Buried at the bottom of one of my bits and parts bins, I have a 5th generation AirPort Extreme. I used it for a few years as my main router, but as technology changes and devices have more processing power, the Extreme couldn’t keep up. It’s still usable, for sure, but newer routers, for far less money, do a better job of sustaining throughput and casting a powerful wifi signal.
I was reluctant to retire it because it just works, but it was time to let go.
Until this week…
I have used a Mac Mini G4 as a quasi-network share, but the G4 has only a 10/100 ethernet port. That gets saturated quickly, and the G4’s processor probably doesn’t help either. So, while it was set up and available, I didn’t use it much. On the other hand, the AirPort Extreme makes a very simple Mac friendly file server with a USB hard drive plugged in. Yes, there are much speedier options out there, but if you have one laying around, it’s kind of a cool way to repurpose some old tech. I can easily use it share files between my G5 and other Macs.
There are some downsides to this, of course. My internal network is gigabit, and my FIOS internet connection is gigabit too. Unfortunately, the AirPort Extreme, despite having gigabit ports, can’t handle that much speed. SmallNetBuilder did some benchmarking of the last Extreme released – it doesn’t fare that well.
I did find that some work had been done to potentially get ssh working on these Airport devices, opening up the possibility of doing more with them, but it looks like that work is incomplete or didn’t lead to anything useful: http://www.theairportwiki.com/index.php?title=Main_Page
Have you seen any other leads to expand the usage of this aging tech? Do you still use Airport Routers for other use cases (like Airplay 2)?
Good news – the Quadra 610 lives. And boots. There are still some issues to work through, which I will get to eventually, but my blood, sweat, and broken pieces of plastic might be worth it.
Here are a few of my learnings:
The case plastic is brittle.
I thought I had both a dead cdrom and floppy drive, but after some stubborn attempts, I got the machine to boot off of a Disk Tools floppy. Turns out I needed a working floppy disk that wasn’t older than my kids.
Apparently, the cdrom drive is dead.
After a successful boot, I was happy to see the Quadra has 40MB of RAM.
I invested in a SCSI2SD (version 5b) during a sale on eBay. While it was a little tricky to get setup, don’t overthink it. Make sure you set the SCSI ID correct, a maximum of 2GB partitions, and don’t try to DD an image onto a partition unless you know exactly what you are doing. The Quadra was not booting at all for a while when I plugged in the SCSI interface in, because I had tried to put a Mac OS 7.6.1 cdrom on the first partition in a clumsy, ill-advised manner.
Your Power Mac G5 is a friend. After formatting the first partition using a handy Disk Tools floppy, the partition mounts on my G5. I was able to copy over the install files for System 7.6.1 at that point. And then I was able to install from that partition on to another partition. It was a juggling trick but it worked.
Future updates: Cleaning memory slots, figuring out if I can revive the CDROM drive, and installing A/UX on to another partition.
Working on old computers, of any kind really, is a form of prayer for me. That may sound silly, but I enjoy cleaning them out, tinkering, trying new things, and seeing what happens. Often, I talk to myself or whatever higher being happens to be listening in frustration or wild hope. In the last couple of weeks, I upgraded an old Dell tower from an i3 to i5 for cheap, fixed up a 2006 Mac Pro (1,1) for fairly cheap, and dusted out my ol’ G5.
In the process of working on my G5 and moving it to a new location with a better monitor (as I am using the Apple Cinema Display with the Mac Pro), I noticed the fans were getting loud. G5s don’t apparently have any means for us end users to quiet those fans down. That could be a good thing, since these machines are hardly efficient. But when they are loud, they are loud.
Enter the Apple Service Diagnostic disc 2.6.3.
I found the download via a quick search on DuckDuckGo, burned it to a blank DVD, and booted right in. On the main screen, you have an option to run a whole bunch of tests to check RAM, CPU, ethernet, and various buses, but you’ll want to click at the top and run the Thermal Calibration. My machine passed the tests, and after booting back into Leopard, I noticed the machine was quieter (relatively so).
I still plan to apply some new thermal paste sometime this week. It’s going to be a challenging job, but I’ll go slow and make sure I do it well. And I’ll have a conversation with whatever divine entity happens to be listening. Anyway, this tip may be useful to you if you need to diagnose a nagging issue with your G5 or if you need to recognize that your computer tinkering can be meditative and spiritually uplifting.
One of my better purchases lately has not been an old Mac Pro (for under $30) or my fancy iPhone XR (which is a great phone) – it’s been a basic 6th generation iPad for work.
The iPad was on sale before Christmas at a local retailer, and I splurged for it as I needed it for both my school work, writing, and sermon prep. I really wanted an iPad Pro, but the price tag scared me off from that fancier device. In the end, the iPad has become a workhorse, not just for media consumption but for getting stuff done. Taking notes is fun with the original Apple Pencil, playing games is an option, and planning for work is a breeze. It’s great to take on trips too and not have to lug my laptop around.
In fact, I’ve been surprised at just how good it is for the price – around the $300 price point for the 128GB model. It’s been a while since I’ve been so pleased from a purchase.
But – I recognize it’s not perfect for everyone. I do have a bluetooth keyboard I can throw into my bag on trips if I need to type, but generally, I don’t want to put the iPad into a case, using a protective sleeve instead. The more bulk you add to it, the less of sleek device it becomes. Some apps also are annoying, and it can take a few steps to move files around. I’ve yet to find the perfect note taking app. Bear is the closest, but I’m giving Agenda a run for meeting purposes. The basic Notes app is also great for doodling. I don’t like jumping between the three.
Even when my kids are restless, inviting them to use the Apple Pencil to doodle and draw, rather than play whatever micro-transaction app of the day, is a nice option. They like it too. I’m surprised the pencil hasn’t already gotten game designers thinking creatively on how to make games that parents don’t mind their kids playing.
The wild thing is that Apple is likely to update it later this month, meaning it becomes even more “low end” option, and the older 6th generation versions will become an even better value.
Alright – that’s enough of this non-G5 tangent. Stay tuned for more updates.
If you are at all interested in hosting a simple (or complex) website or doing some experimentation from your older Mac, I do recommend grabbing the incredibly useful XAMPP to make the process a little easier.
XAMPP is kind of a self-contained install of the Apache httpd server with PHP and CGI turned on, a MYSQL server, an FTP server, and some other tools and documentation. It’s cool, because it comes with a little tiny app that lets you turn off the services as you see fit. You can run it when you want to try out different configurations or different websites.
For Leopard, the basic Apache httpd server isn’t that older than the last available XAMPP package for G5 machines. My base Leopard httpd server is 2.2.7 while the one included in the XAMPP package is 2.2.14. Still, that includes some bug fixes as well as newer versions of PHP and MySQL. If you are going to run old software, might as well run the last version of it you can find.
Note: I do believe, using MacPorts or TigerBrew or something, you can get a more recent compiled version of httpd (2.4 series) – maybe even doing it on your own. You are likely better in that scenario of turning to Linux if you really care about security and want things fully patched (and maintained).
For now though, having access to an older version of XAMPP is still kind of fun to mess around with. Grab it here.
Another note: It is generally not recommended to copy over the httpd server in Leopard with a newer one. Now, it should technically work – we are talking about bug and security fixes from 2.2.7 to 2.2.14, for instance. However, it is probably best to be safe, keep backups, and just use an alternative like XAMPP which messes with system internals as little as possible.