Thursday, September 22, 2005

I've always been a sucker for old things, and when it comes to vintage Macintosh computers, I can't resist the thrill of snagging an original 512k or SE/30 or Powerbook 170 for nothing. It's not just the idea, but the oh-so-good feeling of rescuing a vintage computer from the trash and preserving it for future generations to enjoy. Let's face it, these old computers are getting harder and harder to find as time goes on, and before not very long the only ones to be seen will be in museums or private collections. I've built up a pretty nice collection of them already and am continuing to collect more. I would say about 95-98% of these Macs were given to me. I've only paid money for those systems I felt were exceptionally rare or unusual, such as my 128k Mac that came with an external 800k floppy drive, a rare Apple HD20 external hard drive and its original mouse and keyboard. In the other cases, I figure I'm doing people a favor by taking the Macs off their hands when they would have thrown them into the trash, and I'm doing the computers a favor by giving them a new lease on life. It's a win-win situation, wouldn't you say?

It's hard, though, just finding these computers. I've run across a few at garage sales, but that's a hit-or-miss proposition these days. Besides, what with the high price of gas nowadays, I can't afford to go running around every weekend in the hopes of finding a forlorn Mac sitting off to the side in someone's garage. Advertising in the newspaper's computer classifieds section is more successful (but expensive), and I've also gotten some through the local message boards. Still and all, it's difficult and often frustrating. I've had people email me with details of interesting or unique items, to which I respond quickly, but then I don't ever hear back from them. If people are going to take the time to write me about their Macs and whatnot, and I respond, it's just the courteous thing to follow through!

Another really good strategy for me is reading the newspaper regularly for announcements of upcoming events and so on, and this really paid off BIG for me earlier this month. A technology columnnist published an item about an organization's holding an electronics recycling event in my county, and I thought, "Oh boy! Here's my chance to score some good old Macs!" It was scheduled for Saturday, September 10, 2005, and I made plans to get up and be an early bird there. Before going out there, I bought a stick of bright yellow glass chalk and scrawled "Old Macintosh computers Wanted" on my Honda Civic Si's rear window and my email address on the side windows.

When I got there, I pulled into the parking lot very close to the action. The organization had set up orange traffic cones to force vehicles to drive single file to the tented drop-off point. There was no way any of those drivers could miss my bright yellow Day-Glo message on the Honda's rear window, and just scant minutes after I parked my car, a driver rolled down his window and hollered, "I've got a Mac here, do you want it?" Did I ever! The first computer I snagged was a Performa 630CD with a bad hard drive and then a beautiful graphite iMac Special Edition, then a Mac IIsi... they kept on coming until my poor little car could take no more. It got so bad, I had to crank open the sunroof and squeeze a Performa 550 in, and even then it wouldn't go all the way through. I drove home with it sticking face up out of the sunroof; I'm sure it was a funny sight to other drivers on the road.

All in all, I snagged 17 Macintosh systems, 7 monitors, 11 printers and lots of accessories and peripherals. One driver had three Apple II systems and he dropped those off on my driveway. I initially thought I had 16 Macs in the haul, but upon going through a box discovered a Performa 460 hiding at the very bottom--what a nice surprise!

Here's a rundown of what I came home with-

Macintosh systems:
-One Performa 460
-One LC II
-Two LC systems
-Two IIsi Macs
-One virtually new graphite iMac Special Edition
-One Bondi Blue (Rev. A) iMac
-One Powermac G3 Desktop
-One Powermac G3 Minitower with internal Yamaha CD-RW drive
-One Performa 600
-Two Mac SE's
-One Powermac 7600/132
-One Performa 550 AIO system
-One Performa 630CD
-One Powerbook 170 with external adapter

-Seven monitors, including a very nice 17" Apple Multiple Scan 720 Display

-One Color StyleWriter 2400
-One Color StyleWriter in its original box
-One Personal LaserWriter
-One almost brand new Epson Stylus Photo 785EPX in its original box
-Four StyleWriter II's
-One StyleWriter (the first made in the StyleWriter line) in its original box
-One LaserWriter IINT (man! That one just about broke my back, it's SO heavy!)

I also got a number of ADB keyboards, mice (even a Kensington Turbo Mouse-nice), two SCSI Zip drives, a NEC Multispin 3x CD-ROM drive with drive caddy, and odds and ends.
I've had an opportunity to test most of the Macs and had some big surprises:

When I got the graphite iMac, I fully expected it to be one of the early 400MHz models that were rolled out in 1999 and discontinued the following year to make way for faster models. However, when I booted it up and opened the Apple System Profiler, I was stunned to discover it was a 600MHz system with an internal CD-RW drive, 256MB RAM (expandable to 1GB) and a 40GB hard drive! The only thing wrong with it was a kernel panic preventing it from booting up completely, which was easily fixed with a fresh archive and install of OS X Jaguar. It's a gorgeous computer which looks as if it had just been pulled out of its shipping box.

The Powermac 7600/132 was another major surprise. I expected that it would be a stock 604e system with perhaps 32 or 64MB of RAM and a single hard drive.. but no! It turned out to have been upgraded to a speedy 333MHz G3 with 432MB of RAM and TWO hard drives. Not only that, but it also has two USB and two FireWire ports on the same PCI card! Wow... and people are just dumping Macs like this one and the above iMac?? How sad.

The Bondi Blue iMac turned out to be in nearly new condition also with 32MB RAM and a 4GB hard drive, and the G3 minitower had been upgraded with a Yamaha CD-RW drive, two FireWire and four USB ports, a 40GB hard drive and 384MB of RAM. The last Powermac I got, the G3 desktop, turned out to be a stock system, but it's extremely clean and well-cared for. I just listed it on eBay and hope to have a new home for it before too long.

The Powerbook 170 was another pleasant discovery. I found that it was in mint condition with absolutely no scuffs, scratches or dings; even the screen is immaculate! The only thing is, it's missing the cover for the internal battery bay, but that's a very minor quibble. It boots right up into OS 7.0.1 and has a number of familiar (such as Microsoft Word) as well as some obscure programs, Data Desk and MS Project being two of the latter. This one's definitely a keeper.

Most of the other pre-Powermac systems tested out just fine, but about five of them need new hard drives, which is no biggie for me. For the record, I've repaired some SE/30's (new motherboard, hard drive and floppy drives) and upgraded several of my Powermacs with processor upgrades, Airport cards, video cards, hard drives and so on. For a time, the nearest Mac service center was MacResQ, which was located just a couple miles down the road from me and I took my Macs in there for this or that. The service and turnaround was topnotch. I was crushed when I discovered that they were closing up and moving all their operations to the main location in California.

The nearest service centers were inside CompUSA and Micro-Center, and they charge a diagnostic fee up front which doesn't even include the labor and parts. Ugh! I decided it wasn't worth the money for something as simple as installing RAM or a hard drive, so I got into learning how to do it myself. Let me tell you, there's nothing as satisfying as doing a good job and seeing the Mac power and boot up without a hiccup after performing "surgery" on it. The only qualms I have are with Powerbooks; I'm squeamish about poking around inside such a small area and maybe inadvertently clipping a wire or something. But since there aren't any certified techs who still work on the vintage machines around, I suppose I'll have to learn how to do it myself.. and have three banged-up 520c's just waiting to be used as 'guinea pigs', LOL.