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Using Magneto Optical drives on vintage 68k Macs

MrFahrenheit

Well-known member
Thanks for all of the info everyone. 
 

I realized I had an Adaptec 2930cu Mac PCI SCSI card in my bin, and I tossed it into my G4. A few kernel panics and a quick driver installation later, my SCSI Jaz drive was working just fine on my G4. Hurray!!  Of course, being obsessed with having redundant hardware this one is a new spare Jaz I had in a box. So I now have a way of moving stuff from my NAS and downloads over to my old vintage hardware. 
 

Now that I got the Jaz working, I thought again about MO. I searched eBay and found a Fujitsu 1.3GB 3.5” external SCSI MO drive, with 4 erased disks, for $80. Looking at the data sheet, it’s backwards compatible with the 230mb drive I already am waiting for. So now I can write some 230mb MO disks on my G4 and read them on the MO drive I’ll have hooked up to my vintage Macs at my test table. I went a step further and found a brand new 2.3GB 3.5” SCSI drive and bought it as well. 
 

So far, with regards to vintage storage, I’ll be utilizing:

- SCSI Zip 100

- SCSI Jaz 1GB

- USB Zip 100

- SCSI Olympus 230mb MO 3.5”

- SCSI Fujitsu 1.3GB MO 3.5”

- SCSI Fujitsu 2.3GB MO 3.5”

- Apple SuperDrive on G4

- SCSI External Yamaha 6416 CDRW

- Apple 600e CDROM

The easiest would be to burn CDs and read them on the 600e. However burning CDs on the SuperDrive with brand new 650mb and 700mb media has mixed results even when burning at 1x, 2x, and 4x. Some of the media is marked to not be as reliable unless burned at 16x or higher. Interesting, I thought slower was better. 
 

I did also get a spindle of Verbatim 4x CDRW but they aren’t readable in a lot of older CDROM drives.  
 

If only someone could come up with a way to interface the floppy port or SCSI port with a SD card this would all be so simple to move stuff around. <grin>
 

I make it hard on myself for a reason. I’m not masochistic or anything, I actually get frustrated sometimes. But it’s the act of using vintage hardware together with vintage storage that is so appealing to me. I have one machine with a SCSI2SD in it. It came to me from the estate of Adam R, of the Vintage Mac Museum. It’s nice, but it’s silent. I may as well be using a raspberry pi emulator inside an original Mac case that’s almost how it feels. I enjoy the touch, the sound, the and sometimes the problems. 
 

Being able to troubleshoot a vintage problem and solve it makes me feel like I accomplish something. I read about people’s issues with SCSI2SD not working and it would be disappointing and not enjoyable to me to try and fix. 
 

There’s nothing like firing up a Mac Quadra 650, inserting a Jaz cartridge with stuff on it to backup, firing up Toast CDROM Pro 3.5, and inserting a Verbatim AZO blue CDR, and burning that Jaz disk to a CDR at 4x speed. Sure, that’s 20 minutes I’ve wasted. But it’s so 1996. 

 

olePigeon

Well-known member
@MrFahrenheit Only think that'd make me switch from my 3.5" 2.3GB Fujitsu MO drive is an HP / Pinnacle Micro MO drive tower with a robotic loading arm.  They're surprisingly cheap, but you have to find one local.  No one will ship one; and even if they did, it'd be really expensive.  The thought of having a large stack of 9.1GB MO discs and a robotic arm moving them around would be awesome. :D :cool:

 

Unknown_K

Well-known member
@MrFahrenheit Only think that'd make me switch from my 3.5" 2.3GB Fujitsu MO drive is an HP / Pinnacle Micro MO drive tower with a robotic loading arm.  They're surprisingly cheap, but you have to find one local.  No one will ship one; and even if they did, it'd be really expensive.  The thought of having a large stack of 9.1GB MO discs and a robotic arm moving them around would be awesome. :D :cool:
My HP MO library didn't have a T-800 terminator arm inside. 

 

MrFahrenheit

Well-known member
I plan to do something experimental. My digital audio G4 has an empty bay meant for the Iomega Zip drive. I bought the front cover faceplate for the cd and Zip drive. The zip slot appears to be the correct dimensions and placement for a Fujitsu IDE 1.3 GB MO drive.
 

I then plan to mount the MO where the Zip drive would go and use the zip faceplate cover to make it look “normal”. To the average person it would look factory. But a MO was never a factory option on these. 
 

I’ll update here when I get it to verify it fits correctly. 

 
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MrFahrenheit

Well-known member
Just to update here, I got the Fujitsu 1300SF External SCSI magneto optical drive. I installed the MDF 2.3.8 extension and it worked straight away on System 7.5.5 on a IIci. It is the 3.5 inch variety of MO (90mm). 
 

I first tried a 128mb disk and it formatted for Mac HFS upon insertion (after being prompted of course). Worked great. I tried copying a system folder over to it but it failed to boot. Tried various things and eventually ended up formatting with FWB Hard Disk Toolkit 2.5.3 and then copying the system folder over and it booted up straight away. It’s not the fastest but it is decent and gets the job done. 
 

Also inserted a 230mb, 640mb, and 1.3GB disk. All formatted just fine and worked great. The drive is amazingly quiet. I honestly don’t hear anything while using it or while it runs. 
 

The only downside I see to formatting a disk with FWB is that the Mac no longer sees the disk as a removable and when I boot up, upon shutdown the disk isn’t ejected. When I boot from a different drive, and I insert a MO that has been formatted with FWB, I cannot eject the disk. I’ll have to try out different tools. 
 

If someone has a suggestion on this I’d love to hear it. 

 

trag

Well-known member
I surprised that FWB doesn't have an option for "removable disk".  I thought they did, but maybe I'm confusing them with something else.  I think APS, APT, ?   Alliance Power Tools or something like that has such an option, but I can't swear to it.   If I remember I'll look through my archive of formatting software.

 

MrFahrenheit

Well-known member
I surprised that FWB doesn't have an option for "removable disk".  I thought they did, but maybe I'm confusing them with something else.  I think APS, APT, ?   Alliance Power Tools or something like that has such an option, but I can't swear to it.   If I remember I'll look through my archive of formatting software.


I didn't see any in the version I used, but I didn't look all that hard, either.  I'll have to revisit this.  I'm very excited about booting up Macs from MO.  It's whisper quiet, but retro.  It's fast (enough) and has decent storage.  I now have a box of over 100 blank media, so I can make customized disks all day long.

 

Unknown_K

Well-known member
Finding cheap media would be my only concern with using MO these days (same for any vintage removable drive). Also have a spare drive around  just incase,

 

MrFahrenheit

Well-known member
Finding cheap media would be my only concern with using MO these days (same for any vintage removable drive). Also have a spare drive around  just incase,
I decided to go for the 3.5 inch drive for a few reasons. One is drive bay compatibility. 
 

Except for 1.3 and 2.3GB disks, I was able to source almost 100 smaller sized media at an average cost of $4 a disk, including shipping. 
 

1.3 averaged $10 and I bought 5x 2.3GB at $20 a disk. 
 

Sourcing media will grow more difficult as time goes on for sure. Look at CDR blank 650mb discs from 20 years ago (before the shift to 700mb CDs). But these are WORM, MO aren’t. 
 

Floppy disks were once so common they were given away. Now they’re about $1 a disk on eBay. But these wear out. MO disks generally don’t. 
 

The closest analog I can think of is Iomega Jaz cartridges. They still are available new sealed, and average costs of $7 a disk including shipping. 
 

To get the $4 average cost, I incorporated 128mb, 230mb, 540mb, and 640mb capacities. 
 

5.25 inch drives seem to be a little more rare, and cost a bit more. In general the 5.25inch disks though are more readily available and cost per disk can be similar to what I’ve found this past month in 3.5 inch disks, but there’s more for sale. 
 

There’s a seller in Australia selling 20 new sealed 5.25 inch 1.3GB disks for about $6 a disk including shipping. And so on. 
 

Obviously, like anything else, there are sellers trying to get every dollar out of their sale, so some pricing is on the higher end. 
 

There currently is a seller in Japan that is offering decent pricing on MO disks, but shipping is the killer. 

 

olePigeon

Well-known member
Last really good deal for me was a couple years ago.  Some business was liquidating a ton of used 2.3GB drives for really cheap (about $60 a piece) pulled from some office or school environment (they also had LS-120 drives, of which I grabbed a couple as well.)  They were also selling boxes of disks.  They had so many I didn't think to buy more than one pack of 5.  They sold quickly.  In hindsight, at $50, it was steal.  Oh well.  I still keep a lookout.  I think MOs are good at almost any size.  Even the 128MBs are useful, essentially being a more reliable Zip disk.

Also, I like that many of the companies produced cool looking disks.  They came in assortment of colors, most of them transparent to show off the platter.  One of the disks I found even came in a cool, squeeze-release cartridge.  I think my favorite is a charcoal-blue colored transparent 240MB disk.  Really cool looking. :D

 

Cory5412

Daring Pioneer of the Future
Staff member
Great to hear this is working so well!

MO is on my beige whale list on the moment, I should elevate that and actually go get some of it at some point, not because I need it per se but it'd be really fun regardless.

One hot tip which I think I saw alluded to is that you can buy MO stuff from Japan and have it imported often way cheaper than you can get it for in the US, since in the US, MO often ended up only in "failure is not an option, this data is literally priceless" business scenarios, whereas in Japan, for a number of reasons, MO enjoyed the same or greater level of success that magnetic-only floppy and hard platter storage media had here in the US.

 

CC_333

Well-known member
in Japan, for a number of reasons, MO enjoyed the same or greater level of success that magnetic-only floppy and hard platter storage media had here in the US.
Japan is an interesting oddity that way.  The same is true of things like LaserDiscs and such-- stuff that's really obscure and ends in a faint whimper pretty much everywhere else just seems to take off and become quite popular over there.

c

 

Cory5412

Daring Pioneer of the Future
Staff member
Laserdisc arguably was wildly successful in the US, it's just that nobody remembers it as being successful because VHS outsold it and because DVD replaced it, but for a long time laserdisc and then DVD both sat at the top of a moderately diversified hom video delivery market.

In almost any cost-conscious market, VHS and {LaserDisc|DVD} were competing with one-another and VHS won because the tapes could be cheaper and because the machine would be able to do recording and timeshifting stuff.

DVD, in turn, ended up being able to win some of that market when recordable DVD devices started existing and were available inexpensively. (I have a set-top DVD recorder called only "SV2000" which was bought from Walmart, I believe this was well under $100, and it was purchased a little before the DTV changeover in the mid-2000s.)

Annoyingly, in the US we never got ATSC+BluRay recorders, they do exist, but only in Japan.

Anyway, w/re MO and even MD, the other thing going on is that Japanese people often prefer Japanese domestic market products from Japanese companies. It's why PC98 lasted until like the year two thousand or thereabout, and it's why JDM featurephones lasted a long time.

This is in addition to cultural differences, there's a reason Panasonic sells a home cordless phone system that includes faxing features in the JDM but nowhere else in the word,

So, adoption of MO and MD is a tiny bit because they came from, like, Sony and Pioneer insead of like, Iomega and Syquest, which are both American companies.

The other thing, of course, is that by the time Zip was around MO had fallen in price from where it had started (which was as more of a SyQuest competitor) and market power locally probably meant that it was an even better deal in Japan than it was in the US. (And, TBH, MO was, in fact, a better deal, $/gig than Zip and Jaz, the problem is envisioning use cases more than about 400 megs into the future, which would've been tough to do in like 1996.)

TL;DR - this is partly "oh Japan weird!" and partly because it was a better deal as a local tech from local vendors anyway.

 

Unknown_K

Well-known member
Laserdisc was never that popular in the US. I knew a guy who purchased a unit around 1990 or so when I was in college but you had to get up and flip discs after an hour and the selection of movies wasn't that large and discs were expensive.

Anything made in Japan is popular in Japan (look at minidisc).

DVD was popular as hell way before recordable drives were cheap because of the rental market and everything new came out in DVD plus that is when old TV show series started to be offered for home viewing. DVD sales were a major money maker 10-20 years ago before streaming became popular.

There were also digital VCR's that kind of flopped (expensive).

The SV2000 didn't seem to sell so well and was made by Funai which supplies Walmart with quite a bit of electronics at cheap prices.

 

NJRoadfan

Well-known member
Hey now, NeXT did try and mainstream the MO drive as a practical storage device. I think that was a bit TOO forward thinking though. Loading an OS and writing to the disks is SLOW. What really killed adoption is price. The Syquest 44 and 88 were ubiquitous and CHEAP. The Iomega Zip nailed the form factor of the super floppy and was also CHEAP.

It wasn't Iomega's first attempted either. I have a SCSI 21MB Flopical drive laying around here somewhere although I think they only licensed that tech.

 

Unknown_K

Well-known member
Iomega had Bernoulli drives  before the ZIP came about (5, 10, 20MB drives with a floppy based large media).

MO drives were kind of speedy compared to early drives on a compact that used the serial port but HD speeds kept rising and by the time the NEXT shipped were much faster and help more data. Removable storage had to always deal with being fast enough for backup and transfers plus holding enough data to be worth the effort.

 

MrFahrenheit

Well-known member
I find the speed of the drive to be faster than Zip and slower than Jaz. Write operations are a bit worse than read, for obvious reasons (3 steps vs 1). 
 

I have managed to get MO disks that are formatted using the MO Formatter utility to boot my Macs. It seems formatting in the Finder doesn’t make them able to boot, but if I use the utility and copy a system folder over containing the MO Drive 2.3.8 extension with a few spaces before the name it boots up. Not sure if it’s just my setup or what, but I figured putting the extension at the top of the load with spaces seemed to allow it to boot. Maybe a placebo. 
 

I bought a majority supply of new blank media this week so that I will never have an issue sourcing disks. All sizes work in all drives. Meaning a 230mb drive supports 128mb and 230mb. A 1.3GB drive supports everything from 128mb through 1.3GB disks. And the 2.3GB drive supports the same as 1.3GB along with the higher capacity 2.3GB media. Even at $20 a disk, the cost per MB is lower than the smaller sizes at only $5 a disk, but only marginally. I have found my cost on 640mb disks to be fairly reasonable and that particular size is a good medium between size and cost. 
 

The next step in this ambitious project of deploying among a number of different machines is trying to get the ATAPI drive to fit inside my G4 case 3.5inch drive bay. The back has a metal shield with cutouts for the cable but they’re upside down compared to the drive!  Not sure how I’m going to proceed here. 
 

I have found a bit of a weird oddity. Disks formatted and working fine on one drive have seemed corrupted when trying to use on another. I formatted and copied over a system folder and some utilities to a 128mb disk on one drive (1300 drive) and it worked fine. I then connected my 2300 drive (2.3GB) and when it tried to boot it just went in a loop. Booting up from a Jaz disk and examining the MO disk everything on it was corrupt. Apps had no icons and trying to launch them they crashed. 
 

I formatted the disk on the 2300, reproduced the contents, and it worked fine. Tried it back on the 1300 and it worked again there. Not sure what to think. I thought these disks and drives were rock solid. I have yet to experience this kind of problem with Zip and Jaz disks, which are notorious for unreliability. 
 

The 2300 drive was a new old stock drive. It came still sealed. 
 

Next step will be trying to see how low of an OS I can install on a disk before the system doesn’t boot. I tried 7.1 last night and couldn’t get it to boot but that was just a simple test, I didn’t spend much time troubleshooting. So far it seems it’s not as simple as just copying a system folder onto a disk, the preparation of how it was formatted seems to play a role in the ability to boot up a Mac with one. 
 

I copied the MYST CD to a 640mb disk and plan to run it off there to see how it works. Better than a CD I would expect. 
 

I wonder how long a Norton Speed Disk would take on a 640mb disk that’s mostly full. 
 

Looking back at eBay sold listings the drives and blank media seem to fluctuate wildly in price. November had packs of 5 and 10 blank disks sell for pennies to dollars per pack. Some drives sold for very little as well. Maybe I got on the train at the wrong time. 

 

Cory5412

Daring Pioneer of the Future
Staff member
Bernoulli had a second generation in the late '80s and early '90s. It co-existed with Zip for a couple years, and got up to 230 meg capacity in a smaller 5.25-inch size. It's hypothetically nearly as reliable as MO because it (as with MO) has an arrangement where the r/w head doesn't touch the physical storage media.

Though, I've found it's impractical to get running at this point.

To the points about DVD and LD - success and popularity are different things and that was my point. LD was a success because it sold loads of copies over 20 years, even though it wasn't more popular, for the cost and convenience reasons you mentioned.

Recognizing this kind of thing is a rampant problem in vintage-anything. We have this discussion once in a while on this very forum even. A lot of people mistake the popularity of Zip as a sign of failure on the part of all the other options in this market, even ones that lasted longer, were popular everywhere else, or found success in specific markets (like MO and medical imaging and archival) (Unfortunately, the devices having found use in those specific markets is probably part of why they're harder to get in the US -- but MO was popular for home and office use in Japan, so Japan and buying/shipping services therein can be a good resource for MO media.

The next step in this ambitious project of deploying among a number of different machines is trying to get the ATAPI drive to fit inside my G4 case 3.5inch drive bay. The back has a metal shield with cutouts for the cable but they’re upside down compared to the drive!  Not sure how I’m going to proceed here. 


There were a few JDM kits for the blue-white and various Power Mac G4s, but I suspect the more popular options here were to use USB, use Firewire, or add a SCSI card and use that. Unfortunately, I don't know if going and getting one of those is worthwhile per se because they're not ultra-common even in Japan. You have to either know what you're looking for or accident your way into it, which'll be turbo-expensive for people living in North America.

What's your specific use case for the drive in the G4? Is it just making/transferring data (where USB/FW will be fine) or are you looking into making G4-appropriate restore media that'll need to be booted from?

To be honest, I'm tempted to say DVD-R or CD-R based media is better fit for booting a G3/G4, especially since IIRC these machines are often reputed to work fine with newer SATA based optical drives using something like a SIL3112.

Though, like, in general I do know/get that it's nicer to have the drives be internal when you can. In that case, the only thing I can think of is keep looking for different drives that are set up with their connectors where you need them.

Beyond a certain point (uni-north, I believe, is that point) you can boot USB on some newworld systems (iBook and one of the early ish G4s but not the yikes, some later iMac G3s, the pismo, all PowerBook G4s, that kind of thing) and while it is slow it does work so in theory you can just keep a, like, 32-gig USB stick around for restoring those machines as well.

 
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