Over Apple’s decades-long history, they have been quick to adapt to new processor technology when they see an opportunity. Their switch from PowerPC to Intel in the early 2000s made Apple machines more accessible to the wider PC world who was already accustomed to using x86 processors, and a decade earlier they moved from Motorola 68000 processors to take advantage of the scalability, power-per-watt, and performance of the PowerPC platform. They’ve recently made the switch to their own in-house silicon, but, as reported by [The Chip Letter], this wasn’t the first time they attempted to design their own chips from the ground up rather than using chips from other companies like Motorola or Intel.
In the mid 1980s, Apple was already looking to move away from the Motorola 68000 for performance reasons, and part of the reason it took so long to make the switch is that in the intervening years they launched Project Aquarius to attempt to design their own silicon. As the article linked above explains, they needed a large amount of computing power to get this done and purchased a Cray X-MP/48 supercomputer to help, as well as assigning a large number of engineers and designers to see the project through to the finish. A critical error was made, though, when they decided to build their design around a stack architecture rather than a RISC. Eventually they switched to a RISC design, though, but the project still had struggled to ever get a prototype working. Eventually the entire project was scrapped and the company eventually moved on to PowerPC, but not without a tremendous loss of time and money.
Interestingly enough, another team were designing their own architecture at about the same time and ended up creating what would eventually become the modern day ARM architecture, which Apple was involved with and currently licenses to build their M1 and M2 chips as well as their mobile processors. It was only by accident that Apple didn’t decide on a RISC design in time for their personal computers. The computing world might look a lot different today if Apple hadn’t languished in the early 00s as the ultimate result of their failure to develop a competitive system in the mid 80s. Apple’s distance from PowerPC now doesn’t mean that architecture has been completely abandoned, though.
Thanks to [Stephen] for the tip!
The start-up chime on Macs is probably as recognizable as the default Nokia ringtone in this day and age. Yet much like a ringtone, so too one might want to change the start-up chime on a Mac. This is something which [Doug Brown] has done in the past already on a Power Mac G3 in 2012, which made him instantly an expert on the topic in the eyes of a reader who wanted to know how to change the chime on a 1999 iMac. While the firmware on both these systems is written in Forth, it did take a bit of sleuthing to figure out where the chime was hiding in the firmware image, and how to change it.
The target iMac is somewhat unique in that it has a G4 PPC CPU rather than the more common G3. The firmware is similar enough that it was a snap to simply search the newer iMac’s firmware for the signature of the chime sound data. This turned out to be the identical QuickTime IMA ADPCM format-encoded data, yet what was different was how this data was integrated into the firmware image. Key is finding the area in the firmware where not only the address of the chime data’s start is defined, but also its length. Finally, the checksums in the firmware image have to be updated so that it matches the patched data.
Reverse-engineering the checksum calculation in the Forth code turned out to be fairly straightforward, but getting the new firmware on the iMac turned out to be the biggest struggle, as [Doug] didn’t want to inflict running a manual firmware update onto this reader he was doing all this work for. This led [Doug] to do some more reverse-engineering using Ghidra to enable the use of the automatic updater like a regular firmware update.
In the end it all worked out great, and now another iMac no longer has the Mac chime on start-up.
When it comes to modern operating systems for PowerPC-based systems like pre-Intel Macs, or other PowerPC-based systems like older or newer AmigaOS-compatible systems, there is an increasing lack of options. For 32-bit PPC, official Linux support has been dropped already, leaving only unofficial builds and of course AmigaOS as well as AmigaOS-like operating systems. So what do you do if you have a PPC-based Mac system lying around which you do not simply want to run the same old, unsupported copy of MacOS on? In a recent video, [Michael MJD] decided to give MorphOS 3.17 a shot on a Mac G4 Cube.
Originally created for the now-defunct Pegasos PPC-based series of computers and PPC accelerator cards for Amiga systems, MorphOS is based on the proprietary Quark microkernel, In its current release, it supports a range of G4 and G5-based Apple systems, as well as the AmigaOne 500 and X5000, with some asterisks. In addition to its own applications it supports AmigaOS applications, including those targeting the m68k architecture, via its JIT emulator.
A cursory look at the community shows that MorphOS finds use for being a fast and relatively up to date alternative OS for especially PPC-based Macs. The price tag of €79 per system (transferable to a new system) should offer some guarantee of continued development, which includes e.g. the Wayfarer browser for MorphOS, which is based on Webkit, but optimized for e.g. Altivec.
Although installing MorphOS went relatively smoothly for [Michael] (with just a monitor-related glitch), he did not try too much beyond an initial impression of the GUI and preinstalled applications. There is also a 30-minute timer on the trial version (resettable via reboot) that ended [Michael]’s look at this OS.
What do you run on your PPC-based machines, and have you used MorphOS? What are your thoughts on this OS?
Continue reading “MorphOS: A Modern Operating System For PowerPC”
Back in 2020, we reported on the effort to create a brand new open-source laptop platform using the PowerPC architecture. At the time they had big plans and a PCB design, and we’re very pleased to report that in the intervening two years they’ve progressed to the point of now having some real prototypes ready for testing.
Some might question why this should be necessary, after all there are plenty of laptops and more than one commonly available processor platform. But that’s to miss the point of open source hardware, that it’s as much about plurality as functionality. But if you’ve only encountered the PowerPC architecture in slightly older Macs and some game consoles, what’s the chip powering this device? The answer is, not one of those venerable chips, but the NXP T2080, a 1.8 GHz quad-core device that boasts a respectable power for a laptop.
There is of course many a hurdle still to be crossed between prototype and final device, but given the challenge of a functioning laptop it’s impressive for them to have reached this milestone at all. We look forward to seeing further iterations, and maybe, just maybe, a finished device one day. Our original coverage is here.
When it comes to internet connections, here in 2022 so many of us have it easy. Our ISP provides us with a fibre, cable, or DSL line, and we just plug in and go. It’s become ubiquitous to the extent that many customers no longer use the analogue phone line that’s so often part of the package. But before there was easy access to DSL there were leased lines, and it’s one of these that [Old VCR] is dissecting. The line in question is a T1 connection good for 1.536 Mbit/s and installed at great cost in the days before his cable provider offered reliable service, but over a decade later is now surplus to requirements. The ISP didn’t ask for their router back, so what else to do but give it the hacking treatment?
In a lengthy blog post, he takes us through the details of what a T1 line is and how it’s installed using two copper lines, before diving into the router itself. It’s an obsolete Samsung device, and as he examined the chips he found not the MIPS or ARM processors we’d expect from domestic gear of the period, but a PowerPC SoC from Freescale. Connecting to the serial port reveals it as running SNOS, or Samsung Network Operating System from an SD card, and some experimentation finds a default password reset procedure through the bootloader commands. The rest of the piece is dedicated to exploring this OS.
There was a time before the advent of the Raspberry Pi and similar cheap Linux-capable boards, that hacking a router was the way to get a cheap embedded Linux system, but now it’s much more done to liberate a router from the clutches of manufacturer and telco. Still, it’s very much still part of the common fare here at Hackaday.
Since Apple switched to Intel chips in the mid-00s, the PowerPC chips from Motorola and the PowerPC Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) that they had been using largely fell by the wayside. While true that niche applications like supercomputing still use the Power ISA on other non-Apple hardware, the days of personal computing with PowerPC are largely gone unless you’re still desperately trying to keep your Power Mac G5 out of the landfill or replaying Twilight Princess. Luckily for enthusiasts, though, the Power ISA is now open source and this group has been working on an open-source laptop based on this architecture.
While development is ongoing and there are no end-user products available yet, the progress that this group has made shows promise. They have completed their PCB designs and schematics and have a working bill of materials, including a chassis from Slimbook. There are also prototypes with a T2080RDB development kit and a NXP T2080 processor, although they aren’t running on their intended hardware yet. While still in the infancy, there are promising videos (linked below) which show the prototypes operating smoothly under the auspices of the Debian distribution that is tailored specifically for the Power ISA.
We are excited to see work continue on this project, as the Power ISA has a number of advantages over x86 in performance, ARM when considering that it’s non-proprietary, and even RISC-V since it is older and better understood. If you want a deeper comparison between all of these ISAs, our own [Maya Posch] covered that topic in detail as well as covered the original move that IBM made to open-source the Power ISA.
Continue reading “Open Hardware Laptop Built On Power PC ISA”
Apple computers will be moving away from Intel chips to its own ARM-based design. An interesting thing about Apple as a company is that it has never felt the need to tie itself to a particular system architecture or ISA. Whereas a company like Microsoft mostly tied its fortunes to Intel’s x86 architecture, and IBM, Sun, HP and other giants preferred vertical integration, Apple is currently moving towards its fifth system architecture for its computers since the company was formed.
What makes this latest change possibly unique, however, is that instead of Apple relying on an external supplier for CPUs and peripheral ICs, they are now targeting a vertical integration approach. Although the ARM ISA is licensed to Apple by Arm Holdings, the ‘Apple Silicon’ design that is used in Apple’s ARM processors is their own, produced by Apple’s own engineers and produced by foundries at the behest of Apple.
In this article I would like to take a look back at Apple’s architectural decisions over the decades and how they made Apple’s move towards vertical integration practically a certainty.
Continue reading “Changing System Architectures And The Complexities Of Apple’s Butterfly Approach To ISAs”