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.

Adventures in Macintosh restoration Part VIII: Fresh Setup

In Part VII, I experimented with a variety of Mac OS system software combinations on my Power Macintosh 8600/200. Now it’s time to finish up the experiments and get this machine up and running.

One more way to transfer files

The most important job a of a bridge machine is to be able to transfer files to older machines, and as I’ve explained in the previous parts, this machine is pretty flush with methods for doing so. However, before I got all that working, one of the first recommendations I got from other vintage mac fans was to try and add USB support with a Sonnet Tango PCI card.

I found one cheap on eBay, brand new and still in the box:

It was a quick and pretty effortless install into one of the machine’s open PCI slots. While it requires Mac OS 9 to operate, and then only at USB 1.1 speeds, it has quickly become one of my favorite methods for transferring files.

Mac OS 9 can understand FAT32 filesystems, so rather than deal with floppies, burning CDs, or the relatively slow network, I’ve found that the fastest and often most convenient option is to just use a little USB drive. The biggest issue was having to reach to the back of the machine to access the ports, but thankfully the card has an “internal” port, so I was able to route a USB extension cable out front slot for the missing ZIP drive.

SCSI2SD second thoughts

It’s now, when I’m all ready to set up this machine with its “final” setup, that I start to question my use of the SCSI2SD. It’s a very useful and powerful device, but it’s also kind of expensive. Beyond being a “drop-in” replacement for a SCSI hard drive, it’s useful to be able to remove the SD card to make backups, add/remove files, etc. But this machine already has so many ways of transferring files, and having to pop open the case to remove an SD card is pretty inconvenient by comparison.

As I’ve mentioned before, my true goal is to a restore an older compact mac. This current machine is just a tool toward that end, so it seems a little wasteful to dedicate a SCSI2SD for it, if the long-term fate of this machine is to be stored away and only used when needed. Plus, any future compact mac will have probably need a hard drive replacement of its own, where the benefits of a SCSI2SD may be better appreciated.

Revisiting SCSI

So rather than plan on forking out the money for another SCSI2SD in the future, I decided to take out the one I have and re-look into my options for installing a real SCSI hard drive into this machine. In Part VI I mentioned the lack of new SCSI hard drives, and the problem with old ones is finding one that still works.

However, while SCSI ultimately failed in the consumer market, many of the newer SCSI drives that do exist are still backwards compatible with the older SCSI protocol, given an appropriate cable adapter.

So I consulted r/VintageApple for advice, and after trolling around online I ended up scoring an 18 GB SCSI hard drive for $5, with free shipping even! As for the cable adapter, a reddit user who had already done the exercise of buying every possible adapter pointed me to the only one that actually works as advertised.

Since the drive was originally intended for server racks, it’s slower, larger, and louder than comparable consumer drives, but the price simply couldn’t be beat.

It worked perfectly with a patched copy of Drive Setup, and I partitioned the drive three ways – a 11GB HFS+ primary partition for Mac OS 9.2, a 2GB HFS partition for Mac OS 7.6, and a 4GB HFS partition for miscellaneous data.

Installing Mac OS 7.6

Once the hard drive was partitioned, I went ahead and installed Mac OS 7.6 first. I didn’t screenshot the whole process, but for the benefit of any future person who’s never had to install 7.6 on a Power Mac in 2020, here’s a rough outline of what I did:

  1. Boot from the 7.6.1 install CD (hold “c” if necessary)
  2. Run “Install Mac OS”
    1. Skip straight to Step 4, “Install the software”
    2. Customize the install according to the suggestions here:
      1. MacOS 7.6.1 Update
      2. QuickDraw 3D
      3. MacLinkPlus
      4. English Text-To-Speech
    3. Under Options, check “Create new System Folder”
    4. Install to the 2GB partition I set up for 7.6
    5. Start!
    6. For everything else, just select “Easy Install”
  3. Reboot when finished

Then, after the machine booted back up from the hard drive, it’s time to update some settings in the Control Panel:

  1. Configure Energy Saver to “Shut down instead of sleeping” and set the timer to “Never”
  2. Open Control Panel > TCP/IP
    1. Confirm you want to enable TCP/IP after the panel closes
    2. Connect via Ethernet
    3. Configure to use the DHCP server
    4. Exit, saving configuration
  3. Open Control Panel > Control Strip
    1. Hide Control Strip
  4. Open the Extensions Manager, and disable the following “Control Panels”:
    1. Control Strip
  5. Again in the Extensions Manager, and disable the following “Extensions”:
    1. Color SW 1500
    2. Color SW 2500
    3. Color SW Pro
    4. Desktop Printer Extension
    5. Desktop Printer Spooler
    6. Desktop PrintMonitor
    7. ImageWriter
    8. Iomega Driver
    9. LaserWriter 300/LS
    10. LaserWriter 8
    11. Printer Share
    12. PrintingLib
    13. PrintMonitor
    14. StyleWriter 1200

Finally, I installed the 2020Patch Extension so I can set the date past 2020. And here we are, only 8.5MB used at boot:

Now, these particular settings might not be right for everyone, as they reflect my setup: I have a TCP/IP network, but no printers, and I have never been a fan of the Control Strip. Now on to the primary OS for this machine, OS 9.2.2.

Installing Mac OS 9.2.2

The road to Mac OS 9.2.2 is a little more involved, but again, here’s an outline of what I did:

  1. Boot from the 9.1 install CD (hold “c” if necessary)
  2. Run “Mac OS Install”
    1. Under Options, check “Perform Clean Installation”
    2. Install to the 11GB partition I set up for 9.2
    3. Start!
    4. Continue and Agree until you see another “Start” button
    5. Customize with just the following:
      1. Mac OS 9.1
      2. Internet Access (Custom)
        1. Internet Utilities
        2. Microsoft > Internet Explorer
      3. Text-to-Speech
      4. ColorSync
    6. Start!
  3. Reboot when finished

After the machine reboots, complete the Setup Assistant. Then, as before, it’s time to update some settings in the Control Panel:

  1. Configure Energy Saver to “Shut down instead of sleeping” and set the timer to “Never”
  2. Open Control Panel > TCP/IP
    1. Confirm you want to enable TCP/IP after the panel closes
    2. Connect via Ethernet
    3. Configure to use the DHCP server
    4. Exit, saving configuration
  3. Open Control Panel > Control Strip
    1. Hide Control Strip

Now we’ve got a pretty clean 9.1 install, but we want 9.2.2. To do that we’re going to need to get three things onto the machine:

  1. OS 9 Helper
  2. Mac OS 9.2.1 Update
  3. Mac OS 9.2.2 Update

Once you have that, you’ll need to do the following:

  1. Open the “Mac OS 9.2.1 Update” and mount the disk image
  2. Run “OS 9 Helper 1.0.1”
    1. Select “Install Mac OS 9.2.1”
    2. Begin Installation
    3. Continue and Agree until you see another Start Button
    4. Customize with the following:
      1. Mac OS 9.2.1
      2. ColorSync
  3. Start!
  4. Reboot when finished

After the reboot, complete the Setup Assistant again, then:

  1. Open the “Mac OS 9.2.2 Update” and mount the disk image
  2. Run “OS 9 Helper 1.0.1”
    1. Select “Install Mac OS 9.2.2”
    2. Begin Installation
    3. Continue and Agree until you see another Start Button
  3. Start!
  4. Reboot when finished

After the reboot, complete the Setup Assistant one final time. Now we can clean up the Control Panel – I used the list here to get started:

  1. Open the Extensions Manager, and disable the following “Control Panels”:
    1. Control Strip
    2. Location Manager
    3. Multiple Users
    4. Software Update
    5. USB Printer Sharing
  2. Again in the Extensions Manager, and disable the following “Extensions”:
    1. Color SW 1500
    2. Color SW 2500
    3. Color SW Pro
    4. Control Strip Extension
    5. CSW 6000 Series
    6. Desktop Printer Extension
    7. Desktop Printer Spooler
    8. Desktop PrintMonitor
    9. FBC Indexing Scheduler
    10. ImageWriter
    11. Iomega Driver
    12. LaserWriter 300/LS
    13. LaserWriter 8
    14. Location Manager Extension
    15. Multi-User Startup
    16. Printer Share
    17. PrintingLib
    18. PrintMonitor
    19. USB Printer Sharing Extension

And here we are, only 16.6MB used at boot:

That’s it for today, I think I’ve got one more post left in me for this machine, so stay tuned for Part IX!

/jon

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

Adventures in Macintosh restoration Part VII: System Experiments

In Part VI, I was able to install Mac OS 8.1 on my Power Macintosh 8600/200 using a SCSI2SD as the machine’s hard drive, and I was even able to get online. Now it’s time to play around with that setup.

The original plan

The plan for this machine has always been as a bridge machine between modern computers and older vintage Macs. It’s meant to give me some practice cleaning and restoring old parts, while also being as flexible and compatible as possible. It’s a utility machine.

In order to be the most compatible with the most software and the most hardware, I figured I’d need to install as many versions of Mac OS as possible. This machine officially supports System 7.5.5 through Mac OS 9.1, but rather than install the dozen of minor versions in-between, I thought one install per major version should be enough.

System 7

Let’s start with System 7. As far as I can remember, my childhood machines ran 7.0.1 or 7.1, older than what this new machine can handle. I remember the 7.5 series existing, and it’s possible that in the later years I ran it on the Centris 650 when I first got internet access.

System 7.5.5 is the earliest software this machine can run, and it’s the last version to support running 24-bit addressing (something the oldest programs need). The other contender for System 7 would be 7.6.1, which is considered mostly the same, except it’s got some PowerPC performance improvements that would apply to this machine.

In the end I actually chose 7.6.1 for this machine. It turns out the 24-bit support only applies to the 68k Macs, and this machine will never be able to run programs that need it. So 7.6.1 has the exact same compatibility as 7.5.5 but is just faster.

Beyond System 7

After System 7, we’re out of my personal experience. I may have used Mac OS 8 once or twice in high school, but I’ve never used Mac OS 9. I have no nostalgia for these systems, so the only requirement is to expand my access to software and hardware.

My initial plan was to pick just the latest in each line that I could run, Mac OS 8.6 and Mac OS 9.1. While I’m currently running 8.1, and having a little fun here and there playing some old games, as far as I can tell there’s no reason to run this version with newer ones available.

However, talking with people online, and it seems there are three camps when it comes to OS 8.

Camp one thinks System 7 was the pinnacle of Mac systems in terms of design and speed, and everything after that was bloat. They point out that the change from 7 to 8 was just to cut out the clone manufacturers, since they only had licenses to System 7. So 8 is really just a bunch of crap on top of 7.

Camp two thinks OS 8 is the pinnacle of Mac design, that 8 refined and filled in all of the gaps of 7. They say System 7 is too spartan for newer machines, and point out that 8 added better networking support and just as importantly, support for larger hard drives.

Camp three thinks OS 8 can be skipped entirely, thanks to Mac OS 9. Very little software lists OS 8 as a minimum, and even so, it’ll still run on OS 9. Same with hardware. Most things just work on 7 and above, or require 9, so unless you really like the style of 8, there’s no reason to use it if you can run 9.

I already planned on installing 9 as it gives me access to a variety of useful hardware upgrades on this machine such as USB and Firewire. So I decided to table the decision on OS 8 for now.

Let the experiments begin!

The first thing I did was backup the SD card with Mac OS 8.1. It doesn’t have anything particular that I care about, other than being a booting system. I re-setup the SCSI2SD with three virtual drives, then booted the 8.1 CD to use Drive Setup to format them.

I had already downloaded and burned CD images for a variety of versions: 7.5.5 and 7.6.1 specifically for this model, universal installs for 8.0, 8.5.1, and 8.6, and finally universal installs for 9.1 and 9.2.2.

I won’t go into all of the gory details here, but suffice it to say that I spent weeks installing and re-installing different OSes to the different virtual drives. I followed various suggestions online and took my own notes during the installation process of each. I ran benchmarks, browsed the web, and downloaded some apps and games to try out.

One win was getting an FTP server to run on the Mac, which meant I could more easily transfer files to it from a modern PC. That freed me up to download new software quickly on my PC, then upload the files to the Mac at my leisure. This gave me both an archive of downloads on the PC and saved me from having to browse the web on the Mac and deal with increased chance of download failures.

The other big win was installing Mac OS 9.2.2. Officially most machines can only run 9.1, because that was basically the last version of OS 9 meant to be run as an independent OS. By that point in time, Apple had switched over to OSX, but early versions still provided a “Classic Environment” compatibility layer that let those OSX users still run their old OS 9 apps.

Classic Environment still required a full copy of OS 9, and it got a few more stability and performance updates in the form of 9.2, 9.2.1, and 9.2.2. So installers exist for those versions, but of course they have protection measures in place to make sure you don’t just install them on older hardware.

However, thanks again to enterprising hackers, there’s a tool called os9helper that lets you trick the installer into working. And it worked!

The final plan

At the end of it all, I’d pretty much settled on a plan of only installing 7.6.1 and 9.2.2. I didn’t find any reason to keep 8 around, the installs sat dormant while I spent most of my time in 9.2.2. In fact, even keeping 7.6.1 around seemed to be “just-in-case”.

Anyway, this has been a pretty text-heavy post. I didn’t bother to take any pictures during all this software experimentation. Next time I’ll have more photos, as I dive into some hardware upgrades. So stay tuned for that in Part VIII!

/jon

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