With a Little Help From My Friends: Part 1

She’s not just a friend, but also an ESD hazard.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that a great potential source of vintage computers could be friends and coworkers. The latest addition to the Resto-Bytes museum is a donation from one such friend and coworker. The PowerBook 1400c has been generously donated by Steve, a good friend of mine who generously offered up his own vintage Macintosh after hearing about the work RestoBytes is doing. Thank you, Steve!

I know this comes right in the middle of a series on getting started, but this kind of thing happens quite often. Sometimes you grind and hustle to get to your goal. Other times you will have opportunity fall in your lap asking you if you’re ready for the task. The key to getting to your goal is being flexible enough to change your goals and prepared enough to take advantage of new opportunities. That’s what this is.

The previous posts provided a few tools to do some basic work. Fortunately, I believe this is a machine requires little rehab beyond “remove and replace”. It was mentioned that this machine had seen fairly regular use as noted by its ethernet PC card and spare battery. However, it had also sat in a closet for an unknown period of time. This is a common story, and while it’s not much information as to the condition of the computer, what is apparent when people speak of their devices in the past tense is how much they enjoyed their time together. Steve’s fondness for the machine was palpable and I shared the excitement he showed for seeing it receive a second wind.

Setting it up on the desk and booting the machine for the first time greeted me with Mac OS 9.1 (the highest supported system software for this machine) and the Sonnet Crescendo logo. First boot was extra promising! I feel like this machine can be best highlighted as a mobile bridge machine since it has several accessories that suit it nicely to the job. PC card slots, an optical and floppy drive, SCSI connector at the back, and a serial port for legacy networking…toss in the video adapter for second screen real estate or a projector and this is a very nicely equipped HFS formatted machine able to collect tools from a server and build disk images or even perform some data recovery.

While this example had a venerable IBM 750 upgrade installed, I wanted to get this machine back to, more or less, a stock configuration, and in the process wipe out the contents of the hard disk. When receiving donations, it’s always essential to discuss with the person donating how they would like you to treat their data. RestoBytes frequently reviews the company policy to ensure that we are being morally responsible with what could be potentially sensitive information. Should any of us ever uncover something that is “unsavory”, appropriate authorities will be contacted. Here’s hoping that you never need to phone the sheriff’s office due to the contents of a computer you pulled from the trash.

Since Steve mentioned that he’d like me to wipe the drive for him due to not having any installation disks of his own, I had an easy routine to follow. But I didn’t have any restore disks either! Time to turn to eBay. Since I was already looking for some software, I figured this would also be a good time to see about any other parts that would fit this little lappy. If I was going to scrub the drive, I would lose the Sonnet extension that allowed the accelerator to work. So I found a gentleman by the name of cleared4takeoff that had not only the original processor card, but also the original video card! After a series of emails, he not only accepted my request for combined shipping but accepted a lower offer on the two pieces. His store has a few older Macs from time to time. Maybe give him a look?

I also found some original disks and the user manual! Let’s see what can be done about this pile of parts. Hope you’re not reading this on a mobile connection.

Put…Put your fingers on it…

That speaker grill is actually a protective cover for more than just a tiny speaker. Grab it securely and slide it to the left. It should click. But only once.

How accessible!

There are four Phillips screws in this part of the access panel. It’s not necessary to remove them before the keyboard, but I was really excited and decided to put my screwdriver to use right away.

Easy now!

The keyboard lifts from the side closest to the hinge. the keyboard itself is quite sturdy. The ribbon cable connecting the keyboard to the main logic, however, is delicate. Just lay the keyboard down on top of the palm rest so that it’s out of the way. Avoid pulling or twisting the keyboard.

This protective cover will lift with little force once you remove the last 2 screws at the bottom left. Set it to the side, but be careful to not get fingerprints on the back side of that square relief. This cover serves double duty as the CPU heat sink. High heat and finger oils are known to cause problems.

That stands for Power Book G3 Dooooooood!

Here you should see 3 distinct sectors. Depending on your configuration, the parts you see may be different, but the spaces are all the same. The left sector is the CPU daughter card. This will have either a 603e in various flavors, or a third party accelerator that is typically a G3. The narrow place to the right will have either a 4 MB or 8 MB “non-serviceable” RAM card and maybe another expansion card hovering over it. This RAM will make the base configuration as advertised with 8 MB soldered to the board. A little secret is that this non-serviceable card can be replaced with an 8 MB card from another unit. It is possible that you may find a video card or the alleged network card that filled the expansion space over RAM. This was not typically populated. On the right is the “user-serviceable” RAM. This could be any cappacity combination of 2 cards that when combined with the other slot make for a total of 64 MB or less. Even with System 7, this really makes it a single task computer. That’s fine for a bridge machine. If you’re looking for mobile games, maybe look to something else. For now, let’s get back to stripping parts.

Out comes the 16 MB RAM card. Pry up at the edge with something soft (insert millennial joke).

The non-serviceable RAM is now more easily….serviced.

Pick up this little heat shield and expose the back two standoffs that serve as screws for the daughter board, and…

…remove those four anchors with a 4.5 mm nut driver.

Out she comes! This is going to a safe place. Not for long, mind you. Just till I can get the software all in order. Let’s get all the new hardware installed now!

Nuth nuth nuthin like the real thing, baby

With original 603e in hand…er, on bench, make sure that thermal pad (which is not sticky at all!) is clean with some alcohol. Always use 91% or greater. It’s cheap, cleans remarkably better than the lesser octane stuff, and when you have only a little bit left in the bottle, you can put it in your car’s washer fluid bottle to help fight frost. See? Resourceful! “But honey, this hobby is actually SAVING money!”

A brief note: The three speeds of machines (117 MHz, 133 MHz, and 166 MHz) have no end of trouble swapping CPUs. I cannot recommend attempting an upgrade with swapping these parts. 

The CPU drops right back in the slot next to the OG RAM.

But what goes back there?

The video card! Well…it’s technically a video adapter, though I’m going to use the terms interchangeably. You see, the notebooks at this time still worked on similar principals of image display as the Macintosh Portable and Mac II. They used frame buffers to hold and display the image while the CPU did the heavy lifting of render duty. This adapter allows the user to pass that signal along to another display. No change in resolution. Some of them could accommodate more colors, but most were like this 16 bit version and maxed out at “thousands of colors”. But, you got to have a proper screen!

Push out the cover over the pass through and drop the video card into its expansion slot. 

Secure the port…

If you get lucky, there will be a new plate to cover the port. It just clicks into place, though you’ll need to work around that hinge. I recommend removing the hinge and door assembly first. Reassemble all the parts in the reverse of how they were removed. Then you find out if the sum of your parts is worth the sum you paid. Maybe…

I’ve reinstalled the 16 MB RAM expansion card and I’m not content with that amount. Prices of the 32 MB cards are astronomical, so I’m looking into some other options. Your mileage may vary, but it was after finishing the assembly, I had some issue just getting it to turn on. The manual recommends to hold down the PMU reset button on the back for 10-30 seconds. That fixed it and the boot chime was a song of jubilation. It could also be that the power supply circuits need to have their capacitors replaced. I’ll look into this later on.

So the first hiccup in actual operation came because the PowerBook 1400 series spanned a few years during which time the Macintosh operating system was going through major changes. The original 117 MHz machine shipped with System 7.5.3. The follow-on 133 MHz machine also reportedly had a minimum of 7.5.3. Everymac.com reports the 166 MHz model supports 7.6.1, but I couldn’t find a single system restore disk that had a 7.6.1 image, and the disk I had wouldn’t boot for anything. The disk I received with the manual was 7.5.3. I couldn’t even find anything in the archives referring to a single 7.6.1 image. Only a strange upgrade path that involved installing 7.6 first (not supported for sure!). This isn’t going to help my case but, I did notice with some digging that there was at least one 1996 system restore disk that held system software 8.0. That’s strange because Mac OS 8 wasn’t released till 1997, just like this ‘book. But I am reading out of a readme file that could have just been copied forward. While it’s not System 7 (desired for being less taxing on the RAM and CPU) it is definitely in the range of “supported”. This article has gone on quite far enough, so I’m going to break here and address the software in a part 2. I promise it will be interesting. 

Do any of you have a 1400? Have you seen the network expansion that supposedly fits? Are you upset I didn’t mention the book covers?! Leave a comment below and share your story. If you’d like to see more from the lab follow me on Instagram.

This is Ty; logging off.

1 thought on “With a Little Help From My Friends: Part 1”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *