I still have the second computer I ever bought, a Macintosh Plus.
When I purchased it, it came with 1MB of memory, and I also added the second floppy drive. Over the years, I added hard drives and printers, but sadly, I no longer have those. In the intervening years, I upgraded the memory myself to 4MB (giving the old memory to a friend who made them into earrings). Later, a different friend needed memory for a Mac Plus, and as I was no longer using mine at that time, I gave the memory to him. At some point, while cleaning up, I got rid of all of my old floppies for that Mac, thinking (at the time) I’ll never need them again. Of course, that included the system discs.
I few weeks ago, I decided I would finally try to bring the machine back to life. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, particularly since I would like my kids to get a sense of where computers were and just how far they have come. This is the story of the journey to bring my old Macintosh Plus back to life.
The Missing Pieces
To get my Mac Plus back on its feet, I originally believed I needed three things:
- System discs
- A battery for the PRAM (Parameter RAM)
Fortunately, we have the Internet. After some digging, I was able to locate the parts I needed.
- I was able to source the memory from We Love Macs (http://www.welovemacs.com). They carry a wide array of parts for various older Macintoshes. They didn’t have the PRAM battery (it was out of stock), but they had the memory I needed.
- The system discs I got from eBay. I wanted System 6 (it was the last one I used on the machine), and We Love Macs only goes back as far as System 7 (which was far pricier that what I got from eBay).
- The battery I bought from ZBattery.com (http://www.zbattery.com). The 4.5v battery is a bit of pain to find, given it is out of normal production. You can also get them from eBay from time to time.
One other thing I wanted were blank floppies so I could make backup copies of the system disks. The challenge: finding Double Sided Double Density (DS-DD, either 400k or 800k) disks. There are still plenty of options for Double Sided High Density (DS-DD, a 1.4M format). But the DS-DD floppy is far older, and was essentially gone outside of the Mac world by the mid-to-late 1990’s. Again, the Internet to the rescue: I found a site with the appropriate name floppydisk.com, and you can still buy brand new DS-DD disks. I ordered 50 of them.
So why not just use a normal DS-HD disk and tape over the hole that drives use to recognize the different sizes? The issue is the nature of the disk surface material. Apparently, 1.44M DS-HD disks do not work well in DS-DD drives. Data tends to get corrupted and lost. The result is an unstable and unreliable storage format. It is better, and safer, to just use the older format of disk.
Taking It Apart And Putting It Together
So, parts in hand, it was time to bring the machine back to life. The first trick: open it up. This requires a Torx T15 screwdriver, preferably a very long one.
I, fortunately, didn’t need the longer variety because I had left 2 of the screws out during one of my last adventures inside. Where are those nasty buggers? Down here in the handle.
Fortunately, that meant just removing the 3 on the back (one in each lower corner, plus the one above the PRAM). With the screws out, don’t try to pry the back off (mine still has a few scars from that failed attempt). Instead, just put the machine on its face, and push against the ports a the bottom, and the PRAM compartment. Don’t overdo it. The cover will slide off with some encouragement.
One thing to remember is the EM/RF shield that goes under the motherboard at the bottom of the machine. It is a paper-and-metal affair that sits like this on the machine.
It looks like this on its own.
You will need to make sure it is in place before you put the cover back on.
Before the board can come out, you have to remember to disconnect the video and the floppy disc drive.
Here they are disconnected.
Now the board can slide out. Note that the floppy ribbon cable will go out through the larger hole at the back of the chassis, and that you need to slip it back through this hole when you put the board back.
Here is the board, sans the memory.
And here is the memory itself, ready to go in.
One last shot of the board, with the memory installed.
And that’s it. Slide the board back in, reconnect the floppy and video, replace the EM/RF shield, then the cover, and put the screws back. Now its time to connect the keyboard, mouse and external floppy, and it’s bootup time! After about 30 seconds, the insert floppy image ultimately appears.
Who remembers this sound?
Time for the next step: running actual software.
Booting System 6, And….. Trouble
While I know that System 7 will run, the last OS I ran on the machine was System 6. With System 6 floppies (along with copies of MacPaint and MacWrite so I at least have something to do), I was able to get the machine up and on it’s feet. For a while. After an unspecified period of time, the machine would basically go nuts. It would make some rather awful screeching noises through the speaker, the screen image would break up and eventually the whole thing would freeze. I tried a few different floppies, and I even got a copy of System 3, just to make sure it wasn’t the OS. I messed about with the memory, but it appeared that my machine may have developed some other hardware problem.
The solution? Buy a new motherboard off of eBay. $30 for the part (and another $30 or so to ship to Canada), and I had a new motherboard. Install that one, boot, and voila! One working Mac Plus.
My first tests left it running for a few hours with no issues. I’ve been messing about with MacPaint and MacWrite, and the machine has (so far) remained solid and dependable.
So What’s Next?
The next major projects will be to source a bit more software (I’ve ordered a copy of HyperCard from We Love Macs, still new in box apparently), and start to investigate an AppleTalk network (along with an EtherTalk bridge of some kind). I will probably see what printers might still work with the thing, but that’s one I’m not holding a lot of hope out for. I fully expect the consumables will be hard to get, if not completely unavailable.
However, for now I can wallow in nostalgia of simpler times and simpler machines. I may even get really, really ambitious and see if I can find the development tools and the original Mac documentation (of course I got rid of all of mine. Figures). But that is for much further down the road. I also have a Mac SE/30 that a friend “donated” that I am going to get up and running as well.