The PPC 603e: from Macs to outer space

Performa 5200The second generation of PowerPC processors made its debut in april 1995 with the launch of the all-in-one Power Macintosh 5200 LC (also known under the Performa moniker). The computer sported a brand new PPC 603 chip with a 75 MHz clock frequency, an 8 KB first level cache and a 37,5 MHz bus.

The 5200 – together with the more powerful 6200, launched in May 1995 – was one of the few Macintosh models powered by the PowerPC 603 in its original version. In fact, it became soon evident that the reduced cache in the processor didn’t get along with the Mac’s operative system at all. The Mac OS at the time was mostly made up of code for 68000 processors, and it was being emulated. With not enough cache, the performance was abysmal earning a bad reputation to the first Macs with the 603 processor.

The problem was solved creating a variant of the processor, the PPC 603e. It had a larger, 16 KB cache (just like the PPC 601 had) and it was made to run faster, speeding it up from the original 120 MHz to 200 and later even to 300 MHzs. Such features made possible a much longer and broader use of the processor, including in laptops.

At the Macworld Expo in Boston in August 1995 Apple presented, among other things, the PowerBook 5300 and the PowerBook Duo 2300, two computers with opposing philosophies and target audiences, but sharing an almost identical core hardware.
One was the ambitious but unlucky successor to the 500 series, while the other was the last of the minimal Duo line. Both had the same motherboard and sported the same processor, a 100 MHz PowerPC 603e. (more…)

Thursday 29 January 2015, 2:00 pm
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The Macs of “Death Note”

Filed under: Did you know that...

Published by Shueisha in Japan (and by Viz Media in the US) “Death Note” is a thriller manga about a high school student who discovers a supernatural notebook granting the ability to kill anyone, knowing his/her name and face.


Written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, “Death Note” was first serialized in Shueisha’s japanese manga magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump from December 2003 to May 2006 and then the 108 chapters were collected into 12 tankōbon volumes between May 2004 and October 2006.


Why are you reading about a manga on Stories of Apple? Because the illustrator, Obata, has chosen to prominently feature a number of Apple products throughout the [comic] book. Many of the characters, among which are the genius detectives known as “L” and “N”, use Macintosh computers* in their research, monitoring and communication work.

Here’s a list of Apple products appearing in “Death Note”, chapter by chapter, with technical notes and (edited and enhanced) pictures.

Chapter 1: Boredom

At the end of chapter 1 we see “L” for the first time. He is sitting on the floor of an unfurnished room, in front of a Power Macintosh G4 and a matching Apple Studio/Cinema Display, probably a 20″ or 23″, plus one of the Harman/Kardon-designed round external Apple Pro Speakers.


Chapter 2: L

During an Interpol meeting, the mysterious emissary Watari shows up and “L” speaks, the first of many times, through a PowerBook G4 Titanium laptop. It’s probably one of the last Titanium models, before the switch to the aluminium design, which occurred in 2003, the year Death Note began its serialization.


Wednesday 21 January 2015, 3:00 pm
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Mac OS 9: still alive and kicking after 15 years

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Apple introduced Mac OS 9, the last edition of the “classic” Mac OS line, in 1999 and buried it less than three years after in May 2002, at its WWDC (WorldWide Developer Conference).

During the WWDC keynote, Steve Jobs officiated a mock ceremony where he actually buried a giant box of Mac OS 9 in a coffin after a humorous and a bit irriverent funeral oration, complete with organ accompaniment.

And yet, despite its official sendoff, the “old” OS has refused to rest “in the great bit bucket in the sky” where the iCEO so hastily put it.

Mac OS 9 has not only been the main OS for quite a few years during the early and immature phase of Mac OS X’ existence, but there are users stubbornly and happily using it right now, in 2014. They are still making the most of it on supported Macs and some have even successfully hacked unsupported models harnessing all of the power of the PowerPC chips.

You see, at the time of Mac OS 9’s “death” Apple not only put all of its resources behind the newer OS, but also made it impossible to natively run the OS on its new Macintoshes, relegating it to the emulated Classic environment. Starting from 2003 Apple introduced new Mac which could only boot in Mac OS X. In 2004 this forced “transition” was a reality, also thanks to the fourth major release of OS X, Panther, which cut support for older Macs such as beige G3s and the “Wall Street” PowerBook G3s.

Mac OS 9 boxAlthough more and more outdated, Mac OS 9 has soldiered on and still lives. There is a pletora of quality professional software available and its great responsiveness and pixel-perfect interface have a small but devoted user base. There are not luddites, but old and new users who simply want to use the pinnacle of the “Classic” Macintosh OS on hardware that just refuses to die. It’s a combination which, though undoubtedly old and practically worthless (or very cheap, if you like), is still quite powerful and productive.

Sure, going online with a G3 or even <1 GHz G4 is a frustrating (and risky) experience* but there's a lot that a “Classic Setup” can attain. It’s not only good for text editing but also for professional graphics work and audio production.

[Mac] OS X is a great leap forward and has been one of the keys in the resurgence and success of Apple and of the “computer for the rest of us”, but 15 years ago, when Mac OS 9 was released, the Mac was already an established and mature platform.
Let’s not forget that.

* in the browser department, iCab and Classilla are the way to go, and TenFourfox is just a reboot away into the 10.4 partition.

Thursday 15 January 2015, 4:00 pm
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so su mi

In 1990, during the development of the new Macintosh operating system software, System 7, Apple Computers was being sued by Beatles’ Apple Corps.

The two Apples had an agreement that stated that Apple Computer was prohibited from entering the music market and were again battling in court after the introduction of the Apple IIgs, which had MIDI capabilities. This meant that any new work on audio features was closely reviewed by Apple’s legal department.

Jim ReekesOne of the new features of System 7 was a new Sound Manager, which replaced the older APIs and, among other things allowed higher quality playback of audio.
One night Jim Reekes, the engineer who managed the develoment of audio on the Mac from 1990 to 1999 and, among other things*, created the startup chord, found out that one of the new system alert sounds he created** for System 7 was problematic. It was deemed “too musical” because of its name, Xylophone, and had to be renamed.

Reekes, appalled, initially joked that he would call it “Let it bleep”, a jab at both Apple Corps and Apple’s lawyers. When, after some laughter, it was made clear to the engineer that the pun would not be appropriate, Reekes quipped “so sue me”. After a brief reflection, with the help of Sheila Brady, the person in charge of the System 7 disks, Reekes resubmitted the sound’s name to the legal department as “sosumi”.
The two of them were very careful not to pronounce it and concocted some fake story that the word was Japanese, and meant “the absence of sound”.

System 7 - sosumi

Somehow the choice was approved and the (non) sound has been included in all subsequent versions of the System, Mac OS, and even Mac OS X. Moreso its story has become a beloved part of Apple folklore, to the point that the legal fine print for products on the website is currently marked with the CSS class name “sosumi”.

By the way, in 2007, the two Apples put an end to the ongoing trademark lawsuit entering an agreement under which Apple Inc. owns “all of the trademarks related to “Apple” and licenses “certain of those trademarks back to Apple Corps for their continued use”.

* Reekes also created the Mac and iPhone Camera/Screenshot Sound, which is actually recording of an old Canon AE-1 from the late ’70s.
** According to some sources, the Xylophone/Sosumi sound was actually “borrowed” from a third party Macintosh video game, Crystal Quest.

Jim Reekes’s picture is from the BoingBoing website.

Thursday 02 October 2014, 4:25 pm
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“Where did the computer go?”

Filed under: Hardware

When, at the end of August 2004, Apple introduced the new iMac G5, Philip Schiller, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing, stated that “A lot of people will be wondering ‘where did the computer go?’”.


With the entire system fused with the display in a design only two inches thick, the new iMac was in fact a masterpiece of technological miniaturization. But it not only totally removed the main processing unit from the user’s view, it also packed in less space more power than the preceding G4-based generation, blurring even more the line between professional and consumer products. (more…)

Tuesday 16 September 2014, 2:28 pm
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