Jon Thysell

Father. Engineer. Retro games. Ukuleles. Nerd.

Category: Hardware

My Mac SE/30 Part III: Motherboard and Drives

It’s #MARCHintosh, a time for retro-computing enthusiasts to celebrate their passion for classic macs.

In Part II of this series I took my first look at my newly acquired Macintosh SE/30. I’d cleaned the external surfaces and even took off the case for a quick peek inside, but I hadn’t taken anything out yet.

The next thing I wanted to do was to take a closer look at the motherboard. It’s located on the very bottom of the machine, which you can see once I’ve removed the RFI shielding:

To remove the motherboard, you first need to disconnect the power, speaker, and drive cables. It’s a fiddly bit of work because you have to reach in past the monitor yoke and hard drive and pull out the cables from the top. But once that’s done the board slides completely out:

Overall the board was in pretty good shape. The PRAM battery hadn’t exploded, and you can see that yes, the capacitors have already been replaced as per the original listing. Zooming in however, you can see that there’s still a good deal of grime and dried capacitor goo:

The first order of business was to try and clean things up a bit. I got out a toothbrush and a bowl of isopropyl alcohol and started meticulously scrubbing away. At first I was annoyed that the previous owner hadn’t bothered when they’d recapped the board – but after an hour of hard scrubbing I decided to give them the benefit of a doubt. That goo (technically electrolytic liquid) is pretty nasty stuff, so I shudder to think what it could have looked like before.

Anyway, after the cleaning, I decided to take a look at the RAM slots:

There’s eight total slots, currently populated with four 1MB sticks. According to the original listing the other four slots don’t work, but I don’t have any other sticks to verify that. I gave a cursory look over the traces to see if any were damaged, but I didn’t see any obvious problems. The only thing left to do at this point was install to a new PRAM battery and move on:

Next I turned to the drives. The hard disk is mounted in a caddy on top of the floppy drive, and with the cables already detached I simply removed both as a single unit:

With the caddy removed I separated the two drives so I could give them both a cleaning with a wet cloth and some compressed air:

I don’t have much hope for the hard drive. Even if I knew how to repair it, it would only be worth doing if it contained personal data I was trying to recover. I do however intend on keeping the floppy drive in good working order. I know at some point I’ll need to give it a thorough overhaul and lubricate all the moving parts, but I’ll save that as a project for another day.

Well, that’s enough for this post. Stay tuned for Part IV, when the upgrade parts come in!

/jon

Want to read from the beginning? Start at Part I.

My Mac SE/30 Part II: First Look

It’s #MARCHintosh, a time for retro-computing enthusiasts to celebrate their passion for classic macs.

In Part I of this series I wrote about how I acquired my first compact mac in September 2020, the highly-coveted titular Macintosh SE/30. I’d only just gotten it out of the shipping package and verified it was indeed as advertised.

My plan is to fully restore this machine inside and out. I want it to work, so I can both play games and write software on it, but I also want it to look like new, like it just rolled off the factory floor.

The first step was to document some “before” photos.

My Macintosh SE/30 (Outside)

Externally the machine is in very good condition. No cracks, breaks, or major scratches on the plastic. It’s a little dirty but that’s to be expected. I gave all the external surfaces a good clean with some isopropyl alcohol and a soft rag.

The included keyboard and mouse were in pretty good shape too:

The mouse has a small but noticeable melted spot, probably from a soldering iron or cigarette. I gave them both a quick wipe down, but they’ll need to be taken apart at some point for a proper clean.

Everything suffers from some definite yellowing, which is a little hard to see in these photos, but it’s not the worst I’ve seen. It’s uneven on the front and top where someone had applied stickers or decals. Overall, the yellowing is more apparent when you place it all side by side with my 8600, which has practically no yellowing at all:

Well that’s the outside, time to open this machine up. I placed a towel underneath so I wouldn’t scratch up the case.

My Macintosh SE/30 (Inside)

To get into these compact macs you need an unusually long Torx T-15 screwdriver, affectionately known as a “Mac Cracker”. Four screws and the case slides right off the back:

At the bottom you can see where the rear ports are attached to the motherboard, and at the top you have the power supply and fan. The white rectangle in the center is actually a little card to protect the circuit board attached to the delicate “yoke” at the back of the monitor.

Turning the machine, on the right-hand side is the “analog board”, the circuitry that drives the monitor. You can see it’s covered by a cardboard sheet with high voltage warnings:

It’s on this board where you can adjust the picture, calibrating the dimensions, brightness, focus, etc. Definitely something I’ll need to look into later.

It seems now would be a good time to remind everyone that CRTs use high-voltage capacitors, which can retain their charge for a long time even after being unplugged. You have to be super careful when dealing with these things. Touch the wrong part and you can kill yourself.

Now, later compact models like this SE/30 should have a “bleeder” resistor to safely drain those capacitors when the machine is turned off. But remember, we’re talking about a 30 year old computer here – no guarantee that resistor is still working.

There is a technique to discharge the capacitors, but it involves getting past the protective insulation to reach the high-voltage parts, and I wasn’t mentally prepared to try that yet. So in the meantime, I just avoided touching anything monitor-related.

Turning the machine 180 degrees, here’s some shots of the inside, where you can see the back of the monitor and some closeups of the top of the analog board:

Everything looks okay for now, but I already know the analog board hasn’t been recapped yet, and that can wait for another day.

Moving away from the analog board, the next thing to grab my attention is the currently not-working hard drive:

It’s a Seagate ST1480N, boasting a whopping 426 MB and manufactured in March 1994. Since stock SE/30s only came with a 40 or 80 MB hard drive (or none at all), and the SE/30 was discontinued in 1991, this is a later upgrade. I don’t have much hope I’ll be able to get it working, but that’s okay, I’m planning on replacing it with my SCSI2SD anyway.

Well, this is pretty much all you can see before actually taking things apart. Stay tuned for Part III, where I start doing just that. 🙂

/jon

Want to read from the beginning? Start at Part I.

My Mac SE/30 Part I: Acquisition

In 2020 I decided to get into restoring classic macs. I started by acquiring a Power Macintosh 8600/200 and transforming it into a powerful crossover machine – a tool to help transfer files to and from older macs and my modern computers.

You can read the story of that restoration beginning here: Adventures in Macintosh restoration Part I.

That mac was the first of two classic macs I worked on that year, but I found that writing the posts for that 8600 restoration so time consuming that I never got around to posting about the second mac I worked on.

Well it’s March 2021 now, and some in the retro-computing community are calling it the first annual #MARCHintosh – a time for enthusiasts to celebrate their passion for classic macs. So I thought it was high time I posted about that second mac.

See, my goal last year wasn’t to restore a PowerMac – what I really wanted to do was to restore a 68k machine like the ones I had in my youth. Even better, I wanted to restore one of the compact B&W macs I’d lusted after but never owned.

So while I worked on the 8600 I kept an eye out on eBay for good deals on compact macs. With the 8600 up and ready to transfer files (along with a SCSI2SD and a FloppyEMU for good measure), the biggest challenge was finding a decent compact model at a reasonable price, not necessarily already working but at least with working potential.

Now the top of line, most sought-after compact model is the Macintosh SE/30. It’s the fastest and most expandable compact mac ever made – and the market knows it. You can (and I did) spend years trolling eBay trying to find one, and even if you do, they’re often upwards of $500 to $1000, especially if they include even harder-to-find upgrades.

So I kept my sights low, and aimed for a more reasonable Macintosh SE FDHD or Macintosh Classic. But to my complete surprise, in September I stumbled upon a listing for this:

The listing’s description read:

Apple/Macintosh SE/30 – Working Condition – Some TLC Needed.

Computer is in good cosmetic condition with some yellowing. I have personally recapped the motherboard. I have not yet recapped the analog board. The computer is complete and includes it’s hard drive, floppy drive, motherboard, keyboard, and mouse as pictured. The computer was nonfunctional when I bought it. After I installed new capacitors it boots from floppy but only recognizes the first four banks of ram. The internal hard drive spins up but is not recognized by the system. Computer will need some additional attention before being fully operational, but I am confident that it can be repaired. I simply do not have the time to work on it any further. I’ve included a picture of the motherboard to give you a sense of its condition. There is 4mb of RAM installed. Sold As-IS for further repair.

Shipped with care via FedEx.

I couldn’t believe my luck – a half restored machine would be a much easier project than starting with something completely untested. I eagerly put in my bid and won! I paid about $200 with shipping – more than I wanted on my first compact, but a steal given what it was.

With the computer in the mail, and already some idea of the upgrades I wanted to make, I started putting in orders for parts. When the box finally arrived, I couldn’t wait to unpack it and verify that everything had survived shipping:

You can see it there right next to the 8600, which I was still working on at this point. I hooked it up and powered it on – as listed, the SE/30 booted right up but the hard drive wasn’t responding:

The screen was also dimmer than I expected. At the highest brightness it was just usable, though things were a little out focus. But no matter, I connected my trusty FloppyEMU and started up a System 6 boot disk.

Again, 4MB of RAM, just as listed. Confident the seller had been honest and it had survived shipping, I turned everything off and started clearing the desk. I set it up as-is with the keyboard and mouse it came with.

It took everything I had to not get started right away. There was a good deal of cleaning ahead of me, and the parts I ordered were still on the way, but I simply loved how it looked on my desk.

That’s it for now! Stay tuned for Part II, where I start taking it apart and photographing everything.

/jon

New Year, New Game Boy

One of my many hobbies is collecting and playing retro video games, especially portable / handheld systems, and especially those from Nintendo. I try to get one of every model where I can, however my rule is to only ever buy systems that I actually intend to play.

A couple years ago I bought an original Game Boy that had been modded with a backlit screen. I didn’t have an original Game Boy in my collection, and the mod itself, while inexpensive, involved a very delicate peeling apart of the original LCD and replacing specific layers – something I did not feel up to doing. So I bought a finished one off eBay.

But at the end of the day, it was just, okay.

What I hadn’t realized was that the backlight changed the color palette from pea-soup green to a gradient of blues over white. It worked, but it took a lot of the charm out of the system. Also, while the modder had replaced the original lens with a nice, scratch-resistant glass one, it didn’t sit flush with the system. The edge stuck up sloppily along one side, and it would catch my finger when I wiped it off.

I decided to accept it for what it was, but it did spend more time on the shelf than my other handhelds. When I did take it down to play, I started noticing weird splotches under the lens. I assumed it was water condensation getting inside, but it turned out to be pressure marks from the unevenly applied lens pressing against the LCD underneath. I didn’t know how to fix it, so it spent more and more time on the shelf.

Then, finally, when I took it out this past winter, it wouldn’t even turn on. The power LED lit up, but not the screen, and there was no sound. It was, for all intents and purposes, dead.

I started to think maybe it was going to just be an unfortunate shelf piece – with so many other smaller and lighter models to choose from, I didn’t really need an original to play. But the modding scene today is further along than it was a couple years ago, and the latest innovation has been a slew of drop-in replacement IPS LCDs.

I’m also a lot more proficient at repairing and restoring vintage electronics than I was a couple years ago. So I decided to take the plunge and try and rescue my poor dead Game Boy. I hit up Hand Held Legend and ordered a fancy new IPS display kit.

Since the system wouldn’t turn on I also picked up a set of replacement capacitors, and as some people complained that the IPS screen introduces some noise into the audio output, I also picked up the proscribed audio amp.

With all the parts in hand, the first step was to open the system up and remove the old backlight mod.

As you can see, the system separates into two parts – the front board with the LCD and buttons, and the back board with CPU and batteries. The new kit comes with an entirely new front board, so I set the old one aside for now and focused on the back board.

At the top was a “bivert chip” that needed to be removed. See, just adding a backlight to the original LCD produces a very washed out image – but modders figured out that if you rotated the polarizer (one of the LCD layers I mentioned before) it produced better contrast, but inverted the image. So they created a bivert chip to invert the image to start with – the result being the correct image with good contrast.

The chip was pretty easy to remove, the hard part was where a few pins from the LCD ribbon cable connector had been bent up off the board to connect to the chip. It was very finicky work to bend the pins back down and resolder them without touching the other pins.

After the chip was out I removed a set of patch wires connecting to the headphone jack. I vaguely remember the original listing for the system saying it had some kind of audio mod, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they’d actually done, other than re-route some wires.

In fact, I was annoyed at the quality of the work – the soldering was weak and held on with globs of hot glue, and they’d straight up snipped some of the original wires.

Thankfully I asked around online, and a modder was kind enough to explain that it was called the “Pro Sound mod” where the audio to the headphone jack was re-routed to avoid the noise from adding the backlight. They also explained that the “IPS causes noise” issue was overblown, and that I probably should try out the existing mod before wasting time installing the new audio amp.

So I took their advice and reapplied the Pro Sound mod to my own soldering standards.

Now that that was done, I set about putting together the new IPS kit. As per their instructions, I connected everything together without permanently mounting it, and fired it up to make sure it hadn’t been damaged during shipping.

It didn’t work.

It gave me the same problem as before – power LED lit up, but no screen, no sound. Just to be sure, I re-attached the old front board, with the same results.

So, assuming the new screen and front board I’d just bought were good, then something was wrong in the other half. Assuming it was a leaked capacitor, and thankful I’d bought replacements, I took out the back board to check.

But it looked absolutely fine. I gave it a good cleaning with some isopropyl alcohol, but still no dice. So it was time for the multimeter. I started poking around the board and found no obvious shorts, and looking at some schematics online, found plenty of points where there should have been power, but registered nothing.

That’s when I learned that the little board in the bottom left wasn’t part of the audio circuitry, but the main power board. Taking a closer look, I could see where some previous battery acid leakage had escaped the battery compartment, and gotten all over the power board.

I cleaned it off and started testing, and while it looked pretty bad, the only real damage was to the trace from the input voltage (the batteries or AC adapter) to the rest of the circuit. So I patched a wire across the two pins and crossed my fingers.

Success! The original front board lit up just fine (though inverted, since the bivert chip was gone). Now that power board may not last forever, and I may need to replace it entirely in the future, but after a couple hours of cleaning and troubleshooting I was more than ready to finish this project.

The penultimate steps were to install the new front board in the front shell. This required making some minor alterations to the inside of the shell, including trimming some posts that would be in the way of the new screen, which is actually larger than what appears through the viewport.

This was also when I saw why the previous lens didn’t sit properly – the plastic lip that it attaches to was covered in uneven globs of glue. The replacement lens I’d bought already came with its own pre-applied double-sided tape, so I just took the time to sand away all of the old glue and even out the surface.

After all that prep, it was finally time to install the new board and permanently affix everything into place. The new screen is mostly held in proper alignment by a bracket, but it’s also taped to the shell forming a seal to keep out dust.

Ah, dust. With everything screwed together, the last thing to do was to install the new glass lens, which meant getting the LCD as clean as possible. After everything else, this was the most nerve-racking part of the install. I knew once the new lens was on, any bit of dust, any smudge on the LCD, would be out of reach.

I spent a long time painstakingly wiping away specks with a microfiber cloth, using cans of compressed air, and reevaluating the screen at different angles. When I was finally ready, I quickly peeled the seal off the new glass lens and applied it straight away.

Victory! I’d done it! I’d saved my poor dead Game Boy. The buzzing concerns were unwarranted – only on the highest volumes to the speakers buzz slightly, and the headphones don’t buzz at all. Everything worked perfectly, and there’s no way this is going back on my shelf any time soon.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little project,

/jon

Adventures in Macintosh restoration Part IX: Captain, She Needs More RAM!

In Part VIII, I added USB to my Power Macintosh 8600/200 and got the final system setup installed and running. Now it’s time to address my final planned upgrade for this machine, adding some more RAM.

Video RAM was easy

The first thing I upgraded was the machine’s video RAM. The default configuration is only 2MB, giving a max display resolution of 1280×1024 with 256 colors, but it can be upgraded to a max of 4MB, bumping the max resolution to 1280×1024 with 16bit color. Now as a crossover machine, it isn’t a strictly “necessary” upgrade. It has no impact on any of the software I’m using, and without the high-resolution features of a modern OS (like sub-pixel anti-aliasing, or system-wide font scaling) I’ve honestly found more than 1024×768 to be hard on the eyes.

Really, the main reason I did it was because of the price – I found the two 1MB RAM sticks on eBay for pretty cheap, and it was strictly additive. That is, I didn’t replace the existing video RAM, I just filled in the rest of the open slots.

So if it wasn’t necessary, why spend the money? Well, this machine served a role in its day which I haven’t really spoken to yet – presentations and video production. You see, this model actually has built-in jacks for video capture and playback, via standard composite (the RCA yellow, white, and red) as well as s-video connections. With the right software, you can can capture SD video, edit in effects or what have you, and export back out to other A/V equipment.

The standard 2MB of video RAM even lets you use the A/V output to connect to a TV instead of using a regular monitor. With the 4MB upgrade, you can mirror your regular monitor display to the A/V output. This makes the machine perfect for live presentations as most video projectors of the era still used standard A/V inputs.

Frankly, the thought of using this old machine to capture video intrigued me as a fun project for another day. So I decided that I might as well upgrade it while I could.

Regular RAM was harder

Next came the regular RAM. The existing 80 MB is fine for a machine of this era, most of the time, especially if you’re offline and not doing any heavy media manipulation. Connecting to the internet is another story – especially browsing the web. Then, the more RAM the better.

Way back in Part III I hinted that the price and availability of RAM for this machine was going to be a problem, and I’ll admit, one that caught me by surprise. During my research I’d of course looked at the RAM specs for this machine – it had 8 slots and came with 32MB from the factory. In 1997 the largest stick you could buy for this machine was 64MB – giving an official limit of 512MB. Soon 128MB sticks were available, bumping that max up to 1GB – a monster amount of RAM.

So when I started costing out this machine, the first thing I did was look for those old 128MB sticks. I couldn’t find any, but the 64MB sticks seemed readily available for cheap, so I settled on living with 512MB. I saved off the listings for later, wanting to verify the machine even worked before I put more money into it.

It wasn’t until after I’d gotten the machine to boot that I returned to that saved listing, and noticed that something wasn’t right. During the cleaning I’d actually held the original RAM in my hands, and the pins looked very different from the photos in the listing. I held off on buying more to do more research.

Turns out I was right – the RAM was different. The Power Mac 8600/200 uses 168-pin 5V FPM/EDO DIMMs and the RAM I was looking at was 168-pin 3.3V EDO DIMMs. Despite having the same number of pins, the layout of those pins were thankfully designed such that you couldn’t accidentally mix them up and break something.

So I’d made a mistake, but at least I hadn’t wasted the money, and so I started appending “5V” to my searches.

It wasn’t long before I realized that all anyone had were 3.3V DIMMs. It turned out that the particular 5V variety used by this machine were not used by very many models, and as such were exceedingly rare to find these days. People restoring these machines today are usually stuck with whatever RAM was still in the box.

In fact, one thing I’d noticed when first cleaning out the machine was the rather odd placement of the existing sticks – rather than start in slot A1 (the pairs of slots are labeled A-D) they started on B2. It doesn’t affect anything, but usually people start with A1 right?

Then it hit me. When I got it, the machine was missing both its hard drive and the valuable internal ZIP drive – two things someone upgrading to a new machine might take with them. I didn’t even bat an eye at the missing hard drive – I’ve gotten through plenty of upgrades where, even if I wasn’t planning on using an old drive, I didn’t have time to wipe it properly, so it was easier to just pull it before sending the machine to a recycler. I didn’t care about the missing ZIP drive, and seeing how expensive it was to replace (well more than I paid for the rest of the system) I just shrugged and moved on.

The previous owner probably had the largest sticks in the first few slots and pulled them for their next machine. Or maybe a reseller knew how rare they were, and popped them out to sell separately. Either way, it looked like I was stuck with the 80MB I already had.

Success off eBay

My dreams of 1 GB, or even 512MB dashed, I moved on. Then one day I saw someone post on Reddit that they’d found a great deal on a bunch of 8MB EDO DIMMs, which they’d bought up to fill all the open slots in their Power Macs. Some store was trying to clear out vintage inventory.

To my surprise, they even listed 64MB sticks for $10 a piece! I jumped in feet first and ordered a full set of 8. After talking with some more people online, someone pointed out that they were listed as ECC memory, which I hadn’t noticed in my haste. I couldn’t find a definitive answer if my machine could handle ECC memory, so I was a little worried that after all that waiting I may have still wasted my money.

The store contacted me the next day to apologize – they actually only had 3 sticks in stock, so I could either get refunded for 5 or cancel my order altogether. I opted to take the 3, which made me feel better about the risk if they didn’t work.

 

They arrived and fit perfectly. I crossed my fingers, but unfortunately, one of the sticks didn’t work. I tried moving it around into different slots, but it just appears to be bad. But even with that loss, I still got 128MB of RAM for $20, when the best information I could find said those 64MB sticks still floating around in the past decade usually sold for around $50 a stick.

 

So at the end of the day, I’ve got 208MB of RAM in this machine. More than plenty for my needs, and I still have free slots if I stumble on any deals in the future. Not bad!

But I have to say, that’s it for this machine for now. I never got the original manual and CD, though I did finally get a refund two months after the initial order. The machine isn’t 100% restored – I haven’t finished buffing the case or bleaching it back to its original color – but it’s more than ready to be a crossover machine when the time comes.

Which surprisingly enough is much sooner than I expected.

Is there a compact mac on the horizon? You’ll have to stay tuned!

/jon

Want to read from the beginning? Start at Part I.