The Pizza Box PC Case

My buddy sent me this link yesterday. ASUS demonstrated an example of shipping a motherboard in a box that could serve as a case. It’s pretty clever. As has been demonstrated many times before, nothing under the sun is new. The venerable Apple LCII, and it’s siblings, the LC and LCIII were refered to as “pizza box computers”, largely due to the fact that their cases were white, boxy… and about as thick as a pizza box. They’re the spirtual grandfathers of the Mac Mini, 1st gen Apple TV and AirPort Extreme Base Station.

I think the idea was to simulate the Mac Classic or Mac SE “tombstone” style form factor, but making the display modular from the CPU part to improve serviceability and make them more appealing to the hard-on-hardware education market. I saw many of these pizza box sized computers growing up in an Apple-friendly school district. Anyways the joke of pizza boxes lasted a long time and always stuck with me. I later moved to Texas and found a computer consignment shop that were selling old LCs for $10 a piece, and, being able to purchase pizza-sized chunks of my childhood for pennies on the dollar, bought all their LCIIIs, and a couple LCIIs for spare parts.

More after the break->

One LCIII was turned into a real webserver, with SSH, FTP and Telnet, along with AIM (AOL instant messenger 4.2 was the last version to support OS 7.5.1), loaded with an enormous 1GB SCSI drive, 32mb of ram, and a 10mb honest-to-god eithernet card (not AppleTalk). Another one ran A/UX (Apple Unix, predating both OSX and NeXTSTEP. Low End Mac became my bible. This was back in 2003, right after high school. Binaries of 7 year old programs were still availble via enthusiasts. It might be harder to find them these days. You could still pirate A/UX if you googled hard enough.

Anyways, one free pizza box from Pizza Hut later, the real Pizza Box Mac was born. The original LC was longer than the Pizza Box, but flipping the power supply 180 degrees solved the problem. Using a steak knife, I cut ventilation holes and holes to work the power, mouse and keyboard cables through. A mac->PC vga adapter poked through as well. It amused everyone except my mother.

I managed to find my old box and drag it out from under the stairs. Here are some pics. Click to super-size (1200×900). A Pizza Hut pizza box, circa 2003:

Rotate 90 degrees. Whats this? It looks like someone has carved crude ventilation slits in the side with a steak knife…

Wait a second, that’s an Apple! Not a Pizza…

Beginner’s Guide to Anatomy of a 68k Mac (click for larger)

  1. (To the left) Is the optional FPU socket. You could buy a FPU (floating point unit) and plug it into the board to improve your computer’s speed and especially scientific calculations. This is how you hotrodded your hardware before 3d graphics adapters existed.
  2. (To the left) is the 68030, one of the legendary series of Motorola 68k processors, which powered Apple from the Mac Classic all the way into the PowerPC era. Note the lack of heat sink. This is normal.
  3. 4MB of RAM FURY. Upgradable in this case to 32mb using two 16mb DIMMs. Used standard 30-pin DIMMs. Apple didn’t support more than 24mb (or was it 16? in the LCI and LCII). To the right of the RAM stick is the floppy drive motherboard connector.
  4. LC PDS slot (enhanced LC PDS slot in the LCIII). This was the only way to add true eithernet capabilities. These cards are ultra-rare due to the fact that network servers typically weren’t LCs (which, face it, are barely one step above a dumb terminal), and LCs typically connected via stone-age (but built-in, and therefore free) AppleTalk; also the fact that only LCs could use the PDS slot.
  5. Official Apple Brand SCSI drive. Yes, real 80-pin SCSI. This particular model is a 40mb Conner manufactured official Apple SC40 hard drive, made in Singapore. These were a pain in the ass, since Apple locked down their hardware upgrades. OS 7 wouldn’t allow you to plug in just any SCSI drive – it had to have official Apple firmware installed. The only work-around for this was to either install A/UX on a VM (not possible for consumers in 2003), or pirate A/UX and install it on another 68k mac with more than 1 SCSI connector on the motherboard from floppies so you could reformat it with the applicable Apple firmware.
  6. 40w power adapter. Manual, AT-style power switch.
  7. Apple vendor-lock in 15 pin VGA adapter. A $10 adapter will allow you to use non-Apple monitors with your LC. I own two. They’re pretty rare these days, I suspect.
  8. The ancient ADB port. Actually I’m pretty sure that’s an AppleTalk port . The ADB ports are directly below the 7 in the picture. Fortunately you can daisy chain the mouse through the keyboard, as was commonly done. The last recorded case I know of the ADB bus is the Rev B (550mhz) G4 Powerbook, whose touchpad used it internally.
  9. 400kb external floppy drive. Model No. A9M0106 p/n 825-1304-A. You can’t actually plug this in to anything after a Mac SE, but it looks cool and gives a sense of scale (a floppy is 88.9mm wide). Fun fact this baby was bus powered – sort of a precursor to the USB-powered floppy drives. It weighs about 1kg and has an expansion port on the back for a second floppy. Triple floppie drives were serious hardware in 1983.
  10. Air intake fan. It’s hard to see but there’s a hole cut here for the fan.
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3 Responses to The Pizza Box PC Case

  1. Pingback: Pizza Box, Lunch Box and other PC case form factors identified by WMI

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