030 MacAquarium

by Jeff Knox


The 030 MacAquarium project started a couple of years ago (late 1999) as a fairly standard MacQuarium, similar to those found in Dr. Webster's excelent tutorial. Unfortunately, at the time I began construction, I did not think to document the process, so you will need to refer to those pages for pictures. I managed to gut the Macintosh Plus' shell and build the glass tank. Life went on, but the project didn't. The half-finished tank sat in a lonely corner.

About a year ago I bought two PowerBooks on eBay for about $75 (including shipping). I had planed to make an electronic picture frame like the ones Sony was selling for about $800. I pulled apart one of the machines to see what I was up against. It was an interesting project, but the PowerBooks where only had black and white displays. I then had the idea to combine the two projects. I figured that it would be something if you could look through the LCD into the fish tank. Now that would be a screensaver!

I dismantled the passive matrix LCD of the PowerBook 145b only to find that even when the display was "clear" it was still too dark and cloudy to see through. I then removed the active matrix LCD from the PowerBook 190. This display turned out to be even more complex and had a circut board attached to the back of it. OK, so the idea of superimposing graphics over the tank wouldn't work. How about mounting the LCD behind the tank?

The first problem was that the LCD is wider than the shell of the Mac Plus. I considered cutting off the edge of the PCB on the passive matrix LCD and reconnecting the circut paths. This lasted for about two minutes as I pondered the problem. I decided to mount the LCD in a portrat orientation. I found a clear, gel-like double sided tape at Radio Shack that turned out to be perfect for attaching the LCD to the tank.

I then glued a piece of foam core board to the back of the LCD with some silicone adhesive. Once it had set I glued the MLB, video, and hard drive to the foam core with the same silicone adhesive. Here are two views of the project at this state:

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There are two items of note in these pictures. The first is that the overall quality of the job is not the best. When I cut the foam core I didn't do a clean job. The second problem was that I cut the ribbon cable that connects the video board to the LCD. The cable from the passive matrix LCD had the same pinout, but it was reversed and unusable. The blue wires you see are the type of wire you use on wire wrap posts. I soldered this to the back of the connectors and powered the system up. The video still worked.

After discovering Applefritter, I decided that it was time to resurect this on again, off again project. The first phase is to complete a working Macintosh/MacQuarium. This is to be a completely self contained system that will contain the tank, PowerBook 190, air pump and lighting. The power cord is to be the only cable to extend outside of the shell.

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To this end I removed the power switch and plug from the power supply board of the Mac Plus. I mounted these into the Mac's shell using the same silicon glue I used on the PowerBook parts. I decided to use the silicon glue to make it easy to modify any parts at a later date. While the glue holds the parts in place firmly, it can still be removed with a minimum of effort.

I wired the switch to the plug and added some feed wires. I then glued these into the back of the Mac Plus' case. Once the silicon set, the plug and switch were securly in place. I tried fitting the tank into the case and found that the PowerBook was hitting the switch and plug. It turned out that I needed to remount the PowerBook components.

At this point I realized that there would be times that I would need to use a keyboard and mouse with the 030 MacAquarium, or to connect it to a network. Again, I didn't want more than the power cable to extend from the case. I removed a serial plug from the MLB of the Mac Plus and an ADB port from an old keyboard. I soldered wires onto these ports and glued them to the back of the case as well. These cables plug into the corresponding ports on the PowerBook. This allows the tank to be completely removed from the shell. In the photo above you can see that the plugs moved a little bit before the silicone set. This is something that I will correct at a later date.

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I removed everything from the tank except for the LCD panel. In these photos you can see the back of the LCD. The white blob in the center of the logic board on the left picture is dried silicone. The blobs on the right picture are fresh silicone waiting for a new piece of backing.

In these pictures the white wires are the power for the LCDs backlight. The white tape holding them in place is direct from the factory. The blue wires make up the cable from the video board to the LCD. These are the wires I soldered onto the connectors after the original ribbon cable was cut. When I first soldered the wires to the connectors the video worked, but it wasn't perfect. I removed the wires and threaded the dougnut magnet over them. After I resoldered the connections all was well.

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It seems that every time I get going on this project I hit another wall. Since the LCD hangs over the bottom of the tank I wasn't able to put it inside the shell with the tank supports in place. I moved the supports all the way to the left side of the case. I then mounted the terminal strip to the bottom of the shell between the two dowels. On the side wall I attached the circutry that drives the flouresent lights.

This is where things went south again. I hooked up the 7.5 volt power to the terminal strip and the flouresent tubes wouldn't light. I checked all the connections and nothing worked. I pulled out my multimeter and its batteries were dead. That was par for the course. OK, I pulled off the circut board and checked everthing and it looked good. I just ran out and bought a new battery for the multimeter and will check everything the next time I get a few free moments to work on the tank.

Wow, who would have thought that this project would carry out so long?

June 2002 - update

I did it! I finally managed to get the whole thing together. Since this version wasn't going to have keyboard control I added three switches to the back of the case. One of them is a momentary switch connected to the PowerBook's reset button. The other two are on/off type switches that control the flouresent lights and air pump.

In this picture you can see the switches and get a glimps of how tight everything is inside of the case. Sticking out of the top of the case you can see the top of the system board and LCD. The LCD itself runs from the top of the case to just above the three red switches. The good thing is that you can't see the top of the system components from the front of the tank. Now I just need to find that battery cover. I know Ie oe one around here somewhere.

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Here you can see all of the connections on the inside of the case. The two light gray cables are the ADB and serial extensions that run to the system board. Main power runs to the original switch and then to the terminal strip. From here AC power runs to one of the on/off switches and then to the air pump. AC power also drives the 7.5 volt transformer that came with the PowerBook. The 7.5 volts splits off from the terminal strip to the PowerBook and to the other on/off switch. This line controls the flouresent lights on the inside of the front bezel.

Speaking of the flouresent lights...


It turns out that the problem with the lights was two fold. First off I thought they were originally wired in series when in fact they were wired in parallel. OK, that's a simple fix. I just sniped the wire between the two and added a thrid wire to the setup. Here you can see the third wire soldered in between the two tubes at the top of the bezel.

The second problem was that I had broken a trace on the circuit board when I was drilling out some rivets. I realized the problem after I went out and bought another lantern and compaired the to circut boards. At least I hadn't burned out the electronics on the board, which was what I had feared.

Now I have an extra battery opereated lantern. :^)

The next piece of fun was trying to fit everything inside of the Mac Plus' shell. The first time I packed the whole thing up I wanted to test the ADB and serial ports. As soon as I tried to connect the cables the ports popped out. I had only glued them in place with some silicone. It should have worked good enough for this project -- the power jack and switch are mounted the same way. I guess I didn't use enough silicone. It turns out that this wasn't a bad thing since the serial port had a few wires that had come loose in the year or so since I put it together. I pulled out the soldering iron and fixed that right up.

Next I used epoxy to glue the ports into place. I let it setup overnight and the next day the same thing happened. As soon as I applied pressure to the jack it popped right out again. The smooth plastic on the inside of the shell just didn't bond well to the epoxy. I used the Dremmel to rough up the area around the ports. This time the epoxy worked.

It is a very tight fit getting the tank with the attached electronics inside. Along the way one of the wires for the video signal broke off of the connector. This isn't surprising as the I used wire wrap wire and soldered it directly to the back of the connectors. These connections are very fragile. Another session with the soldering iron and all was well.

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Fitting it all in.

The space under the tank is pretty much filled up with the wiring, power supply and air pump. All of the wires are long enough so that I can pull everything out with out disconnecting them. This allows for any work to be performed on the tank with having to take everything apart.

The air pump has two outputs on it. One of them drives the under gravel filter while the second snakes up behind the electronics and fits between the system and video boards. This should help keep things from overheating. The bigest challenge was keeping the air lines from kinking and causing the pump to buzz unbearably. I think I finally got everything cramed in there.

Everything is so tight that the front bezel wants to pop off. I solved this by dabbing a little bit of the silicone around the edges before I sealed everything up. Then some electrical tape held everything in place while the silicone setup. I was very sparring with the silicone so that the case can be opened up again if needed.

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All buttoned up.

Just clean up the glass, add gravel, some water and power everything up. Ah, there's the "Welcome to Macintosh" screen, and there you have it -- the first working MacAquarium! The funny thing is that the 68K MacAquarium is more powerful than the Mac Plus that it was made out of. It is now a 68030 with a hard drive that would run circles around a Mac Plus.


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Well, there you have it...
68K MacAquarium

Computer Type: 


shiftkey's picture

Why is the screen of your working MacQuarium sideways?

Wow, I haven't been on this site in a long time. I was just looking it up to show somebody the project. Smile

Anyway, the screen was too wide to fit in the small Mac Plus case. Rotating it sideways allowed it to fit quite nicely. Since the plan was to play shockwave movies on the screen it is easy to adjust the movie's orientation so that it would play correctly.