MacBook Pro 15” pushing 25+ millions pixels with dual 4K

I have to admit I have never before changed my setup so often as during the past 12 months or so. Due to The Curse of Retina however it was again time for some changes: I replaced my two 27” Dell monitors (U2713H and U2713HM) and the DELL U2414 portrait off-screen with two 28” Philips Brilliance 288P 4K ones and it has been a great improvement.


The MacBook Pro 15” Retina (late 2013) with GeForce 750M can drive both 4k displays in addition to its build-in display. Running both 4K screens in their native resolution of 3840×2160 and the build-in display at 2880×1800 (which I actually often do) totals an insane 21.7 million pixels of screen real-estate.

This allows me to open all the large documents and spreadsheets I work on and multiple browser windows with tons of tabs in each and keep it all visible while having room to spare.

In this configuration you have one of the two Thunderbolt ports free. You can push those 22.7 million pixels to an staggering almost 25+ million pixels by attaching a 27” or 30” screen running at 2560×1440 or 2560×1600 respectively! It did it for a couple of days, but I dislike the lack of crispness on the normal screen compared to the 4K screens and the build-in display.

While the left 4K screen is connected via DisplayPort and runs at 60Hz, the right 4K screen has to be connected via HDMI which limits its refresh rate to 30Hz. While I personally deem 30Hz to not be sufficient for a main screen, I noticed that for an off-screen it actually is OK. I use it to dump all documents and apps I’m not currently working on, but still need to glance at every now and then. Often the messenger window and Skype land there as well.

So, how does the MacBook Pro 15” cope with pushing that many pixel? Pretty damn well! I actually feared it will come to a crawl when I switched from driving 15 million pixels to almost 22 million, but as a matter of fact, I haven’t noticed any difference in performance for productivity, office and coding tasks.

There is an occasional hiccup, especially when invoking Exposé, but that actually happens occasionally even when I just run the build-in display without external screens. Moving windows, scrolling large documents or website etc. is smooth and even not half-bad on the 30Hz right screen.

Running 4K displays in their native resolution requires good eyesight – not as good as running the build-in display in native 2880×1800, but still. As I often work late at night my eyes are getting tired after 12 or more hours staring at various screens. The first thing I do when I notice my eyes and myself are becoming tired is to switch the build-in display to 1920×1200. The next step is to reduce the resolution on the 4K screens. The next lower resolution is 3008×1692 and I use it on both screens. Oddly enough when I used Samsung’s U28D590D it offered different scaled resolutions when connected via HDMI and mini DisplayPort.

Don’t be afraid of using scaled resolutions on 4K displays – you are unlikely to notice even the tiniest artefacts. It is nothing like setting a different resolution on a Full HD display thanks to the very high pixel density of 4K displays.


Another topic of interest are the 4K panels themselves. Displays featuring IPS 4K panels are still quite expensive. The new wave of “cheap” 4K displays that swept the market over the past months all come with TN panels. Usually I would run for the hills at the thought of a TN panel, but a few years back I learned a valuable lesson when it comes to that type of panels.

For years I only used IPS screens due to their superior color reproduction and viewing angles or very little to no color shifting. Then I got my MacBook Air and liked its display a lot. Good colors, great viewing angles – as it supposed to be for an IPS panel. Imagine my surprise when a couple of weeks down the road I learned it’s actually a TN panel that comes in the MacBook Air…

The lesson learned was that IPS panels are better then TN panels, but TN panels are not made equal. There are some really good TN panels where it’s hard to tell them apart from an IPS panel – at least on first sight – and there are TN panels that just make you run screaming.

The TN panel in the Philips 288P is really decent. I have no issues with color shifting or viewing angles despite the display’s large size. That being said, please notice that the right screen is at an angle for better viewing comfort. When you put them side by side in a straight line you are actually able to notice light color shifts when you don’t sit in the middle. Similar situation arises if you sit further away. That however shouldn’t be a problem since you can’t actually work sitting that far away due to the size of elements on the screen. Considering the affordable price of these new 28” 4K TN displays I can only say that they are great for office & productivity work as well as coding. The Philips 288P I can recommend without hesitation. I am also currently evaluating the Samsung U28D590D as well as AOC’s and IIYAMA’s new 28” 4K TN screens. Stay tunes for some thoughts on those displays…


The Curse of Retina

Back in the day when Apple released the iPhone 4 I made my first experience with what I now call ‘The Curse of Retina’. The iPhone 4 was the first iPhone with a retina display. It was crisp, it was detailed, it was amazing. Shorty after I got my iPhone 4 I had the need to use 2 phones for a short period of time. So obviously I used my old iPhone 3G as the second phone and quickly realized how ugly things look on its display after I gotten used to the iPhone 4’s retina display.

Now I am struggling with a serious case of The Curse of Retina. As you might know from a previous post, I use a MacBook Pro 15” with Retina display as my main machine. It’s connected to two 27” DELL displays running at 2560×1440 each and another 24” in portrait mode running at 1080×1920. It’s a great setup I should enjoy a lot, but lately I don’t.

Those DELL displays are top-notch, no question about it. But when I switch between the magnificent retina display on the MacBook Pro and any of the normal displays, I find the lack of “retina crispness” very annoying.

I don’t have a problem working on the iMac, the PC or the Mac Pro that are connected to normal displays, because there I work consistently on the same display quality. On the MacBook Pro however I am looking back and forth between retina and non-retina displays up to 15 times a minute and I find the difference between crisp and not so crisp more and more annoying. As I said before: The Curse of Retina…

One got to love those first world problems, right? I guess there is no other option left for me than go 4K, except the MacBook Pro 15 Late-2013 isn’t able to drive two 4K displays at 60Hz. One 4K at 60Hz and another 4K at 30Hz are possible, but 30Hz are unbearable.

The mouse moves like laced with honey, moving windows around feels extremely sluggish etc. At least that’s what everyone thinks. For most part, they are right. When I got my hands on the first 4k TN display from DELL for a weekend a couple of months back, it did only run at 30Hz and it was bad, really bad.

That being said, I recently hooked up a Samsung 4K display (U28D590) to my MacBook Pro 15” Retina and it did run properly at 60Hz via DisplayPort while also offering a satisfactory experience while connected via HDMI and running at 30Hz. Imagine my surprise.  Yes, things are smoother when running it at 60Hz, but even at 30Hz the mouse did not feel like glued to the desktop and moving things around was fine – not great, but fine. Since I mostly work with lots of documents and massive spreadsheets, the 30Hz experience on the Samsung was absolutely fine for me.

I guess what I’m saying here is: expect yet another change to my setup soon(TM). While at it, I will find out if a 15” MacBook Pro Retina can drive an insane 22 millions pixels…4K here I come!

My Setup (October 2014)

As promised the update to my setup. It now features new gear on the right desk and I managed to find a tiny desk I could squeeze between the two main desks. It adds a very useful “offload” area and I usually keep one of my pet project on there. Currently in the picture it’s the PowerBook G3 FireWire aka PISMO I’m testing with various versions of OS X.

The left desk remains mostly unchanged, except the portrait mode DELL U2311 now made room for the DELL U2414. The resolution remains the same at 1080×1920, but the new one has a much nicer panel and I really like that tiny, slim display border. The U2311 will soon be mounted on the middle desk – a simple monitor stand for it is already in the picture.

The big changes happened on right desk:


Yes, that’s a 4 display setup consisting of 24” Dell (U2412M) monitors each running at 1920×1200. In addition to my gaming PC there is also a Mac Pro 5.1 now.

A Mid 2010 model with 6-core Xeon @ 3.33 GHz, 16GB RAM, 3x 240GB SDD, 2x 2TB HDD and the ATI 5770 it usually comes with has been replaced by EVGA’s GeForce 680 Mac Edition. I also added a SATA-III controller to provide 6GB/s for the SSDs as well as a dual SDD mount for the lower optical drive bay to accommodate two additional SSDs.

All displays are cross connected to each computer allowing me to use up to 3 of the 4 displays for either the PC or the Mac Pro. Most of the time however I run the setup with the PC using the lower left screen while the Mac Pro uses the upper left screen and both screens on the right.

I am also using the VGA ports of two of the displays to connect them via an adapter to the iMac (which is now on the left side of the desk) and to the tiny Esprimo (which is currently under the desk on a small cabinet).

There is now a simple USB switch mounted to the left monitor to switch the keyboard (Logitech G110) and mouse (Razor DeathAdder) between the PC and the Esprimo. I really need a proper KVM solution here that would allow me to use the gaming input devices with the Mac Pro whenever needed and also connect another Mac mini for testing purposes…

My Setup (September 2014)

I know, I know, I promised some of you months ago I will write about what setup I use at home, what hardware is there and what purpose it serves. Not to mention showing some pictures.

Being urged by a friend I finally decided to do so. Except I ran into a problem right away: I am currently in the process of making some changes to my setup and it’s one bloody mess unsuited for any photos. I did however made some photos of the setup not so long ago for another friend to show and I’ll use that to give you an idea what I work with.

My setup consists of two desks opposite of each other. I admit it is a rather strange way to arrange desks, but there is a good reason for that. It allows me to get less distracted by what is happening on the screens behind me. My work setup is mostly focused on the left desk you see in the picture below. It used to be a MacBook Air 11” connected to a 27” Dell U2713H monitor.  For some months now my work requires a serious amount of screen real-estate and the tiny 11” display of the MBA combined with a 27” display running at 2560×1440 couldn’t cope with it.


My new main workhorse these days is a Late 2013 MacBook Pro 15” with Retina display, 16GB RAM, 512GB flash storage and GeForce GT 750M. When at my desk it usually runs in 1920×1200, but every now and then I actually run the display’s native resolution of 2880×1800.  As a matter of fact, I had the native resolution running for most of last week. Let me tell you this: that MBP’s display is just amazing!

When at home, the MBP is connected to two 27” Dell monitors (U2713H and U2713HM), both running at 2560×1440 and one 23” Dell (U2311H) at 1920×1080 that’s always in portrait mode.

That’s right, the MBP runs 3 external monitors on top of its own high-rez display.  It’s driving almost 15 million pixels in this setup and that’s some very serious screen real-estate driven by a slim 2kg notebook!

The MacBook Air is not connected to any external monitor these days and takes the role of a floating companion. I still carry it with me from time to time and use it mostly for communication while having all screens of the MBP occupied with work.

Sound is covered by an Altec Lansing Octane 7 (VS4621) 2.1 speaker system that replaced the Harman Kardon SoundSticks II that went downstairs to the living room . The subwoofer is located on the right side on the bottom of the cabinet. The black cone in the right corner is one of its two speakers. They project the sound downward using the surface they stand on to achieve better sound. As it turned out, they work just short of incredible on IKEA desks as those are sort of hollow inside and thus allow for much better vibrations hence sound than a solid wood desk would. That’s however also the problem with these speakers: they works great on some surfaces and work mediocre at best on others.

On each side of the desk there is a small, open cabinet. They not only make the desk more stable, but also cover some storage needs. The right one holds the subwoofer, a TP-LINK gigabit switch, various external hard drives I like to keep easily accessible and a NAS (Synology DS214se with 2x 4TB WD RED). On top of the cabinet I also keep a Twelve South HiRise I plug my iPhone 5S or iPad mini Retina into.

Speaking of which, the row of green lights with a blue light beneath it in the left cabinet is my main NAS: Synology’s DS412+ with 4x 4TB WD RED HDDs. It runs my main storage, my own little cloud to sync some of my data across all devices and it also runs a Plex server with transcoding to feed us with movies and TV shows.

Unfortunately mostly out of the picture, there is also an AC Time Capsule (3TB) on top of the cabinet. Its purpose are Time Machine backups of all my Macs and to connect the network in my home office with the AC AirPort Extreme downstairs that provides the internet connection (50Mbit downstream, 5Mbit upstream).

My Mid 2011 Mac mini (i5 2.5GHz, 8GB RAM, Radeon 6630M, 600GB Fusion Drive) is next to the Time Capsule and is connected to the left 27” monitor (U2713H). The nice thing about the U2713H are two DisplayPorts so whenever I need the Mac mini I can switch input on the monitor to the other DisplayPort the mini is connected to and then switch back to the DisplayPort that’s hooked up to the MacBook Pro when I’m done. I use the mini very often for testing. As a general rule, I never test stuff on my main workhorse as I need to rely on it being fully functional at any time.

The Mac mini’s keyboard is a Kanex multi-sync keyboard sitting on a retractable keyboard shelf under the desk. The Kanex allows you to connect it to two other Bluetooth devices and even to a forth using USB. I keep if wireless though and out of shit and giggles have it also connected to the iPhone and the iPad.

My Mid 2010 Mac mini (Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz, 8GB RAM, GeForce 320M, 500GB HDD) is downstairs serving as a HTPC connected to the TV in the den (there is also an Apple TV, but I can’t be bothered to make it work with Plex so it’s used for AirPlay only).

Apart of the insane screen real-estate, there is another thing I highly value about this setup: all these devices are virtually silent, even the Network Attached Storages. The only thing that occasionally makes some noise is the MacBook Pro 15” when stressed.

There is also a AMD PC (FX6350 @ 3.9GHz, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 460, 120GB SDD + 1TB HDD) under the desk that doesn’t see any use these days as it got replaced by a new one on the other desk.

The other desk. I have to admit it’s a bit less interesting, but that will change shortly when I’m done setting up the new gear.

What you see in the picture is a 21.5” Mid 2011 iMac (i5 2.7GHz, 8GB RAM, Radeon 6770M, 1.2GB Fusion Drive). What you cannot see is a duo of 24” Dell (U2412M) monitors standing next to each other connected to my PC (i5-4670K @ 3.4GHz, 8GB RAM, R9 270X, 120GB SDD + 2TB Hybrid HDD). Both monitors are running at 1920×1200 and in case you don’t feel like doing the math, that’s just 4.1 million pixels combined – which simply pales in comparison to the 15 million pixels on the other desk.

Both monitors serve a double purpose – well, the right one actually serves a triple purpose. The left one is connected to the PC via DVI while also being connected via its VGA port to my Mac mini G4 (PowerPC G4 1.42GHz, 1GB RAM, 120GB HDD).  The right one, apart from being connected via DVI to the PC is also connected via its DisplayPort to the iMac. It is however also connected to a tiny PC (Fujitsu Esprimo Q5030) via its VGA port. If I need to check something on the mini G4 I just switch the left monitor input source to VGA. If I need a second display while working with the iMac, I switch the right monitor to DisplayPort or VGA whenever I need to check up on something on the Esprimo.

The display quality and connectivity of Dell’s UltraSharp line of monitors is why I like them so much. I really love the ability to connect one monitor to different computers as it saves a lot of space on a desk and also ends the hustle of switching cables whenever you need to check something on one of the infrequently used computers. Yes, there are KVM switches for that purpose, but the ones allowing you to run 1920×1200 in good quality more often than not cost more than the computers you are connecting to it. That’s why I went the display input source route. For keyboard and mouse I use a tiny USB switch that switches a Logitech G110 gaming keyboard and a Razor DeathAdder mouse between the PC and the Esprimo. The Mac mini G4 has its own keyboard that’s sitting on a keyboard shelf under the desk while the iMac’s wireless keyboard and mouse are on the desk in front of the iMac.

The PC’s sole purpose is games. That it turns means that lately both 24” monitors spend most of their time being connected to the iMac and the Esprimo.

The job of networking my right desk falls to my previous generation Time Capsule (2TB). Turns out its WAN port can be used as a LAN port after all. For the new setup I will have to deploy  something with more ports, as now there will also be a Mac Pro under that desk and possibly also another MacBook Pro when I find a spot for it…

Well, that’s it for now. I will write another post once the right desk is set up properly. What you can look forward to is a 4 display setup powered by a Mid 2010 Mac Pro and a PC.

Vintage Mac: What Happened?

To start with, let me assure you that I have not given up on this blog. I received a surprising amount of emails asking about when new entries will surface.
The thing is: I have been very busy with work over the past months. So busy in fact, I often lacked the time to unpack and check some of the vintage Macs I bought. Imagine that.

While a mint condition, upgraded G4 Cube still eludes me, I bought some other vintage Macs and even went so far as get some pieces of the pre-PowerPC era: 68k Macs.

To give you an idea (and at the same time safe some effort to not repeat what I got recently to friends over and over again) here is what I acquired in the past months:

Power Macintosh G4 (MDD)
apple_powermac_g4_mddYear: 2002
2x PowerPC 7455 (G4) @ 867Mhz, 768MB RAM, 120GB HDD
The first “Mirrored Drive Doors”. Not the best choice for a vintage Mac to be honest, but at 25,- Euros I will not complain. The reason I actually got it is because I needed a Mac with ADC port – as cheap as possible and ASAP. In preparation for getting a G4 Cube at some point I got myself three Apple Studio Displays (15”, 17” and 20”). Problem however was, I couldn’t test if they actually worked. This Power Mac did the trick and all displays turned out to be in good working condition. Now I know I am ready for a good G4 Cube 😉


iMac G3/500 (indigo)

apple_imac_500_indigo2Year: 2001
PowerPC 750cx (G3) @ 500MHz, 1GB RAM, 40GB HDD, 14” up to 1024×768 built-in CRT
Another cheap buy. I didn’t even intend to get one of the original iMacs, but who could say no to one that’s actually in good shape at 15,- Euros including shipping?
The funny thing about those “second generation” iMacs (slot loading optical drives) is that they don’t use fans and rely solely on convection cooling. This in turn means that they run absolutely silent – if it weren’t for the HDD that in those days was loud, really loud or defeating, dependent on the model…


iMac G3/350 (blueberry)

apple_imac_350Year: 1999
PowerPC 750 (G3) @ 350MHz, 320MB RAM, 6GB HDD, 14” up to 1024×768 built-in CRT
Yet another cheap buy and again one I didn’t initially intend to get. But it was being sold locally for 12 Euros so I picked it up on my way from work. The AirPort card inside is worth that much on its own and I bought it for that card and its adapter board.


iBook Clamshell (indigo)

apple_ibook_indigoYear: 2000
PowerPC 750cx @ 366 MHz, 12.1” 800×600 color display, first iBook with FireWire
I actually got two of those, both in really good condition with the second one intended for spare parts when the time comes. Quite honestly I find them rather ugly, but since I got both for cheap I figured I’d go for it anyway.




PowerBook G3 FireWire aka PISMO

apple_powerbook_g3_fw_PISMOYear: 2000
PowerPC 750 (G3) @ 400MHz, 768MB RAM, 40GB HDD, 14.1” 1024×768 color display
That’s a real classic right there and after playing with it for a bit I can see why. Easy to take apart and fix, the most expandable notebook Apple ever produced and a keyboard that’s just a dream to type on. This one is actually likely to get some real use due to that keyboard alone. The one I got is in close to mint condition – a real collectable.


Power Macintosh 7100/80 & 7100/80AV
apple_powermac_7100Year: 1995
PowerPC 601 @ 80 MHz, 136 MB RAM, 700MB HDD
Never liked those rather ugly, large desktops, but they are really good machines and being able to run a wide selection of Mac OS versions I decided to get one. They are also great as a gateway to transfer files to and from older Macs, be it via floppies or network.
The 7100/80AV I got together with the Macintosh Classic since they were sold together months after I already had the 7100/80.

Power Macintosh 6100/60 & Houdini
Power Mac 6100Year: 1994
PowerPC 601 @ 60 MHz, 16 MB RAM, 250MB HDD
I didn’t really intended to buy this one as I feel that area is nicely covered with the 7100/80, but Houdini did it! Houdini is an expansion card Apple released for this Mac that hosts basically a whole 486 PC sans ports (except display) and storage. It even has a SoundBlaster and its own RAM. This means that you can run Mac OS and Windows 95 or 98 simultaneously and switch between the two operating systems with a key combination. Actually, you can connect a second monitor to the Houdini’s display port. Since the Houdini is basically a PC on a card, Windows runs parallel to Mac OS. Obviously I had to have this one and compared to most of the Macs I bought over the past months this one was rather pricey even though it needs some work to fix it up.


PowerBook Duo 270c (incl. all accessories)
apple_powerbook_duo270c Year: 1993
68030 @ 33 MHz, 12MB, 240MB HDD, 8.4” 640×400 color display.
There was a time in early 1994 where I actually looked at a Mac and it was the 270c. I needed a new notebook, something small and light. On the other hand I wanted something with some power and expandability when at home. The PowerBook Duo line has large docking stations where the notebook mechanically slid in (like a VHS tape) and the docking station offered all the connectivity one needed + additional video RAM and 2 expansion slots for card. But back then I decided to go once again with an IBM ThinkPad. Today I wish I went with the 270c and thus got into Macs earlier…


Macintosh LC II
apple_mac_lc_iiYear: 1992
68030 @ 16 MHz, 4MB RAM, 120MB HDD
The awesome “pizza box” form factor. Came with a fitting Apple 13” color monitor with one of those half-flat SONY Triniton CRTs. It really looks nice being that slim with that tiny screen on top of it. It does however seem to need some serious work to make it run as it sometimes boots and sometimes doesn’t. I am already looking forward to fix this little guy.


Macintosh Quadra 700
apple_quadra_700Year: 1991
68040 @ 25MHz, 20MB RAM, 160MB HDD
I remember this one from when I was young. The Apple reseller I passed on my way to university had it on display boasting about how incredible fast it was. I also admit I really like the case and the rather small size. One of the first Macs to come with build-in AAUI to connect it to a “proper” network. This one is in dire need of HDD replacement. While the Quantum ProDrive inside works well, it produces a noise level beyond bearable. That being said, you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to get a decent 3.5” SCSI HDD these days…


Macintosh IIsi
IIsiYear: 1990
68030 @ 20 MHz, 4MB RAM, 80MB HDD
This one will need some work, but I do like the slim look of it. I also came with an Apple 13” color CRT. Looking forward to fix it up and do some upgrades. I actually managed to get my hands on a replacement case for it that didn’t yellowed from old age. Like the LC II it would fit perfectly onto the keyboard tray below my desk I don’t use and connected to a beige NEC 20” IPS screen it would feel just at home. That’s the reason the slim form factor Macs stand a good chance to be fixed, upgraded and put into some use soon.


Macintosh Classic
apple_mac_classicYear: 1990
68000 @ 8 MHz, 4MB RAM, 40MB HDD
It doesn’t get any more classic than a Classic. Well, except maybe Classic II, Color Classic or a Color Classic II. I would love to have a Color Classic II, but so far I haven’t come across one that’s in good shape at a good price. This Classic on the other hand is in great condition and came at 95 Euros including the 7100/80AV mentioned earlier. Most important though: it is just so cute. You can place it anywhere in the house and your girlfriend or wife won’t object.


Since I didn’t have time to make photos on my own, I used pictures of these Macs from – pretty much the best place to look up detailed specs of all Macs and compare Mac specs with each other.

Along the journey of buying all those Macs I also got a lot of other devices to complement them or in some cases to actually be able to do anything with some the older models. Among those things are:

  • Iomega ZIP drives (LPT for PC and SCSI for Macs) and some ZIP disks.
  • Apple 1.1GB external SCSI HDD (M2115).
  • Multiple AAUI and PhoneNet adapters for networking Macs.
  • AppleCD 150 external SCSI CD-ROM.
  • HDI-SCSI adapter for old PowerBooks.
  • VideoLogic DVA-400 NuBus graphics card
  • VGA converters to connect those old Macs to a “modern” NEC 20” IPS MultiSync display.
  • Various HDI display adapters for old desktops and notebooks as some don’t have the Apple 15-pin video port relaying solely on the HDI port for connecting displays.
  • Griffin FireWave external FireWire sound card.
  • Lots of new batteries for the notebooks. My gut-feeling tells me we won’t be able to buy them soon.
  • Something I never though I would buy ever again: 10 packs of floppy disks…

The odd thing is, that most of those devices cost significantly more these days than the Macs above. A DOS Compatibility Card aka Houdini or an original Apple external HDD cost easily 100,- Euros or more these days!

As you can see from the list above, 13 Macs joined the ranks of my small vintage Mac collection. I plan to put them to some use, set them up in a network and so on. Plenty to write about over the next couple of months provided I manage to find the time.

There have also been massive changes to my modern setups, but more about that in a few days.

Vintage Mac: Software & Abandonware


Finding software for a vintage Mac is quite an undertaking. This starts with the operating system itself. Apple obviously doesn’t sell those outdated operating systems anymore. What you are left with are specialized dealers, craiglist or eBay. If you look at the prices at some good dealers like LowEndMac or you’ll notice that we are talking serious money here. For popular PowerPC operating systems such as OS X Tiger or especially Leopard (the last OS X capable of running on PowerPC Macs) you are often looking at price tags above $200 or even $250. That in my personal opinion is just too much for an obsolete operating system, especially if you consider that unlike a PC, your old Mac initially came with an operating system that was included in its price.

If you are like me, you are left with eBay and Craiglist or their local equivalents in your country. That doesn’t mean you get your retail version of OS X or Mac OS there for cheap, but sometimes you can spot auctions or ads for far more reasonable prices like $50 or sometimes even less. You just have to spend a couple of weeks looking for a good find.

You also have to pay attention to what you are looking for. In general Apple operating systems are being offered as retail version, but also on gray disks that initially came with a Mac. These gray installation disks however do work with only a very limited selection of Macs, usually the ones they came with and maybe, just maybe and occasionally, other Macs from the same period.

I got myself OS X Leopard and Tiger (both retail) for $35 and $28 respectively, but it took close to 3 months to find them at these prices. I also snatched an old Mac OS 9 retail CD (unfortunately without the box) for mere $10 at a local store dealing in computer repairs and second hand hardware. Having both OS X Tiger and Mac OS 9 I felt I’m being covered in terms of my iMac G4. Wrong.

As it turned out, the Mac OS 9 (9.2.1) retail disk is basically too old for the iMac G4. It does boot, it even starts to launch Mac OS 9, but then the screen goes black and that’s it. Looks a lot like an issue with graphics drivers. What I would need is the original Mac OS 9 installation/restore disk that came with the iMac G4. Except I find it close to impossible to get one of those. Nobody seems to sell them and if they do, they are usually from a much never iMac G4.

If you think going to a forum and ask for help would be a good idea at this point, you are quite mistaken. I did spent some time looking into the problem and reading several related posts on various forums and what I usually found was: whenever someone came up with a problem like that rather than getting offered an image of a disk that would solve the problem he got told off followed by multiple posters telling in harsh words to not pirate software.

I am against software piracy even more than the next guy (I do make my living from creating software), but at least some common sense should be applied. Apple declared these operating systems obsolete, unsupported and doesn’t sell them anymore. At this point what I would expect is being able to download restoration disks for obsolete Macs in the support section. Unlike Windows, Mac OS and OS X are bound to Mac hardware and that’s where Apple makes its money.

What I am left with at this point with my Mac OS 9 installation is turning to torrents and hopefully find the disk I need there. Do I feel bad about? Not even a tiny bit, especially since I actually own a retail version of Mac OS 9.

This brings me to another issue. I would love to try OS X Panther, Cheetah or Jaguar on my iMac G4 just to see how they looked and felt. I do however consider paying upwards of $300 for those systems and especially for that purpose madness. Unlike OS X Tiger or Leopard, the older versions of OS X rarely show up in classifieds or on auctions. And the situation gets even worse when it comes to old software. Check eBay for very popular software like let’s say Office 2001. As I am writing this, has tons of books for Microsoft Office 2001, but the only software is an Office 2001 update CD. Finding software that is more rare than Office or games is an exercise in futility. I should know as I am trying for a couple of months now.

This is where abandonware comes in. While from a legal standpoint it’s a gray area at best, when one applies common sense to the issue it is the only viable approach available today.

I love abandonware and have been a big fan of sites offering old software and games to download. As a matter of fact, I was also professionally grateful for the service these sites provide whenever I needed to look at some of the software or games I did in the past. Even if I would find the original game somewhere in storage at the office I would still have to battle the stupid copy protection we shipped our games with. Considering I don’t have an optical drive in any of my notebooks for at least 5 years now, that would be a serious problem on its own.

The company I work at and that I am a majority owner of does not care about our old games or software. We don’t sell then, we don’t support them and many people in the team don’t even remember those products anymore. If there are sites that make those products available to fans, then we are glad about it. If there are gamers or users out there who can enjoy our old work, the better. Should we want to use one of those brands to release a sequel, we can just write those sites to take the old products down and from experience from another company I worked for I know they do it quite promptly. Everyone is happy.

Out of curiosity, over the past couple of years I asked a lot of friends in the gaming industry about their opinion on abandonware. To my surprise, most just didn’t give a damn about the subject. Some were fans of it like I am. Few didn’t like the idea, but couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it either. Very few were really glad those sites exists, because their company does not have the one or other game anymore. They never bothered to transfer their products to new storage medias and put them into their backups. These games would otherwise be lost forever.

With more and more companies taking their old games and developing remakes for mobile (iOS and Android), the situation in terms of abandonware might see a change in the future. Until this happens though, let’s just enjoy it.

Just google mac abandonware and you’ll find the major sites on the first result page.

If you have been using computers for a couple of decades or even longer, you are likely to re-discover software and games you used and played in the past. Chances are you payed for many of the ones you downloading today in your past. I know I do.

I slowly start to seriously regret junking my large game collection a decade ago when I moved from one country to another. I do believe games with their original disks and boxes will become proper collector items within the next decade. Maybe not as large as comics are today, but what comics were for the last generation, computer games are for the current one. On the other hand half of my games back then were already so old, the diskettes could not be read reliable anymore. I did keep the boxes in good condition though…

My favorite site for mac software is Macintosh Garden. When it comes to old games, I usually look at My Abandonware and play those oldies on my modern Macs using Boxer. It is basically a Mac port of DOSBox wrapped into a beautifully made user interface making setting those games up and running them incredibly simple.

Now, some very popular oldies cannot be found on abandonware sites anymore, because they again can be bought. You can find them on Steam occasionally, but there is one site you want to put into your bookmarks: What those guys do is they license old games, remove copy protections making these games DRM free and modify them to run on recent computers. Then they sell them at bargain prices, usually only for a couple of bucks. Like Steam, they often have great special offers. They currently offer more than 600 games for PC, but their Mac games section is growing nicely, too.

Vintage Mac: A Time Before Computers


I stumbled across an interesting tidbit I find quite amusing when you consider how the jargon has changed over the last couple of decades:

  • An application was for employment
  • A program was a TV show
  • A hard drive was a long trip on the road
  • A cursor used profanity
  • A keyboard was a piano
  • A web was a spider’s home
  • A virus was the flu
  • A CD was a bank account
  • A mouse was a rodent
  • Memory was something you lost with age