I haven’t spent as much time on my Commodore 64 as my other retrocomputers (which can seem modern in comparison), but my explorations over time are trending towards older hardware. I can only assume that my final stop will be an abacus.
I have three C64s all passed down from my dad. One had been devoted to a home alarm system (of course we still have the schematics), but by the time I came around it was only used for playing half-working totally not bootlegged games.
A sampling of some favorite software from my childhood:
I hope to be able to fully restore at least one of these machines this year. The one pictured above powers on and is fully functional, but some flakiness at startup tells me that it’s overdue for a recap.
One not-so-smart thing I did when I unpacked all of this equipment was powering it up with the original C64 power supply. That’s a risky move and likely to damage the C64 with bad power, so I’ve since replaced it with a new modern one (see the parts list).
I’m not interested (nor do I have the space) to use these machines in the “pure way” with a CRT and 1541 drives, although I have both. Maybe down the road that would be fun, but for now I’m utilizing modern gadgets from the wonderful C64 aftermarket community.
The Power Mac G4 didn’t get the “windtunnel” nickname for nothing – its power supply is quite loud. Thankfully with the help of an adapter, a standard ATX (or SFX) power supply can replace it. I love putting “modern” power supplies into my retro machines to get less noise and clean power.
I went with a Corsair SF600 from my previously built Mini-ITX machine and it’s worked really well due to its small form factor. Although it’s rigged in place with two wire ties it’s not going anywhere. 😀
I’ve acquired yet another retro machine – this one a Power Mac G4 MDD. There are a few reasons I find it appealing:
It’s one of the last machines that natively supported Mac OS 9
It has the benefits of a modular tower, which makes repairs much easier (I’m looking at you iMac G4)
Surprisingly it started on the first boot attempt! The PRAM battery was dead, which was expected, but other than that it seemed perfect… for a while. The next day when I tried to boot it I saw only a black screen, so the troubleshooting started.
To keep things brief it all came down to two components in my case (literally) – either the power supply or the video card, which is an ATI Radeon 9000 Pro Mac Edition 64MB.
After trying some spare PC AGP cards I was able to boot consistently with a PNY GeForce 2, telling me the power supply is probably OK. I could’ve stopped here but the graphics performance was terrible with the GeForce 2 and I never got hardware acceleration to work.
I attempted to flash a new ROM to the card but kept getting rejected, so I decided to go in another direction.
There are a few sites that were extremely helpful in this quest to determine what cards could be used in the Power Mac:
I decided to go with another Radeon 9000 but not a Mac Edition – one for PCs only. This would mean higher availability in the used hardware market, a lower cost, and no work to disable pins. It also meant double the VRAM – 128 MB instead of 64.
I wouldn’t be utilizing the extra ADC power port in the AGP slot nor would the card supply an ADC connector, but for me that’s OK.
When I ordered the card from eBay the description mentioned a failed fan so I needed to address that first.
The board’s connector outputs 5V DC and most of my other cards do 12V, but I found a spare fan I’d used for a Raspberry Pi that would work. It’s a bit of a rig at the moment, but a wire tie holds the fan tightly to the original heat sink.
Once I was sure the new fan setup was working I popped the card into the Mac just to see what would happen. Turns out, nothing. Just a black screen. I don’t think Mac OS 9 even booted.
Fixed in a flash
I pulled the card out of the Mac and inserted it into one of my trusty Gateway Slot-1 machines with an AGP port to flash it with the Mac firmware.
After transferring the files I booted into DOS and followed this sequence in the directory where I’d stored the files:
atiflash -i to make sure the adapter was detected and learn the adapter ID (0 in my case).
atiflash -s 0 backup.rom to make a backup of the PC ROM.
atiflash -f -p 0 [mac_rom_filename.rom] to force-write the Mac ROM firmware.
I then removed the card from the PC.
Flip the switch
The last step to prepare the card for the Mac was to remove the protective tape at the top left and flip switch 2 (the top one pictured) from MF to SF.
With the card reinserted into the Power Mac we boot right up! Until the ATI drivers are installed there will be no hardware acceleration. The ones I’m currently using are the drivers supplied with Mac OS 9 Lives 9.2.2 and they are working great. 🚀
It doesn’t take much to run this keyboard on a modern system. Most machines these days won’t have a PS/2 port (although some high end gaming motherboards do, due to the lower latency), but it’s simple enough to use a PS/2 to USB converter like this one. Not all converters will work, so it’s good to check out reviews or forums beforehand. In case the Amazon link above eventually fails it’s a Monoprice PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse to USB Converter Adapter 110934.
You’ll also notice there’s a lack of “super” key in between Ctrl and Alt. To get around this on my Mac I’ve simply mapped Command to Alt and Option to Caps Lock. If this is too much of a deal breaker the good news is that Unicomp makes a modernized version.