Vintage Macintosh: Having A Collection

For some people, one or two vintage Macintoshes is all they want. It is an amusement, a trip back in time, a diversion. But for some (like me), they want a collection. They want to build a personal museum (or maybe a public museum) of vintage machines to both use and display. I’ve started down that road, and I’ve learned a few things so far. I know I will learn more, and I will pass those on over time.

Setting The Table

Owning a collection of vintage computers is similar to owning a collection of vintage cars: they need a degree of constant maintenance. Even when much of the machine is made of solid-state components, there are still moving parts that need some care, and there are other bits that benefit from regular use.

To do this, and make your life easier, there are some things you need. You will want an easy way to get software onto different machines in your collection. You will want to be able to easily connect external accessories. You may also want to perform some upgrades, and even if you don’t, you may find you need to open them up to make repairs.

All that adds up to having some infrastructure, a collection of standard parts and some tools available. There are also a few things you want to keep in mind when curating and maintaining your collection.

Parts and Tools

There are definitely a few things you want to have handy to make it easier when you get a new machine for the collection, or when using your collection. First, let’s talk about parts. I would recommend that you have at least one, possibly more, of the following:

  • 25-pin to Centronics SCSI cables, to connect external drives
  • ADB Keyboard cables
  • ADB mice
  • ADB keyboards
  • Mini DIN-8 serial cables
  • Standard power cords

Why have them if you don’t need them right away? Well, parts fail. Connectors corrode, keyboard switches go, mice have problems. Having working spares of these things means you can easily swap out the bad part and get a machine back up and running quickly. They also make it easier for those times when you find the “almost perfect machine” but it doesn’t have a keyboard or a power cord. Sure, you can source what you need at the time you get the machine, but having the parts readily at hand means you aren’t waiting to deploy a new addition because the keyboard hasn’t arrived yet.

If you have PowerBooks in your collection, I would also suggest a spare AC adapter for them. Adapters can also fail, and having a spare means you can keep the thing up and running.

For tools, you’ll want a Torx T-15 screwdriver with a 6″ long shaft to be able to open the original toaster-style Macintosh cases. I would also suggest a multimeter, a few small-sized screwdrivers (Philips & flathead), a jeweller’s screwdriver set and some needle-nose pliers.

Infrastructure and Software

To make your life easier, I would recommend setting up an AppleTalk network and connecting all of your vintage machines to it. My personal preference is to use Farallon PhoneNET, because the cables are easy to find. You can use LocalTalk, but that requires specialized cables that are harder to obtain. PhoneNET uses standard 4-wire phone cable with RJ-11 connectors, and you can get that at BestBuy, WalMart and most other retailers that carry electronics.

For every Macintosh that can support one, get a screensaver, particularly if your machine uses a CRT. Screen burn-in is annoying, and finding replacement parts is challenging. A screensaver means you reduce the risk of screen burn-in. Older versions of After Dark can be downloaded from MacGUI and, as can other screensavers.

Maintaining Your Collection

Try to power up your machines at least once per month. For any portable Macintosh that has working batteries, run it on batteries from time to time, letting them drain on occasion. Just having them boot ensures that the disk drives are still working, and that the machines are in some kind of running order. If you have time, run some programs on each one, just to get them working again. I’m hoping to build a bit of software (yes, I have the old development tools now) that I can use to exercise the machines when I have them up.

If any machine has replaceable alkaline or rechargeable batteries, remember to take them out and inspect them from time to time. Batteries sometimes fail, which can cause them to expand and leak electrolyte into the battery compartment. If you have a battery-enabled machine that won’t be used for a while, remove the battery. Don’t forget the PRAM battery.

Enjoy it!

Having these old machines can be a lot of fun. Whatever you do, be sure that you take some time to enjoy your vintage machines. Play some old games, use them for “work” (as much as they can be used, I guess). If you are a developer, it is sometimes worth looking back on what used to be, if only because they can sometimes teach us lessons we may have forgotten. But part of the point of having these things is to have some fun with them, so make sure you take some time to do that.