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Brought a PowerMac 8500 back to life, including an unexpected Netscape time-capsule

Huxley

Well-known member
Here's an album with pics and info - some cool stuff in here (including a "Snow" iMac I haven't tested yet)! https://imgur.com/gallery/0sQp36q

A quick TL;DR: for anyone who skims the pics without reading all the descriptions: this past weekend I was given a PowerMac 8500/150 by its original owner, a very nice lady who used it as part of her graphic design business from the mid-90's through early 2000's. Her hope was that I could recover her old work before I re-image the machine, which (as of late last night) I've done successfully, thanks to some great suggestions from /r/VintageApple. I was happily surprised to fire up Netscape Navigator 4.0 and find that it had a cached sample of the Netscape.com homepage from Spring 2000, including a promotional feature about Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 2. Neat!

As with many machines from this era, many of the the plastic parts are now so brittle, they feel more like dried clay than plastic. Sadly several parts crumbled while I was cleaning the machine and replacing the RAM stick which had come loose inside, but overall it's functional and just a badass machine for running System 7. If anyone happens to have a replacement for the front facing power-button, I'd love to buy one...

Any suggestions on what cool upgrades I should pop in here? That CPU slot and three empty PCI slots are calling to me!

 

Cory5412

Daring Pioneer of the Future
Staff member
Very nice find, and great that you were able to get it running again!

I know I say this every time but I'm going to vote for leaving it more or less stock, perhaps save a storage upgrade - whether that's a USCSI drive and contemporary disks or a SATA drive and some totally baller 2TB disks (the max the machine will run) - they'll be a huge boost for video capture in particular which is absolutely what an 8500 would love to do.

Or: use period upgrades:

If it doesn't already have it, I'd say to pop a VRAM upgrade in and if you want some contemporary fun, there was an Avid Cinema card for this machine, and there's also the PC Compatibility card with video input via GIMO, which the 8500 should have if I'm remembering correctly.

There was a Rage card with some video compression and in/out that might be fun in this machine too, even though that would really be a better fit for a blue-and-white or a 7300. (It was also talked about in macworld at the time as an option to both add video and slightly better gamer graphics to a 6400 when those were new.)

If you want, a /180 or /200 CPU from basically any other 604 powermac should run here and will probably get you a bit of a boost. If you can choose, 8600/9600 /200 CPUs have more cache than the ones from the 7300/7600[JP]. I largely still don't believe that system 7 really benefits much from a G3, except on paper in benchmarking scenarios.  a blue-white G3 or a powermac G4 will probably run all that software faster if performance is your  top priority. (i.e. building a powermac g3 out of an 8500 results in a worse powermac g3 than if you just built/bought a powermac g3) If you were to do video on it is probably the one exception, but even then I'd be tempted to leave it stock and just deal with waiting.

An accessory you might look at is the apple quicktime conferencing kit, mostly just for the kick of doing isight style videos on '90s hardware. (I need to pull my own such cam out of storage). If you can source one, a quickdraw accelerator or an ISDN card would be a neat add, if not strictly speaking "practical."

We talked about this on Twitter but that black interior frame is just wild to me. To be honest if I had this machine I'd very consider running it open because that frame kind of looks cool, compared to other machines I've seen.

I don't really think it's a particularly early machine, I'd have to go check applespec or everymac but IIRC the 8500/150 was a later SKU even, following a /120 and /132, (but I could be mistaken, my apologies and I'll make a note of it if I go look and am wrong.) Also, the 8500's case uses mostly identical plastics to the 840 and 8100/8200, and perhaps even the 800, so that's certainly not early production, either.

As stuff disintegrated, were you finding it was the black case or the other beige bits surrounding it?

 

Huxley

Well-known member
We talked about this on Twitter but that black interior frame is just wild to me. To be honest if I had this machine I'd very consider running it open because that frame kind of looks cool, compared to other machines I've seen.
Yeah, I've seen a lot of Mac internals and I don't think I've ever seen one with an internal black plastic frame like this. My first thought when I saw it was "OMG, is this a prototype?!?" but (other than the previously-mentioned patch wire which probably doesn't mean anything) I don't see any indication that it is. I guess it's just an oddball?

As stuff disintegrated, were you finding it was the black case or the other beige bits surrounding it?
The black plastic feels sturdy and robust, and I don't see any bits of it anywhere in the machine. The internal beige plastics though are everywhere - tons of plastic crumbs littered the inside of the case when I opened it, the power button snapped into three pieces despite me handling it like a wounded hummingbird, etc. 

Huh, yeah, that black internal frame is interesting. I've never seen that before.
Same!

@Cory5412 - thank you for the thoughts and (extensive!) suggestions about possible upgrades for the machine. I know we differ a little in our approach (you tend to lean towards keeping things closer to stock, more-or-less, while I tend to upgrade my machines as though they were still current-generation and I was just super rich in the 90's and wanted to see how far I could push them, LOL), and I really appreciate all your ideas. I'm especially interested in finding a PC Compatibility card for this thing - I had one ~20 years ago in my PowerMac 7100 (I think? Been a long time) and remember having a lot of fun with it. Time to start searching, I guess!

 
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Cory5412

Daring Pioneer of the Future
Staff member
Random 8500/8600 notes: It's super interesting to me to see people's thoughts on this machine because it feels like, both in 1995-1997 and today, everybody reads it a different way. It's really no different than a 7x00 but in a slightly bigger case with video output (and ultimately: faster CPUs) but the price rift between it and the 9500/9600 often meant the 8600 was seen as the highest end possible system for office or personal use, with the 9000s relegated to workgroup server or ultra high end graphics workstation uses, or Avid video editing setups where six PCI slots were absolutely mandatory.

I too typically interpret the 8500/8600 (I'm being careful to frame it this way because the positioning absolutely changed from first to second gen) as a fairly high end content creation box, sitting above the 7500/7600, which have video input, which I tend to think of as being for video conferencing rather than multimedia work. The 8500 and 8600 also had faster video disks available, which the 7000 series did not, and as I mentioned above, more cache, even in otherwise matched configs (7300/200 and 8600/200, primarily).

I suspect a lot of people using them as office boxes were mostly doing it because of the minitower form factor and growing display sizes (multiple scan 17s, 1705, and 20 being inexpensive and viable for high end excelbox functionality relative to a couple years prior), and not becaue they needed the second disk bay or a half-height drive or an a/v disk or video output or anything quite like that.

Incidentally, I went ahead and looked at 8500 configs on everymac:

8500/120 1995-08-07 to 1996-04-01

8500/132 1996-04-22 - 1996-09-19 (same date as 8200/100 and 8200/120)

8500/150 1996-04-22 - 1996-09-19

8600/180 1996-09-19 - 1997-02-04

If this is accurate, the 8500 was technically discontinued entirely on April 1 1996 and then re-introduced entirely at two new speeds a couple weeks later and then speed-bumped to a single new speed later in the year.

I'd be entirely unsurprised to find out that this information is wrong, however. ANd, customary to mid-late '90s Apple, you could absolutely have found one of these after discontinuation.

I guess it's just an oddball?
Probably!

Re that wire, they're informally referred to as bodge wires and on 68k boards you usually see them as in-place upgrades on early board revisions (which, probably not for an 8500 that shipped as a /150) or as impromptu fixes for bad traces during testing. So, there's a couple systems where you'll see a lot of different examples with the same fix and some where not many of them had that fix.

So, I don't think it's a prototype. It's the last of at least  three generations of machines to use its case and it's a mid-model speedbump, (I very sincerely don't know why there was three weeks where the 8500 was off the books entirely.)

THe black case is very interesting. You could make the argument it's in part because Apple knew their beige plastics weren't going to hold up long term, I have books from 1993 that talk about how bad the Quadra 800's case is, compared to everything else Apple built, so it might have been an attempt to save the model or make things better who bought one ahead of what I presume Apple already knew about, the big redesign of the 8600/9600.

while I tend to upgrade my machines as though they were still current-generation and I was just super rich in the 90's and wanted to see how far I could push them, LOL)
This is a more interesting upgrade strategy than what I typically see, which basically involves an extremely formulaic approach to turning every PCI PowerMac 7000/8000/9000 into a worse version of a Power Macintosh G4.

I love RAM and storage upgrades and I like all the weird little cards you could get for these things when they were new, and to a certain extent I see why people upgraded to G3s in-situ, especially before the prices on brand new Power Macs absolutely cratered in 1998. (It was to the point where a brand new G3 desktop only really cost a bit more than a G3 upgrade and some other upgraded parts for a PCI PowerMac would've cost.)

Lifecycles in general fascinate me and I can see why in the early-mid 2000s people were interested in filling 9500s and the like with all the bits to make a Power Mac G4, because on the eve of the Intel-based PowerMacs, all the bits to upgrade a 9500 to run 10.4 pretty well were fairly cheap and it would be serviceable in its second or third life.

I see why people are interested in that but I just am not.

I'm especially interested in finding a PC Compatibility card for this thing
I've got a 6100 with one, the 7100/8100 didn't support it but the 7200 and all the other first round of PCI PowerMacs supported them, maybe it was a 7200?

 

Huxley

Well-known member
I've got a 6100 with one, the 7100/8100 didn't support it but the 7200 and all the other first round of PCI PowerMacs supported them, maybe it was a 7200?
The Mac I was using from ~1999 through ~2003 was definitely a PowerMac 7100/80, which I eventually upgraded with a G3 running at 233MHz (IIRC). I really loved that machine - I used it for a while with three NuBus video cards + 3 14" Apple CRT's and although my poor desk was sagging under the weight, I felt like I was on the bridge of the Enterprise. Being a NuBus machine I was unable to run even the early Public Beta's of OS X, but I did run 24/7 with an "Aqua-style" Kaleidoscope theme in MacOS 8.x.

Anyway, I've just done a bit of Googling and I'm now 90% sure I had an Orange Micro 486 NuBus card, similar to the one pictured here: 





I have a vague memory of trying (and probably failing) to get it working well enough to run some basic DOS games :D  

 

Cory5412

Daring Pioneer of the Future
Staff member
haha, nice. DIdn't realize those would also work on PowerPC Macs.

Performance-wise, that's likely similar to the DOS compatibility card for the 6100,

One thought. Earlier up I mentioned cache sizes, and then in my car I realized that in this generation of machine, the caches were separate SIMMs installed on the motherboard, and weren't integrated on the CPU card.

So, you could pop a bigger cache in if it doesn't already have 512k or 1Meg.

One other thought: in the '90s Apple sold a 233MHz 604e upgrade card for owners of basically everything from 7500/100 to the /200MHz systems who wanted just a little bit of a push. (Or a lot, if you were on a 7500/100.) My official recommendation is to track down one of those! I think it would be real neat to run one of those and an 8500 loaded up with Apple-brand upgrades from the era would be really neat. You might even consider grabbing one of those LaCie-built external hard disks and if you don't already have one, a Multiple Scan 17/20 or AppleVision-ColorSync display, just to complete the look.

To be honest, the 8500 isn't a machine I've thought an awful lot about and now I kind of want one myself.

 

MOS8_030

Well-known member
Back-in-the-day my 8500 started out as a 120.

I upgraded it later with a 233 processor, a 1 meg cache, and 4 meg of vram. (The 1 meg cache was a big performance boost!)

I forget exactly how much memory I had, 384mb? Something like that.

(I was able to get memory from Techworks at a discount because I worked for Motorola.)

Later still I installed a 24X CDROM drive, an XLR8 carrier card with a 350mgz G4, and an ATI Rage 128 video card.

That was about as far I could go with the 8500.

With the 8500 I had three of the infamous AppleVision 1710's.

The first new one died after less than a month. (Apple wanted to replace it with a refurb and I said no 'effin way. I finally got a new replacement.)

The new replacement lasted a year. (Apple replaced that one with a refurb.)

The third one lasted maybe three years...

After that I got a ViewSonic 19" that still works to this day.

 
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Byrd

Well-known member
With the 8500 I had three of the infamous AppleVision 1710's.
Last year I battled getting a 1710AV running - one had the recalled yoke board but bad CRT, the other good CRT dead yoke board ... switched ... Spinder Plastic snapping all over the place ... got it up and running but don't want to go there again

 

dcr

Well-known member
Random 8500/8600 notes: It's super interesting to me to see people's thoughts on this machine because it feels like, both in 1995-1997 and today, everybody reads it a different way.
For whatever it may be worth, we had an 8500 at the office that was used for invoicing, job estimating and accounting.  I *think* it had been purchased used and was later upgraded with a Sonnet G3 or G4 card.  The downside of the 8500 was that it had the same miserable case as the Quadra 800.

I have an 8600 that was (er, is still) used as a web and mail server.  I bought it used circa 1999.  The video capabilities weren't important; I think I mainly purchased it because of the expandability, upgradeability and it was at a decent price.  Oh and the case is so, so, so much better than the 8500.  So much easier to open up to dust out, clean, do upgrades, whatever.

I also have a 7500/100 that I purchased new back in the day.  I had intended to use it, I think, for non-linear video production, but I think I ultimately only did somewhere between one and a handful of videos.  That wasn't through any fault of the machine, but rather I got sidetracked into other things.  Also, I used an add-on PCI card rather than the 7500's built-in A/V capabilities.  I think it was made by Pinnacle Systems.  I ended up using the machine primarily for web design instead.

 

Cory5412

Daring Pioneer of the Future
Staff member
I love my 840av, and my love for the 840av is absolutely helping drive my desire for an 8500. it's kind of silly, because I've got a 6100, a Power120, a 7300/200 and an 8600/300, so it's not like I'm short on beige PowerPC per se.

The worst part about that pre-K2(1) tower case really is that it's so brittle. Opening one is annoying, but opening it and then having all of the plastic pieces fall off is really the annoying thing. These days many of the 7-series and desktop Beige G3s are most of the way.

(I'm like 70% sure the 8600/9600 case was nicknamed/codenamed "K2", in similar fashion to its contemporary the Outrigger on the 7200 through Beige G3 and InstaTower for 6400/6500. Anyone know whether or not that's true or if I entirely made that up? I'll look eventually.)

 

dcr

Well-known member
The top of my 800 case has an indentation from where I hit it once (years ago) out of frustration over something it did or didn't do or whatever.  I regret having that marring the otherwise good condition case.

The irony now is that I sometimes have to hit it to unstick the hard drive to get it started spinning.

 
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