Raspberry Pi 2 + Macintosh Plus = Raspintosh+

Or why I ended up storing an empty Mac enclosure for 15 years

My dad happens to be a Mac enthusiast and in the 90s he had a company which did DTP and other graphics intensive work suitable for the Macs of the era so I had access to bunch of awesome computers like Macintosh IIci, Powerbook 140 and later on even more powerful models like Power Macintosh 8100/80 and G3/300. To skip most of the trip down the memory lane I just say that especially in the beginning playing with Macintosh IIci felt like a christmas every day for a first grader.

In some point the company needed additional computer just for writing and they ended up buying an used Macintosh Plus 1MB with the RAM upgraded to 4 MB + internal 30 MB hard drive.

Like the other models it was a nice work horse and it worked a lot longer than it was needed in the company so it found its way to our home and was one additional family gaming/writing computer for the most of the mid-90s. I had PC then but for doing school work, the old Mac Plus was adequate for my sister and brother. My Linux-systems were not that user friendly for the rest of the family.

Mac Plus was introduced in 1986 and Wikipedia tells us it remained in production until 1990 which makes it longest-produced Macintosh ever, though can’t say what’s the production year of this unit.

The form factor is about the same as with the first Macintosh model Steve Jobs introduced in the 1984. Inside the enclosure this model still has most of the signatures of the Macintosh team. Apple started removing more and more of the signatures in the later models.

In the end of the 90s its hard drive stopped working and we fixed the problem by attaching obsoleted external SCSI magneto-optical SyQuest drive + 44 MB disks, which was adequate for System 6 gaming.

After a while the 9” monochrome display or maybe the video chip broke and there wasn’t that much of need for it anymore so I figured one day I’ll want to build a new computer in this nostalgic and legendary form factor. For making my life easier I ripped the hardware and the display out of the box. This year I started to go through my shelves and thought that either I’ll finally make the project or throw the enclosure out, so here we are.

The difference of 29 years

Here’s a small comparison of the specifications. Please do remember that Raspberry Pi 2 isn’t a high end computer of the day compared to the Macintosh Plus but it sure did pack a lot of power, ram and storage in a small space!

Solving the biggest problem first

So now we’ll rewind about 15 years when I finally got around to start thinking about building new computer inside the Mac Plus enclosure. Please note I’m not that much of a hardware/electric DIY guy and I just wanted to get it done so it’ll be kludgy inside. I’m eager to hear better ways of doing this and that, so feel free to give feedback. Also, this is the version 1 so if you have good ideas to improve the setup, feel free to tell.

TFT Display test installed with some “safety padding”

I’ve been thinking about doing this project couple of times before but I haven’t been able to find suitable and reasonably priced TFT panel that fits the ~9” 4:3 display hole. For some reason the 9” 4:3 display isn’t popular panel size. When I found some inexpensive small TFT panel from Ebay, I got the spark to actually finish the project.

But still there wasn’t any suitable 9” 4:3 TFT Display with LVDS-HDMI PCBs available. After bunch of measurements and going through spec sheets, I decided to go with oversized, 10 inch 16:9 TFT panel from Ebay. It costed about 70 euros with the driver PCB board, so not bad.

Hooking the PCB board to the cardboard mount

Fitting the oversized display required removing bunch of plastic clips inside the box that were meant for holding the old, heavy CRT monitor. For the new display I just used piece of cardboard as a backplate to keep it in place and hold the electronics on the other side. Unluckily the display is a bit low so one can see the metal frames of the panel + a bit inside to the enclosure. The display couldn’t’ve been wider at all so this was the maximum size. Most of the top and bottom holes were faked with some electrician’s tape on the cardboard to make it darker.

Originally I was planning to use some unknown linux foobar magic to make resolution to fit the limited 4:3 space but luckily the controller PCB of the display supports 4:3 by settings so that helped a lot.

These two torx screws are so deep in the enclosure so you’ll need a bit longer screw driver than usual.

By the way, one thing you’ll need to have with these old iMac predecessor models is a really, really long Torx T15 screw driver as it’s impossible to open the couple of the torxes without it. Luckily most of the screws are the same size. Of course I had lost the one I used for removing the innards so had to buy new one.

Why RPI 2?

Earlier I was planning of building mini-ITX configuration but realized that for this kind of once in a while hobby/demo usage Raspberry Pi 2 would be more than enough and should run at least 68k Mac emulators like Basilisk II or mini VMac. That also keeps the cost low and there wouldn’t be need to worry about the airflows as the RPI is passively cooled as was the original Mac, though at the time they were overheating a bit and there was some additional cooler mods sold.

Of course more skilled DIYers have been making more advanced and awesome constructions like this one around the mini-ITX gear. Nowadays I could replace the RPI with Intel NUC with little modifications. Hooray for the miniaturization of computers!

Using power sources meant for external setups sucks but luckily the good old Mac Plus has lots of space to spare.

I figured that it would be nice to be able to remove the RPI if I had other projects for it so I drilled holes on top of the Mac’s HD-bay and installed RPI with easy screw mounts. Just remove the cables and the tug the RPI to make it free again!

RPI and the display have both their own power sources so decided to mount one extension cord inside the Mac. That way the computer is easier to shutdown from one point and doesn’t require disconnecting the power sources externally. This is the part for which I’m looking better solutions, so if you have elegant suggestions please tell. RPI requires micro USB connector and the TFT panel requires 9 volts with 1,5 ampers.

About the software

Finalized Raspintosh. Used electricians tape to hide the metal frame of the panel that was visible.

The easiest way to setup the software was to use Retropie distribution based on Raspbian. I did test Arch Linux but didn’t get Basilisk II to work well enough with Arch Linux. Retropie’s setup with the Basilisk II seems to work quite nicely. As an additional plus, Retropie offers bunch of other emulators and native ports when the need arises.

I used my Macbook Pro for making the initial disk images with the help of Emaculations installing howto. I did have an old Basilisk disk image maybe 10 years ago but it didn’t boot for probable disk format changes.

Booting System 7 and Lemmings

Here’s a small Retropie booting sequence + System 7 + Quick Lemmings -video. ATM I don’t have suitable speaker for the Raspintosh so you’ll just have to imagine the awesome musics of Lemmings. For some reason the RPI has really loud static noise coming out of the audio out. Tested the cables and power sources but they didn’t affect the noise in any way. It did get somewhat and mostly lower by adding disable_audio_dither=1 to /boot/config.txt.

Some awesome 68k Mac games

As the whole project is about nostalgy. It’s the games that’s important. Note that some of the games are available through GOG (Like Manhole) or as opensourced like Bungie’s Marathons or Maelstrom and available for modern systems.

  • Manhole, earlier Hypercard based game by the makers of Myst
  • Marathon, just pure awesomeness and basically the starting point for Bungie which ended creating Myth -game series and of course Halo.
  • Sky Shadow, probably thefirst game in which I beat my dad’s highscores, big thing for a first grader ;-)
  • Lemmings, one of the most beautiful, well thought, musically awesome, mind-blowing game that kept the interest on for so many hours and days
  • Spaceship Warlock. One of first cd-rom games with unforgettable theme song. The game itself is a bit meh ;-)
  • Maelstrom, really well made Asteroids clone which is still available as open source. Ambrosia made bunch of really good Mac games back then. It’s a pity they haven’t been making that much of new games.

Improvements for the future

As this is a just for fun DIY-hobby project, I’m trying to keep this iteration short and get it working instead of trying to make perfect.

  • Wouldn’t mind getting my hands on working Apple Extendend Keyboard II keyboard and ADB-USB adapters ;-)
  • Mount RPI closer to the floppy disk hole so one can remove the Micro SD card without opening the enclosure
  • As there’s the 3,5” HD bay which at the moment only houses some cables, it could be used for extending storage with USB-SATA adapter and some SSD or HD.
  • Mounting 1–2 USB hubs in front and in the back for easier USB connections. The same for the audio-out connector and ethernet. Any suggestions regarding how to mount them well?
  • HDMI output switcher so the RPI could be attached to external display
  • Built-in video projector, lol
  • Internal speaker
  • Any ideas how to distribute power better instead of normal extension cord?
  • Switch RPI to Intel NUC
  • Get a floppy disk to fake fill the floppy drive hole

Software niceties

  • Hide Linux booting and use happy mac + grey background instead as a boot screen
  • Play the Mac booting tone as part of the bootup process