What Do I Do With These Old Macs
January 10, 2018 11:40 AM   Subscribe

I've been going through shelves of old computers and I've got some old Macs of various levels of reliability. Is there anything interesting I can do with them? Assume in this case that all practical computer and network needs are taken care of. What's impractical but interesting?

In age order, I have:
  • A Macintosh G4 Cube, 500 MHz variety;
  • A Macintosh G4 Cube, 450 MHz variety;
  • Apple Studio Display, 17" with ADC connector;
  • Apple Studio Display, 15" with ADC connector;
  • A 1.42 GHz G4 Mac mini without SuperDrive™;
  • A 1.83 GHz Core Duo Mac mini with SuperDrive™;
  • A couple miscellaneous DVI/VGA LCD displays that could be pressed into service if needed;
  • A 2 GHz Core Duo MacBook Pro, no longer reliable (freezes up under even light load);
  • A "Mid 2011" Mac mini Server (4 core i7, IIRC), also no longer reliable (kernel panics with increasing frequency, sometimes after only a minute or two of runtime), and with a broken header for the IR port (sigh);
  • Copious spare time, on account of unemployment.
One of the two power supplies I have for the G4 Cubes is dead, apparently, but the other one works. I have installation media for MacOS 9 and basically every version of OS X. I bought the 500 MHz Cube right when OS X 10.0.4 was released and never really ran OS 9 on it except when necessary, so I have amused myself by wiping the hard drive and installing OS 9. I had trouble ejecting the setup CD so I'm about to swap in a different SuperDrive, then I'll install some classic games like SimCity 2000 and Civilization II. But that still leaves me with three other computers that are old, one of which is old enough to be interesting but needs repair or a replacement power supply, and two of which I suspect are both too old to be useful but not old enough to be interesting.

Is there any way that any of this hardware could be made interesting, or is it all destined for the recycler?
posted by fedward to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Turn the old cubes into fishtanks, or tissue box covers!
posted by daisy55 at 11:49 AM on January 10, 2018

Response by poster: I'm not a complete Mac packrat, BTW. (Macrat?) The 15" display was my mom's and she shipped it to me with a G4 tower she wanted me to diagnose, and told me to keep it when the tower wasn't worth saving. The second Cube belonged to a friend, who "sold" it to me for $20 only because the different friend I was going to give it to wouldn't accept free, and the second friend gave it back to me when he finally bought a new computer. Mom's dead G4 went to a recycler along with a bunch of even older stuff in my last cleanup.

I do have a box labeled EXPENSIVE ADAPTERS FOR OBSOLETE ELECTRONICS if anybody would like a SCSI MicroDock for a PowerBook Duo 2300c, though.
posted by fedward at 11:54 AM on January 10, 2018

We've tossed around the idea of making our own little 3D render farm with the old Macs after we get new ones, but haven't done anything towards it (my old Mac's video card just died, and while we replaced it with a laptop, we're using the old hard drive as external storage).
posted by telophase at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2018

The 1.83 GHz Core Duo Mac mini, with an SSD and probably a couple more GB of cheap RAM, could probably be pressed into service as a HTPC, and maybe with a lightweight OS a game emulator box. If the server's issues are software and not hardware, it'd probably be even better for the purpose.

I'd hold on to at least on Cube. Those things'll probably be collectable in fewer years than more.

There was a recent "What can I do with old Mac" question, but not sure there's much there for you.
posted by General Malaise at 12:12 PM on January 10, 2018

Response by poster: FWIW that Mac mini was the HTPC in the house but it was replaced with an i5 model. The replacement is still in use, although we now have a 4K TV and it's showing its limits. I'm pretty sure the server's problems are hardware, sadly. I thought it had a bad HD, dropped in an SSD, and had all the same problems. I must have done at least five clean OS installations, and problems just kept getting more frequent.
posted by fedward at 12:36 PM on January 10, 2018

A fairly common suggestion for old computers/displays of any sort is to build them into a MAME cabinet.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 12:50 PM on January 10, 2018

G4 Cubes are collectibles now, and are already going for good money on ebay. Don't trash them!
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:19 PM on January 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you trust the hardware enough, an old computer might serve to monitor some process or situation. First thing that comes to mind is security camera, but that might actually be a wildlife monitor. Another example would be indoor and outdoor temps along with furnace. A Beddit sleep monitor requires an Apple device, but perhaps only a phone/tablet will do.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:23 PM on January 10, 2018

I would recommend recycling everything that's not collectible. The old Macs are not very power efficient so for many modern tasks, the power/air conditioning savings from using a Raspberry Pi will pay for the Pi pretty rapidly.
posted by Candleman at 1:37 PM on January 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, G4 cubes collectible now if you can find the right buyer.
Similarly G4 minis are the machine of choice for Amiga users who want to run MorphOS. You won't get a ton of money for it, but there are folks out there who want them.

The i7 sounds it might have a cooling or RAM seating problem. Definitely worth spending a little time on.
posted by scruss at 2:57 PM on January 10, 2018

Best answer: I keep an old Mac going just to play games that run on OS9. Activision Shaghai, Myst and my favorite iteration of Snood. If you know other people who are cobbling together one working machine from parts, they would be interested. Is there a Mac Users Group in your area? I used to arttend the meetings in Austin and there was a good bit of swapping and donating older Macs.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 3:26 PM on January 10, 2018

Best answer: Kernel panics are more likely to mean bad RAM than bad hard drive, especially if you've already swapped it. It uses normal DDR3-1333 laptop memory, which should be pretty easy to come by. Should be a quick fix for the Mini.

The Studio Displays could still be potentially useful displays (unless my memory is failing me and those are the CRT types, but maybe even then still) but you'll have to track down and ADC-to-DVI adapter. They were $100 new when Apple was selling them, so that may be the breaking point there, as they're not simply pin re-mappers like most adapters are: there's also USB/FireWire breakouts and power delivery. (By contrast, you can get a new monitor for around $150.) Those were pretty nice monitors back in the day, though; I'm still using my 23" LCD one (but I got lucky and it came with an adapter). If nothing else they ought to hook straight into the Cubes.
posted by mrg at 4:45 PM on January 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just remember that they aren’t making more of them.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:20 PM on January 10, 2018

Response by poster: Odds and ends:

• I would not trash (or recycle) the Cubes and the thought of using one as a tissue dispenser just makes me sad. After today the 500 MHz one is up and running on Mac OS 9.2.2 (which was a pain involving Target Disk Mode since the compatible network file sharing was removed like five OS X versions ago and all my current machines are … current). It took me far too much time to realize the reason the transplanted SuperDrive didn't work was a PATA Master/Slave jumper on the hard drive. I found my copies of SimCity 2000, Civilization (the first one!), and Civ III (which I honestly forgot I had), but it turns out my only copy of Civ II was for Windows. I would have sworn I'd made disk images of a bunch of floppy installers for other stuff, but sorting through old hard drives didn't turn anything up.

• The 450 MHz Cube boots up just fine, but since I only have one working power supply, it went back into a box. It was also the SuperDrive donor, so it's now got a DVD drive that doesn't really eject anymore in addition to a dead power supply. It's got 1.5 GB of RAM and a quiet 120 GB hard drive though!

• Both Studio Displays are the LCD variety, but the 17" one (I now recall) was starting to have DC-DC converter board problems and it has a lot of backlight flicker now. They're probably not worth buying ADC-DVI converters for.

• I had no idea about the Amiga/MorphOS thing, and I have to admit I'm intrigued, but I never owned any Amiga hardware and therefore I don't have any Amiga software to run on it, so I'll guess maybe I'll put the G4 mini on eBay.

• It honestly hadn't occurred to me the i7 mini server could be panicking because of RAM. I maxed it and the i5 mini I use as an HTPC with RAM from Crucial, and I've never had a bad stick from them. I guess I could still fiddle with that. I've still got the original RAM I pulled from it.

• Extra special note: speaking of RAM and ADC connectors, over the course of owning the Cube I had to diagnose several random crashes the Genius Bar couldn't replicate. One happened when the factory RAM got too hot. They said they ran a hardware test for 24 hours with no crash. I took it home and it crashed within an hour. Eventually I guessed heat might be the issue and balanced the whole computer on top of a fan. No crash. Bought new RAM. The other problem randomly happened sometimes when the computer resumed from sleep. That one turned out to be the fault of the GeForce 2 card I bought on eBay, which couldn't quite supply the necessary current over the ADC connector every time. Usually things were fine, but sometimes the computer would just crash. That problem went away when I reinstalled the original ATI Rage 128 card.

• I'm not using any of these for always-on purposes, since there's already an iMac and the i5 mini that are always on, and I can put any new processes on one of those.
posted by fedward at 10:05 PM on January 10, 2018

Response by poster: Not to get too chatty, but it turns out one of those sticks of Crucial RAM went bad on me. Guess I have a working 2011-vintage Mac mini Server, except for the IR port I busted when I upgraded the drives last year. I can't believe I never thought to test that. I'm losing troubleshooting skills as I age.
posted by fedward at 7:57 PM on January 11, 2018

I've been checking in on this thread for the past two days and just want to say that I have a 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Mac Mini that is my main computer. I upgraded it this past summer with 8 GBs of memory from OWC and a 575 GB SSD hard drive from Crucial. With those upgrades, I was able to update to El Capitan for the OS, even though this is a mid-2009 Mac. I still run Adobe CS5 programs on this computer for freelance work.

At work (I am a graphic designer and professor), I have access to oodles of recent iMacs, all with 16 GBs of memory and i5 processors. They aren't any faster than my 2009 Mini unless I am doing video editing, although they have to run through a campus-wide network for security purposes which may hobble them a bit.

All this is to say that the older Mac Minis may be serviceable, particularly if you can spring for an SSD. I looked on everymac.com and saw that your older Mac Minis can only take up to 2 GBs of memory, which probably would limit them to something like 10.6 to 10.8 for the OS. Before the upgrades I described above, I was running 10.6.8 on this Mini with just 2 GBs of memory.

Because I've got three people in my household (me, spouse and child), I would use an older Mac Mini as a media server for digital copies of our various DVDs. I also would like to keep a machine running 10.6.8 and Adobe CS5, because I am very weary of getting stuck in Adobe's Creative Cloud ecosystem.

I am kinda surprised I don't have more classic Macs myself since my first Mac was a IIGS!
posted by Slothrop at 5:29 AM on January 12, 2018

Response by poster: It didn't seem relevant for the original post, but I had, in fact, upgraded the server with an SSD and had previously upgraded it to 16 GB of RAM (turns out only one of the two sticks in the upgrade kit failed; I still have the original 4 GB of RAM, and the original RAM passed diagnostics overnight). The server was my photo editing machine until I got my iMac. For that purpose I do notice the speed difference of the iMac.

The G4 mini maxes out at OS X 10.5.8 but the OS that's probably maximally "useful" on it would be 10.4.11 (which still supports Classic mode). Complicating matters, the HD went bad, the drive interface is PATA, not SATA, and I don't have any PATA drives lying around. Selling it to somebody who wants to deal with its limitations seems more appealing to me than throwing money at a computer of marginal utility.

And the same goes for the Core Duo mini. It's got Intel Inside™, but it's only a 32-bit processor, so it maxes out at 10.6.8. I've got a new iMac, a 2015 MacBook Pro, a 2012 i5 Mac mini (connected to the TV), and the Server, that will all run High Sierra (and even a "late 2010" MacBook Air that will "run" High Sierra). The Core Duo model doesn't really slot into any useful position in that lineup.

The Adobe point is well taken, but I got burned in an upgrade cycle somewhere between Photoshop 7 and CS4, and I never wanted to throw money at filling in the license gaps. I just don't use any Adobe software now. It's nice.

As for old, old Macs: when we moved in 2009 I recycled a Centris 650, a PowerBook Duo 2300c, and a Titanium PowerBook G4 (and an HP Vectra, a Sun Ultra 2, and I think three home built PCs). Moving is a great motivator.
posted by fedward at 8:58 AM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I put Windows(!) on the Mac mini Server, since it's faster/better/smaller than the Core 2 Duo Dell I pulled off a trash heap at an old job, so the Dell will probably hit the recycler. If you decide to do this to a Mac mini of similar vintage, you may be tempted to edit the Boot Camp Assistant's Info.plist so you can install Windows 10 from a USB thumb drive instead of a DVD. Don't. Do the slower installation method from a DVD. Boot Camp Assistant will actually recognize the Windows 10 installation media even though it's an "unsupported" Mac, and you don't need to edit Info.plist at all.

Turns Out™ that while you can install Windows 10 from a USB thumb drive onto an older intel Mac (in this case, a Mac mini Server (mid-2011) with Intel HD Graphics 3000), this will result in problems with the drivers for both that graphics chip and the sound. You can eventually get Windows into Safe Mode and roll back the driver on the display adapter (to the Windows Basic Display Adapter) and that will get rid of the Black Screen Of Nothingness you get when the Intel driver loads (at least until the next time Software Update installs a new driver from Intel), but sound will never work under Windows if you install it that way.

This problem happens because when you install Windows 10 from a USB thumb drive, the Windows installer loads and runs in UEFI mode, but Macs of that vintage are only EFI, not UEFI. When you run the Boot Camp Assistant on a Mac of that vintage and use a DVD as your installation media, the Mac will boot into BIOS-compatibility mode, which will cause the Windows installer to run in "Legacy Mode," which will result in a Windows 10 installation that also runs in legacy BIOS mode, and the graphics and sound drivers will work. It's a little bit sad that UEFI mode doesn't work right, since Windows 10 boots up incredibly fast in that mode. Legacy BIOS mode is slower to boot, but at least the drivers work!

If you want to do this on a Mac without a DVD drive, save yourself the headaches and get a USB SuperDrive. (Luckily I already had one connected to a different computer). Extra credit: if you're installing Windows on a Mac with two (or more) internal drives, the installer may fail to format and/or refuse to install, incorrectly determining that the drive is read-only media like a DVD. The fix for this is to open the Mac, disconnect the drive(s) you're not using for Windows, and let the installer do its thing on just a single drive.
posted by fedward at 10:55 AM on January 18, 2018

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