Recently I picked up a 400Mhz PowerBook G3 "Pismo" laptop from Vintage Computer Festival Midwest, and after bringing it home I had to tear it down to repair the DC jack, and give it a good cleaning. MacTracker reports it originally shipped with a 20GB IDE hard drive and 512MB of RAM. Old spinning disk drives, especially ones this age, should not be relied on so I ordered an mSATA to IDE adapter along with a 64GB mSATA solid state hard drive. The challenge was going to be getting the new drive formatted and Mac OS 9 installed, considering I didn't have the original install discs.

New SSD and IDE adapter
SSD drive and IDE adapter

Installing the drive and adapter is very straightforward - the SSD plugs right into the IDE converter board where it is held in place with two screws, and the board comes with a 3D printed sled that matches the original 2.5" drive dimensions. Installing it in the Pismo is simple: just unlatch the keyboard and the lift the old drive out with a handy pull tab. I miss the days when Apple was much more friendly towards user upgradable parts. After pulling the drive I was surprised to see that it was a 160GB Samsung drive - the previous owner made some upgrades, but unfortunately didn't bump the RAM to 1GB so I'll have to take care of that later.

I downloaded an ISO of Mac OS 9.2.2 from The Macintosh Garden but now came the tricky part - how to get that on an unformatted drive. I had the ISO but it was on my 2021 MacBook Pro with no way to open it nor an optical drive to burn it to a disc. I pulled out my behemoth dual 2GHz PowerMac G5 tower which I have loaded with two hard drives - one running Mac OS 10.5.8, and another running Mac OS X 10.4 which was the last version of OS X that supported Classic applications. That was my ticket - I'd have to boot into 10.4, open up the ISO, and burn it to a physical disc. I copied the ISO onto a thumb drive and moved it to the G5, however it froze during the burn so that was one disc wasted. Then the G5 started throwing kernel panics and wouldn't post after a restart. I was shocked since it had been so reliable for me - I play classic Mac OS X games on it quite often. After some minor troubleshooting I couldn't find an issue, but it seemed to be booting and stable again. I was worried I might not be able to make a successful burn.

Out of curiosity, I thought I might be able to use a trick to bypass the CD burning all together - I dug out an old FireWire cable and plugged it into the Pismo then the G5. Turning on the Pismo while holding the T key boots it into Target Disk Mode which mounts the internal hard drive on the host machine (was extremely handy back in the day, another relic I wish hadn't gone away). The G5 saw the drive so I gave it a quick format, but when I launched the Mac OS 9 utilities through Classic, they couldn't see it at all. I was not surprised, I'd have to burn a disc and do the full install on the laptop itself, no shortcuts.

Target Disk Mode fail
Using Target Disk Mode with the G5

Thankfully I was able to successfully burn the 9.2.2 installer to a CD without any issues, so I disconnected the Pismo from the G5 and popped the CD in it's SuperDrive. It took a few seconds but I was able to exhale when I saw it booted from the CD. I launched the OS 9 disk utilities and formatted the drive properly then started the OS 9 installer. It took some time but everything installed completely without any errors. I pulled the CD and was delighted to see the happy Mac as it booted on it's own. It's very strange to have a solid state drive in a machine from this era - I had grown so accustomed to hearing drives spin up and the head seeking on the platters, so when it was dead silent on boot it was unsettling.

Successful boot
PowerBook G3 booting into Mac OS 9

Once it fully booted I noticed immediately how fast the machine was. The 400Mhz PPC G3 processor paired with a modern SSD makes the machine feel incredibly responsive. I started loading some of my favorite games and was blown away by the speed - it feels like a modern laptop. The OS itself was crisp and snappy, and Sim City loaded in the blink of an eye.

Mac OS 9.2.2
Screen grab from Mac OS 9
SimCity 2000
PowerBook G3 running SimCity 2000

Next up I'll track down some PC-100 RAM to bump the system to 1GB and continued loading my favorite games like Civilization II, Mac Syndicate, Warcraft II, Crystal Caliburn, and Escape Velocity. Once the RAM arrives I'll install Quake 3 and really take the Pismo through its paces to see how it does.

I'm lucky enough to have this as a solid Mac OS 9 gaming machine. With this in my Apple lineup, I have most eras covered - an Apple IIe, a Mac Plus, the Pismo, a dual 2GHz G5, and my 2021 MacBook Pro. I can run just about Apple/Mac software from the past 40 years on period correct hardware, which is absolutely incredible. I'll share more about my collection soon.