By Greg Pak
I needed a new computer for the interns who are working in my office on AsianAmericanFilm.com. But I didn’t want to buy a new computer until after the July MacWorld Expo — I’m not particularly eager to taste the bitter regret of paying top dollar for almost instantly outdated hardware.
So I was thrilled when the good folks at the Asian American Writers Workshop donated an old Power Macintosh 6100 to AsianAmericanFilm.com. Dating from 1994, the machine was 60 MHz, with a 160 MB hard drive, an internal CD drive, an internal floppy drive, and a 13″ Apple monitor. Not exactly state of the art, but it was free, right?
Well, yes. But it’s taken a little poking around to get the machine up and running. Read on for the full saga, dear friends. May it help you in your own endeavors to keep useful machines out of land fills.
No system folder, no start up.
Alas, when we powered the machine up, the screen stayed black. We shut down and restarted and the screen flickered to life, but then all it displayed was a disk image with a flashing question mark — the computer couldn’t find a valid start up disk.
Inserting various floppies just resulted in the question mark turning into an X and the disks being ejected. Then I inserted the first of a series of old back-up system installer floppies from my ancient PowerBook 190. For the first time, the computer seemed to process some data from the disk, but then ejected it with a message saying it wasn’t an appropriate system for this computer. (Later I learned that the System 7.5.2 on those PowerBook floppies isn’t compatible with the 6100.)
I felt fairly confident that the machine would work if I could only find a way to get a system folder onto the hard drive. On a zip disk, I had a free version of System 7.5.3, which I’d downloaded from Apple a few weeks before. I couldn’t, however, figure out how to get the information from that zip onto floppies which I could insert into the drive on the 6100. So I tried hooking up an old SCSI Iomega Zip drive to the 6100. But without a system folder containing the Iomega extension, the computer wouldn’t recognize the Zip. And neither the OS 8.6 nor the OS 9 installer CDs I had would work.
Getting desperate, I poked around some more online and finally found a site with a download for a magic thing called the “Network Access Floppy Disk.” I used Disk Copy to make a floppy disk of the download — and when I inserted it into the 6100, the flashing question mark went away and the desktop appeared!
The Network Access Floppy Disk contains a very rudimentary system folder — no doubt designed to help people like me out of situations like this. I copied the folder over to the 6100’s hard drive (which was indeed missing a system folder). Then I restarted the computer. Meanwhile, on my other computer, I put an Iomega Driver 4.2 extension onto a floppy. I then moved this to the 6100, put the Iomega extension into the extensions folder, and shut down. On restart, the computer recognized the Zip drive and I installed System 7.5.3 from my Zip disk.
Feeling enormously pleased with myself, I then tackled the networking issue, buying a $25 transceiver from my local computer store to turn the AAUI ethernet jack into a 10-Base T ethernet jack. After fooling with a few control panels, I managed to bring the 6100 up on my ethernet network. Finally, success!
The magic battery solution
I called up the Writers Workshop, thanked them for the computer, and bragged about my masterful skills in bringing it back to life. But my work was not yet done. The computer would forget the date and time and the network settings every time I shut it down. And the monitor still would be black when I first started the computer up after a period of inactivity. A posting I found online suggested replacing the 3.6v internal battery. This made perfect sense regarding the date and time and network settings, but I’d never heard of the monitor being dependent on the little replacable battery inside the machine. Nonetheless, when I replaced the battery ($13, Radio Shack), all of these problems disappeared.
Monitor from heaven
The same day, I found a 15 1/2″ Sun Microsystems monitor which someone in my office building had left in the trash. Less than thrilled with the tiny and somewhat blurry Apple 13″ monitor that had come with the 6100, I figured I’d give the Sun monitor a shot. I had to buy a $27 adapter to hook up the monitor to the machine, but it was clearly worth it — the monitor works perfectly.
So thus far I’d spent about six hours and $65 to bring the computer back to life. And at that point it was an entirely servicable word-processing machine for interns to use for updating web pages. But eventually I’d need a computer which could comfortably run Photoshop and perhaps a few other applications. And even for minimal website work, the 160 MB hard drive was painfully tiny.
So I hit ebay and stumbled across what seemed to be some excellent deals. First, I bought a 128 MB memory upgrade (a pair of 64 MB simms) and a NewerTech 210 MHz G3 upgrade for a mere $164, including shipping. Then I bought a 2.1 gig SCSI 50 pin hard drive for $34, including postage. I’ve installed the memory, but haven’t yet installed the G3 upgrade, since I need the bigger hard drive (which hasn’t yet arrived) in order to install a more advanced OS (a prerequisite for the upgrade). Assuming everything work out, I’ll end up with a lower end G3 with a 15 1/2″ monitor for $260.
That’s a couple hundred dollars less than what monitorless beige G3s are drawing on ebay this week. So I figure I’ve done all right. Of course, some would call any upgrades to old technology foolish and bound to disappoint. But you’re talking to a guy who pulled a 1986 Mac Plus out of storage, fitted it with a Zip drive, and now has interns using it for word processing a few times a week.
More later – when I get the 2.1 gig hard drive installed and the G3 upgrade working (knock on wood)…
Incredibly helpful 6100 website:
PowerMac 6100 Upgrade Guide – run by Steve Kan, this is a stupendous resource. Couldn’t have undertaken my little project without it.
By Greg Pak