Real 486

Older Apple computers can often be something of a collector’s item, with the oldest fetching an enormously high price in auctions. The ones from the late ’80s and early ’90s don’t sell for quite as much yet, but it’s possible that museums and collectors of the future will one day be clamoring for those as well. For that reason, it’s generally frowned upon to hack or modify original hardware. Luckily, this replica of an Apple Macintosh didn’t harm any original hardware yet still manages to run software on bare metal.

The computer is built around a single-board computer, but this SBC isn’t like the modern ARM machines that have become so ubiquitous. It’s a 133MHz AMD 486 which means that it can run FreeDOS and all of the classic DOS PC games of that era without emulation. In order to run Apple’s legacy operating system, however, it does require the use of the vMac emulator, but the 486 is quite capable of handling the extra layer of abstraction. The computer also sports a real SoundBlaster ISA sound card, uses a microSD card for its hard drive, and uses an 800√ó600 LCD screen.

As a replica, this computer is remarkably faithful to the original and even though it doesn’t ship with a Motorola 68000 it’s still fun to find retro PC gamers that are able to run their games on original hardware rather than emulation. It reminds us of another retro 486 that is capable of running old games on new hardware without an emulator as well.

MAC TIP Diagnoses Your Old Zip And Jaz Drives

Trouble In Paradise (TIP) was a popular Windows-only tool for troubleshooting  Iomega Jaz and Zip drives way back when. The drives have fallen out of favor with PC, but the drives are still highly prized amongst classic Mac collectors, who use the SCSI versions as boot disks for the vintage machines. Thus, [Marcio Luis Teixeira] set about porting the TIP tool to the platform.

Macintosh utilities used to have so much personality about them.

It all came about because running the original TIP recovery tool became difficult in the modern era. One must dig up a old Windows 98 machine and SCSI adapters in order to use it with Macintosh-compatible Zip or Jaz drives. This inspired [Marcio] to reach out to the developer, [Steve Gibson], who provided the original x86 assembly code for the tool.

[Marcio] then ported this line-by-line into C and compiled it with a retro Macintosh compiler to get TIP up and running on the classic Mac platform. Now, it’s possible to check and test Zip and Jaz drives and media on your old Mac without having to mess around with a vintage Windows machine.

It took plenty of effort, and the generous donation of code from [Steve Gibson], and all involved should be applauded for their work. It’s not every day we see such an impressive port, but they come along every now and then.

Meanwhile, if you’ve been tinkering on your own projects with Iomega’s classic removable storage, don’t hesitate to let us know! Video after the break.

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Change Desktop Environments On… IOS?

While Apple’s modern operating systems may seem like they exist independently of the rest of the computing world, they are actually close cousins of modern versions of Linux. The primary link between the two is that Apple’s offerings are Unix-based and even though Linux isn’t Unix in the strict sense, it’s built to be extremely Unix-like. Plenty of Linux software is POSIX-compliant, meaning it is effectively compatible with true Unix. But what can we do with that information? Well, to start, we can run Linux desktop environments on top of an iOS install on your favorite iPhone or iPad.

To be sure, we will be filing this hack in the “because you can” category. [Torrekie], the creator of this project, has plenty of builds (Google translate from Chinese) where the boundaries between things like Linux and Unix are either blurred or nonexistant. In this particular project, a jailbroken iOS device is essentially gifted a ported version of XFCE which is able to run fairly well on iOS thanks to its compatibility with Unix environments. Details on how this was accomplished are sparse without a full investigation of the source code right now, but you can head over to the repository if you are curious enough to try this for yourself. [Torrekie] does note that this will only work with iOS devices that have been jailbroken using the “unc0ver” jailbreak only though.

To be sure, the relationship between modern Apple operating systems and Linux is about as close as modern Porsches and the Volkswagen Beetle, but either way the two are close enough to get interesting and impressive mashups like this project. For now only time will tell if using XFCE on iOS will be useful for anyone, but other projects bridging the gap between Linux and Apple are sure to be more immediately fruitful.

Linux: Coming Soon To M1 Macbooks

Regardless of the chipset or original intended use of any computer system, someone somewhere is going to want to try and run Linux on it. And why not? Linux is versatile and free to use as well as open-source, so it’s quite capable of running on almost anything. Of course, it takes a little while for the Linux folk to port the software to brand new hardware, but it’s virtually guaranteed that it’s only a matter of time before Linux is running on even the most locked-down of hardware, like the M1 MacBooks.

[Hector Martin] aka [marcan] has been hard at work getting Linux up and running on the latest Apple offerings with their ARM-based M1 processors. Since these are completely divorced from their x86 product line the process had to be worked from the ground up which included both booting Linux and modifying the kernel to include support for the hardware. [marcan] has a lot of hardware working such as the USB ports and the SD card slot, and notes that his setup is even compatible with the webcam notch included in the latest batch of MacBooks.

There are a few things still missing. He’s running Arch and doesn’t have the GPU configured yet, so all of the graphics are rendered in software. But he has put the computer through the wringer including running some computationally-intense software for nearly a full day before realizing that the machine wasn’t charging, which did not make much difference in performance. These machines are indeed quite capable with their new ARM chipsets and hopefully his work going forward will bring Linux to the rest of us who still use Macs even if they don’t want to run macOS.

FIR Filters For Xilinx

Digital filters are always an interesting topic, and they are especially attractive with FPGAs. [Pabolo] has been working with them in a series of blog posts. The latest covers an 8th order FIR filter in Verilog.  He covers some math, which you can find in many places, but he also shows how an implementation maps to DSP slices in a device. Then to reduce the number of slices, he illustrates folding which trades delay time for slice usage.

Folding takes a multi-stage parallel multiplication and breaks it into fewer multiplications done over a longer period of time. This reuses slices to reduce the number required for high-order filters.

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