Sadly, another year has slipped by and I wasn’t able to get to my intended 2014WW project. This is partly because January is always a crazily busy month for me – work picks up, and an entire weekend and most of the preceding week is lost to an anniversary getaway with my wife – and partly because I wasn’t able to locate the Apple /// BOS disk that I’d pre-configured to work with my CFFA card and I didn’t adequately organize my time to devote the necessary 90 uninterrupted minutes (give or take) to start over. So there it is… My dreams of Retrochallenge glory lie in ruins. We’ll get ‘em next year.
So, it’s back to the Apple ///. Hey, it’s been calling – what can I do? I just can’t leave a problem unresolved. Anyway, I’d like to thank Dave Ottalini from Washington Apple Pi for providing me with working Quark Catalyst disks so I could try to get to the data on the ProFile drive.
My concern here, though, is (if I understand the manual) once you load a program onto the ProFile with Catalyst, it’s “branded” with the Catalyst’s serial number, so that files loaded with one serial number can’t be accessed with a copy of Catalyst that has a different serial. Which would have been a major inconvenience 20 years ago, if your Catalyst disk went bad and you didn’t have a backup. And since the Catalyst disk is apparently so heavily protected, that scenario probably isn’t so uncommon, especially these days with more and more floppy disks lost to the ravages of time. True, Quark included a complementary back up floppy with the package, but if you’ve lost it or it’s dead, you could be out of luck.
WAP has a disk image for a program that apparently deserializes Catalyst, and another to make a back up of your existing disk, but I don’t know if that allows you to access programs that have already been installed by another Catalyst that hasn’t already been deserialized.
A bit of personal trivia. The Quark headquarters building, which Google maps tells me is about 10 miles from my house, is located at 1800 Grant Street in Denver. In the mid-1990s, I worked for Kaiser-Permanente, building databases to help them index their extensive library of medical publications and articles. The Kaiser offices were located in this building, several floors below Quark. On my lunch breaks, I used to ride the elevator up and talk tech with whomever happened to be around that would listen to me. I wonder what they’d say if I walked in with a copy of Catalyst, asking for technical support Actually, I know what they’d say: “Security!”
So, after some confusion around disk image transfer shenanigans related to the way Microsoft changed UAC in Windows 7, the Apple III is in good, running condition once again. As I was digging through the cases, I noticed something I’d missed the first time around: holes. Specifically, a series of holes Apple drilled through the pressed aluminum case of the two later models I have:
These are not present in the earlier Apple III I have:
What’s interesting to me about this is that these holes exist in the case of one of the two 12V models, indicating that Apple knew about and was trying to address design flaws even before they officially started the replacement and upgrade program. Remember that before Apple released the III Plus, they first rolled out a revised Apple III which featured some significant changes to the machine’s design, including the aforementioned holes, as well as a new more efficient 5V power system. But the presence of the cooling holes in this 12V case (serial number 050756) shows that Apple were aware early on of the troubles plaguing the machine.
At any rate, after a handful of successful disk image transfers, I loaded up the Apple /// Dealer Diagnostic disk. I’m not sure if the obvious issues with the color video modes are the fault of the Apple III or the monitor it’s plugged in to. I’ll need to dig further into that:
But, it was very nice to see this at the end of the rather extensive diagnostic:
If you’re like me, you’ve come to accept the popular wisdom that the Apple III was a deeply flawed machine, crippled from the beginning and doomed to failure before it left the design stage. We’ve all heard the rumors of the fanless case causing excessive heat build-up and leading to warped PCBs that dislodged chips from their sockets. It’s a popular tale in Apple lore that one of the manuals shipped with the Apple III actually suggested lifting the main unit six inches off the table and dropping it to reseat loosened chips; and perhaps it’s true – I’ve never seen it myself. Excessive price and a late start into a business market already cornered by IBM and its legion of clones further limited sales; by the time the III was quietly pulled from Apple’s product list in September 1985, it had sold only 65,000 units (or 75,000. Or 125,000, depending on who you talk to). Apple’s attempts to address the flaws (real or perceived) were too little, too late and the updated Apple III Plus sold even worse than the original.
But was the final product really as bad as everyone said?
While searching for Apple III technical documents and information to help the restoration of my Apple III, I happened across this article at AppleLogic, in which an electrical engineer with experience designing hardware for the Apple II takes a second look at the so-called design flaws in the Apple III. If you’re like me, the conclusions he draws from his analysis might surprise you.
Okay, so more research is never a bad thing. I dug around a little and came across a copy of Sun Remarketing’s Do-It-Yourself Guide for the Apple III. You can download it in PDF from 1000bit’s documentation archive here, and if you ever have to do any hardware troubleshooting on a pre-Plus version of an Apple III, I highly recommended consulting this guide.
Serial #018052, which I’d decided to try to bring back to life first, is one of the early 12V 128K Apple III units, released just after the recall, but before the introduction of the ‘revised’ 5V Apple III. This isn’t a III Plus – those came much later, in 1984. Apparently the III Plus was only on the market for a short time, the damage in the public’s perception of anything with an Apple III label having already been done, so it sold in very low numbers and while functionally not much different, today it’s a much rarer commodity and more highly desired by collectors.
At any rate, #050756 is also a 12V unit, so I’m thinking I could scavenge it for working parts. Serial #051780 is a 5V machine, and for the purposes of fixing #018052, of little use.
I ran the in-built memory diagnostic mentioned in Sun’s guide and discovered that two of the RAM chips on the Apple III Main Memory board were bad.
Bad RAM chips, as indicated by inverse blocks in the memory map
I borrowed two chips from 050’s board…
A healthy RAM board passes the diagnostic
As an aside, I also discovered that the memory board in 050 was installed backward and may have been at least partially behind the unit’s earlier complete boot failure. Getting 050 up and running again may not be as daunting as I’d thought.
Now to address the 018’s floppy issue. Again, an easier fix than I’d expected. The floppy cable was plugged into the wrong port on the analog card. Moving it to the correct one brought it back to life, at least to the point where it tries to read a disk at power on. It may have other issues (timing is apparently a big one with these drives), but until I fire up ADTPro and transfer over some disk images to real floppies, I won’t know.
The drive tends work better when it has been properly cabled.
Finally, there’s the issue of the case. This is mostly a cosmetic thing and one I’m not as worried about, though I am looking forward to experimenting with Retr0bright. The cases haven’t been too badly abused, suffering only light scratching, dirt and the requisite yellowing that comes with age. I picked what I thought was the best of the three and did a little basic cleaning with some 409 and paper towels. The final result? Not too bad, I think.
Not as pretty as the day it was manufactured, but closer than it was a few days ago.
Still to do: dig out the Apple Monitor /// that’s supposed to go with this thing; whip up a batch of Retr0bright and get to transferring disk images.
Given the condition of 050, that will probably be my next Apple III project. I suspect tracking down the replacement parts needed will be the hardest task. Anyone have a good source for Apple III keycaps and 12V RAM chips?