My Turn

The Joys of a Silent Mac

Dustin Rinebold - 2002.06.11

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

A couple of months back, I sat down at a bookstore coffee shop with my iBook, and noticed a woman sitting at the table next to me feverishly typing away at a PowerBook 100. She must have caught me staring, because she looked over at me and said, "You must think I'm nuts to still be using this old thing."

"Actually not at all," I replied. "600 MHz doesn't make much difference when pounding something out in a word processor."

As it turns out, the woman is a professional writer and uses her PowerBook 100 extensively on the road. She uses an iMac at home to email, browse the Net, and so on - but for any actual writing, she sticks to her PowerBook or a Mac Plus she has situated in a separate room.

She explained that as a writer, there are two things that are important to her. First, she prefers System 6 over anything else. The reason being that the extra bells and whistles of more advanced operating systems were only distracting to the creative process and offered very little benefit for what she was doing.

And second, she likes complete silence, which means no fans and, more importantly, no hard drives. Her Mac Plus has an external hard drive that she backs everything up to, as well as an additional external floppy drive. For writing, she leaves the hard drive off, boots to one floppy, and uses the other floppy drive for an old copy of Word - which still leaves room on the disk for several hundred pages of text. Amazing!

After I got home that night, the Mac geek in me began to think. Now, I'm not a writer, but I can certainly appreciate the joy of booting a Mac to a floppy and hearing only the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard as I write!

To put myself in that place, I pulled out my old trusty 512Ke and wrote a couple of sentences in MacWrite. The silence was deafening, and very, very nice.

I quickly realized how easy it is to concentrate on writing when it's silent, as well as not having a million other things on the screen to distract you. As I'm writing this, I have the Instant Messenger icon bouncing in my dock trying to get my attention, iTunes busy cranking out some classic rock, and Explorer waiting for me to bring it to the foreground again to check sports scores and what's left of my stock.

I can see how the simplicity of the early days of computing on a Mac can be alluring. I convinced myself that I need to have a simple, silent Mac set up at the house . . . for no reason other than "just because." You other Mac geeks out there know exactly what I'm talking about!

Unfortunately, there's a problem - my 512Ke is a little too old. I don't like the keyboard, and there's just not enough memory. My Plus is maxed out at 4 megs, but still I have to deal with the loud, rather Macintosh LCclunky keyboard. So the question is . . . what is the best Mac I can build that will both run System 6 and operate on only floppy drives? My solution: the Macintosh LC.

But wait - the LC has a fan, right? Yes, it does, but it's a fan separate from the power supply, and the biggest generator of heat in an LC is the hard drive. With dual floppy drives, you can disable the fan without worry.

Well, I hoped so at least! So I put it to the test. I pulled two LCs out of the closet, tore out the hard drive from one and replaced it with the floppy from the other, disabled the fan, and fiddled with my new creation to see what it could do. I was pleasantly surprised with the results. With 1.4 meg floppies, I can fit System 6, printer drivers, and everything I need to get to the Internet via TCP/IP - all on one disk! The other drive can be used for anything. I found that playing old Infocom games via Telnet in total silence was quite a treat!

Why the LC? I liked being able to have two floppy drives in the case together - that way there is no external floppy off to the side. I ruled out much of the Mac II line, because I tend to think that disabling a fan built into a power supply is a bad idea, although I don't have any proof that this is the case. Once I get an extra Mac II class machine that I don't mind burning up, I'll give that a try. Imagine a silent IIfx running dual floppies under System 6!

You might be able to get away with disabling the fan in an SE, but I don't have one around to test with. Another possible solution would be a IIsi. You'd have to deal with an external floppy drive, but I'd bet that disabling the fan would be no problem. This is pretty much all you have to work with when you're limited to System 6.

System 7 can technically fit on a single floppy, but it's too stripped down to be much use.

The LC has been powered on for over a month straight without any complaint. With the 12 inch color monitor that neatly sits on the top of the case, my dual floppy drive creation makes a neat little silent writing machine that fits snugly at the corner of my desk. It might be a Road Apple, but for this very specific type of task, it fits the bill just fine!

This silent computing thing has really grown on me! Sure, I can spin the drive down on my iBook and type in silence, but for some reason I'm having tons of difficulty installing System 6 on it!

Sigh . . . time to start looking for a PowerBook 100 on eBay, I guess. <g>

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