Jeroen Domburg Miniaturizes a Mac

His name may not ring a bell, but his handle will — Sprite_tm, a regular to these pages and to Hackaday events around the world. Hailing from The Netherlands by way of Shanghai, Jeroen Domburg dropped by the Hackaday Superconference 2017 to give a talk on a pet project of his: turning a Macintosh into, well, a pet.

You could say this is Jeroen’s second minification of vintage hardware. At last year’s Hackaday Superconference, he brought out the tiniest Game Boy ever made. This incredible hardware and software hack stuffs a complete Game Boy into something you can lose in your pocket. How do you top a miniature version of the most iconic video game system ever made? By creating a miniature version of the most iconic computer ever made, of course.

The tiny object in front of Jeroen in the title image is, in fact, a working Macintosh Plus that he built. Recreating mid-80’s technology using 2017 parts seems like it would be easy, and while it’s obviously easier than breaking the laws of physics to go the other direction, Jeroen faced some serious challenges along the way, which he goes into some detail about in his talk.

Jeroen, aka Sprite_tm, shows off his “disembiggened” Mac Plus at the Hackaday Superconference 2017.

Chief among these was recreating the look and feel of the revolutionary Mac GUI, which required a diminutive display. Shrinking the original 9″ CRT display with its 512 x 342-pixel resolution down to (literally) thumbnail size was no mean feat, and Jeroen details all the design choices that led him to a 320 x 320-pixel smartwatch display. To put the MIPI interface display to work in his build, Jeroen capitalized on some reverse engineering efforts by Mike Harrison, designer of the Hackaday Superconference 2017 badge.

Given Jeroen’s current employment at Espressif, it’s no wonder that he chose the ESP32 as the chip to run his mini-Mac, although as he mentions, the SoC only barely has enough horsepower to do it. With the Mac emulation running on one core and the display scaling running on the other, and with barely enough GPIO to interface the display and the tiny mouse he also built, this mini-Mac really pushes the envelope. To be honest, it would have been great to hear more about the software side of this build, which Jeroen didn’t go into great detail about. To be fair, though, this was a huge project and he only had 30 minutes to talk, and after all, the Superconference is all about the hardware.

We have to give Jeroen props for having the guts to do a live demo on his tiny Mac. With a webcam to watch the proceedings, the Mac booted into the familiar monochrome Finder screen. The display was surprisingly readable and all the classic Mac UI elements, like window opening animations, are there to behold. The look and feel are remarkably Mac-ish, and the reaction from the crowd when Jeroen opened the iconic MacPaint application for a couple of token scribbles, not to mention the gasps at the squadron of flying toasters, was precious.

That Jeroen was able to evoke a palpable nostalgia from the audience was a testament to how well he nailed the look and feel of the original. That he was able to execute all this on a seemingly impossible scale was a real treat to watch, and we can’t wait to see what Sprite_tm brings to Superconference 2018. If there’s a unifying theme to his hacks, we’d have to say it’s “hacking for the joy of it”, so whatever he brings, it’ll be fun.

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