Pimping my Mac (Aquarium)

This past August in Nashville, Tennessee it was too hot to be outside to do any yard work, so I decided to work on a project in the comfort of air conditioning.

Everything I do or build is a mentally consuming exercise. I Google for ideas, pictures and documentation. Later I sketch, process and make the commitment to get it done. But I’m such a perfectionist when it comes to building things, so I have to manage my time. I’m taking a break from Legos and anything lumber related to try my hand on something totally different. I’ve got the power tools, the drive and a decent mechanical skill set and gritty tenacity to see it through. Except software. PhotoShop? Building a web page? Nope, I like the physical things in life like carpentry and massive Lego structures.

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So here’s my newest project. I’m recycling my one of my four original Apple Macintoshes into an aquarium. I have the 128K, 512K, Plus and Classic form factor to choose from. I think I will use the Plus on the left as it is discolored from age, so I plan to speckle paint the case as well.

I’ve heard of kits where the tank was pre-molded to fit the monitor opening, and it was a complete solution with pumps, lights, filter and all of the accessories that would normally go into an aquarium. Just add water and goldfish.

But alas, no such luck! I have to build one from scratch using some online instructions and galleries for inspiration.

I’ve got the Dremel tools and some allotted time to build this Mac Aquarium and document the project with photos.

My wife is not fond of fish, but my son and daughter are, so I think I have some emotional support I can tap into.

Plus these Macs originally belonged to them anyway, so I’m just pimping them out.

Fo’ shizzle!

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With a busy schedule, I just had to get started on building the Mac Aquarium… otherwise, I’ll be laying in bed thinking about it.

So phase one is where I get my tools out and my wife rolls her eyes…

Let the pimping of the Mac commence!

If you want to follow along and see the process of building a Mac Aquarium, I’ve found a new illustrated resource by Jim Lowry.

One of the cool things while building the Mac Aquarium is revisiting the inside of the case.

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Here’s two stories about the case:

Signing Party

The Mac team had a complicated set of motivations, but the most unique ingredient was a strong dose of artistic values. First and foremost, Steve Jobs thought of himself as an artist, and he encouraged the design team to think of ourselves that way, too. The goal was never to beat the competition, or to make a lot of money; it was to do the greatest thing possible, or even a little greater.

Set of Signatures molded into the inside of the Macintosh 128K case

These signatures were molded into the case and included here (gradually disappearing) for several generations of Macs through to the SE. Rumor has it that Steve Jobs’ signature was displaced by a power plug on the SE model. The Mac II and other Macs with case designs different from the 128K did not carry any signatures inside. Curiously, this document is marked “February 10, 1982” which may indicate that it is an early capturing of team signatures.

Click here to see a medium sized view of these signatures


Click here for super hirez view.

The Macintosh Plus has been gutted…

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Now all I have to do is a build a plexiglass or glass container, which seems to be the most intimidating part of this project.

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I found some very detailed instructions by Andy Ihnatko; the kicker is that each of these completed aquariums will weigh 30 lbs each when finished. The author advised that fish upkeep is a very necessary thing, especially changing water and keeping the tank clean.

Andy Ihnatko writes:“… every other month you should completely empty the tank, scrub it down with cloths and warm water (NO soap), and replace the gravel. It’s a big job, and you’ll have to keep your fish in the toilet bowl until you’re done (joke), but it’s worth it in terms of Having A Pleasant, Non-Smelly Tank For A Very Long Time. For this and many more reasons, you might want to build a second, backup tank. Speaking personally, it’s much simpler to have another, spotlessly clean MacQuarium all set up and ready to receive the transported fish, then take your time cleaning the first one.”

Looks like I’m building TWO Mac Aquariums… simple upkeep sounds good to me; why build something that is going to be high maintenance? I visited three pet stores, Bed & Bath, Linens & Things and Hobby Lobby in search of a vase or starter aquarium kit I could install in my Macintosh Plus retrofitted as a Mac Aquarium. No such luck, as the starter kits were too big or the vases were in round configurations.

It appears that I will have to construct the tank in the size specified:

8 1/4″ wide x 9 9/16″ tall and 9 1/2″ deep

After stopping by Lowes, they don’t do angled cuts, plus the glass is not 1/4″ thick but rather regular pane glass for doors. The clerk helping me used to build aquariums, so we had a nice chat about the type of fish to use – not goldfish, they are messy to clean up after – but neon tetras since they are easy to care for and I can have 5 or more in the same container.

His advice was to go to a custom glass shop to get the glass I need, rather than using plexiglass.

While washing clothes and using the top of the dryer as a work surface, the cutting commenced. All of the protrusions had to be cut away so that the finished tank will be flushed with the faceplate.

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Having the proper tools makes the work easy, especially a Dremel Tool with cutting wheels. I felt like a dental intern cutting away on some poor patient’s mouth.

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I cannot stress enough that safety glasses are a must! A hot piece of plastic jumped right into my nostril and it was the most non sensual sensation I’ve ever experienced. So being careful and sober is just flat out smart.

I also cut away the handle part on the top of the case. Most illustrations I’ve seen on the web included cutting the entire top off. I wanted to retain as much of the Macintosh case as possible while having an adequate opening for fish access and a lamp on top. Using a flat jack saw and mini hacksaw made the work easy.

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I’ve probably spent three hours on the actual gutting and cutting on the Macintosh. Next steps are to build the tank and get all the accessories for a aquarium!

I went to a local custom glass shop to get the glass I needed to build the tank. For $27.00 and next day service, the glass was cut to spec, 1/4″ in thickness and the edges polished to a flat surface eliminating any sharp edges. I purchased two sets of glass since I’m building two Mac Aquariums, plus the second set of glass served as backup insurance in case of any breakage or goofups.

Having the 1/4″ glass versus the specified 1/8″ will make gluing easier and provide a sturdy tank.

I taped together the pieces to test fit the tank into the Macintosh case. Perfect!

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I should have plenty of space at the top to avoid filling the water to the very top of the tank while keeping the water line above the monitor opening.

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All that’s left to do is adhere the pieces with aquarium silicone ($9.00 at PetSmart); let it dry for 48 hours and later, apply the silicone to all of the inside surface seams. After that dries, a leakage test is next, which basically involves setting the tank on top of newspaper, filling with water and letting it sit for a week to check for any leaks.

The final step is to build a pedestal out of wood for the tank to sit on. I used CD cases to elevate the glass to the proper height and cardboard to make a template.

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With the openings in the back of the case, I can run any necessary wires or tubes needed.

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Then, its time to go back to PetSmart and pick up all of the accessories. Pump, filters, light, trinkets and later fish!

Andy Inhatko’s Abbreviated Directions:
1) Remove everything non-plastic from the Macintosh shell.
2) Remove the front bezel. File/saw down posts and fittings.
3) Saw out handle basket from back of shell. Smooth down rough edges.
4) Test glass for correct size and fit.
5) Assemble tank with silicone adhesive. Let stand at least 24 hours. Water seal all interior edges with thick bead of silicone. Let stand at least 48 hours.
6) Build platform.
7) Test tank for leaks.
8) Test-fit tank and platform inside closed shell.
9) Wash gravel.
10) Move MacQuarium pieces to final resting place. Fill with gravel.
11) Attach air hoses to in-aquarium items. Plug hoses into gang valve.
12) Embed in-aquarium items in gravel.
13) Close up semi-configured tank and platform inside shell. Move gang valve to hang off back of shell.
14) Fill tank with water halfway. Check to see that aquarium items’ placement hasn’t been disturbed, then fill rest of way.
15) Connect air pump to check valve, check valve to gang valve, and plug in air pump. Adjust flow of air to individual items with valves.
16) Let system settle down, then add water conditioner, test and correct pH.
17) Let system rest for a day before adding fish one at a time.

After a period of busyness and multiple distractions, I finally finished pimping my Macintosh Plus into a working aquarium with three goldfish.

I searched around for some spare album covers to use for a background against the case… but went the lazy route and used three sheets of greenish stationary paper of a garden background. I’ll have to search for some art that will give the background a more visual “pop”.

I decided to go cheap on the budget by seeing how these .29 cents goldfish do before I go full tilt boogie with the pumps, filter and more exotic and expensive fish. I make the goldfish sound like they’re the lower end of the food chain, so I’m sorry if any fish aficionados are offended. At the least, there were no cats present!

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Once the tank was filled with rocks and water, the computer case was heavy to move! The front casing was hard to put back on because of the bowing on the bottom of the shell from the weight.

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I’ll probably build another one shortly since I have the glass, three more Macintoshs and the know how to assemble another one quickly.

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Overall, it was fun and relatively easy to build. $25.00 for the glass, $10.00 for the silicon glue, recycling an old Macintosh and my time was all it took! I just knew that twenty two years later, these Macs would be useful!

Categories: How to Do It Yourself!


11 replies

  1. Haha thats fantastic!! I had a fish screensaver a few years ago, but this is a hell of a lot better than that. Great work!

  2. I remember seeing people carrying Macs around in backpacks! This might be impossible with this particular modification 😆

  3. One really does not have to be limited to just fish… can make a rather nice reptile habitat too!

  4. Hi Allen, there WAS NO WAY reptiles were to be allowed in the house! I’m thinking about converting a Mac 128 into an ant farm…

  5. now if you can set it up to feed the fish with a mouse click…

  6. Ants are cool too 😉

  7. “I decided to go cheap on the budget by seeing how these .29 cents goldfish do before I go full tilt boogie with the pumps, filter and more exotic and expensive fish.”

    I hope you realized along the way that you did that entirely wrong.. Goldfish are extremely dirty fish (excrete lots of ammonia) and need proper chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration if they’re going to live in an aquarium. That one is also much too small to keep goldfish in. You should’ve used a barb, danio, betta, gourami, or some other hardy (and cleaner) fish. Please do the right thing and put those animals some place where they won’t poison themselves to death. That’s like keeping a dog in a footlocker.

  8. teitoku, I did realized after the fact that goldfish are dirty fish – bad advice from the chain pet store. I had to constantly keep the water changed and having an aquarium was starting to rob me of the joy building it.

    But you are absolutely right – a betta is the better choice!

  9. Would you post the dimensions of the glass that you had cut. That might save me some time. Thanks


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