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Bringing History Back to Life

This section of the website is dedicated to journalling the computers I bring back to life (or my failures in doing so, where appropriate!) I got into this in early 2019 when I determined it was time to revive my original Mac Plus that has traveled the continent with me for two decades, slowly losing its will to live. I learned a lot doing that — and managed to avoid electrocuting myself — then decided it might make a fun and profitable hobby. As you’ll see from the entries, profit is rarely to be found, but restoring these little bundles of computer history has other rewards. Plus, having a hobby keeps me (and Nicole!) sane.

You can scroll through the post history in the section, and see them all, or use this index to jump to your favorite machine…


Apple IIGS

Apple IIc

Macintosh M0001

Macintosh SE

Macintosh Plus – Platinum
Work in Progress:
Macintosh Color Classic
Apple IIC plus
Atari Mega ST2

Got an old computer you want restored? Or some data on ancient floppy disks you’d like to see again? I love a challenge — contact me!

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Twentieth Anniversary Mac

The Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh (better known as the TAM) is one of the most rare examples of Apple’s legacy hardware design. Conceived of years before the iMac, but by the same designer, the TAM was an expensive limited edition computer, created in Apple’s darkest hours to celebrate their survival to this point. According to legend, Steve Jobs said it represented everything he hated about what Apple had become.

In its initial run, at $7500 USD (over $11k in today’s money) it supposedly included an option for “white glove” delivery, where an Apple employee in a tuxedo, would arrive at your home or office via limo, and set it up for you. Over the course of its short life, the price would be reduced dramatically — but never enough to sell well. As a result, not many of them exist today.

The design is striking — and polarizing — and harkens back to the all-in-one origins of the Macintosh, while leveraging then-modern technology (mostly drawn from their laptop line.) The power supply is external, and encased in a Bose sub-woofer, then connected by a strange locking “umbilical” chord that frequently causes audio issues. The keyboard, and integrated (but removable) trackpad are awful — but aesthetically pleasing, especially when tucked away under the unit, leaving a tiny footprint on your desk.

This effort wasn’t so much as restoration, as a retro-fit. I picked it up for a reasonable (but still expensive) price from a fellow hobbiest one State over, and as advertised, everything worked. The paint is peeling on the top, where a previous owner had apparently attached something with scotch tape, the umbilical is frayed a little, but does not cause the infamous buzz issue, and the impossible-to-find Comm Slot 2 riser adapter is cracked to the point of being basically unusable.

My main use case for the machine was to replace my handy but inglorious bridge machine — a Performa 6200CD. To do this, I would need a working ethernet card. Although I could make the included CS2 card work if I stood on one foot and held my tongue just right, it would fail too easily if the machine moved at all (due to the aforementioned adapter crack.) A dual PCI riser was included, but was not designed for the machine, so had a number of issues that I had to resolve.

Fortunately, the “fat back” expansion cover was included, but the position of a mounted PCI card that aligned with the external bracket left the card resting against the metal hard drive bracket — an electrical short waiting to happen. The same bracket also holds a fan. While I’m not sure the fan is strictly necessary, I decided I would have to create new brackets for both. My, relatively rudimentary, 3D printer skills came in handy, and once I replaced the aging and tiny spinning hard drive with a Compact Flash adapter, the metal components were almost entirely replaced with plastic ones.

Now I could safely mount two PCI cards — but the bracket only has space for one to stick out. While Ethernet was the primary goal, a secondary goal was a USB mouse. I tried hacking at a USB card to modify it to have internal USB connectors, but failed. Removing the metal mounting brackets from the PCI cards, and leaving off the external bracket from the expansion cover allowed me to have two cards installed — but left a gaping ugly hole in the side of my TAM.

Although the shape was unusual, and beyond my 3D design skills to match completely, I did manage to print off a replacement bracket, which I painted a dark gray, that manages to mostly fill the hole, without looking too much of a hack job.

While its technically possible to run OS X on the TAM, with a G3 upgrade card, apparently it carries some risk — and a high cost for the upgrade. Also, OS X doesn’t make a great bridge for really old Macs. Since I have a G4 Cube that can dual boot 9 and X, I decided to leave the TAM at 9.1. I’ll max out the RAM, when I can find some, but otherwise this project is done — and sitting proudly on my desk.

The STL files for my replacement brackets are available here:

Apple IIGS

Launched in 1986, the Apple IIGS is the strangest and most wonderful of the Apple II line — and in many ways the grand finale. The GS is a fascinating machine, heavily influenced by Steve Wozniak. The GS stood for Graphics and Sound, and this machine was well equipped for both as an answer to its contemporaries, the Amiga and Atari ST computers. While the IIGS co-existed with the Macintosh, its older CPU architecture and deliberately reduced clock speed kept it from competing with Apple’s flagship. However, the incredible library of 8-bit Apple II software ran well on the GS, and a decent selection of new 16-bit apps were built to run natively during its life time. The graphical environment that replaced Apple’s ProDOS looked remarkably Mac-like — but in beautiful color at a time when Macs were only black and white.

As well as great games, the IIGS also supported “modern” technology like AppleTalk networking and its easily-accessible internal expansion slots made it easy to expand and update the machine for decades to come. Even now hobbyists are making RAM, storage and maybe soon accelerator add-ons for it.

I got the base unit from a collector in trade for a Mac I had restored, and salvaged a compatible ADB keyboard and mouse from a bin in my basement. I’d have loved to pair it with the original keyboard, but it was just too expensive on eBay. After seeing how bad the picture looked on a modern display (due to the heavy use of dithering tricks they built in to coax a higher resolution out of the ancient tech) I searched long and hard for an original monitor, finally finding one a 3-hour drive away. I lined up a pick-up as part of a business road trip.

I replaced the battery, which had not leaked, and the “magic smoke” RIFA capacitors in the PSU, but found it to be in great condition otherwise, so didn’t perform a full re-capping. Save for the monitor, and metal shielding in the case, disassembly was a piece of cake, and everything brightened up nicely in liquid peroxide and hot water in the sun. Only the power button and adjustment dials on the monitor could not be removed, so retained a yellow look. Once it was serviced, it was time to try out some of those upgrades.

I purchased a 4MB RAM card from Garrett’s Workshop — happy to support another Ohio hobbyist, and a Drive/Turbo CF storage adapter from ReActiveMicro as an internal hard drive. I loaded it up with the fan-made GSOS 6.04 and a bunch of hard drive compatible (or modded-to-be-compatible) apps and games. For compatibility, I found a killer floppy that loads a lightweight GSOS 6.01 onto a RAM Disk and reboots from it.

Probably the most fun was networking the IIGS. I have an AppleTalk/LocalTalk ring around the basement that’s bridged to Ethernet by a Performa. I was able to mount network shares, including one on a Raspberry Pi, network boot, and connect to (but never successfully print to) a LaserWriter-compatible Brother printer.

After two tries, I found a working external floppy on eBay for under $100, and cleaned the heads. The remaining original parts were about $135, and upgrades were another $130, making this an expensive project — but one of my favorites. Break-even calculation is pending, since I traded the complete system to another collector for at Atari Mega ST that needs some love.

You can see a video of this unit in action here.

Apple IIc

The Apple IIc (stylized as //c) was an early attempt at a portable Apple II computer, and actually overlaps the Macintosh, as both were launched in 1984. An incredibly concise design, accessories from first or third parties provided battery power and portable LCD displays, so you could carry the whole thing with you. The IIc is compatible with the huge library of Apple II software, but had a port for a Mac-like mouse.

This is a really elegant machine and had a bit of nostalgia for me. In 1994, my dad was an 8th grade teacher at a missionary school in Germany where we lived for a year, and his classroom had a IIc. It was my first experience with a non-Macintosh Apple computer, and I found it fascinating. I got this unit in exchange for an original Mac I restored as a commission, complete with the cute monochrome green display. It was missing the power supply, and was heavily yellowed, but in functional condition.

I re-capped the motherboard, and found a compatible laptop adapter from an Apple enthusiast on eBay for $20. While disassembling the main unit for cleaning and retro-brighting, I broke a key cap at the stem on the “7” key. This proved to be a disaster — I tried plastic cement, but it ended up jammed in the switch. I searched for months to find a replacement, learning that two different style switches were used in the IIc, depending on when it was built. Finally I found Apple Rescue of Denver who supplied the necessary replacement parts at a not-unreasonable price. De-soldering the old switch and replacing it and the key cap took only a few minutes, leaving the unit complete again. Retro-brighting in a tub of 40v liquid peroxide and hot water left in the sun quickly restored the original color to a crisp “Snow White“.

As part of the trade, I got the official Apple II mouse (only cosmetically different from the Mac mouse I traded). Minor internal adjustments were made to the display, fixing the geometry and brightness, but I did not attempt to change more than a couple capacitors, as the internal design of the CRT was quite tightly packed. I cleaned the heads on the old 5.25″ floppy drive, and added a BMOW A/B Switch to allow the machine to boot from an external drive such as the FloppyEmu. The kids and I played a few hours of Oregon Trail, Carmen San Diego and Moon Patrol, before I listed the completed system for sale. I found a couple boot disks and a relevant manual, and sold the whole thing to an eBay buyer who didn’t respond to any communication, despite getting an amazing deal: $160 plus $40 shipping — which likely got me within a stones-throw of breaking-even on the project.

A video of this unit can be seen here. I remain quite enamored with the svelt little IIc, and have since replaced it with a IIc+ that refined the design.

Macintosh M0001 (128k)

The first in a new line of computers, later called the 128k, but originally just “Macintosh“, this is the computer that really started the revolution in 1984. An appliance-like machine, not intended for tinkerers, but to remain sealed, the Mac project was guided primarily by Steve Jobs. Famously created by a talented team in a remote building flying a pirate flag, this little box really did change the world.

My first commission, this unit came from a sell-off of Syd Bolton’s Ontario, Canada PC Museum after he passed. When I first got it, it would power up, but the floppy drive was missing, and after a couple starts the screen stayed blank and the happy chime wouldn’t play. I started with the usual suspects, re-capping the logic board and re-soldering the flyback transformer, but to no avail. Finally I swapped in my own Mac Plus logic board… and the unit booted right up. Culprit found.

I replaced a few chips on the original logic board but continued to find no signs of life, so after months, finally found a replacement board on eBay for $45. It was sold as original, but turned out to have a (fairly expert) 512k upgrade soldered on. While I waited for it to arrive, it was time for a gentle retro-bright soak in the sun — a little liquid peroxide and a lot of hot water rendered a consistent look everywhere…except the space bar.

After-market 512k upgrade

When the logic board was replaced and the system was stable, I set out to do some burn in… and found the picture deteriorating after an hour or so of run time. A replacement flyback was required, which I pillaged from a parts machine, along with a floppy drive — although I needed to buy a new mounting bracket online for around $20. Finally the machine was happy with extended run time.

I lubricated floppy drive — a little different on the old 400k drives — and cleaned the heads. The client sent a keyboard and mouse he found online. The mouse turned out to be for an Apple IIC, so I traded him for my own spare mouse, and I had a complete, mostly original unit that functioned fully!

Building a boot disk was the next challenge. I have a cache of old System disks from my youth, but I didn’t want to ship those away. With only a single floppy drive, a lot of disk swapping would be in order, so I leveraged my Floppy-Emu and my own restored Mac Plus to set-up a 400k floppy that had a bare System and MacPaint and MacWrite on it, with about 4k to spare.

As you can see in the pictures above, the screen size was initially a little bigger than stock. Adjustment proved difficult, since the pot had crumbled with age. Eventually I managed to shrink it a little with a carefully carved stick (a scary experience that prompted me to buy some plastic adjustment tools!)

The M0001, and the parts machine I drew from each cost me $20, and with parts bought online, the project cost was roughly $115, a solid new cardboard box and shipping cost $100. The client provided an Apple IIc and Apple IIGS, both in need of service, in trade for the commission. Whether or not I came out ahead has yet to be seen…

This video shows the unit in action (before screen adjustment and mouse swap) along-side some audio from the original tutorial cassette that shipped with the Mac:

Macintosh SE

Launched in 1987, the Macintosh SE was the successor to the Macintosh Plus, and the first Mac to ship with a built-in hard drive (depending on how it was configured.) Despite being hampered by the same aging tech specs as the Plus, the SE was the first compact Mac to have an internal expansion slot, which allowed for things like an external monitor or network card.

Purchased for $45 on eBay, this unit was barely-functional, filthy and smelly when it arrived. Following my initial success restoring my own Mac Plus, this was most ambitious restoration — and it ended up being more difficult than I could have imagined. Although it wouldn’t boot, swapping parts with other Macs proved that the logic board was stable. My initial attempt to service the power supply failed, and it was replaced for $35 from eBay. When that proved insufficient to revive the machine, another analog board was purchased for $70. With the guts over 65% replaced, the unit sprang to life and (after cleaning the heads) turned out to have a functioning floppy drive… but a dead hard drive. Fortunately, that was easily replaced on eBay for around $40. An era-appropriate keyboard and mouse and user manual were also found on eBay for about $60 combined, and another $35 was spent to max out the RAM. Total project cost exceeded $280.

Although it was gross when it arrived, the case was intact. After a thorough soak, scrub and strategic baking soda rub, the unit cleaned up fairly well, with only a few light scratches. Attempting to improve the condition using a magic eraser was ill-advised and left some (barely visible) swirlies in the plastic. A multi-day soak in 40v liquid peroxide and hot water in the sun restored the original color consistently.

I ended up selling the unit to a fellow hobbyist for $280 plus $30 shipping to help defray the cost. Given that shipping cost $90, this project was not profitable — but it was instructive. Overall, I found the SE to be a noisy and generally unimpressive machine for the era. If I could find one, I’d much rather have a SE/30.

A video of this unit in action can be viewed here.

Macintosh Plus – Platinum Gray

First shipped in 1986, the Mac Plus was the third Macintosh ever made (4th if you count the 512k, 5th if you count the Macintosh XL). It came with 1MB of memory on the same 68000 processor as the original Mac, but was expandable to up to 4MB RAM and could support a standard SCSI hard drive via an external connector.

Since this unit was in Apple’s “Platinum” gray color scheme, that means it was shipped in 1987 or later. I acquired the main unit from a volunteer at Syd Bolton’s PC Museum, after Syd passed. It was in decent cosmetic condition, but needed standard refurbishing. I had a platinum extended keyboard in storage since I was in high school, and found a matching mouse on eBay (which looked and worked great, but had a stiff cable.)

The radial capacitors on the analog board were replaced, and the solder points for the flyback transformer were re-flowed, and the RAM was maxed out. I cleaned battery residue from the connectors and installed a new clock battery. The eject gear on the floppy drive had broken and was replaced with a part from Retro Fixes, and the drive was cleaned and lubricated. The entire unit was disassembled and cleaned, then retro-brighted using a mixture of 40v liquid peroxide and hot water in a clear tub left in the sun.

The result was fantastic — possibly the best cosmetic condition I’ve ever seen, with a great color match between components. Everything was fully functional after a total project cost of around $150. The completed project was sold to a collector in Seattle for $190, in May of 2019, and I learned a valuable lesson about the cost of shipping — which greatly exceeded the budgeted $40 to break even.

A video of this unit in action can be seen here: