Round two of SE/30 enhancements, including BlueSCSI, and a Classic II jumps queue
In an earlier entry I reported on the first round of enhancements to fix up my old Macintosh SE/30, and since then I collected some parts that warranted cracking the case open again. It’s #Marchintosh after all.
To recap (please savor that pun), I already soldered replacement capacitors onto the logic board, and replaced the original ROM with a modern chip that gave the computer new tricks.
The second round of parts I want to install include a new, much more quiet cooling fan, more RAM to run newer software, and a small circuit board named BlueSCSI that replaces the original, defunct 40Mb HD with a an SD card.
There’s been a lot of trial and error.
The first RAM I ordered from eBay was really big. Not just big as in the amount of RAM, but it was physically too big for the machine. Oops!
So, I returned that RAM and received different RAM which worked! The SE/30 now has 64Mb of RAM (4 x 16Mb). It could later be upgraded to 128Mb as half the RAM slots are still empty.
The Noctua fan is as whisper quiet as promised and aesthetically tasteful. One could almost believe it was purposefully crafted to closely match the color scheme of this Macintosh. It wasn’t, and it won’t be visible once it’s installed, but still. It’s really nice craftsmanship. Between the the new fan and the elimination of the hard drive whirring, the machine is much easier to be around.
Now that I could hear myself think I wondered again about this idea of mine to run this machine from 1989 with more memory and storage so so that it can be on the internet in some way. Why stop with replacing capacitors, RAM and ROM chips, and the hard drive? Why stop at replacing the fan to make it more quiet? If the entire insides of this computer were replaced would it be retro because of the case? At what point would the original computer lose its metaphorical retro soul?
For example, this computer pulls at a heartstring fleetingly. Manufactured in China with the looks of a classic Macintosh, the insides are some sort modern machine that can run Windows on its surprisingly high-resolution small color screen. I’m sure it would run a Macintosh emulator wonderfully. But after a moment’s thought it strikes me, personally, as no fun — a conversation piece; A purchase, not a project.
To each their own though. A hobby is for fun, and there aren’t referees to call fouls for breaking some unwritten rule of retro computing. Computing is so pervasive now… in our jewelry, clothes, and perhaps soon our glasses. It’s nice to have some projects for the sake of making something broken work, and to create art to be shared.
Speaking of which, there’s a lot of hobbyist enthusiasm surrounding BlueSCSI right now, and there’s an ever updating roster of people soldering together these open-source kits as much as their time and global supply-chain problems allow. Yes, this project has been impacted by the global chip shortage. It seems ironic to me that it’s not just new, big-ticket item technologies like cars being impacted, but also individual hobbyists with small batch projects… like those assembling SD-card readers for 30-year old computers. Wait. Is my SE/30 restoration project stranding a new car from being delivered somewhere in the world?
One of the first complications was that the SE/30 started not starting, as I was trying the new RAM and fan. When turned on it would play an unhappy sound and display a striped pattern on the screen. The condition has a name, “simasima,” — the Japanese word for zebra like pattern — and it’s bad news. It was time to look over the logic board and find what went wrong.
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One of the capacitors was outright missing. I found this really confounding and wondered if I forgot to solder it on, or did such a bad job that it fell off. Here’s the thing though: These projects have taught me to take lots of before and after pictures, and the after picture of my recapping of this computer clearly showed I did not install this capacitor. Oops again! But also really weird that this computer worked, and worked long enough that I plotted out these next upgrade steps. Probably the computer didn’t have any sound and I hadn’t noticed. In any case, I ordered another capacitor replacement kit, installed the missing one, and the SE/30 works again.
For me, getting the SE/30 to boot off the BlueSCSI has been the most problematic step so far. As I wrote previously, I learned how to create a series of drive images using a modern Mac to emulate a classic Macintosh. I tried a series of drive images, hard drive cables, formats on the SD card, and power options for the BlueSCSI board. Then I started trying other computers. The BlueSCSI didn’t work on the Macintosh SE I recapped earlier — but there’s a note on the BlueSCSI site saying that some SEs aren’t compatible.
There’s a Macintosh Classic II in my collection that was waiting its turn to be re-capped, and suddenly it was its lucky day! The Classic II is a couple of years newer than the SE and SE/30, but is compatible with the BlueSCSI and shares a broad overlap of system software compatibility. Wanting to validate that the BlueSCSI card worked at all, it was time to get soldering.
The recapping worked and the Classic II booted right up from the FloppyEmu, but not the BlueSCSI. Stumped, I turned to the excellent Open Retro SCSI community on Discord, and feeling the imagined pressure of what type of questions I’d be asked (“Have you tried…”) I realized I hadn’t tried that many different drive images, and all had been 2Gb — the maximum size these computers should be able to recognize. It took a couple of minutes to create a 100Mb image, install an OS, and put it on the SD card in the BlueSCSI. That worked! The Classic II happily booted from it.
As I write this update I’m still stumped as to why the SE/30 doesn’t boot off the same image on the same BlueSCSI, but I’ll look on the bright side: I’m now sure the BlueSCSI works and can move on to other troubleshooting when next at the workbench.