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Using off-the-shelf electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and a 3D printer, you can build your own working miniature Classic Mac. That’s how.
There is a lot of overlap between the maker community and retro computing. Hence, one of the most popular tasks of makers is to make working miniature replicas of classic computers.
Several manufacturers have made tiny working classic Mac replicas based on old Classic Mac OS ROM files, a Raspberry Pi Zero computer, and a 3D printed case. The number of parts needed to build such a machine is surprisingly small, although lately it can cost a little more than expected due to problems with the component supply chain.
Also, keep in mind that Apple still owns the copyrights to all classic Mac ROMs and ROM files, so in order to legally make a classic mini Mac, you also need to own one of the original Macs for the ROM file you’ll be using. Also, you may not sell working replica Mac minis that you create that contain a copyrighted Apple ROM file or other Apple software.
Mac 3D printed parts list
To make a 3D printed Classic Mac Mini you will need:
- A 3D printer
- A 3D model file of the classic Mac case you want to create
- A Raspberry Pi Zero or ZeroW computer
- A little TFT display panel for use as a computer display
- A raspberry Pi GPIO header cable to connect the Pi to the TFT display
- Pi Zero DC power supply – usually 5V or 3.3V
- A dual-row 40-pin Pi header to connect the GPIO cable to
- 3 x M3 x 12mm screws
- 3 M3 hex nuts
- A 16GB micro SD card
- Third-party emulation software that runs on a Pi and is capable of running classic Mac OS
- A Micro USB hub
- A USB keyboard and mouse
- Mini HDMI to standard HDMI connector for optional external display
If you don’t have a 3D printer, you can 3D print the parts for a fee at Shapeways.
You don’t need 3D software to create a classic Mac mini unless you want to open and edit the 3D file. There are a number of free options for doing this, including OpenEXP, Autodesk Fusion 360, MixerAnd FreeCAD.
Most of these classic Mac mini designs are based on 80s model Macs like the Mac Plus, SE, SE/30, Classic or Classic II. There was also a Classic colour model, although the case was a little more irregular.
If you carefully plan the location of your Raspberry Pi computer inside your 3D printed Mac case and are willing to cut a custom USB port hole, it is also possible to connect an external 3.5″ USB floppy drive to read the vintage Mac floppy disks, although you may need special software to do this.
To get the native Mac OS classic sound, you’ll need to connect a USB hub with Micro USB connector into the USB port on the Pi, then plug a USB speaker into the hub. Typical Micro USB hubs cost around $6-$12 and usually have 3-4 USB ports.
The original Mac OS was very similar to macOS today, except smaller, simpler, and black-and-white only:
The first step in your 3D printed Mac journey is to find a 3D model of the Mac case you want to use. There are a variety of free and paid 3D models online at The opposite, cgtrader.com, Etsy and others. Macintosh Librarian also has a page on Thingaverse which has files for SketchUp.
Once you have the 3 files of the case parts, you will need to print each part on your 3D printer using its software or one of the third party apps mentioned above. Because the parts are small, they print pretty quickly. You may need to make slight adjustments to the case parts with a utility knife or Dremel tool to get everything right. Some of the case designs are designed to snap together, others require some form of adhesive to seal the case.
You’ll need to solder the 40-pin header to the Raspberry Pi, or in some cases, you can order a Pi Zero with the pins pre-soldered. Or you can use a “hammer head” available from Ada Fruit and other manufacturer sites that allow you to secure the header using friction only.
Before installing the Pi computer into the case, prepare a microSD card on your Mac or PC containing the Raspberry Pi operating system, a compatible emulator, and the ROM file for your Mac model. We won’t go into the details of how to do this here, but there there are many online tutorials.
In short, you tell the Pi to load and run the emulator, which then loads the ROM image of the Mac upon startup so it runs classic Mac OS. the cgenco page it also has links to modified versions of mini vMacs that allow it to run on most ARM-based systems. See “Step 16: Addendum: Start at Boot” in the cgenco tutorial.
Depending on the display you have, you may also need to install custom Pi OS drivers from the display manufacturer.
Or you can just boot into the Pi OS, then use your mouse to find the emulator and double-click the Pi OS desktop. A variety of compatible emulators abound, including mini vMac, which has a Linux build (the Raspberry Pi OS is based on Linux). There is also a mini vMac build that runs on modern Macs.
Once the Mac operating system boots, it actually takes control of the I/O hardware such as the keyboard, mouse and other system hardware. You now have a working classic Mac and can run any software that a real classic Mac would run.
An optional mod is to install a “Faux Disk,” a working SD card reader into the front of the case where the original Mac’s floppy drive slot was. There are 3D part files for the mounts and secure an SD card reader board to the inside front of the case. The card reader connects to the Pi’s small ribbon cable connector via an additional flat ribbon cable (see Step 4 on the cgenco page).
Once your microSD card is ready, insert it into the Pi’s card slot.
Next, using the mounting points inside the case, install the Raspberry Pi and TFT display into the back and front of the case, respectively. On some case designs, you may need to secure the parts with small screws, others are designed to allow the parts to snap into place.
Most case designs have at least 1 additional external port for a USB connection. If not, you’ll need to cut one yourself using a cutting tool.
Connect the internal display to the Pi using the GPIO ribbon cable. This cable allows the Pi to communicate with the display.
Finally, close the case, either by snapping or gluing the halves together, depending on the case design you printed.
Connect the Pi’s external power or a powered USB cable (usually 5V, sometimes 3.3V), the Micro USB hub, mouse and keyboard, and power up. Once your Pi boots up, you may need to edit a configuration file to open an emulator app on startup, or you’ll need to manually open the emulator.
You might want to write down your Pi’s IP address if it’s connected to a network and enable remote control SSH access so you can access and configure it from a Mac or PC, which is beyond the scope of this article. SSH access is turned off by default in the Pi OS, but is enabled through a setting in the OS’s System Preferences.
Some final notes
Obviously using the Pi Zero W is better than the original Pi Zero since the Pi Zero W has built-in WiFi.
There are additional 3D case files they produce slightly larger boxes — that allow you to use a Pi 3, 3B+ or 4, but also require a larger display. There is one for the Pi 4B here.
In addition to making classic 3D printed Mac minis, there are several people in the community who revise, refurbish, and repair original working classic Macs. Check out YouTubers Review by Marques Brownlee of the very first compact Mac: the Macintosh 128K.
There are even new working replacement circuit boards for the original Macs, like the IF Reloaded by Kai Robinson sold Mac Effects ($49).
For something really cool, check out James Friend’s Online Mac Plus Emulator, PCE.js running system 7.
Assembling your own classic Mac mini requires some maker skills like 3D printing, soldering, and crafting. But it’s fun and interesting enough that most Mac enthusiasts should be able to assemble their own without much effort.