kalleboo's retro tech blog

PowerBook G3 Series (Bronze Keyboard)

Buying it

I had already bought the PowerMac 8500 and PowerMac G4, but I realized why I didn't use a desktop computer anymore, and I was running out of space so I decided my next few Macs will have to be laptops.

As a kid I loved the "shark" Apple print ad, and I loved the Bronze keyboard. But the Pismo has... USB and Firewire. I need AT LEAST SCSI so my only option was the original Bronze Keyboard with SCSI and USB (no ADB or Serial).

Buying it was easy. I camped out on Yahoo Auctions and pounced when I found one that looked intact and wasn't the most overpriced (better deals have come, but mostly just more Pismos so no regrets). The seller had listed the power supply seperately so I got that once and he bundled the shipping for me.

PRAM battery rebuild

One of the first things to go on old Macs is the PRAM battery. On PowerBooks it's technically a backup battery since it also holds the RAM as you swap out batteries.

I bought 4 VL2330 cells off of Amazon. One blog post I read said he just used copper tape between his cells. I was skeptical, "surely the glue isn't conductive?". It wasn't. I had to redo it by soldering onto the tabs (don't solder onto the batteries themselves! there are YouTube videos of these coin cells actually exploding under the heat of the a soldering iron! the tabs are spot-welded on)

Original battery construction

Replacement parts

PATA SSD upgrade

I also wanted to replace the drive with something more trustworthy than a 20-year-old spinning rust drive. I'd seen the IDE<>CF adapters, but I'm not sure I trust a CF card with the random access patterns of a computer. I found a Super Talent PATA SSD on kakaku.com, ordered it (turned out to be the last one, it went out of stock after I ordered it!) and installed it. Works great. Benchmark performance isn't great, but I forgot to benchmark the original drive so I'm going to blame it on the PowerBook's IDE controller.

Battery replacement

There were a bunch of guides online to re-cell G3 batteries. All of them had batteries that looked different from the 2 I had, and mine couldn't be easily split in 2.

So... I bought a new old stock one from Vintage Computer. It works amazingly well - lasts for hours on a mixed productivity workload. Never would have expected a NOS Li-Ion to be anything but dead. If it's been rebuilt, there's no way to tell.

The Quest to install MacOS X

Even though I plan on mainly using MacOS 9 on this Mac, I also wanted an OS X install for those times I'd need it (e.g. modern file sharing, 802.11g WiFi)

I figured I'd install the latest possible version of OS X, Tiger. It's not officially supported so you need to use XPostFacto to install it.

The main issue turned out to be the fact that I didn't have a DVD drive, or a Tiger DVD. OS X Tiger is too big to fit on CD-ROM. My Lombard was the 333 MHz model which only shipped with a CD-ROM drive.

First I tried to image the Tiger DVD to a Compact Flash card, and boot off of that from the PCMCIA card slot. It turns out that the PCMCIA slots are not bootable on the Lombard (even with stuff like SCSI cards).

Second I tried a CD-ROM converted version of Tiger I found online. That didn't work at all.

Third I picked up a slimline DVD drive from the junk bin at HARD OFF for 100 yen and tried replacing my CD-ROM drive with that. Unfortunately that drive was dead and wouldn't read discs.

I then capitulated and bought a Pismo DVD-ROM drive. I put my burned Tiger DVD in and... it errored out halfway through.

I then went full-original and ordered an original Tiger DVD, put that in my DVD-ROM drive, and... the install worked perfectly!

Failing to boot from a CF card

The solution to all my woes

My screen broke - Pismo hinge swap

I was sitting in my POÅNG one day chatting away on IRC and browing the web as you do, and set it down to go to the bathroom and heard a sickening CRACK! One of the hinges (or as the technical name is, "clutch assembly") had given out...

I had read a comment on the 68kmla forums that the Lombard and Pismo screens are easily interchangeable, so I started looking for a cheap Pismo advertised as not working but with a good display (while Lombards can be harder to come by, Pismos are dime a dozen).

It arrived and I took apart the two displays and... Nope, I couldn't get it to fit. The inverter boards were also different. I anticipated having to remove the WiFi antenna, but it just didn't fit even removing that. I ended up having to remove only the clutch mechanism from the Pismo and transplant just that part that into the Lombard, snipping off the WiFi antenna (couldn't find enough space to stow it in) and due to the WiFi antenna having a mismatch in screws on the right side.

RAM upgrade

My Lombard came with 192 MB (128+64) RAM, and for a quick cheap upgrade, the next time I dropped past HARD OFF I rummaged around the RAM bin and picked up a random selection of RAM that was either PC100 or PC133 for 100 yen a piece, and when I got home I had a new 128 MB stick of compatible RAM of unknown origin. I installed it and things seemed fine, I now had 256 MB showing up.

Eventually I thought my PB was crashing a bit too often. Sometimes when I just wasn't doing anything. I assumed it was just because I had loaded the thing up with every stray INIT I could remember from my childhood, but looking in MacsBug the crash was often in a place that made no sense. So eventually I figured "maybe it's the RAM I found in a plastic tub that's been rummaged around in for years" and looked for a tested pair on Y! Auctions.

The pair I found ended up being IBM-branded... Felt odd but now I had maxed out my machine at 512 MB and the random crashes had ended (now it was only AppleTalk crashes)

And this time I actually tested it!

The wonderful world of PCMCIA

summary: never used PCMCIA before in my life. WiFi was a pain, Memory Stick adapter didn't work, CF adapter worked but no booting

The quest for WiFi

There are a bunch of sites out there that say "just get a Lucent card!" "just get a card with the Proxim chipset!". I thought this was going to be trivial...

Read the article on PowerBook G3 Series (Bronze Keyboard): The Quest for WiFi!!

Bluetooth and tethering a 1999 PowerBook G3 to an iPhone XS

In my quest to make this thing usable outside of home, I found WiFi was not a great solution due to the incompatibility of old WiFi standards and captive portal pages. The easiest thing would be to tether to my modern iPhone XS. Well I remember from when my only Mac was a PowerMac G4 that there was a D-link adapter that was natively supported by the OS (and even the firmware!). As long as the Bluetooth tethering standards haven't changed since I used them with my old Sony Ericsson phones this should work.

And it did! The ancient D-Link Bluetooth adapter is still easily available for cheap, and the Bluetooth profile in MacOS X 10.4 is still compatible with iOS 12.

...in OS X. Unfortunately there's still no perfect solution for MacOS 9.

Weight saver

So I saw an "Apple Weight-Saving Device" show up on auctions a few times. Eventually it sounded so dumb I had to buy one. And yes, with the weight of old components, it's nice to not have to lug around those extra 200 grams of DVD drive sometimes, I can bet the cost of buying this thing new was a total rip-off!

So what is it? It's an empty plastic box. That is designed to fit in the PowerBook G3 expansion bays. Officially sold by Apple. Because leaving a gaping hole there would be too ugly. At least add a little door in it so I can hide some secret stuff in there?!

Last updated: 2019-08-10
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