Return from Oblivion
Howdy, fellow Hivers. I am back from oblivion. If you've read my last post I told you that my desktop 3D workstation had died and it would be some time before I would ever make another 3D artwork and process blog to post here again.
So I have been without a computer for two months. To work, I just relied on my phone, tablet, and good old fashioned paper-and-pencil as an interim solution to carry out my tasks. But I could not allow myself to become too comfortable with that kind of setup. It was also time for an upgrade, since my computer is 8-years old and not as powerful as it was back in 2012.
And we all know how difficult it is to buy computer parts right now with a global shortage of computers and parts affecting everyone all over the world. You might think I may have run into more "year 2020" bad luck, but it turns out that the shortage was a more of a blessing than a curse. It forced me to sit things out and wait for a while until AMD and Nvidia have put out the latest iterations of their popular hardware. Being blessed with an almost inhuman capacity for patience, I decided to wait until maybe summer of 2021 to buy stuff.
That didn't mean I didn't need a computer right now. There were things that I couldn't do with my phone and tablet, and those were 3D modeling and animation. So, I decided to take one more look at my dead desktop and enlist the aide of my brother to help me test which parts were dead and needed to be replaced.
It turned out that it was just the power supply that was dead, and he had a couple of spares to lend. I put the better one of the two in my computer and fired it up.
The machine gave out the all-too familiar single beep of a successful POST (power-on self-test) and booted into Windows 10. And here it is, back in action after a month of troubleshooting, driver re-installation, Windows updates, and other maintenance tasks.
And now let me tell you about another old computer I have that I am going to revive and make useful again.
Reviving My Power Mac G4
While looking at my collection of old computer parts and other stuff under my desk and in the boxes under my bed, an idea suddenly lit up a light bulb in my mind as I gazed upon my old Power Mac G4. The last time I had powered it up was way back in 2011 before I put it in storage to save for rainy days.
It was still working fine when I last tested it, so I expected it to work again anytime I felt like using it, or needed it for some other reason. Like the one that was suddenly birthed into my consciousness and made me utter a string of unprintable expletives guaranteed to make a nun blush.
For a creative like me, my waking life is often punctuated by momentary burst of sudden creativity, filling my mind briefly with great ideas and one-liners that go as soon as they come. And I am often not fast enough to write them down before I forget them.
But this wasn't one of those as it involved the old beauty right in from of me, and what I could do with it. I'll tell you what it is at the end of this blog. So, let me tell you first about some of its history.
What's Under the Hood: Specs and History
This beautiful machine is a Power Mac G4 400 MHz (Gigabit Ethernet), a model that was introduced in July 19, 2000. I got it from my Australian cousin, who in turn, bought it from his university when the school disposed of their old hardware to make room for the newer G5 models.
He got it for a steal and used it for his web design and graphics work for a few years, until his university upgraded their machines again, and he got himself one of those iconic aluminum-clad G5 beasts.
Not knowing what to do with his G4, he asked me in a Yahoo Messenger chat if I wanted it. Since the G4 is an iconic design too, and one that I had been drooling over back in the day, I replied with an enthusiastic affirmative.
So, my uncle stuffed it into a big box along with three working Pentium 4 desktop systems and had them shipped to us in March 2008. I received the package in May 2008, and saw that aside from the Mac, one of the Pentium 4 desktops was for me too. Instant hardware upgrade without spending a single cent. That's how we were back in those years. Our uncle would fly in for a month-long vacation, and buy several motherboards and processors to take home to Melbourne.
I remember being hungover the day I decided to test this thing one Saturday afternoon. I saw that it needed a USB mouse, and hesitated to boot it up because my current unit at the time used a PS2 mouse. But my curiousity won over me and so I plugged it up and mashed the power button. It lit up and the machine belched out the popular Macintosh startup chime and proceeded to boot into Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar.
It was my first time to get my feet wet with any version of the Mac OS X series. But it didn't take me long to figure things out, thanks to my Computer Science background and experience using various Linux distros.
Since all operating systems have a system information utility that tells you about what hardware and software are installed, it was the first thing I looked for. After a few minutes of fiddling around, I saw that the machine has:
- A 400 MHz PowerPC 7400 processor
- 128 MB of PC100 SDRAM (occupying one of the four RAM slots)
- ATI Rage Pro 128 videocard with 16 MB VRAM
- 20 GB Western Digital hard drive
- 8x DVD writer
- 100 MB Zip drive
- 2 USB 1.1 ports, 2 FireWire ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and a 56k modem
My cousin was also generous enough to send me the Apple Pro USB keyboard, which I am still using today in my Windows computer since it is a Plug n Play device supported by Windows. The keyboard also has two USB ports.
I was so enthralled with it after just a few minutes of looking around that I was compelled to go out to buy a cheap USB mouse in the computer store just outside our village's main gate. I knew that I had a long day ahead of me, and tinkering with a new machine without the benefit of a mouse was going to be a headache.
Upon getting back, I pulled out my box of parts and took out my spare RAM that was left over from a previous Pentium 3 desktop. Then I installed them into the spare slots, and also put in an 80 GB hard drive.
Satisfied with what I had, I fired it up and immediately noticed the faster boot time thanks to the additional RAM sticks I put in it. A quick check with the About This Mac utility showed me a total of 640 MB of RAM. Not bad at all. I knew that max capacity is 2 GB. But it would be hard to find 4 sticks of good 512 MB PC100 SDRAM so I just decided to stick with what I had, and only worry about it when it was really needed.
Then it was time to take her out for a romp on the World Wide Web and experience what it was like to browse with a Mac. Found out immediately that it was all hype, and there was nothing really new to make my jaw drop.
I didn't know much about the OS X series, so a Google check was up next on my to-do list. After seeing that the latest version I could install in it is 10.4 Tiger, I headed over to Apple's website to download an ISO to burn on a DVD. The download took less than an hour and was immediately burned to disc. Then I had a quick dinner and headed back to my room to install Tiger.
My cousin's 10.2 Jaguar installation had lots of junk, and I thought that a fresh installation would be best for me. So, I formatted the hard drive and proceeded to install. It finished without any hiccups and the first boot seemed to be faster than on Jaguar. And since the ISO contained the original retail release of Tiger, there were still some updates to download and install.
After getting the file I completed the update and proceeded with the installation of some software I was dying to test on a Mac. The latest update brought its version up to 10.4.11, the end of the OS upgrade line for this machine.
My pictures don't do it justice, but outside and in, a Power Mac G4's beautiful case is undoubtedly a benchmark standard of premium build quality, that PC case makers will never be able to match.
Powered Up, But No Go
Right after I pressed the power button I heard the hard drive go ka-plonk ka-plonk, and immediately realized it was screwed. I had a spare drive to use for it, but I couldn't get the machine to boot the Mac OS X 10.4 installer I put into a USB flash drive. Nor could I get it to boot via the old DVD-ROM drive in it.
Well, there goes my plans for this machine. My idea was to start a new digital art creation initiative here involving the use of retro computers and old versions of 2D/3D content creation software that ran well on them, in each chosen machine's prime.
I guess that will have to wait until I get an IDE DVD-ROM drive or maybe a PCI SATA card that works in this ancient Mac, allowing me to use SATA drives instead of the slow IDE ones. We'll see. I will still try to get this machine up and running again someday. And I will never part with it. I want my future wife to see it and create some nice digital art with it.
And you've reached the end of this blog. Thank you for reading, and I hoped you've enjoyed what I shared, and learned something new. My next blog is about how I am using Puppy Linux (BionicPup64) for my work.