The Trials and Tribulations of Working on Vintage Macs — in the 21st Century

The world is constantly changing.  More so in the very fast-paced environment of technology.

These days, you had just bought a shiny-new, state-of-the-art phone, tablet or any gadget for that matter today,  and, tomorrow, it’s already obsolete.  So, while you were sleeping, a new feature or model is already being tooled in an unspecified factory in China — waiting to be shipped-out to consumers “in just a few more weeks or, even days”

I had been an Apple/Mac head since the days of the Apple II in the late 70s.  More so, when the original 128K Macintosh came out in 1984.  During those days, using them made practical sense (except for the price, of course), since the Mac – with its GUI –  was really far superior to DOS-based PCs.  It took Microsoft a couple of years later, to come out with its first GUI – Windows 1.01 or “Presentation Manager.”

After Windows XP became the global OS standard, the Mac, once again, became the a “niche-market” machine – used only by die-hard Apple fans, musicians, video-editors and “me-to-Apple-user-johnny-come-latelies.”

In the wake of my Apple fanaticism during those days, my attic is now crammed with odds and ends of old Macs, Apple IIs, PowerBooks and their various accessories — external drives, various cables, dot-matrix printers, mice, cameras, scanners, add-on cards and assorted software and manuals.

So, after almost 35 years, I’m picking and working – while reminiscing the good, old days when these tech goodies where state-of-the art – on most of them these days to be able to sell them to collectors so that I can finance a trip that I had long wanted to do — an overland tour across South America – ala- Che Guevarra’s “Motorcycle Diaries.”  But, most probably, without the motorcycle.

These vintage Macs, with the exception of the form-factor, have varying idiosyncrasies — down to the batteries that power the clock and settings when the Mac is turned off.

The original 128K Mac released in 1984 has a seemingly plain-looking AA battery –1.5v DC right?  No, it’s 4.5v.

The Mac SE used a 3.6v battery that came in 1/2 AA size while the Mac LC 575 used a 4.5v battery that was in the shape of a cube.  Good luck if you can still purchase these batteries today. I’ve scoured all the major electronic stores in our area for the 4.5v cubed battery and came up empty-handed.  And, even if you chanced upon one online, expect to pay for an arm and a leg for these batteries!

An Apple Macintosh SE with the cover removed.
An Apple Macintosh SE with the cover removed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, let’s talk about diskette drives.  Yes, those electro-mechanical contraptions that gobble-up either the 3.5″ or the 5.25″ plastic discs inside, reads the information and passes that to the CPU for processing.  The original Mac was among the first PCs to make the 3.5″ disk format as a standard.

The late Steve Jobs was a big fan of Japanese companies particularly, Sony Corp that, during those days, Macs came with CRTs and disk drives made by Sony.  Even his later venture, NEXT, came up with servers whose components were made by Sony, Toshiba, TEAC, Alps, etc.

Again, the original 1984 Mac came with Sony’s 3.5″ disk drives that read/write single-sided 400K diskettes.  But, during that era, most PCs use the 5.25″ diskette format.  In order to access the PC data, you will have to use an external Apple 5.25″ diskette drive that has a DB-9 port.  And, even before Apple came up with the ADB (Apple Desktop Bus), the 1984 Mac has a special connector for the keyboard that looks like a telephone jack.

My saga that dealt with the various formats and ports in vintage Macs began when I was trying to load the appropriate OS on the Mac SE and Color Classic unto their respective hard drives.

While both used 50-pin SCSI drives as storage, they have -as you guessed – different internal diskette drives. The former has a lower capacity 800K drive while the latter used a 1.44 MB drive (back then, Apple already nicknamed  it, ‘SuperDrive’ – for its ability to read/write all the various diskette formats during those days).  As expected, both drives were manufactured by Sony Corp.

English: Internal SuperDrive floppy drive on a...
English: Internal SuperDrive floppy drive on a Macintosh LC II Español: Unidad interna SuperDrive de un Macintosh LC II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, if you don’t have an external SCSI CD-ROM – and the appropriate CDs to load the OSes – you will have to make do with loading the OSes via the diskette drives.

And, where to get those 3.5″,  800K & 1.44 MB diskettes these days is just the beginning of my vintage Mac odyssey.