Quadra AVs and Some Cool Things You Can Do with Them

2001 – While on vacation in California, I ended up with a Quadra 840av with 8 MB RAM, a 230 MB hard drive, and no CD-ROM. Two weeks after I got home, I got another 840av, this one with 40 MB RAM, a 230 MB hard drive, and a CD-ROM. Since these machines are so incredible, I decided to get them when I had the chance.

Quadra 800What is a Quadra 840av, and what makes it so special? The 840 was the top of the line Macintosh back in 1993. This model featured a 40 MHz 68040 processor – it was the fastest ‘040 Mac ever made. It also had two Digital Signal Processors to speed up graphics and control the GeoPort telecommunications port. In fact, it was so fast that it beat the Power Mac 6100/60 and 7100/66 running some non-PowerPC native applications.

Being an AV model means that it has two RCA jacks for video (in and out) and two S-video jacks. It also means that it is often configured with large amounts of memory and hard disk space. My second one came with 40 MB of RAM, and both came with 230 MB hard disks, which was considered large in 1993.

There were two versions of the 840av, and I happen to have one of each. The early version had an auto-inject floppy drive, which means that when you put the disk in the drive, the drive grabs it and pulls it in. The later version came with a manual-inject diskette drive, which means that you must insert the disk all the way into the drive, and the bezel around the drive is slightly different. Adding some personal preference to this, I will say that I like the auto-inject drives much better, because it is easier to insert disks, and I feel that it doesn’t struggle as much to eject them.

The 840av allows you to do several interesting things. One thing I have had the opportunity to play with is AV video capture. To view video, you use Apple Video Player. When you open it, you will see a controller bar and a window – the window is for the video. The window may display the message “cannot display digitizer in current number of colors.” If you get this message, you must set your bit depth to 256 colors in the Monitors and Sound and Monitors control panel.

You also may notice that the video screen is black. You can sit there all day and night, and nothing will ever come up on that video screen. To make it work, you must connect something to your computer. Simply connect a camcorder, VCR, DVD player, or game console (I haven’t tried this one yet, but I see no reason for it not to work) to your machine. I chose to connect a VCR. You connect that to the composite (RCA jack) video-in port or the S-video in port. Once you do that, Apple video player should see the device and begin displaying video.

It is theoretically possible for you to watch DVDs and play games with intense graphics on a computer from 1993 in a roundabout way.

Another neat thing you can do with the 840 is capture video. You can import video from your camera or VCR and make your own QuickTime movie.

One more thing – how many Macs do you know of that have a 60″ screen? Well, the 840av can have that. Just hook it up to your television and computer monitor at the same time, select the display device as the TV, and restart. The computer will restart, and the image will now show on your TV. Unfortunately, you cannot show an image on both a monitor and a TV screen at the same time using the 840’s internal video.

Most of these things apply to the Centris and Quadra 660av (both are exactly the same), which I have also had the pleasure of using several times. The main differences between the 660 and 840 are the case and processor speed. The 660 comes in the same case as the Quadra 610 and Power Mac 6100. The 840 comes in a case very similar to the Quadra 800 (the on/off button is located at the upper right front of the case on the 840; the 800 has a reset and interrupt button toward the bottom of the case but no on/off button) and Power Mac 8100. The 660 also does not have as fast a processor as the 840, running at 25 MHz instead of 40 MHz. The 660 also has only one DSP to accelerate graphics operations.

Unfortunately there is no way to upgrade either of these machines to PowerPC with an upgrade card. It just can’t be done.

The only way to upgrade either of these machines is to install a new logic board and back panel, which means that you lose the AV functions – unless you add an AV card to the upgraded machine. If you are installing a new logic board in an 840, you will need to replace the front of the case as well.

However, since these machines are great as they are, and low-end PowerPC machines are very inexpensive, upgrading a 660 or 840 to PowerPC makes little sense.

While FireWire and USB have become standard in current Macs and are fast becoming standard on PCs as well, these old AV Quadras aren’t useless. Even if they are only used to keep records of your finances and connected to a VCR or tuner so you can watch the latest news while working on the computer, these old AV Quadras really have a decent amount of life left in them to live.

Further Reading

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