Powerbook 1400 progress

(Posting — or trying to — via Netscape 4.78 e-mail)

With the help of System 7 Today (http://system7today.com), I updated Open Transport to version 1.1.2 with the near-term goal of taking the Powerbook 1400 wireless.

There are two ways to get the 1400 on a wireless network (actually three ways, but I’ll discuss that later*).

The first thing to remember is that the PB1400 will NOT work with Cardbus PCMCIA cards, but only with the plain PCMCIA, and that leaves out all 802.11g cards, as well as all that are available under $50 new.

The sole source for new 802.11b (11 MB/s) PCMCIA cards that will work on the PB1400 and other pre-Cardbus Macs is http://www.macwireless.com, which offers its MacWireless 11b PC Card in two power levels, the high-power 200 mW ($119.98) and regular-power 32 mW ($89.98). These work with anything between System 7.5.5 and 9.2.2 (and NOT with OS X), and they come with drivers that will work.

But who wants to spend $90. Not me.

According to the many PB1400 and System 7 Web sites, the Orinoco or WaveLan Silver and Gold cards WILL work. Not the Bronze, though. Not the new ones either. They have to be the old kind, with a “squarish” black
plastic piece on the end, not the more rounded kind. So you pretty much have the LEM Swap list (where I’ve rarely seen one) and eBay (where there are many).

The problem is that computer stuff tends to get bid up on eBay. I’ve tried to “win” one many a time, but I won’t pay over $20, and they usually go for between $30 and $50 (more for the Gold version, which supports 128-bit encryption, not just the 64-bit of the Silver).

But I got lucky, finally, a week ago and snagged an Orinoco Silver card for $15.50. The drivers are available a bunch of places online, including system7today.com, and there are detailed instructions on the
Web for getting the wireless configured. So I updated the OT in preparation for installing the wireless driver. I really don’t want to kill out the Ethernet access I have over the PowerPort Platinum modem/10-BaseT card, and I’d ideally like to switch between wireless and Ethernet, since I’m not always (and probably not even usually) near a Wi-Fi hotspot. And the Daily News, where I work, is not a wireless networking environment, but there’s enough Ethernet here to fill an Olympic-size pool. (Don’cha love a metaphor?)

So the wireless card is here, the Ethernet still works with OT 1.1.2, and all I have to do is download the driver (from system7today.com) and see if the whole thing works. Key for me, as I said, is being able to go
to the TCP/IP “control panel” for a quick switch between wired Ethernet and wireless networking. I already do this fast switch to reconfigure the PB1400 for either my home DSL connection or the office network, and
given that I’d like to have more than a single Wi-Fi configuration on tap, I’m hoping for the same thing with the Orinoco card. I’m also hoping to keep the Ethernet/modem card in the lower PCMCIA slot, the
wireless card in the upper one (the black plastic antenna portion is too thick to be on the bottom if two cards are in use).

So if all this works, it’ll be slightly miraculous and pretty freakin’ cool — getting a 10-year-old Powerbook on Wi-Fi.

After that, I’ll have to deal with the SCSI problem, i.e. it’s not working. I’ll open up the PB and look at the connector, praying that there’s a cold solder joint or something like that. This PB, in its entire life, was never connected to a SCSI device, so it’s probably been dead to SCSI since its birth. Othewise, the conventional wisdom is to replace the entire logic board. Now a PB1400 logic board — or an entire laptop, for that matter — isn’t all that expensive, but I don’t relish the process that I’d have to go through to tear the entire thing apart
just to get SCSI working.

And then I’ll tackle further software updates (principally SpeedDoubler 8, the Motorola LibMoto math update).

*For any Mac with Ethernet (any PC too, I imagine), MacWireless.com offers an Ethernet-wireless bridge that turns any Ethernet-equipped box into a wireless-connected one. I can’t believe it works, but they say it
does. It would be a cool way to get any old Mac with 10base-T Ethernet to hook up with a wireless network (which, to the old Mac itself, probably looks like a standard Ethernet connection …)