I seem to have this knack for making bricks from computers. I think I will become a mason.
In reality I want to share some of my past brick projects. I’m sure there will be more in the future so you can look forward to that.
Round One: The Dual USB G3 iBook
The first computer I turned into a brick was a Dual USB iBook G3. This was a nice 800mhz model. I was given this by a friend who said the video chip was bad. These were known to have issues with the video chip detaching from the logic board. This was an easy fix though. I’m not really one to go down the road of the solder re-flow and stuff, so I just opened it up and stuck a small shim between the chip and the casing to put pressure on it and this worked. So happy me I am now the owner of a snow white G3. This is actually my second one. My first was years earlier and it fell ill to the same video chip issue. I ended up just parting that out. I ran this machine for a few months. Using it to archive some old recording projects. The video issue came back, so I took it apart again and adjusted the shim and all was good again. Not to long after that I thought I had the same issue. So I took it apart again and turned it on with the case open to figure out the best solution to this video chip issue. Honestly I didn’t care if I wrecked it as I have many other machines. Well I’m not exactly sure what I did or if the video chip just finally didn’t like my fix, but I was unable to get any response from the machine. No chime, no screen. I didn’t really mind too much so I just bought a new logic board and called it good.
Round Two: iBook G4
The second brick was a little harder to stomach. This one was an iBook G4. This was the very last revision before the switch to Intel. In fact I bought just before the first Intel machines were shipped so that I could at least have a semi decent PPC laptop. This served me well for many years until I replaced it with a MacBook and my wife started using it. When she got a MacBook Pro the iBook now became a target for some fun things. Now this machine does not support OS 9, but after reading this post on Think Classic about hacking OS 9 onto unsupported hardware, I got curious. This then led me to MacOS9Lives and their attempts to do the same thing. The model iBook I have wasn’t able to work with these efforts, but other iBooks worked with these hacks. I then decided I wanted to see the Mac OS 9 desktop on my iBook without using an emulator or classic. So I started down the journey of helping out on that project. (More on that in a future post). Well this is where it was first discovered that me and Open Firmware don’t exactly get along. While poking around in there, I set some values (that sadly I can’t remember) that are not actually in PRAM so not backed up by the battery and the machine no longer booted. No bong, no lights, no screen, no keyboard input. This was a bummer. It was at the time the only laptop that did not run OS 9. There was no rescuing this machine. All the tricks known to man to reset and revive this machine did not work. I bought a new logic board at the same time I bought the G3 iBook board and all is good. Now one would think I learned my lesson. Of course not (as will be noted in the next two bricks). I did manage to get OS 9 booting and running on the G4 iBook and my goal was complete. It didn’t run well, but I saw the desktop startup on there so I was happy.
Round Three: The G5 PowerMac
Now the next one was a recoverable brick job. This was a Dual 2.0GHZ G5 PowerMac. Before I get to far into this, I would like to state that I bought this machine new. It was an impulse buy as I went to go buy a hard drive for a different computer and ended up spending $4000 on this machine and stuff for it. After all was said and done Within 4 months I had spent a total of $6000 on that system. Granted it is almost to the point you have to pay someone to take it, I paid for it and breaking it did hurt a little.
So this should sound like another story I just told. G5 machines do not run OS 9 except for in classic mode. This isn’t good enough for me and I wanted to see this thing run OS 9. So the investigation starts.I had to start with figuring out what was holding up the boot. One of the things with the other unsupported G4 systems was the CPU version ID. The unsupported machines all used a cpu version different than all the supported machines. This was easily fixed by using an NVRAM script to change the CPU version prior to boot. Now this being a G5 I knew that would need to be changed, but I also knew that check happened much later in boot and that the boot was hanging up long before that. So after messing around in Open Firmware again, I got it far enough to where it looked like it might need the CPU version changed. Well for one thing I was wrong, it was no where near ready for that check and two, the G5 and G4 are very very different in their CPUID version numbers. So I change the CPUID to fake it into being a supported G4. Well the OS 9 ROM loads and starts running and locks up hard. I had failures with this before, but I never had a hard lockup like this. Well as this was something that was supposed to be non-permanent I just restarted the machine to let it start back into OS X before I move on. That didn’t work. It turned on, the fans spin-up like they do on a normal boot, but they never stop. Normally when it starts up they spin up like a test and then slow or stop until needed. So now I have no chime and fans running at high. Well at least the CPU’s will stay nice and cool. So I give it the old four finger salute and try to reset the PRAM via the keyboard. No luck. Not chime same fan noise. Try this a few more times. Try holding down the correct keys for a long time so it could try and try and try again. Nothing. Tried dropping into Open Firmware. No Luck. At this point I’m kind of thinking I have a really large aluminum paper weight. The good thing is that the screen did not come on instantly and did come on to the normal grey so something was happening.
Well after a very odd method of reset (details can be found here) I did get this working. And again having not learned my lesson, I did actually go back to getting OS 9 running on this thing. This time I did not change the CPUID. I did however get the ROM to load, run the trampoline (I like to call it the second stage boot loader) and start running the nanokernel. It locks up hard due to some hardware thingy. So all was not lost.
Round Four: Absolute Heart Break
My beloved Indigo iBook was the next victim to my ability to make bricks. And again it was a subject of mucking around in Open Firmware. This time I know what exactly I changed (at the time I didn’t know it would be this bad). I made a change to a variable in the firmware, that apparently is not something that is able to be reset. Upon reboot, there was nothing. Power is applied, the optical drive does it’s power on self test so it makes noise, but it will do that even when it’s not hooked up to anything except power. There is no keyboard response, no chime, no screen. It would not turn on far enough to initialize anything. I couldn’t bring it back to life. I tried everything. I had to say I almost cried. I couldn’t believe I took my favorite computer of all time and turned it into a brick. I have tried finding a replacement logic board, but they are very hard to find and when they are available they are insanely expensive. I even thought about replacing it, but the same problem. Now had it been a non-firewire version it would be easy. They are kind of easy and cheap to find. In fact I have one. A tangerine with a messed up video cable so the screen is like being on an acid trip and a cracked case. I did try using that, but it just wasn’t the same. It was slower, it wasn’t indigo and it couldn’t charge a battery. So I took the board from the tangerine and put it in the indigo. So now at least I have a machine that charges a battery, doesn’t have a funky screen and is indigo (there is no real reason for my obsession with the color), but it is slower and doesn’t have firewire. Lesson learned is that if you are going to go messing in open firmware you should not do it on a computer you need/enjoy/don’t want to lose and you should look at how affordable and easy it is to replace. I’m on a look out now for either a logic board or replacement (it can even be broken as long as the logic board works).
I’m sure there will be more bricks to come (not that I like that, I’m just really good at it) and you, the reader, will get to hear all about them.