In Defense of the Mac Pro 2023

guest post by neozeed‘s nephew

There are a few reasons to get an M2 Mac Pro and although many will say the Studio is a better buy for value: that’s only true if you’re not after these important considerations:

  • The ability to install your own *bootable* SSD: nearly every major Mac reviewer ignored this insanely important feature.
  • The ability to install internal storage (and go beyond 8 TB), period: do we really want a cocktail of external HDDs attached? I don’t!
  • The ability to install an internal USB A licensing dongle: unless you’re sharing your dongle over the network with 3rd party software from an RPi hiding in a closet (you should try VirtualHere if you want cross-platform dongle sharing it’s great), you don’t want to accidentally shear it off costing thousands of dollars of lost licensing.
  • The Magic Keyboard and (black) Magic Mouse are bundled (this is not the case with the Mac Studio or the MacBook Pro adding a substanstial cost. However, since the AppleCare+ is more expensive for the Mac Pro over the Mac Studio you could argue these costs cancel themselves out… unless you’re Icarus with a wax wallet instead of wax wings and never purchase AppleCare+).

Recently ‘GoFetch’ made the headlines, but it’s irrelevant for a variety of reasons in my opinion: 1) you won’t have WAN-exploitable instances of GoFetch in the real world, 2) it does indeed affect some Intel processors and probably others. The way all processors are designed now with speculative execution, CVE-after-CVE is unavoidable so the sensationalization has worn out its appeal. Even the once-ironclad AMD processors are afflicted with a bunch of nasty CVEs now too. \rant

Mac Pro vs PS/2 Model 95

After an eye-watering $8000: refurbished base model with AppleCare+ 🤮💸💸, we’re greeted with our new friend. The Cheese Grater (2023 Mac Pro) has befriended the Ardent Tool of Capitalism (PS/2 Model 95)! It’s odd how both share silly nicknames and a very similar height sans handles. Both systems symbolize the same sentiment that Louis Ohland shared many years ago: “Think of a business computer being used for purely personal reasons. Fist pump at the man! Isn’t using a corporate tool because you can an expression of free will?”*

*Louis Ohland is the guy who nicknamed the PS/2 Model 95, the Ardent Tool of Capitalism.

Q&A

Q: will I grate cheese on both of them?

A: only if you clean up the cheese residue for me. Are Personal System/2s even food-safe???

Storage

Sonnet M.2 4×4 NVMe PCI-e

The first thing we’ll need to do is install an NVMe PCI-e card. I’m going with the overly-priced “Sonnet M.2 4×4”, because the 2×4 card is nearly the same price making it a horribly valued product and we may as well expand this thing with four NVMes to get our money’s worth. It’s not really clear if the Sonnet M.2 4×4’s controller outperforms the Sonnet M.2 2×4 (they don’t use the same one), but both operate on gen 3 and the NVMes themselves are gen 3 so none of it really matters. There are much cheaper NVMe PCI-e cards but most are not compatible with Macs, you’re paying the tax for the fancy firmware… otherwise buy a much cheaper card if you’re on Windows or Linux. The card only came in a pink ‘static suppressant bag’ instead of a true antistatic bag which is laughable at how much sonnet is charging, and Amazon appears to have taken a bite out of the box.

For the primary boot NVMe we’re going with a 2TB 970 EVO Plus. I know Louis Rossmann decried them as being unreliable after he torched a bunch in some custom gaming rigs with sketchy PSUs, but they’re good drives if you don’t kill them with dirty PSU voltage rails. Always use quality PSUs folks. This is why many Maxtors failed due to the ST SMOOTH chips receiving power from PSUs outputting higher than 12v, and not the drives themselves… same thing applies today when you eclipse 12v on your power rails. I’ve also been running one in a ThinkPad for more than a year and it’s been fine.

For the remaining tertiary storage we’re going with some WD Green SN350s: solely because they’re compatible with macOS — the macOS compatibility with NVMes is very specific unfortunately. Otherwise I would have went with more TeamGroup 4TB drives as they’re one of the best value for money (particularly the TM8FP4004T0C101, it uses better NANDs than the more expensive and inferior 4TB offerings from Crucial and WD). Yeah… the cost of NVMe disks isn’t absolute, sometimes cheaper ones use better NANDs and you can be fleeced by brand recognition and false-positive specs on gen4 which I imagine is what Crucial capitalizes on.

[If you don’t know what I’m talking about: the Crucial and Western Digital NVMe drives always cheap out and use QLC NANDs instead of proper TLC NANDs as TeamGroup and Samsung do; and obviously they’re not going to advertise they’re cheating you and will price their products the same as the competition. Very similar to the whole SMR/CMR debacle, why would Western Digital tell you you’re buying something cheaper at a premium cost??? Caching is an entirely different thing separate to this and usually only the Samsung drives have ‘true’ dedicated cache logic, which is why I’m using the 970 EVO Plus as a boot/OS NVMe]

reinstalling MacOS

Fortunately we don’t need a second mac to perform OS reinstallation so the ‘Apple Configurator’ is not needed. The procedure is as simple as this: Press & hold power button until the recovery menu pops up, choose ‘continue’, choose reinstall OS, choose the new drive (in this case the Samsung drive I just formatted as “OS”). I know a lot of people raise an eyebrow requiring a second mac for when the system does actually need to be completely restored if it can’t boot into the internal recovery mode; just when you haven’t paid Apple enough you also need a second Mac to perform recovery and restoration. Even neozeed himself encountered this problem and with a heavy sigh (a very heavy sigh) and mild disbelief, set up a macOS VM for restoration since he only owns one. 😂

Once this is completed we’ll no longer be using the proprietary SSD that’s present on the Mac Pro. It DOES still need to be present in the system for the computer to POST (Apple marries it against the security IC so it’s intrinsic and serialized to the computer based on configured storage), but presumably as it won’t be written to anymore it’ll never become exhausted from write cycles… and even if it did fail over time, as a result of ordering the bottom-of-the-barrel 1TB model I could just buy another ‘cheap’ 1TB card which would allow the system to resume POSTing once again. If the soldered-in RAM or CPU fails then it’s game over; as much micro-soldering as I do, I refuse to purchase even more tools to swap out underfilled BGA ICs… and then of course you have to hope employees at Foxconn actually managed to sneak out unused genuine ones to be resold on AliExpress or eBay. *sigh*

With us now being able to use our own bootable SSD, the primary failure and annoyance of ARM-based Macs is now mitigated. For the Mac Studio you could buy backup replacement SSDs to constantly replace as they wear out (they would have to match what storage size the system was preconfigured with), but keep in mind I can add 8TB cheaply and have my own bootable SSD. And in the event you need to do data recovery or read the drive on another system, anything — even your grandma’s phonograph — can read NVMes so it’s much less of a hassle. As much as I hate to say it I think the Mac Studio makes less sense over the Mac Pro BECAUSE of the storage… you’re already buying an overpriced computer, may as well go the full distance for proper storage? Everyone’s living in the honeymoon phase right now while all of the NANDs are under warranty and still functioning… but once they start failing it’ll be a nasty money pit at best, or unfixable at worst. And do you know how many people make one computer their whole life and allow it to spontaneously fail with no backups?

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

An ARM-based Mac using internal NVMes, is that not a nice thing? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? And no need to pay ~$2000 for 8TB. I did have to shell out $400 for the stupid SoNNeT card and $400 for the SSDs… buuut if I paid $2000 worth of SSDs I would far eclipse 8TB. In this screenshot you can also see the ‘OS’ Samsung SSD now the primary ‘Startup disk’. Fortunately, Apple’s utility automatically switched it over after I reinstalled the OS to this drive shockingly enough, so nothing more needed even on that.

Internal USB, perfect for Dongles:

Installing the iLok dongle

The iLok licensing dongle installs nicely inside the internal USB A port. Kind of reminds me of those internal VMware USB A ports meant for the ESX installation… and then you know they’d eventually go bad or corrupt themselves and the internal IT of that company never makes a backup so then you need to reconfigure ESX from scratch… good times. What? I’m not salty, not salty at all. The Sonnet NVMe card being installed on the first slot (bottom) does seem to bring more attention to the fact there’s so many unpopulated PCI-e slots.

What should be used as the display option?

1. The Dell UltraSharp U3224KB 6K actually has a few potential compatibility problems with macOS or the hardware (it’s not really well-known as Dell support gave up troubleshooting it), so you’ll get various screen distortions. It’s also possibly one of the most UGLY products I’ve ever seen in my life… the web camera looks like a malignancy, and I absolutely can’t stand silver-painted plastic. Complain about Apple’s prices all you want, at least they use nice materials.

2. The Pro Display XDR is just a little bit too much for my taste and sometimes temperamental as it’s such a complicated display (contrary to popular mythology it does not use OLED technology so it shouldn’t burn out over time). I honestly don’t think I would encounter any problems if I bought a Pro Display XDR but the cost is too much.

It’s Free Real Estate – Tim & Eric

3. That basically leaves us with the Studio Display. A lot of the 3rd party Samsung/ASUS/LG 4K or 5K offerings have dramatically inferior colour or a larger pixel size… and there’s still the potential aspect of compatibility since non-Apple hardware sometimes doesn’t play nicely. While the Studio Display is much-maligned with its high cost and strangely attached power plug, its DPI is the same as the Pro Display XDR you just get less screen real-estate and inferior contrast which I don’t care too much about. It will still look much better than your garden variety LG 27” 4K UHD Ultrafine because the colour is calibrated very well and it gets decently bright… again… I wish YouTube reviewers would point some of these things out instead assume that every display is equivalent to Apple’s offerings when they’re not. And in the event, you do find the 5K 27″ displays from other manufacturers they’re still at 60Hz. The refurbished Studio Display I had my eye on from Apple is no longer available, so I’ll be waiting for a bit until they stock another one… or maybe they’ll get a heavily marked down Pro Display XDR…. in the meantime, I’m stuck using one of my gaming monitors which has 240Hz and strobing to reduce ghosting, which does work on macOS!.. and makes macOS look so different since I’m used to how it looks with all of the ghosting all the time.

Another little something that’s rarely discussed: the nano-texture glass option causes a slight ‘frosting’ which is especially noticeable on text… it’s only meant as a compromise if you’re working in a literal sun room, sometimes more expensive does not mean better. This is exemplified with the M2 MacBook Air situation: if you opted for the superior GPU it ended up running more slowly because of the thermal throttling so the lower-end GPU option is more performant, lol. Of course Apple doesn’t always disclose these caveats or finer details, but their divisions responsible for publishing the products may not be privy to them.

Peripherals:

Onto the peripherals: I will indeed be using the Magic Mouse… before your jaw drops and you grab some tomatoes while calling me a heretic, let me explain. The Magic Mouse is one of the few peripherals with velocity sensitive 360º scrolling AND fully integrated in the UI of the operating system. This is extraordinarily similar and analogous to IBM’s ScrollPoint which also offered dynamic 360º scrolling and to a lesser extent the TrackPoint scrolling but which only offers vertical and horizontal. Needless to say 360º scrolling and horizontal scrolling is something I use all the time and cannot fathom why we still even have (notched!) mouse wheels. It’s bizarrely a mouse Apple seemingly designed specifically for me and nobody else, I imagine average or larger hands would be extremely uncomfortable with it and Apple really should offer a larger version to encompass a better demographic.

Men & Mice

The Magic Mouse and ScrollPoint Pro share very similar design philosophies in the way we scroll. I also made another strange discovery when I was looking for some more flat slick mousepads since the Magic Mice don’t work well on cloth ones at all, and that are these 3M ‘Precise’ mouse pads: AMAZON LINK.

Apparently the 3M mouse pads have a reflective material which allows the lasers to use less strength and thus supposedly saves 50% battery life, some Magic Mouse users affirmed this, so we’ll see how this goes down. It’s kind of surprising I’ve never heard of any tech reviewers mention these because saving 50% of battery life on a wireless mouse is huge.

Keyboards..

There’s a lot of good reasons to NOT use Bluetooth keyboards due to wireless keylogging, there’s not going to be anyone with that talent in rural Canada so I’m in the clear. You could buy a Matias keyboard but they’re actually worse in many aspects than the 1st party Apple keyboards: the legend printing is of dramatically worse quality, the surface of the keycaps don’t have that special velvety texture, and the snappiness of the scissor switches is probably worse. While I have many mechanical keyboards, I don’t care so much about it anymore. The Apple Magic Keyboard is just a little bit too flat for my tastes today so I ordered a “ESC Flip PRO Computer Keyboard Stand”, which can stick on the back and give you different height adjustments if needed.

onboard LEDs everywhere.

Both the iLok and Sonnet NVMe card have so many LEDs on them you can see the lightshow through the rear of the ‘grater’ now.

Now my plans are to use this thing for at least a decade to get my money’s worth: will 64GB of RAM be enough? To that I say: 64GB ought to be enough for anybody. The only major hindrance will be the forced software obsolescence when the Apple overlords declare it will not be receiving anymore updates… and then you know things like the Roland Cloud and other major vendor software will cease to get updates and functionally work. It’s appalling at how all software is heavily DRMed and requires a live account to work against. At the very least when WWIII breaks out I’ll have plenty of premium aluminum to donate to the state, forged by Tim Apple himself!

For the record I was never really an ‘Apple person’, but they’ve finally fixed all of the problems (mice have two buttons and the keyboard layout is restored to be more IBM-like) and made a product that fulfills everything I’ve ever wanted… AND forced developers to program for ARM: so now my Stallman-not-approved-absolutely-proprietary audio software runs incredibly well on a non-x86 platform. Astounding. Yeah there were some 3rd party mice that had two buttons for Macs ‘back in the day’ but a good portion of the *software* and games weren’t programmed for a real right click rendering it useless. I remember watching a ‘making-of’ video of the Myst developers pushing down Ctrl with the mouse to right click EVERY SINGLE TIME in their 3D modelling software and nearly fell off my chair… it’s quite jarring when you need to press a button on the keyboard at the same time with clicking the mouse so I’ve no idea how they tolerated that. Maybe they loved doing it? Who knows.

It’s crazy how much changes, and how much is the same

Announcing Cockatrice III 0.5g

Now with better pcap filter in place. I had an issue with 86box and how NetBEUI wasn’t working. It didn’t hit me at the time but cold-brewed caught it, that the 86box didn’t have the multicast addresses in the default pcap filter.. We need the filter to not send EVERY packet to the VM, and to also filter out the VM’s own packets so it doesn’t loop and send traffic to itself (which hopefully would just get discarded, but there is no point doing it in the first place!)

Before I had it set to this:

(ether dst 09:00:07:ff:ff:ff) or (ether dst ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff)

It’s allowing one Multicast address for AppleTalk and the general ethernet broadcast address. Which is more or less okay but for everything else, you want to catch a wider net. The better choice is to use built in pcap macros:

((ether broadcast) or (ether multicast)

I can confirm that these do work for 86box, so I’ve copied the same into Cockatrice III. For those who wonder what the difference between Basilisk II & Cockatrice III is, I basically took a super old version of Basilisk II, ripped out as much platform code as I could, re-ported it to basic SDL, removed all the fancy clipboard/meta/drive sharing integration code, added a pcap network option to use the raw network for AppleTalk, and took the SCSI emulation from Previous so I can partition and format virtual ‘SCSI’ disks that I’ve even been able to use in a BlueSCSI!. I’ve sat down with a debugger some years ago and went through the SLiRP code catching as many faults when using Internet Explorer as I could, I think most of the ‘fix’ involved renaming clashing symbols, and while it’s not perfect it was a lot more stable than the default stuff. Although I haven’t touched it in years, and probably should look to borrowing a more modern version from elsewhere.

0.5g in action

Linking this thing with TDM GCC is becoming a bit of a challenge so in case I forget here is how I’m currently statically linking libgcc/libg++ along with winpthread. All it should need now is SDL & working WinSock which every Win32 should have!

c++ -o CockatriceIII.exe        obj/main.o obj/main_sdl.o obj/prefs.o obj/prefs_dummy.o obj/sys_unix_sdl.o obj/rom_patches.o obj/slot_rom.o obj/rsrc_patches.o obj/emul_op.o obj/macos_util.o obj/xpram.o obj/xpram_dummy.o obj/timer.o obj/timer_common.o obj/clip_dummy.o obj/adb.o obj/serial.o obj/serial_dummy.o obj/ether.o obj/sony.o obj/disk.o obj/cdrom.o obj/scsi.o obj/video.o obj/video_sdl.o obj/audio.o obj/extfs.o obj/user_strings.o obj/user_strings_unix.o obj/sdl_pcap.o obj/scsi_dummy.o obj/audio_sdl.o obj/prefs_editor_dummy.o obj/basilisk_glue.o obj/memory.o obj/newcpu.o obj/readcpu.o obj/cpustbl.o obj/cpudefs.o obj/cpuemu.o obj/fpu_ieee.o cockatricerc.o ..\slirp\libslirp.a ..\drmingw-0.7.7-win32\lib\libexchndl.a -Wl,-Bdynamic -lSDL -lws2_32  -liphlpapi -Wl,-Bstatic -lgcc -lstdc++ -lwinpthread -static -static-libgcc -static-libstdc++

I’ve been able to map to my internal servers just fine, and connect using Internet Explorer so I suppose everything is fine!

All the cool kids love github so here you got, you can get it from the latest releases:

Releases · neozeed/CockatriceIII (github.com)

I’ll have to re-sync sourceforge. Although I do keep more resources on sourceforge since it’s clearly a lot better at file hosting.

so I was excited to try this protoweb thing!

mjd -protoweb

I saw this video and I was like sold! I have this PowerMac 6400/180 so I figured this would be good. The problem was my network card was acting up so I figured instead of troubleshooting it I’ll just format it and go from there.

the machine is very much an Old World Macintosh, so that limits me from OS X. It’s 603ev CPU it’s not all that advanced either. I have an 8.1 ISO that I’ve been using under 68k emulation but the limit it has is old multimedia stuff ins t 68k compatible as nobody would imagine emulation putting 68k at speeds above a gigahertz.

I went looking for a 8.6 ISO, and that is where the fun hit me again that many so-called ISO images aren’t. Rather they are giant floppy disk images with the media headers and/or partition tables being obliterated. As an ISO they don’t detect at all, and as a giant floppy, of course they don’t boot as MacOS checks if it is on read-only media.

This ISO isn’t an ISO

very annoying

I did manage to finally find one that does work however!

working ISO

I forgot where I found it though. I did save it to archive.org, since I have another 5 versions of this downloaded, none of which will boot. https://archive.org/details/mac-os-8.6-working-iso

I should also add the MacOS 8.1 CD-ROM image Ive been using as again,l I have the same issue where so many are headderless ‘floppies’ and not actual CD-ROM’s that don’t work in Cockatrice III or an actual Mac using BlueSCSI.

MacOS 8.1 CD-ROM on Cockatrice III

Sorry the image shows in black & white, but as you can see from the CD-ROM background it is in fact booted from the CD-ROM. You can download it from here: https://archive.org/details/mac-os-8.1-iso_202401

In no time, I was able to get online only to find that the power Mac plugin’s seem to be unavailable for anything and unsupported.

old netscape website

but the rendition of the old Netscape page was a treat!

Now I do have a Windows Surface RT tablet, and sure enough pluggin the proxy values, and YES the video site does work!

Warpstream on Windows RT

Very cool! So it turns out Protoweb can actually save all those old devices that work fine enough, but not fine enough for ‘Modern platforms’.

A wild Macintosh Plus appears!

1MB Macintosh Plus, with extended keyboard & original mouse.
Mac Plus!

This was rather unexpected, but this auction for a loaded Macintosh Plus had shown up, and it was shipping local, and very cheap for what it was. It included the larger keyboard, original mouse, and an external 20MB hard disk.

Rodime ro652 20mb hard disk
Assembled in Scotland!

Sadly, the hard disk is dead. And not like dead dead, but dead dead dead! After I freed the disk from the external enclosure, and tried to power it on, stand alone, the PSU refused to start as the disk has a hard short in the board somewhere. And I can’t say that I’m all that surprised that a hard disk from 1989 is broken. I’m more surprised that someone was using this in 1989 and didn’t take the plunge and upgrade the machine to the full 4Mb of ram.

Anyways I have this chunk of plastic and glass on a desk, but I can’t do a thing with it. I’ve heard of various SCSI emulators out there, and decided to go with a bluescsi v1 with a DB25 interface as they are generally cheaper, and the Macintosh Plus isn’t exactly all that fast so the effort of the v2 is mostly lost.

bluescsi on the back of the Macintosh Plus
Bluescsi module on the back of the Macintosh Plus

Documentation on the bluescsi is scant, but it seems that a diode needs to be soldered onto the Macintosh Plus motherboard to enable bus power, so you don’t need an external USB power source. I’m a bit worried about opening up this thing as I’ms suspecting the plastics are a log weaker than they look, so I opted for just using a USB cable to power the device.

Anyways let me cut to the chase, I have an 8Gb Micro SD card that I formatted ExFAT (the documentation says Fat32 will work, but I found it might work once, but it’ll definitely never work after a reboot), with a single file emulating a 100Mb hard disk (Luxurious!). I named the file simply ‘HD10_512.hda’ which specifies it’s a hard disk, SCSI ID 1, target 0, 512 bytes/sector and it’s a ‘hda’ image. It’s what the Bluescsi want’s so don’t fight it!

To prepare the virtual hard disk, I used Cockatrice III, since the Macintosh Quadra 800 emulation includes SCSI, which let me create a raw disk image, partition it, and format it under MacOS 8.1. The real trick was installing the operating system.

I first tried MacOS 7.0.1, but it would boot up greeting me with the error that needs more than 1Mb of ram. I tried installing a MacOS 6.0.8 manually, but it crashed saying the system folder was corrupt, and then it just went empty disk mac on further boots.

I’m not sure what the problem was, it’s possible it was the filesystem on the card, or some other issued with the Macintosh, I have no idea.

So I broke down and ordered a pre-installed diskette with MacOS 6.08.

reproduction System 6.0.8 disk
Repurposed System 6.0.8 disk

I booted off the diskette, and amazingly the floppy drive worked! And in about a minute I had booted up, and it saw the hard disk! I dragged the System folder over the hard disk, and rebooted, and yeah it booted right up!

Obviously, the next step will be to get a proper screwdriver to open this thing, figure out how to discharge the CRT so I don’t kill myself, and add some additional RAM. I know it’ll be slow but I do want to see MacMiNT run on this thing! Maybe I’ll find/order the needed diode and make the DB25 bus powered eliminating one cable.

A long long long time ago I did own a Macintosh Plus, with 4Mb of RAM, although I mostly used it as a terminal, since it powered up quickly (it was the mid 90s!) and doesn’t take up that much space, so maybe I can slave it to an ESP32?

**UPDATE

I had been using some generic 8GB microSD card on this, and while it seemed mostly fine on the Macintosh Plus, I had since managed to score a Performa 6400. I had been using this Kingston generic 8GB card, and it had frequent timeouts writing/reading on the Performa. As a matter of fact if the SD card was plugged in at powerup with an ISO image it would crash the Mac.

Kingston SDC10/8GB 015FCT C08G… no good!

I scored this SanDisk Extreme 32GB for £15. A bit pricy but it turns out totally worth it!

£15 SanDisk Extreme!

Not only does the Performa not crash with an ISO image but it’s pretty darn quick! Well worth the purchase as all my weird issues seemingly just disappear!

So yeah, lesson learned, don’t go cheap on flash.

Server in a can: Unbridled rage

Back nearly a decade ago, Apple was going to release a new Mac Pro. And it was goi to be unlike all the other computers, it was going to be compact, and stylish, a jet engine for the mind.

However instead, we got what everyone would know as the trash can.

big brain idea

So at the time i had this idea that I wanted a Xeon workstation in a nice portable form factor. And this little cylinder seemed to fir the bill. But things changed in my life, i was okay being tied down, and a regular Xeon desktop became my goto machine, a desktop would do just fine.

Then years later, an artist id commish to do some stuff was selling their Mac Pro, as they’d gone all in on Hackintosh, and this was my chance to get one on the cheap. As I’m on a business trip at the moment, I thought this would be a good time to test out what I had envisioned as the future of a personal server in a can.

A long while ago, I’d bought a newer/faster/larger flash for the Mac Pro, and it was a simple matter of hitting the Windows key + R and the machine boots up into an internet recovery mode, and will install OS X Mavericks over the wire. Which sounds great, but this is where the fun begins. Since I ordered. a NVMe M.2 module, it of course is too new for the 2013 machine, so I had to use a shim bridging the Mac’s NVMe SSD port to M.2 for my modern flash. And it never fit exactly right, and I kind of screwed it in incorrectly, but it held in place. Obviously flying bumped things around, as I had kind of figured, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I didn’t take any big peripherals with me, as I figured I’d just get some new stuff, and didn’t worry about it at all. I picked up a View Sonic VX2770 for £45, I got this RED5 Gaming keyboard for £13, and I already had this Mad Catz 43714 mouse NIB with me. I think I paid $200 HKD or so a year ago, but I like the feel of this style of mouse, and was happy to bring it with me. Little did I know…

So after setting up a desk, and the system, it performed like crap. Worse it was locking up again at random times. I already was using Macs Fan Control to set the fan to 100%, and still it was locking up. I had guessed it’d taken a jostle too many, and I reseated the storage. And then on booting it back up I only got the blinking folder. Great, either it was dying, or I’d just killed it.

A quick jump on Amazon, and I found the “Timetec 512GB MAC SSD NVMe PCIe Gen3x4 3D NAND TLC”, which at a whopping £68 seemed like a good idea. And since it was SSD NVMe, it’d just slot into the Mac Pro, and life would be good. Or so I thought.

The first problem I ran into is that I couldn’t boot the mac into either diagnostics, or recovery mode. There is something really weird with a UK keyboard on a non UK machine. I think the 2013 (and probably many more) power up as American, and this is some kind of common issue with non American keyboards. Seriously why is the pipe,backslash on the lower row? Quotes is over 2? It’s a mess. And since I got my Mac Pro in Asia, maybe it defaults to Chinese? Japanese? Who knows?!

Crappy keyboard controller

Lucky for me, I had this ugly little thing with me for another project. And yeah holding down the ‘Win’+R button got me to recovery mode, with zero issues.

Loading Recovery

I still have to say, this is pretty cool. However what wasn’t cool, is loading the disk util, and yeah, NO FLASH detected. I have VMWare ESX 7.0 on USB, so booting that up, and yeah it totally sees the drive:

TIMTEC drive is spotted!

And of course, like an idiot, I installed VMware to at least make sure it’s working.

ESX on Mac

Yeah it’s booting fine.

By default the Mac Pro seems to be picking up bootable USB devices, so I pop in a Windows 10 MBR USB, and instead I get this:

Bad memory on the GPU? Bad cable? Bad monitor? I have no idea. At this point I’m thinking I’ve totally killed the machine, but a power cycle, and I’m back in ESX in no time. Something is up.

I pull the flash, and I can boot Windows 10 to the installer, but obviously there is no storage to install to. I try adding in a 16GB USB thumb drive, and … It won’t let you install to it. It appears that there is a way to prepare a USB drive for Windows 10 to install, but it’s not exactly something that is easy to do. However Mac OS X, doesn’t suffer this limitation and will let you install to whatever you want, so I install Mavericks to the 16GB drive, and yeah it’s booting. And SUPER slow. The flash still doesn’t show up, so I read the amazon page some more and find this tidbit:

My Macbook came with Mac OS Capitan as the operating system for recovery, and therefore did not detect the SSD. I had to create a High Sierra installer on a USB using another Mac and an app (DiskMaker) in order to reinstall the operating system from High Sierra. Once this was done, the SSD appeared available and I was able to install the operating system and upgrade without problem.” –Gilberto R. Rojina

Oh, now isnt’ that interesting? So of course I got to update my thumb drive, and of course 16GB isn’t enough space. Great. So I order a Elecife M.2 NVME Enclosure for £23, thinking I should be able to figure out once and for all if I can see the old drive, or maybe boot from it. I get the drive, plug in the storage, and Disk Util sees a drive, but will not mount it, nor is it selectable too boot from. The issue of course is that it’s APFS, which I guess cannot boot from external media? I have no idea, but I don’t have anything that critical on there, as I keep my stuff backed up on some cloud thing. So I do have a 128GB thumb drive on me, so I format the 1TB as HFS+, backup the drive, and and once more again reboot to the recovery mode, using the crap keyboard, to install Mavericks onto the 128GB flash. Thinking everything is going to be fine, I find this apple support page, with the needed links to get ‘old’ versions of MacOS.

These versions can be directly downloaded and installed without the store.

Another weird thing is that Mavericks won’t let me login to the Apple store. It notifies me on my phone, I approve it, but it never prompts for the verification. Maybe it’s too old? Anyways I install macOS Sierra, and do the upgrade.

Now running Sierra, I can use the store, and try to take the leap on my USB to Mojave. And of course disappointment strikes again:

You may not install to this volume because the computer is missing a firmware partition.

What the hell?! So now I’m trying to find out how to create a bootable USB installer from the download. That leads me to this fun page at apple. Apparently an ‘install installer to USB drive’ would be too complicated for Apple, so its hidden in a terminal command. Fantastic. Since I’m using that 128GB as my system, I grab that 16GB flash drive, and install the installer to that.

sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Mojave.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/SanDisk\ Fit

What an insane path to get this far. The tool will partition and format the drive, and now I can shut down, pop out the 128GB Sierra drive, and boot into the Mojave installer.

I didn’t take pictures, but by default the Mojave installer & DiskTool only show existing partitions. You have to right click on the drive, to expose the entire drive. This was an issue as I’d installed ESX onto the new storage. I clear the drive, and now I can finally install Mojave.

Home run?

Thinking it’s all over, I reboot into the Mac Pro, thinking everything should be fine, I have a properly fitting drive that is super fast, and It’s already 10.14.6 the latest and last version that lets me run 32bit stuff. Except that It’s slow. And unstable. No progress was seemingly made.

Trying to search ‘why is my Macintosh slow’ is, well a total waste of time. And it periodically locks hard making it extremely annoying.

Somehow I found this thread over on Apple support:

I have a quad-core CPU Mac Pro late 2013 (Model Identifier: MacPro6,1).  MacOS X 10.9.5. 
I have had all sorts of USB devices hooked up to it.  At any one time, I usually have all 4 ports filled.  I have a 3TB USB 3.0 disk that stores my large files, a USB mouse and keyboard (logitech with a usb mini dongle), a cable to charge my logitech USB cordless mouse, Lightning cable to my iPhone 5, and other things that I rotate in and out, like CF card reader, Audio Box USB audio interface from PreSonus, Sony Webcam, etc. 
About 3 months into having the Mac Pro, I noticed that my keyboard went dead in the middle of using it.  The mouse was dead too.  I blamed the RF dongle that they both share, because the Apple Magic Trackpad (bluetooth) I have still functioned.  Try as I might, I couldn't get the keyboard or mouse to work again, so I used the Magic Trackpad to restart the machine, and then my keyboard and mouse worked again. 
It wasn't until later that I realized that all the USB busses on the machine had frozen or "died" temporarily.  I realized it later because my USB hard drive complained about being "ejected improperly." 
Now I have had the USB die on the Mac Pro at least 15 times over the last month and a half.  Usually once every two days or so. 
I have tried (almost one by one) using some of the USB devices on the mac, and removing others to ascertain if it's a certain USB device that is causing this.  But the odd thing is that I never get a message from the OS like "xxx USB device is drawing too much power." 
I'm going a little nuts here because I cannot see any rhyme or reason to the USB interface lock ups.  And each time it happens, all the USB devices go dead until I restart.  Sometimes, I'm able to SSH into the machine from my iPhone and issue a "shutdown -h now" and even though I see the Mac OS X UI shutdown, it never fully halts.  I often have to hold the power button to get the machine to turn off. 
I really can't say if it's software related, hardware related or what.  I've tried to watch my workflow carefully to see if anything seems to make a pattern, but nothing yet. 
Any suggestions? Is anyone else seeing behavior like this?  Do we think it's a USB device... or is my Mac Pro flakey? -- Cheule

Wait the USB?

And to follow up, this thread over on Apple, that mentions:

"When I plugged in the same config on my new machine USB 3.0 directly it was very weird, devices would not remount and only show up if they were then when present at startup, and thruput was sluggish.  So I stopped using the in built USB 3.0 and grabbe the old belkin thunderbolt USB hub, and BAM it all works perfectly.  Better than that after testing the throuput , the belkin gave me 30-50% better performance that the inbuilt USB, that is without any hubs just direct." -- symonty Gresham

And sure enough another search about the USB setup seems to confirm it from Anandtech

Here we really get to see how much of a mess Intel's workstation chipset lineup is: the C600/X79 PCH doesn't natively support USB 3.0. That's right, it's nearly 2014 and Intel is shipping a flagship platform without USB 3.0 support. The 8th PCIe lane off of the PCH is used by a Fresco Logic USB 3.0 controller. I believe it's the FL1100, which is a PCIe 2.0 to 4-port USB 3.0 controller. 

Unreal. I notice as I try to use the machine more occasionally the mouse turns itself off. Replugging the mouse shows it powering up and immediately powering off. I turn on the annoying backlight of the keyboard, and yeah it powers down too, however reinserting it brings it back to life. Luckily I still have this A1296 Apple Wireless Magic Mouse with me, so I pair that and unplug the mouse, and everything else USB.

Mad Catz, the Mac KILLER
This mouse killed my Mac Pro

It was the mouse. I can’t believe it either. I am simply blown away how this could possibly be a thing. I haven’t ordered the thunderbolt to USB dock yet, as I really didn’t want to spend any money on this thing, it was a grab and go solution, that has proven itself not so much grab and go.

Finally getting somewhere

After 6 hours of working yesterday, I shut it down to give it a break for a few hours, and it’s been up some 12 hours so far, pain free. In 2022, the Xeon E5v2 processor just really isn’t worth lugging around, but I already had it, so when it comes to transport, it actually works out pretty well. I wonder if this would have been a good traveling solution 2013 onward, but the fact a mouse could basically bring the machine down makes me think I’d have gone totally insane trying this on the road. Just as the USB Win/Alt/Alt GR/FN keys not being able to trigger the recovery mode was also crazy.

I don’t know why Apple insists on such fragile machines, but maybe the new Arm stuff is better? I can’t justify one at the moment.

Updates in the field

I’m working on getting some local retro kit, and I’ll have more fun coming up. But this fun experience ate 4 days of my life, and the least I could do is document it. I don’t know if it’ll help anyone in the future, maybe once these become iconic collectable, like the Mac Cube. Although as a former cube owner, those at least didn’t freak out when you used a 3rd party mouse.

YouTube Monday video Extravaganza!

First up, a friend of the blog, NCommander has his 8.5 hour marathon ‘Porting 16-bit Windows 1.0 Applications to 64-Bit Windows 11

I was so tired I ended up sleeping through the whole thing. Sometimes it’s hard being on the other side of the planet. But for anyone interested in Windows programming it’ll be super interesting in how much has changed, and yet how much things haven’t changed.


Damn!

As an added bonus, 65scribe has also blessed us with not only another great retrospective on iMacs, but also our favorite museum in Ontario, but left us with a cliff hanger (minor spoiler!).

Blue and Ice

I never knew about the artic blue ice thing before. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but who knows?!

Re-visiting Gopher on A/UX

Rather unintentionally some 7 years ago (to the day!) I was playing with an early gopher server on Linux, musing that one day it’d be cool to run it fully on A/UX (what is it anyways?!). And thanks to Qemu’s 68040 support the time is at hand.

First off I need to run this on Linux so I’ll need to build the appropriate branch myself. Thankfully Cat_7 has boiled it down to a really simple formula:

git clone -b q800.upstream https://www.gitlab.com/mcayland/qemu q800-upstream
cd q800-upstream
./configure --target-list=m68k-softmmu --enable-gtk --enable-sdl
make

In my case I remove the gtk and sdl as I’m running this headless.

Now onto the OS itself. While I had numerous images built over the years for Shoebill there was one major issue when compared to Qemu, and that is Shoebill loads the kernel directly while Qemu emulates the hardware so it will boot MacOS 7 directly. While on the surface this is mundane that does mean however that none of my images will actually work on Qemu as they don’t include a blessed copy of System 7. Not that I care that much I could always do a simple dump/restore [ dump.bsd 0f – /dev/rdsk/c0d0s0 | (cd /mnt; restore xf -) ] of my A/UX stuff that I care about anyways. Luckily since I had added that SCSI file support to Cockatrice I could still partition out some disks and install from there.

Now for the further bit of bad news for me is that I found that the 68020 based Shoebill ran 3.0.0 far more stable than 3.0.1 or 3.1. So I’d built everything around 3.0.0. And of course trying to boot 3.0.0 on a Quadra 800 just gives you a hard lock up. I don’t have the setup disk for 3.0.0 but mounting the CD-ROM gives you access to the disk tool (the 3.0.0 version doesn’t check for the Apple string on SCSI ROMS so you can partition with that as well). Anyways too much time thinking I’d done something wrong until this had to be pointed out to me:

Compatibility matrix from penelope

That’s right, 3.0.0 doesn’t run on the Quadra 800. Much longer ago I had a Quadra 950, fantastic beast of a machine, and yes it ran 3.0.0 just great. So shockingly running the right versions got me up to a working system just fine.

Now of course back in the Shoebill days I got ‘3.0.1’ kind of working by cheating. The /mac programs didn’t work on Shoebill however I could copy them over from 3.0.0 to get a working system. Could I substitute a 3.0.1 kernel & /mac directory onto a 3.0.0 system?

So first up the System 7 install from A/UX 3.0.0 is too old for a Quadra 800. Obviously just use the one from 3.0.1. Great.

This lead to a problem where the root filesystem always needs to be checked in single user mode. Something that is shockingly hard to do when your Quadra runs so fast as you have less than a second to hit the ‘top’ button to halt the autoload.

Naturally the standalone runs fine, with no errors.

Thinking that it’s the start-up scripts I remove all the fsck’s and then get this message:

Great a kernel panic. ialloc: dup alloc. Thinking that maybe it’s confusing the UFS, I go ahead and format the disk in SYSV and restore the image onto that.

This gets me another kernel panic, this time no root filesystem. Surprise the SYSV filesystem was made optional in a default install. I run ‘newconfig sysv’ from 3.0.1 and copy that kernel back, and for good measure the shared libraries from 3.0.1. Now I get a different error:

Interesting, I try to hit restart, and instead I get dumped into text mode!

Victory!

So here we are a 3.0.1 kernel with a 3.0.0 userland! I’m going to use this as a server anyways so I don’t really care about the Mac UI. Naturally so many twists and turns I’ll just skip to the end. Networking didn’t work correctly. Maybe I should have copied all the network stuff from 3.0.1 over but at this point it’s basically a 3.0.1 system so why even bother?

So the next thing of course is just to setup Qemu to listen on a loopback and add some disks. A lot of disks.

./qemu-system-m68k \
-L pc-bios \
-m 256 \
-M q800 \
-vnc 10.11.0.1:35 \
-serial stdio \
-bios Quadra800.rom \
-net nic,model=dp83932,netdev=ne -netdev user,id=ne,hostfwd=tcp:10.11.0.1:42323-:23,hostfwd=tcp:10.11.0.1:40070-:70,hostfwd=tcp:10.11.0.1:40080-:80 \
-drive file=pram-aux.img,format=raw,if=mtd \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=0,drive=hd0,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.0" \
-drive file=scsi0.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd0 \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=1,drive=hd1,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.1" \
-drive file=scsi1.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd1 \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=2,drive=hd2,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.2" \
-drive file=scsi2.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd2 \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=3,drive=hd3,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.3" \
-drive file=scsi3.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd3 \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=4,drive=hd4,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.4" \
-drive file=scsi4.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd4 \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=5,drive=hd5,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.5" \
-drive file=scsi5.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd5 \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=6,drive=hd6,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.6" \
-drive file=scsi6.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd6
Yeah well… great!?

One nice thing is that since we are on Qemu I don’t have to use raw disk images, I can zero stuff out and use VMDK’s. Nice. I guess I could bridge the VM later, but for now NAT is fine enough as all I need is telnet & gopher. So I grab gopher2_3.1.tar.gz, rebuild and move over my gopher site from Linux into A/UX and I’m up and running in no time. It was shockingly easy. I update a few things to reflect it running on A/UX now.

Currently 2 days of uptime!

And just like that I took my semi popular gopher site, and moved it to A/UX seven years after thinking that this would be a ‘good idea(tm)’. I’m sure it won’t backfire spectacularly.

I don’t know if any of this is useful or interesting but it was to me. It’s been nice that Qemu has been able to keep uptime in several days, I had 3 days of uptime before I took it down to max out the storage so I could possibly do more with it.

Naturally it’s still available as gopher://gopher.superglobalmegacorp.com