Tag Archives: modding

Fight obsolescence!

There’s the saying that “The shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot” and looking at my workhorse desktop computers, i.e. those I use for surfing the web, writing stuff and every other creative task, this is very true in my case.

Namely there’s a PC I’ve assembled back in 2011 and an ‘early 2008’ MacPro (= 3,1). And for both I’ve decided to use them to the bitter end… just to fight against the planned obsolescence which comes with ‘innovation’.

The dark side of the force

I assembled the PC back in 2011 while working at my ex-company from which I bought it a year later. I have to congratulate myself how wisely I picked the parts for it… even 8 years later, that box is still pretty capable: The Intel i7 2600k (still benchmarked to recent cpus) was very good choice and its 16GB were insane back then and are still appropriate today.
Looking good in a MacPro-a-like case, strongly steaming along on Windows 10 and Linux, it just had its first moment showing its age: An Nvidia GTX 680 could not be detected, no matter what. Even taking the brave step flashing the last UEFI BIOS could not help.

Cheese-Grinder on wheels… and a floppy.

The even darker side…

A new graphics card? Why that? Are you a gamer, Axel?
Well, as we all know, MacOS is free… but it’s tied to hardware which isn’t. And to make you upgrade your old hardware (read: make $$$), Apple has pretty short ‘support tail’. 
So that GTX 680 was meant for my beloved MacPro. A MacPro from 2008 and officially not supported since OS X 10.11.x (aka El Captain). This means no Sierra or any other recent desert-codenamed OS. Well, not if you’re not patching it 😉
While this was relatively easy with Sierra and High Sierra, Mojave is a different thing, requiring a Metal compatible GPU… which my 8800GT was not. Actually it was already slowing down the whole thing (e.g. no WebGL) and so it was about time to replace it.

The real thing – still one of the best cases ever made.

Here’s an important hint, just in case you haven’t read it elsewhere:
If you plan to upgrade to Mojave, do not use an AMD card! This is because the required AMD drivers use SSE4.2 instructions, the early 2008 MacPro Xeon CPUs do not have. So Nvidia it is… and the GTX 680 is the best choice in my humble opinion:

  • Fast – I mean really, really, really fast (~10x compared to the 8800GT)
  • Cuda – speeding up many creative applications
  • Cheap (~60€/$70)
  • Flashable (i.e. you’ll get an Apple boot-screen)

So I got myself a used ‘680 and thought “Hey, just plug it into the good ol’ PC, boot DOS, flash the beast and off it goes into the mighty Mac”… how wrong I was!

Try’n’error darkness

Plugged into my PC did not even output a signal to the display. Nothing but black… is it broken?
Plugged into the MacPro instantly tripped its safety breaker when powered on… can it really be broken?
Then I read that my PCs ‘legacy BIOS’ could be the reason why – so after 8 years I finally had a reason to enter UEFI-land. No difference. It’s probably because of the Z68 chipset which is just too old.

Back (in)to the MacPro. Maybe the power provided by the two motherboard PCIe connectors is too low? (The power-supply itself provides a whopping 900 Watts!)
So I connected the GTX’ two PCIe power-cables to an external power-supply and… ‘tadaaa’ the Mac greeted me with his boot chime, no boot-screen (yet) and finally the desktop. Woohoo! At least the card is fine.

And there was light!

So I had to ‘mod’ the Pro… there’s this so-called ‘Pixlas Mod‘ which is just a simple power-line bypass, directly splicing into the wires after leaving the power-supply. Having done that I was able to run my GTX in parallel with the 8800GT, using a DOS boot-CD (USB isn’t an option) I could flash the GTX and after a final card swapping my Mac Pro is ready for Mojave! Yay, another one or two more years for my workhorse…

And the moral of this post/rant/story?

Don’t give up your old hardware too quickly – put some love and a bit of money into it and fight the marketing-obsolescence!



May I introduce you to Henkelmann – a heavily modded Dolch PAC 486 “portable computer”.
‘Henkelmann’ is post-war German miner jargon for a lunch pail – today it is still often used for “anything big with a handle”… and for todays MacBook Air standards the Dolch is quite big. Back in 1998 is was a 32-bit power house…

In 2008 I wanted a system with full-size ISA slots (mind Transputer or i860 cards) but a bit speedier than a 25MHz 80486, more flexible and silent (as with some others of my systems) I had to change some bits and pieces. Well, in the end nearly everything was modified. In short:

  • Swapped the tiny 10″ 640×480 for an 12″ 800×600 display
  • …which required a new display controller – PCI only
  • …which required a new motherboard
  • …which made larger IDE drives, CD-ROM and USB possible
  • …which required internal space and connectors
  • all of which required proper cooling or something more power efficient.

Before I go into details, let’s have a quick glimpse: From the front, it still looks pretty original (besides the glossy screen):

The screen

Well, from the moment I’ve opened the ‘box’ by removing the keyboard from the front it became clear that I have to change the small 10″ display which was just OK with its 640×480 resolution to be used with DOS but using Windows was out of question. The original system used an ISA graphics card to control the TFT display – these cards are mostly dedicated to a specific kind of display. So both had to go… and I was able to find a new combo at ePay. Being more modern, the new controller card was a PCI card. But that was totally fine as I was going to change the main-board anyways.

As the new screen was somewhat higher than the old one I had to do some sawing and cutting – so most of the side-panels were removed and luckily the hight perfectly fits between the upper and lower outer-edge, so just about 5mm of the very thick plastic had to be cut out there. The cut edges turned white, so I had to do some (bad) paint job, too. It’s not as bad looking in real than it looks in these pictures:

Bottom edge:

One downside is the fact, that the cables and electronics of the display made it necessary to mount it upside-down – technically that’s no issue as there’s a solder-jumper on the graphics-card to make it flipping the picture. The bad thing is, that the display has an optimized view-angle for just the other way round  🙁 So looking from top at a steep angle the picture looks inverted – from a frontal view there’s no difference, though.


As I wanted the best of both worlds, I needed a baby-AT format for being able to re-use the original case openings (AT-keyboard plug!) but also having as many ‘modern features’ as possible, e.g. PCI, IDE, USB, etc.
Luckily I’ve found the DFI K6BV3+/66 which is a Supersocket-7 board in Baby-AT format… how cool is that?!

Because it’s a Super-Socket 7 board I hunted for the best CPU available for that socket, the AMD K6-III+, a real beast for its time – which I planned to underclock to 266MHz, because I wanted to cool it passively. Well not completely… while the K6-III has a low heatsink on his top, there’s no room left for a fan on top of that.
So there’s a small fan on one side of the case (top left corner in the picture below), sucking air in and blowing it over the heat-sink towards the optional ISA cards… not 100% optimal but worked so far.

As the K6BV3+ has just an ATC power-connector a new and preferably smaller power supply had to be found. For that, I had to create a custom mounting using an aluminum angle profile (lower right in the picture below).

The power-button went into the NIC back-panel and a new cutout for the power cable was needed:

Peripherals and Drives

There are just 2 half-height, 5¼” drive slots in the case available. So careful planning was taken to serve every vintage computing need and this is the rather squeezed result:

  • 5¼” & 3½” floppy-drive combo in slot-1 (Yellow & red arrow)
  • Slot-in DVD drive (blue)
  • 2.5″ Harddrive (beneath the DVD, green arrow)
  • 2x USB an 1 PS/2 connector (purple & orange)


All that effort gave me a portable, well, “luggageable” PC which can read and write most media you need for vintage computing. It’s rather fast, nearly silent and most importantly features 2 full-size ISA slots and a shared PCI-slot for more recent stuff.