Tag: mac

Installing El Capitan on my 2008 Mac Pro

My 2008 Mac Pro arrived, and it’s a shiny beast of a machine 🙂  It’s sitting beside a younger relative, a 2002 Power Mac G4 Quicksilver.

It came with OS X 10.5 Leopard installed – it looked like it was a clean install, but as for any used machine, I like to do a clean install so I know what I’m starting with. Downloading OS 10.11 El Capitan from the Apple Store from my MacBook Pro, I created a bootable USB flash drive using the steps described here.

On my first attempt to install, it looked like after about 20 mins of install when it attempted to reboot for the first time, I had a blank screen and no activity. Rebooted back to the USB flash drive and started the Disk Utils, the drive checked clean and everything was good, but there wasn’t a bootable partition.

On the second attempt, I think what had happened the first time was the powersave settings had kicked in and the monitor output had turned off, but it wasn’t waking from keyboard or mouse input. The second time the screen turned back on, and the installer was stuck at ‘about a second remaining’,

but pressing Cmd-L to see the installer logs, there was a huge amount of errors scrolling by to do with TSplicedFont and Noto fonts. This seems to be a common issue with El Capitan, as described here. Ignoring the errors and waiting it out though, after about 20 mins stuck at ‘about a second remaining’ it did reboot and the installation continued as expected.

After successfully completing the install, it started up successfully, and after walking through the installation dialogs to select language preferences and create an account, I was up and running with 10.11 El Cap.

First impressions: for a 9 year old computer, this thing is pretty snappy. It’s comparable to my 2012 MacBook Pro with an i7 in responsiveness, although from only having a regular mechanical HDD, it could be faster booting and loading apps, but it’s definitely acceptable. For a desktop daily driver, it’s definitely perfectly usable. The dual Xeon 2.8GHz CPUs are holding their own, I haven’t seen anything beyond 5% to 6% CPU usage from using Chrome and browsing the web with about 20 or so tabs open. Where I think I might start to suffer though is this machine only came with 4GB RAM. With my current Chrome usage it’s eating up about 3GB so I have some to spare, but the interesting thing about these Mac Pros is the expandability – the 2008 will support 32GB per specs and 64GB unofficially. I bet if I put in 16GB or so I would get a much better experience. Time to plan the upgrades 🙂


Retro collection just acquired a more recent, not-so-retro, addition (2008 Mac Pro 8 core)

Having grown up with 8 bit computers, starting with an Atari VCS and then a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, I find it fascinating that decades later there’s an increasing level of interest in computers from the 80s and 90s with thriving online communities, podcasts and even meetup groups of enthusiasts who get together to discuss the original hardware and also new device add-ons, blending modern tech (e.g. using SD cards for storage) with old.

The ZX Spectrum recently has a number of modern remakes:

As much as I really wanted to get a ZX Spectrum Next, I couldn’t bring myself to put down 175UKP for the base model. I suspect I might come back and pick one up at some point.

My other favorite computer was an Atari ST, I had an 520STFM. I picked up an 1040STF with an Atari monitor on eBay a while back, and it sits on my desk in my office. I also picked up an CosmosEx device which is an interesting example of current tech complementing old – it’s a Raspberry Pi based device that provides SD card support for floppy disk and hard disk images, as well as USB keyboard and mouse support, and also networking.

Something that’s interested me for a while is what it looks like to browse the web using old hardware. The short story is that it’s generally a terrible experience (slow, and current web technologies are poorly supported, if at all). I’ve tried setting up CAB on my ST, but with only 1MB RAM it can’t load anything but the simplest HTML page with text and 1 or 2 images before it fails from not enough memory.

For a while I browsed eBay looking to pick up a used Atari Falcon, but for a 25 year old 16/32 bit computer, it’s incredible that they typically go for anything about $800 to $1000 if you can even find one (they cost 599 UKP new when the launched). With it’s 68030, it has significantly more grunt than the original 68000 based STs.

I then got distracted by the idea of picking up a modern remake of an ST – the Coldfire project has developed the Firebee, which uses a 264MHz Coldfire processor and 512MB RAM, with 68000 backwards compatibility, but with the addition of modern hardware features like USB, PCI expansion slots, ethernet networking, and many of features we currently take for granted in current devices. Despite torturing myself by watching every Firebee video on YouTube, the current price of a new Firebee of 560 Euros is a little more than I can justify to buy a modern Atari ST in 2017 (despite how awesome it actually is).

Continuing with my (odd) interest of browsing the web on old hardware, I picked up a Power Mac G4 2002 Quicksilver.  Classilla in OS9 is perfectly usable and TenFourFox in Mac OS 10.4 is ok, but (at least on my single cpu G4) not really good enough for a daily driver (scrolling is sluggish).

I very nearly decided to up the horsepower and look for a dual G5 Mac Power Mac,

but noticed the price started to get close to what you could pick up a used Intel Xeon Mac Pro for, so … long story short, I just picked up a 2008 8 core Mac Pro on eBay. Super excited for when it arrives!

Retro Battlestation (update 2): dialing up a local BBS with the 2002 Power Mac G4 Quicksilver

Since my first post after receiving my 2002 Power Mac G4 Quicksilver, I’ve learned a number of things about this machine.

Following the Retro Battlestations subreddit, there was a group activity a while back to dial into the group’s BBS using, yes, a real dial up modem, from your retro machine of choice. So I thought I’d give it a go.

The internal modem is on a board

Internal modem missing

about the size of a pack of cards, and it’s normally screwed to standoffs on motherboard in the top left of the motherboard in this photo. It was obviously removed in this machine, so that explains why an internal modem was not showing up as installed.

Not to be deterred, I noticed you can pick up an Apple USB modem for just $10 online so I ordered one. Wanting to give it a go truely old-style, I wanted to dial in from OS 9 – this is when I found out that this USB Modem is a ‘soft’ modem, in that it works mostly in software, and no, it’s not supported on OS 9.

In OS X 10.4 however, it gets recognized correctly as an External Modem in the System Preferences panel:







For a dial up terminal emulator for the Mac, I found most references pointing to ZTerm , so got it downloaded and installed, and it sees the USB modem. Got the BBS number configured, and off we go!



Success! Dialed in to the Level 29 BBS! I was expecting to see ANSI colors in the text display, so not sure if I need to change a setting in ZTerm, but so far pretty excited this works!


Retro Battestation: just received my 2002 Power Mac G4 Quicksilver

I just picked up a pretty good eBay deal on a 2002 Power Mac G4 Quicksilver. It was sold as working, and yes it does boot up and it did come with OS X 10.4.11 installed as advertised.


Inside, it looks almost new. When I recently took some old PC towers to the electronics recycling inside they looked like they’d accumulated 100 years worth of dust and god knows what. By comparison, for a 15 year old machine, this looks like it was kept sealed in a box for most of that time – it’s spotless with no dust in sight.


It looks like it has 10.4.11 cleanly installed, but I also picked up a used OS X 10.4 Tiger DVD to do a clean install myself.

The DVD drive in the machine does not want to open. It whirs and clicks when you hold F12, but no go. I used the paper clip trick in the manual open hole on the front of the drive, it opens up and there’s nothing jammed in there, it just doesn’t want to open. I tried putting the DVD in there, manually closing the drive and then powering on, but it doesn’t spin up and read the disk.

By the way, on this Power Mac G4 Quicksilver, the DVD manual open hole is obscured by the front of the case, so the only way to get a paper clip in the hole is to physically remove the drive from the case to get access to the hole.

Given the issues with the DVD drive, I discovered that this machine will boot from a USB flash drive (there’s a discussion in this thread about all Intel Macs will boot from USB, but this feature apparently was supported on some G4 and G5 machines but apparently not all).

To install Mac OS 9 I copied the ISO from OS9Lives universal installer to a USB using Infrarecorder on a Windows 10 desktop, and holding down Option/Alt to get the boot menu, it shows the USB, and clicking on it starts to boot. I wasn’t sure about using the ‘Restore’ option on the OS9Lives universal installer, as it seems from the instructions that it wipes your partition.



Instead I’ve read in a few different forum posts if you just copy the ‘System Folder’ from an OS 9 image to the drive, along with ‘Applications’ (rename it ‘Applications (OS 9)’ if you’re dragging them to the same partition as OS X, if it’s a different partition then the name can stay as Applications).


Interesting that this just works – if you select the OS 9 System Folder as the Startup Disk in System Preferences, then when you reboot it just starts up.

To get a copy of the OS X 10.4 DVD onto a USB flash drive, I used Infrarecorder again to make an image, and then used ‘dd’ on my MacBook Pro to write the image to a flash drive.

I’m going to do a fresh install, but booting it up and looking around at what’s already on there, OS X 10.4 on a single PowerPC cpu machine, not a dual, and only 800Mhz with 512MB, performance is not bad, it’s pretty responsive. Both Tiger and OS 9 boot pretty quick (Tiger boots a few seconds faster which is surprising).

Quick observations:

  • Safari on OS X is terribly slow, practically unusable
  • Ten Four Fox on OS X is usable but sluggish on scrolling any page. Makes you appreciate how fast modern day machines are
  • Classilla on OS 9 is pretty snappy. Of the browsing options available, this is the better choice on this machine so far.

Next up I’ll be trying to boot from the image of the 10.4 DVD and doing a fresh install. More to come later.

2002 Power Mac G4 Quicksilver from eBay – on it’s way

For no other good reason than “why not” I just picked up a Power Mac G4 800Mhz from eBay for < $100, with OS X 10.4 installed. I’ve been shopping for a G4 MDD for a while, but as the highest spec’d G4 that can still run Mac OS 9 these seem to go for a pretty penny on eBay given their age. I almost picked up an MDD without a HDD for a decent price, but for a working machine with a fresh OS X install this G4 seems a pretty safe bet, so fingers crossed, now waiting for my new toy to arrive.

MacOS: Opening a Terminal from a folder in Finder (plus, taking and annotating screenshots)

In Windows I like that you can Shift-Rightclick in Explorer and select “Open command prompt here”. During development I often want to do the same on my Mac, and this feature is provided too, but not enabled by default. To turn it on, go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts, select Services on the left, and then check the option “New Terminal at Folder”:

If you want to go in the other direction, you can easily open a Finder at your current folder in Terminal by running ‘open .’

A couple of bonus tips:

  • To take full screen screenshot on the Mac, press Shift-Cmd-3. A file will be saved on your desktop. To take a screenshot of a selection of the screen, press Shift-Cmd-4, then drag to outline your selection.
  • In the Preview app, there’s a neat feature under Tools > Annotate where you can annotate your screenshots with highlighted sections, boxes, arrows, text etc. Just open your screenshot file in Preview, and then you can easily annotate and save the image:

Phones, tablets, laptops, desktops – different form factors with different usage styles. Why Apple won’t compromise and merge iOS and MacOS

Following Apple’s announcement of the new MacBook Pro models today and the impressive looking Touch Bar, cnet have a fascinating interview (and timeline of Apple’s laptops from the original PowerBook through to the latest MacBook Pro models) with Senior VP of Marketing Phil Schiller, software engineering lead Craig Federighi and Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jony Ive.

Although the media focus is predominantly on the new Touch Bar, there’s several interesting quotes in the article on why we won’t be seeing a combined or merged OS or hardware device from Apple that combines iPhone/iPad touchscreen functionality with the laptop format of the MacBook product line – Schiller said:

“We did spend a great deal of time looking at this a number of years ago and came to the conclusion that to make the best personal computer, you can’t try to turn MacOS into an iPhone. Conversely, you can’t turn iOS into a Mac…. So each one is best at what they’re meant to be — and we take what makes sense to add from each, but without fundamentally changing them so they’re compromised.”

I’ve agreed with this line of thought for a while, and discussed this last year when Tim Cook said something very similar.

While it might be immediately obvious to some that the way you interact with a smart phone that fits in your hand is a completely different experience to how you interact with a computer while sitting at a desk, Microsoft’s (failed?) attempt at combining both of these usage styles into a single phone device with Continuum that you can use as a phone or plug into a dock and use as a desktop has always seemed to me to be a massive compromise. How you use a phone with a small screen and limited input capability is so completely and radically different from how you interact with a desktop computer with a keyboard, mouse and large LCD screen, why you would even try to combine these two experiences into one device is just beyond me.

Anyway, I’m pleased to heard Apple reiterating on their understanding of how different devices have different capabilities. Until a radical new approach comes along for how you interact with your devices where the reduced physical size of a portable device is no longer a constraining factor, a phone is still best as a phone, and your desktop or laptop is still best as what they do. Even in this “Post-PC” era, there’s still a place for both.


Replacing a MacBook Pro optical drive with a SSD: stripped screws a-plenty

Older model MacBook Pros typically came with a rotational hard disk and an optical  disk. Some models had a 6Gbps SATA controller for the HDD and a 3Gbps controller on the optical drive bay. It’s worth checking in the System Information tool if the controller for the optical bay is not slower than the HDD bay. If it is then you might want to consider swapping out your HDD for the SDD. If both bays are 6Gbps on both sides, then it’s ok to put an SDD in the optical bay and not limit it’s throughput.

My mid-2012 MBP has 6Gbps on both bays:


Optical bay:


I used an OWC drive doubler bracket to put my SSD into my optical bay. Here’s the patient open and ready to receive it’s new drive. Existing HDD at the top right, optical drive bay bottom right. The bag of tools comes with the OWC bracket:

 The OWC bracket is more pricey at $29 on Amazon, compared to the cheaper alternatives at < $10, but the difference in price seems to be you get everything you need in be box, including tools, replacement screws, and a manual. The manual is incredibly detailed and covers step by step with photos for each MBP model that the bracket fits. Find you model, follow the steps, done.

The replacement probably should take you less than an hour, but I ran into one of the soft black screws that wouldn’t budge and it stripped pretty much instantly. I tried the elastic band trick, I tried supergluing a screwdriver to the screw.., no good.

Drilling out a stripped screw is probably the last resort, unless you can reach it with a dremel and cut a slot into the top. This one was recessed, so did some reading around and a ‘Grabit’ seemed to be the way to go.

The screw in question for me was the larger one in step #8 in iFixit’s instructions here. The instructions even say:

Take care, as these screws are unusually easy to strip

Yep. I think that should actually say:

These screws are guaranteed to strip. Make sure you have tools at hand to remove them when stripped.

The Grabit Micro #1 and #2 did the job for me. The #1 seemed the one to use. Using the drill end, it took a while to drill a whole into the top of my stripped screw. Flipping the drill bit around to the extraction end, it didn’t catch like it was supposed to. At that point I thought my only option was to drill the screw out, so I swapped the next up size and started slowly drilling, but the drill bit end actually caught inside the hole. Since the drill and extractor ends both turn anticlockwise, it immediately started to remove the screw. Phew!

So hows the SSD? It’s awesome. Whereas before El Capitan seemed to take more than a minute (I hadn’t timed it, but roughly) to cold boot on my i7 2012 MacBook Pro, from a clean install on this SanDisk SSD, it boots to logon in around 6 to 7 seconds. Pretty damn incredible. It boots from cold it the same time it would take to come out of sleep from my HDD. And using OS X is incredibly damn fast and fluid. My 2012 MBP has a couple more years of life to go 🙂