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Using off-the-shelf electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and a 3D printer, you can create your own working miniature classic Mac. Here's how.
There are many similarities between the developer community and retro computers. So, one of the most popular tasks of a maker is to make working miniature copies of classic computers.
Several manufacturers have made tiny working copies of classic Macs based on old Classic Mac OS ROM files, a Raspberry Pi Zero computer, and a 3D printed case. The number of parts required to build such a machine is surprisingly low, though it may cost a little more than expected lately due to component supply chain issues.
Also keep in mind that Apple still owns the copyright to all classic ROMs and Mac ROM files, so in order to legally make a mini classic Mac, you must also own one of the original Macs for the ROM file. which you will use. You also may not sell working mini Macs you have created that contain a copyrighted Apple ROM file or other Apple software.
3D Printed Mac Parts List
To 3D print a classic Mac mini you'll need:
- 3D printer
- Classic Mac 3D case file you want to create
- Raspberry Pi Zero or Zero computer W
- Small TFT display panel for use as computer display
- Raspberry Pi GPIO Y-cable for connecting Pi to TFT display< /li>
- Pi Zero DC power supply – typically 5V or 3.3V
- Dual row 40-pin Pi connector for connecting GPIO cable to
- 3 M3 X 12 mm screws.
- 3 M3 hex nuts
- 16 GB microSD card
- Third party emulation software that runs on the Pi and can run classic Mac OS
- Micro USB hub
- USB keyboard and mouse
- Mini HDMI to standard HDMI connector for optional external display
There is even an inexpensive 3D model file of the predecessor Mac – MacintoshXL/Lisa. Lisa was named after Steve Jobs' first child, Lisa Brennan Jobs.
There are some great online tutorials for building your own classic mini Mac with a 3D printer, including from Intructables, Macintosh Librarian, and from cgenco on Thingaverse.
If you don't have a 3D printer, you can print 3D parts for a fee at Shapeways.
You don't need 3D software to build a classic mini Mac, unless you want to open and edit a 3D file. There are several free options for this, including OpenSCAD, Autodesk Fusion 360, Blender, and FreeCAD.
Most of these classic Mac mini designs are based on Mac models from the 1980s, such as the Mac Plus, SE, SE/30, Classic, or Classic II. There was also a Color Classic model, though its body was a little non-standard.
If you've carefully planned the placement of your Raspberry Pi inside your 3D printed Mac case and want to cut a custom hole for the USB port, you can also connect an external 3.5″ USB drive to floppy disks. read old Mac floppy disks, although you may need special software for this.
To get native classic Mac OS sound, you will need to connect a USB hub with a Micro USB connector to the Pi's USB port. Then connect a USB speaker to the hub. Typical Micro USB hubs cost between $6 and $12 and typically have 3-4 USB ports.
The original Mac OS was very similar to today's macOS, except it was smaller, simpler, and more compact. and black and white only:
The first step in your Mac 3D printing journey is to find the 3D model of the Mac case you want to use. There are many free and paid 3D models online on Thingaverse, cgtrader.com, Etsy and more. The Macintosh Librarian also has a page on Thingaverse that has case files for SketchUp.
Once you have the 3 body part files, you will need to print each part on your 3D printer using its software or one of the third party applications mentioned above. Since the parts are small, they print quite quickly. You may need to make small adjustments to the body parts with a utility knife or Dremel tool to get it right. Some enclosure models are designed to be joined together, some will require adhesive to seal the enclosure.
You will either need to solder the 40-pin header to your Raspberry Pi, or in some cases you can order the Pi Zero with pre-soldered pins. Or you can use the “hammer header” available on AdaFruit and other manufacturers' websites, which allows you to attach the header using only friction.
Before installing the Pi in the case, prepare a microSD card on your Mac or PC containing the Raspberry Pi OS, a compatible emulator, and a ROM file for your Mac model. We won't go into the details of how to do this, but there are plenty of guides on the internet.
In short, you have to tell the Pi to download and run the emulator, which then loads the Mac ROM image on boot so that it runs the classic Mac OS. The cgenco page also has links to modified versions of the mini vMac that allow it to run on most ARM-based systems. See “Step 16: Application: Run at startup” in the cgenco manual.
Depending on which display you are using, you may also need to install specific Pi OS drivers from the display manufacturer.
Or you can simply boot into Pi OS, then use your mouse to find the emulator and double-click it on your Pi OS desktop. There are many compatible emulators, including the mini vMac, which has a Linux build (the Raspberry Pi OS is based on Linux). There is also a mini vMac build that runs on modern Macs.
After booting, Mac OS actually takes control of I/O hardware such as the keyboard, mouse, and other system hardware. You now have a working Classic Mac and can run any software that will run a real Classic Mac.
One of the additional mods is to install “Faux Disk” — a working SD card reader in the front of the case where the original Mac's drive slot was. The 3D part files for the supports are available and attach the SD card reader board to the inside front of the case. The card reader connects to the Pi's small ribbon cable via an optional flat ribbon cable (see step 4 on the cgenco page).
When your microSD card is ready, insert it into the Pi's card slot.
Next, using the mounting points inside the case, mount both the Raspberry Pi and the TFT display on the back and front of the case, respectively. On some case models you may need to secure the parts with small screws, others are designed to keep the parts snapped into place.
Most cases have at least 1 additional external USB port. If not, you will need to cut it yourself with a cutting tool.
Connect the internal display to the Pi with a GPIO ribbon cable. This cable allows the Pi to communicate with the display.
Finally, close the case – either by snapping or gluing the halves together, depending on which case design you printed.
Connect the Pi's external power supply or powered USB cable (usually 5V, sometimes 3.3V), Micro USB hub, mouse, and keyboard, and turn on the power. After booting up your Pi, you may need to edit the config file so that it opens the emulator app on boot, or you may need to open the emulator manually.
You may want to write down your Pi's IP address if it's connected to a network, and enable SSH remote access so you can log in and set it up from a Mac or PC that's out of reach this article. SSH access is disabled by default on the Pi OS, but is enabled via a setting in the OS system settings.
A Few Final Notes
Obviously it's better to use a Pi Zero W than the original Pi Zero since the Pi Zero W has built-in Wi-Fi.
There are additional 3D case files that create slightly larger — allowing you to use a Pi 3, 3B+, or 4, but which also require a larger display. There is one here for the Pi 4B.
In addition to making classic 3D printed mini Macs, there are several people in the community who test, refurbish and repair original working classic Macs. Check out YouTuber Marquez Brownlee's review of the very first compact Mac, the Macintosh 128K.
There are even new working replacement PCBs for original Macs, such as SE Reloaded by Kai Robinson, sold through MacEffects ($49).
To find something really cool, try James Friend's online Mac Plus emulator, PCE.js running System 7.
Building your own classic mini Mac takes some crafting skills such as 3D printing. , soldering and manufacturing. But it's nice and interesting enough that most Mac enthusiasts can put together their own effortlessly.