My Macintosh Story pt. 3

My Favorite things about vintage Macs

Vintage Mac Web Sites

Low End Mac
Mac-based email lists
Other World Computing - a great source for RAM and other upgrades for vintage Macs
The Mac Observer - You'll get your Mac news here from now on!

Headline: Two months later...
When we left you before, I was managing to survive with my Beige Power Mac G3 desktop. In September, 2005, lightning struck again: at a yard sale in Amherst, NH, I came across a lime green iMac DV at a yard sale, priced at a lowly $10 (just like my beige G3!). The hard drive was noticeably dead, and the screen was less than responsive. After some hemming and hawing, I bit the bullet, and handed over another dime note. Thus began the next chapter in my Mac journey.

To put it mildly, the Beige G3 was a fickle beast. Some consider the first series of PowerMac G3 to be one of the most idiosyncratic machines Apple has ever released, and from what I've heard and experienced, I'd tend to agree with them. The fight that the machine put up while I tried to boot it from the OS X 10.2 install disk was proof enough of that. In addition, there had been a period where the Beige refused to emit a single sound, or boot into OS9, but both those problems disappeared with nary a trace about a week after they occurred. Another of it's problems was, after coming up from what passed for sleep (the beige G3 doesn't sleep under OS X like it sleeps under OS 9; it's basically a glorified screen blanking operation), the hard drives wouldn't spin back up, and the whole thing would freeze solid. The iMac was a chance for me to finally have something which wasn't so particular about everything.

First Glance
When I first powered the iMac up, the hard drive would make funky noises while trying to boot (best described as "click-click-whine, click-click-whine, click-click-whine..."). In addition, the screen seemed completely dead, with one exception: if I pressed the power switch while the hard drive was making noises, the screen would light up full momentarily, then regress to a dim grey rectangle; if I pressed the power switch again, the screen would light up fully, with an image of the flashing '?' disk icon, but it would be completely frozen, with the hard drive noises having stopped. At this point, the system seemed completely dead, since it barely responded to keyboard commands (issuing the PRAM reset command (Command+Option+P+R) reset the machine, but neither that nor bringing up Open Firmware (Command+Option+O+F) did anything for the internal screen). Could it be brought back to life without major surgery, or had I bit off more than I could chew?

Signs Of Life
In a fit of desperation, I decided to see if it was, in fact, alive at all. Booting into Open Firmware, and watching my keypresses carefully, I blind-typed the standard settings reset commands into the blank terminal. After typing "reset-nvram" and "set-defaults" with no response (there really shouldn't be one), I blind-typed "reset-all" and hit return. I was greeted with a loud "BONG!" as the system restarted itself. Under that dead screen, it was alive after all!

Seeing Eye
After reading some articles online, I found that trying to install OS X 10.2 without installing a necessary firmware update could cause the internal screen to go blank, just as mine had. Fortunately for me, my iMac was a DV model, and DVs have VGA ports on the back (under the ovoid perforated plastic cover below the Apple logo). After finding the VGA ports, I tried a couple of small monitors with it, but couldn't get a legible display. Then, I tried my monstrous 21" Hitachi CRT monitor, which had multisync capabilities. Voila, it came up with a working screen image! Now that I knew that it was likely the firmware which was messed up, I had to find a way to get it installed on the system without a working internal drive (the update requires a writeable local disk).

Not Quite...
My first attempt was made using a series of borrowed boot disks. The first one was a install disk meant for a PowerMac G4, which contained OS 8.6 (the original operating system for this series of iMacs); unfortunately, regardless of what I did, I got a System Bomb (usually "address error"), which stopped things up. I then tried a Norton Utilities CD, which contained OS 9.0.4; at first, it gave a similar System Bomb, but eventually, it managed to get past that, and began booting normally. Interestingly, the internal hard drive appeared on the desktop, even though it was dead on boot-up. It registered as having a capacity of only 800MB, which was utterly wrong (the stock drive for this unit was 10GB). At this point, I attempted to boot from a small firewire hard drive which contained a system folder for 9.2.2, as well as the needed firmware update, but the iMac refused to boot from it. Strangely, the firewire drive wouldn't even spin up while the computer was booted from a OS 9.0.4 boot disk, so I tried another boot disk, this time one with OS 9.1, and the firewire drive appeared. I then tried running the firmware update from the firewire drive, but it came up with an error saying that the operating system had to be on a writeable local drive as well. I tried restarting it anyway, using the programmer's button on the side as the firmware update said, and a miraculous thing happened: the machine began booting from it's internal hard drive! It came up in OS 9.0.4, and started up the iMac first-boot demo (which I found weird). Booting from the OS 9.1 CD, I copied the firmware update files to the now-working internal hard drive, booted from the internal hard drive, and tried running the update, but an error came up saying that OS 9.1 or better was required. I then tried installing OS 9.1 onto the internal hard drive, but it failed not to long in, and this corrupted the existing OS install, rendering the drive unbootable. Once again, things were looking bleak.

A Desperate Act
At this point, I was rather frustrated: why buy a hard drive for the computer if it's something internal which is seriously damaged? I didn't want to have to buy one unless the internal screen was restorable, since it'd be hard to relocate such a large computer just to use it as a head-end. I decided to go ahead and format the corrupted internal drive, and see if that would get me far enough to be able to install OS 9.1 on it, and then install and run the firmware update. Amazingly, it did, and after disconnecting the external monitor, the internal screen finally came to life in a meaningful way. Success!

After successfully restoring the internal screen, the next phase of my plan went into effect. I proceeded to buy a replacement 20GB hard drive, pull the old one (which, when tested in a local computer store, failed their tests almost immediately), install the new one, and install a series of OSes on it. Unlike tthe Beige, the OS X install went through virtually painlessly (though I got the exact same "Startup Disk could not set the CD-ROM drive as a startup disk. (-2)" error when trying to boot from CD 1 of 10.2 Jaguar from the desktop in OS9; unlike the Beige, however, holding down the 'C' key while booting worked for the iMac), and it now runs OS X 10.3 Panther flawlessly. Even though the internal screen is a bit glitchy, it can be lived with for the time being. It's nice to have a Mac which doesn't feel as if it's held together with duct tape and chewing gum, though that does take some of the fun out of it... ;)


Coming Soon!

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