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'Modders' Can't Leave Macs Alone

Leander Kahney Email 11.01.02
John McDonnell turned his Mac into a 1940s Philco radio. He mounted an Apple logo on the front of the radio (lower-left) and carefully cut a slot for the machine's floppy drive in the side (top-right). He connected the computer's speaker jacks to the radio's original speaker and even connected the radio's original on/off switch to the computer.

Ever since the first PC rolled off an assembly line decades ago, computer owners have put their own stamp on their machines. In fact, the urge to tinker with hardware has turned into a thriving subculture called computer "modding."

However, modifying Apple hardware is nowhere near as common as it is in the Windows PC world.

The obvious explanation is that PC boxes are generally ugly and utilitarian.

Since the launch of the iMac in 1998, Apple's boxes have all been high design. In contrast, with the exception of Alienware, few PC manufacturers make distinctive computers.

In fact, Apple's cases are sometimes used by PC modders. Kyle Bennett put a PC motherboard inside a PowerMac G4 enclosure, which he painted maroon and black. In honor of the color scheme, he called it the Rotten Apple.

Windows PC mods can often be original and beautifully executed. Obviously influenced by Apple's Cube, Dennis Vieren made a gorgeous glowing cube out of aluminum and acrylic.

Although Mac customization is less common, some imaginative mods have been cooked up.

John McDonnell, for example, shoehorned a Macintosh Quadra into a 1940s Philco radio.

McDonnell, a 34-year-old history teacher from Fontana, California, paid close attention to detail: He mounted an Apple logo on the front of the radio and carefully cut a slot for the machine's floppy drive in the side. He connected the computer's speaker jacks to the radio's original speaker. It provides "nice, rich sound," he said.

To turn the computer on, McDonnell wired up the radio's original on/off switch. Turn the knob and the machine starts up with the distinctive Mac startup chime.

McDonnell used a Macintosh Quadra 605 and a Philco Baby Grand Tombstone Radio.

"The radio sat around my garage for years," McDonnell said. "I considered a number of case options, including a disco ball, a Habitrail and an old toolbox before I remembered the radio. What I ended up with is a fully functional, Internet-ready Macintosh that would blend nicely with the decor of almost any Depression-era American home."

- - -

Nicey icey: Kent Salas had never done any modding before he embarked on one of the most ambitious Macintosh mods to date, and it wasn't even his computer.

A friend loaned Salas a PowerMac G4, a machine worth thousands of dollars. He dismantled the computer, cut it up and stripped the paint from its casing.

He was so unsure of what he was doing, he labeled every component, including all the screws, to make sure he could figure out how to put it back together again.

"I always end up with extra screws and parts left over," he said on his website.

The result is Blue Ice, a stunning, transparent G4 tower that lights up with fluorescent blue neon and has a nifty LCD screen mounted in the front panel.

"I hit the power switch and boom, half my room glows electric, icy blue," Salas writes on his site.

The project cost Salas, a 38-year-old webmaster from Southern California, about $300 and took a month to complete. "Not too bad considering I had to buy a drill and other minor tools," he said.

Salas bought the 5-inch LCD panel on eBay for $100. He cut a hole in the front of the G4's case and drilled a couple of holes to fasten the LCD.

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