Thursday, September 02, 2021

Ye Olde Macintosh Project – an update

Among my many (many, many…) projects are ones on which progress is extremely slow. It’s now clear that the slowest of all may be the project to get a 1990 Macintosh Classic running again, something I talked about in quite some detail this past Sunday. In the interest of brevity, I’m going to do some shorter posts updating progress rather than long ones with lots of details. Besides, this blog is often sort of a repository for things I otherwise would forget, and I find it helpful to have complete information about my projects.

The first thing I’ve done is give this project a nickname—of course I have: I give nearly everything that’s not serious a nickname. So, this project is now Ye Olde Macintosh Project, or YOMP for short. Because, why not?

This week I made further attempts to access my oldest floppy disks—after finding six more of the more “modern” ones. I said on Sunday that I ordered a new USB floppy drive that could read 720K floppies. That arrived yesterday, and no, it couldn’t read my old DS/DD floppies, either. I now realise why: Both the USB floppy drives were designed for PCs, not Macs.

The problem here goes back to the dawn of the double-sided floppy disk era, the mid 1980s. The original DS/DD disks were designed to hold 720K, however, the clever engineers at Apple worked out that they could get the capacity up to 800K (which was quite a lot in those days!) if they varied the speed the floppy spun at depending on the location of the read/write head of the drive. That never became a standard for PCs, and so, floppy drives intended for PCs can’t read 800K disks because the disk rotates at a constant speed.

Apple dropped floppy drives from their machines in 1998, with the release of the G3 iMac. Then, in 2019, they dropped support for floppies in the MacOS, too. All of which means that there are NO new USB floppy drives that can read 800K disks (something I should have researched before I bought the new drive, but, never mind).

All of which means that my options for those old floppies are quite limited. First, I could get the Mac Classic running. Second, I might be able to find a vintage external Apple floppy drive that’s affordable (not easy). Or, third, maybe I could find a munted vintage Macintosh that I could salvage the SuperDrive from. That last option’s the most problematic one by far because it would mean adapting it to work connected to a modern machine, and that’s way beyond my capabilities—if it’s even possible.

So, accessing those old 800K diskettes—which is a side project related to, but not actually part of YOMP—is now on hold until I find out if the Mac Classic is salvageable. If it isn’t, I’ll explore other options.

Meanwhile, the Zip Disk project (also a side project related to, but not actually part of YOMP) has had only negative progress: I’ve now confirmed that none of my PC computers have a serial port. The only thing left to try is to hook it up by USB to a PC, but I have my doubts that will work due to formatting differences. I looked for used USB Zip Drives and, well! If I thought the old ADB keyboards and the old Apple external floppy drives were expensive, I didn’t know what I was talking about: I saw prices as high as $3000 (!), with most in the high hundreds, and all with maybe another US$125+ on top of that for shipping. I think I need a lie down with a cool cloth for my forehead…

All up, getting the Mac Classic to work, or at least somehow getting access to a working vintage Macintosh, would be my best option for accessing all of those now vintage disks. Can’t speculate about the latter, of course, but the former will need more time.

My next step is to go back into my garage project and set up my workbenches so I have somewhere to work on the Mac. In addition to clearing space for the workbenches, I also need to find the bolts for the legs. I found them right after I moved in here—maybe even the very day I moved in—and I put them somewhere “safe”. The rest is predictable.

Still, even though none of this has actually moved forward, it at least keeps me busy, with no time to get bored. That’s especially good while we’re living in Covid Alert Level 3 and I can’t really go anywhere, anyway.

Now, back to work!

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