Adventures in 68K Mac emulation
Now that I’ve got a growing collection of working classic Macs I’m interested to get them running more software, and perhaps even get them online. To do this efficiently, I wanted to master the process of creating drives for the classic computers on a modern computer.
For a few reasons:
Speed - A modern computer is unfathomably faster than the classic computers. Rather than quote some benchmark percentage that figures in the thousands I’ll write more about the real-world experience of it, below.
Convenience - A modern computer’s ability to have far more desktop space and windows open for reference materials, instructions, videos, is convenient in itself. The ability to drag and drop the virtual drives I’ve created onto an SD card is hard to imagine doing without.
Storage - The maximum hard drive size the classic computers can even use is a mere 2Gb, and most of the applications themselves are small enough to be email attachments these days. All of this is superior to manage on a modern computer.
Internet access - Downloading software off the internet for the computers I’m trying to get online is a task that by definition requires something that is already online.
Backups - cloning the virtual drives so as to have a spare and backing up my work is also super.
At this point of this journey I feel like a consumer and beneficiary of various experts’ knowledge, so rather than go step-by-step through processes, I’ll link to the handful of resources I’ve found most valuable and summarize why.
The guy(s) over at Savage Taylor (love the name!) are the king(s) of this scene, in my opinion. The instructions on how to set up the emulator software, a program which pretends to be a classic Mac inside a window are far better than the instructions on the emulator’s home page. And rather than have to dump a copy of one of my ROMs to a file so the emulator can run, the ROM linked there made getting up and running very easy. At some point I’ll have to try the ROM dumping process as a learning project, but at this point it’s nice to skip to ahead to more interesting work.
Also, Savage Taylor’s starter virtual drives and step-by-step instructions have saved me countless hours of trial and error, and allowed me a quick start to validate things work with my setup.
With the emulator set up and virtual drives downloaded — both blank (to become a boot drive) and full of software installers— it was time to get installing. Starting up an actual 1990s era Mac with five different drives wasn’t impossible 1990s, but the resources to do so would have been prohibitive for many and I predict there would have been at least one hair-pullingly frustrating SCSI issue. So, already this is easier. And installing Mac OS 7.5.3 from 16 floppies onto a blank 2Gb drive would have taken a while. Those old enough to remember those days: How much coffee was drunk waiting for floppy-based installs?
In the emulator though it simply loaded all the installer floppies at once and the OS installation process took about a minute. It seems relevant to mention: I’m doing this emulation on my workbench’s 2011 iMac, an Intel core i3 — because it’s right next to the classic computers (remember “convenience”). When time allows I’ll try the process on the MacBook Pro with the latest M1 Pro chip to see if the time drops to instantaneous. If flaming tire tracks appear on the ground I’ll report back.
In my case, one of the computers I want to get online is the SE/30 because it has a network card and an ability to have a bunch of RAM to run relatively memory-hungry internet-related software. With it’s modern pirate-inspired ROM installed the SE/30 may use a version of Mac OS released many years after it shipped, such as 7.5.5 or 7.6 — either of which has more robust ability to be on the modern internet — but were written to believe that they should not be compatible with the SE/30.
This page at Big Mess o’ Wires, maker of the ROM-inator, explains how to hack that system software so it will run on an SE/30. Honestly, typing new hexadecimal values into 30-year-old system software to make it work differently is a certain kind of empowering.
Next I’ll plan to show how it worked out, and for the SE/30 I plan to get some RAM, a new internal cooling fan, and a BlueSCSI drive to compliment the handy Floppy Emu. Paid subscribers, keep on going past the paywall for some more behind the scenes photos and the ever scintillating comments section.
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