Mini Mac Museum

My home office is finally set up more or less the way that I want it (although it could use a paint job – beige is so ‘00s). Part of the plan for this one was to give me a bit of space to display my collection.

From left to right, we have:

  • Glass Macintosh Picasso Sign (I’d wanted one of these ever since I was a kid)
  • Macintosh 512K with SCSI upgrade. (The last time I tested this, it booted with a Sad Mac and an error that suggests a problem with the RAM. That’s a project for another day though).
  • Macintosh Plus (AFAIK, this one works)
  • Macintosh SE/30 (My current project Mac and the topic of my current post series)
  • Macintosh Classic II (This one has something resembling the checkerboard screen issue, but that’s a project for another day.)

On the desk below, I have an Indigo iMac that is the kids’ computer. Can’t go wrong with $10 at a garage sale, and it even came with a printer!

Under my desk on the other side of the room, I have a PowerMac G4 MDD (The most powerful Mac that can boot Mac OS 9 natively), a PowerMac G5 DP 2.7GHz (The most powerful PowerPC Mac), and a PowerBook G3 “Pismo” on the desk (This one is my machine for playing classic games). There’s also an Aluminum PowerBook G4 hiding somewhere in the closet. I tried to get OS 9 running on that, based on the work of some people much smarter than me, with mixed results. But that’s a project (and blog post fodder) for another time.

Project Backlog: SE/30 Restoration Part 1

Between work, family and social commitments, I’ve had very little time to keep up with projects (and blogging). But, every once in a while, I get a spare day and can pull something off the pile.

In the summer of 2015, I picked up a Macintosh SE/30 (link) off eBay with the intention of getting a working compact Mac. The reason that I picked the SE/30 is because it is well-known as the best and most capable of the compact Macs, with a beefy (for the time) 16 MHz processor, the ability to support up to 128MB of RAM, and the ability to run anything from System 6.0.3 all the way up to Mac OS 8.1 (with a 32-bit clean ROM), or even certain versions of A/UX. The built in PDS slot also allows for all sorts of interesting expansion capabilities, including accelerator cards (both faster ‘030s and even ‘040s) and Ethernet cards. Some enterprising souls have even put the SE/30 on the modern Internet.

The machine that I got came from Goodwill Seattle (Goodwill has an eBay presence. Who knew?) with very little information about it other than that it turned on and loaded to the “?” floppy icon. The fact that it successfully got there was good enough for me, because just about anything else can be fixed – you just need to throw enough parts at it. When I got it home, I made a few abortive attempts to work on it, but between my job, a new baby at home, and packing up everything and moving it to a new house, it just never got anywhere and languished on the project pile. Now there were home repairs and upgrades to take care of too!

I finally found some time to take a proper look at it last week – taking my first real day off in quite some time. Connecting everything back up, it fired up to the blinking question mark. I tried to boot it with a set of System 7 install disks that I had handy, but with no luck. This meant one of two things – either the disks were bad, or the floppy drive was. The trouble was that I had nothing else (working) in my office that could handle high density floppy disks. (I’ve since corrected that oversight). I was also missing a long-handled Torx T-15 screwdriver so that I could open the case if I needed to, but a quick trip to Home Depot fixed that.

Fortunately, my parents had my childhood Macs in storage, an LC II (which, after testing, needs a new power supply. But that’s yet another project for another day) and a Performa 6400/200, which still worked. So, I packed everything up and took it over there. Since I didn’t know exactly what I was going to need, I took everything: system disks, tools, my Pismo, my modern MacBook, an external SCSI Hard Drive, an external floppy drive (using the old DB-19 floppy connector), an external CD-ROM drive, and the cables to wire everything together. Between everything, and using the Performa as a transitional Mac, I’d be able to get information on the SE/30 somehow.

As an aside, the SCSI hard drive was another eBay purchase. At the time, I had no idea what was on it, or if it even worked properly, since I had nothing at home to connect it up to. Again, enter the Performa.

The first order of business was to set up the SE/30 and begin diagnosing. It still turned on “properly”, but would reject any floppy disk that I tried to boot it from with the “X” icon. I tried the System 7 Install Disk 1, the Disk Tools disk, and a copy of Word Munchers that will boot into System 6.0.8.

So, the next obvious thing to try was to fire up the Performa and test the media to see if it was readable. Success on all 3 counts!

That meant that the problem was likely with the floppy drive. First, I wanted to make sure of it. I really didn’t want to do surgery on one of these things if I didn’t have to, since opening a compact Mac can be hazardous to your health. Fortunately, an SE/30 can boot off an external SCSI drive no problem, and I had one to test with.

After a bit of mucking around which involved a dead PRAM battery (I’ll detail the fix in another post) and a SCSI ID conflict (which, before I figured it out, led to me stripping down both the Performa and the external drive enclosure in an attempt to troubleshoot), I had the drive successfully connected.

It turned out that the drive was fully functional and empty, giving me 810 MB of free space to work with. For something like the SE/30, which shipped with a 40 MB hard drive, this was the next best thing to unlimited storage. The Performa is running Mac OS 8.6, but fortunately, the Classic Mac OS will still allow you to load up the installer for an older version and install it to an external drive.

With my newly minted System 7.0.1 drive in hand, I took it over to the SE/30 and fired the whole thing up. Success! This meant that the system could work!

I also learned that the system had 5 MB of RAM in it. I knew that there was an internal hard drive in there too, but it didn’t show up.

The next test was to see if the floppy drive could read floppies at all. Results were mixed. It could detect that there was something in the drive, but it couldn’t read it, so just offered to initialize it for me.

Just for completeness’ sake, I hooked up the external 800K floppy drive to see if I could get that to read a disk, but it turned out that one was completely busted. I think that the drive mechanism was seized. (Possibly a project for another day). As part of testing that, it looked like everything had gone all checkerboard-y for a minute, which led me to tear apart the computer and look for leaking capacitors. Fortunately, though, everything appears to be intact, if dusty. I gave it a quick spritz with the air compressor anyways.

After further testing I learned that if you don’t power off the external SCSI drive between power cycles, the system won’t reboot properly. The screen just turns back on with weird graphics artifacts – sometimes in a checkerboard pattern.

Since I had the computer apart anyways, and had an appropriate replacement internal floppy drive handy, it was time to put it in. I very carefully stripped the whole thing down, replaced the floppy drive, and put it back together, only dropping a screw once, and managing not to electrocute myself.

I disconnected the SCSI drive, popped the Disk Tools disk in, and the computer booted successfully off the floppy drive!

From there, I ran the Apple HD SC Setup tool, but it did not detect a hard drive, so I suspect that the internal is toast. Internal SCSI drives are hard to come by these days, so I’m not sure if I will go through the trouble of replacing it, although I might look for something that will let me stick a CF card in there instead.

So, I now have a working SE/30. I ran the System 7 Tune-Up, loaded up HyperCard, played some Word Munchers and a game of “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego”, and then packed everything back up. At this point it was dinner time – a project that was supposed to take a couple of hours turned into a whole day, as these things do.

For the next part of the project, I’ve just finished collecting all of the parts. I plan to crack it open again and install additional RAM for a total of 32MB (128 MB is possible, but overkill) and a 32-bit clean ROM. I’ve also acquired a Centronics to Centronics SCSI cable so that I can connect the CD-ROM into the system as well.

For the future, I’d like to try and get this thing networked. I have some LocalTalk adapters, so I might be able to use the Performa (which has Ethernet) as a bridge. Or, depending on how kind eBay is, I might be able to find a PDS Ethernet card. I’d prefer to fill that slot with an accelerator, although those are even more rare and expensive. I might look into a solid-state SCSI replacement as well.

Next time: Replacing a hard to find PRAM battery with easy to find parts!

Cleaning an Apple Platinum 5.25″ Floppy Drive (A9M0107)

I was about two dozen disks into my archiving efforts when my 5.25” floppy drives stopped reading disks. Both of them. At almost the same time. I was afraid that I may have broken something permanently, because I had made the mistake of hot-plugging them one time. But a little bit of Googling suggested that the solution might be far simpler – the timing was a coincidence, and they might just need a bit of cleaning.

Neither of the drives had been cleaned since they have come into my possession, and I was doing some fairly heavy use on questionable media, so I figured that it was worth a shot. A little further Googling showed that while there were plenty of guides on doing this on an older disk ][ unit, there was nothing for the Platinum 5.25” floppy drive (A9M0107). So, I figured that I would write one up myself.

2015-08-10 16.00.43Very first, the usual disclaimer for these sorts of things applies. You follow this guide at your own risk. I cannot guarantee anything about any of the procedures depicted here. Anything that you do to your hardware is your own responsibility. With that out of the way, lets get started!

Tools: Not much, just a standard #2 Phillips, a little flathead for prying off a metal plate that we’ll find inside, and some rubbing alcohol and a Q-tip for cleaning the drive head.

A9M0107 ToolsStep 1: Remove the Phillips screws on either side of the rear of the case.

2015-08-10 16.01.24Step 2: Remove the top case. The easiest way to do this is to put your thumb under the lock slot and push up at an angle. It should just pop off.

2015-08-10 16.02.24Step 3: Remove the screw holding the top plate and grounding wire to the chassis.2015-08-10 16.02.42Step 4: Using the little flathead screwdriver, carefully pry off the top cover. Note that it hooks over the front of the frame, so will need to be lifted at an angle.

2015-08-10 16.03.28Step 5: Disconnect the 4 connectors on the analog board, making sure to note which way they are attached so that you can plug them in again correctly later.

2015-08-10 16.05.37Step 6: Remove the two screws holding the analog board to the frame, and carefully remove the board, making sure to pull the cables out of the way. Set the board on a static-free surface.

2015-08-10 16.07.45Step 7: Remove the spacer and the metal plate that sit under the analog board and put them off to the side.

2015-08-10 16.09.07Step 8: Lift up the top part of the read-write mechanism (it’s spring-loaded) and use a  Q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol to clean the read-write head (the white square in the center). Note that since these drives are single-sided, there is only one head, as opposed to the two that you’d find on a double-sided or high-density floppy drive.2015-08-10 16.09.38Step 9: Follow the instructions in reverse, and put the drive back together.

I wound up clearing a bunch of gunk out of my floppy drives. After putting them back together and hooking them up again (with the power turned off this time), they were happily back to copying disks.

2015-08-10 16.10.46Next time, I’m going to start looking at some of the disks that I’ve been copying – see if I can’t find something interesting for show and tell.

Fun with Floppy Disks

I received the part that I ordered and have begun imaging disks, but more on that later. (I also need to figure out why none of my 3.5″ Floppy drives are working). Today, I want to talk about floppy disks. 5.25″ ones specifically.

A standard disk sleeve is very boring, corporate, and to the point, like the example below.

Generic Disk ReverseAs I’ve gone through the pile of disks, I came across one company – Elephant Memory Systems – who decided to have a bit of fun with it. As a nice bonus, the disk must have been stored well, so it was still readable too!

Elephant Disk Reverse It’s always nice to see companies having fun with this sort of thing. If we were still using floppies in 2015, this sort of sleeve would be right in line with modern design sensibilities.

For Want of a Nail

Short post this week – I had intended do get started on disk copying using ADTPro. While the easiest way to do this is using a Uthernet card, the Uthernet I is out of production (and I don’t have one), and the Uthernet II hasn’t been released yet.

So, that means that I need to fall back to a serial null modem. To hook that up to a modern Mac, I also need a USB to serial adapter. I was sure that I had both of those, as I had used ADTPro to copy disk images to my Apple IIGS before. But, after searching through several boxes and drawers, I was only able to find the null modem cable, so I had to order the adapter. Fortunately, RetroFloppy offers one that is guaranteed to be compatible with ADTPro (you can get null modem cables there too).

USBMacI have one on order, and will be able to get back to this project when it arrives, which will hopefully be within the next couple of days.

Christmas in July

I have been neglecting this blog for far too long – it’s been the better part of a year since I posted last. So, I’m going to make a point of trying to get a post up at least once a week – if nothing else, just to get myself back into the habit of it. Fortunately, I have some ideas for content. Thanks to some choice eBay finds, I’ve been bitten by the retrocomputing bug again!

Here’s what I picked up:

Item 1: A lot of 5.25” disks. On a quick review, it looks like there are a bunch of disk magazines, and various disks from user groups, as well as a few other odds an ends.

5.25floppiesItem 2: A lot of 3.5” disks. A lot of shareware from the Christella Enterprise Catalog, as well as a bunch of fonts and graphics software, as well as a few games and other odds and ends.

3.5floppiesItem 3: An Apple IIGS ROM 00 with a Transwarp GS card. What’s exciting about this one is that I was able to acquire the whole setup for US$710 + shipping. The Transwarp usually sells for about that much on its own. But, for that price, I got a ROM 00 IIGS with Transwarp GS and RAM cards, a monitor, keyboard and mouse, and two 3.5” 800K disk drives (which is good, because it looks like my old 3.5” drive has died). So, I consider that a pretty good deal!

IIGSAll of this came in a couple of days ago, so when I get a chance to play with it, my plan is to sort through and image the surviving disks and make them available, as well as to write about anything interesting that I find. It looks like the disks were stored relatively well, so I’m hoping to get a recent recovery rate from them. But, that’s a topic for another post…

Adventures in Retrocomputing: The Apple IIGS

When I was a kid, the Apple IIGS was the computer to have. It was the cream of the Apple ][ line, with a great library of games and software. Unfortunately, I didn’t get one as a kid. Instead, I got a Macintosh LCII, which was definitely the right decision in 1992. The Apple ][ line was just about dead, and the Macintosh was the future. I got many good years out of that computer, and last time that I checked, it still works.

However, one of the nice things about growing up, (and the invention of eBay), is that you can now afford to get the “toys” that you really wanted as kid, usually for a reasonable price. The same principle applies to those who collect classic cars.

So, starting last February, I did a bit of research, then took to eBay and started collecting parts. By consulting various sources, I came up with the following list of must haves to assemble a capable “modern” IIGS system:

  • A IIGS CPU (ROM 01 or ROM 03)
  • A color monitor (either an AppleColor Composite Monitor or the preferred AppleColor RGB monitor)
  • A monitor cable (harder to come by than you’d think)
  • A Keyboard, Mouse and Joystick
  • A printer (Probably an Imagewriter II – a Laserwriter if I’m really lucky)
  • Disk drives (At 1, preferably 2 each of the 5.25” and 3.5” floppys)
  • A Memory Expansion card (Min 4MB, 8MB preferred)
  • A SCSI card (Apple Fast SCSI preferred)
  • A hard drive
  • A CD-ROM drive
  • An uthernet Ethernet card (
  • An accelerator card (a Transwarp GS or ZipGS)

Long list, eh? I also needed media, and a way to get software from a modern computer to the IIGS. The community has long had a solution for in the form of ADTPro.

I’ve been making good progress down the list, acquiring a ROM 03 IIGS, an AppleColor RGB monitor, (although it took me another 6 months to get the cable for it) and a disk drive. I even wound up acquiring a complete ROM 01 IIGS system with composite monitor, keyboard, mouse, joystick, 2 disk drives, and printer (and bonus Kensington SystemSaver IIGS) because it was cheaper to buy the whole system and only use what I needed, rather than to buy individual parts. Unfortunately, the printer got destroyed in shipping, but insurance covered it.

By the beginning of the summer I had all of the components together, but the ROM 03 system that I had was fairly barebones – I think that it may have originally come from a school – so it had no expansion cards, and even with the ADTPro software, it was rather tedious to copy floppy images over. Pickings were slim on eBay, so I put the project on hold. I was not too keen on investing in a 30 year old hard drive anyways, especially when much more modern technology was available.

Back in February, I had put myself on the waiting list for the next run of CFFA3000 cards. These let you plug in a CF Card or USB flash drive and load disk images (both hard drive and floppy images) from it, allowing you to use modern solid-state technology to replace old magnetic media entirely. In September, Rich Dreher announced that he would be starting the new run of cards, so I put in my order, and received it early in November.  This let me put the system properly through its paces, installing GS/OS 6.0.1 and trying out a few games. Everything worked great!

Now I just need to source some more software, and a Memory upgrade, SCSI card, and a CD-ROM drive to bring the system to it’s full potential. An accelerator would be nice, but not necessary, and I have some good news on the uthernet front – a new production run should see the light of day before too long. No hard dates of course, but the project is still alive.

It’s nice to see that the community is still alive and active, and I look forward to getting deeper into this project, as soon as I can scrape up the last few parts that I need.