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Adding Wi-Fi to my Mac SE/30

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I’ve had an idea for a while to add Wi-Fi to my Classic Mac. I finally got around to putting it together and I think it turned out really well!

 

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I thought I’d post my experiences here for anybody interested.

 

There was no hope of me building a PDS Wi-Fi card from scratch - but I already had a DaynaPort E/SI30 Ethernet card so I thought that I might be able to attach a Wi-Fi Bridge to the existing card via the RJ45 port. My first thought was an Arduino Yun board, which has both an Ethernet port and Wi-Fi built in – but they’re expensive, and to me it seemed overkill to use an entire Arduino/Linux solution for this. Instead, I found this Vonets VM300 Wi-Fi Module on eBay for $25 from China! At that price, I thought it was worth trying:

 

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Avocado for scale as I was out of bananas – it’s tiny!

 

It might look daunting, but it’s very easy to set up – you plug in the Ethernet cable and connect to your Wi-Fi network via it’s inbuilt web interface:

 

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I did the initial setup on my Laptop and I was connected to my Wi-Fi network in no time. But when I tried connecting the module to my Mac, it just wouldn’t connect - all I got was a blinking link light:

 

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After a bit of web searching it became apparent that this is a common problem: modern Ethernet devices use auto-negotiate to detect the speed & duplex of the connection. The old Mac network cards pre-date this standard, so the router doesn’t detect the connection. The only way to correct the issue is to disable auto-negotiate on the router and explicitly set the connection to 10mbs / half-duplex. The issue is that virtually all modern routers don’t allow you to do this, and a first glance the Vonets VM300 was no exception - I couldn’t find any options to manually set the connection type.

 

I thought all was lost and I’d just wasted $25… until I found the “Upgrade Firmware” button – and BOOM a new drop-down menu appeared!

 

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The instant I changed to 10mbs / half-duplex, the link light on the Mac went solid! A huge thanks to Vonets for adding this feature as obviously it’s a very niche requirement.

 

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My Mac was on the Wi-Fi! Now I just need to mount the Wi-Fi card inside my Mac to make things nice and clean.

 

I bought a small sheet of aluminium from my local hobby shop, and I designed a basic template to cut it to size – I’ve attached the PDF template to this post. Cutting the aluminium was easy, just glue on the template and score the edges with a utility knife:

 

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Then clamp the aluminium to keep it flat, then bend the other side back and forth a few times until it snaps off cleanly. Next, I drilled some holes and bent the aluminium into a 90-degree bracket:

 

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I bought some 5mm spacers, 15mm M3 screws, bolts & washers from my local Jaycar Electronics (for the Aussies out there), and started assembling everything:

 

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Looks good and very sturdy! I then mounted the completed assembly into the Mac:

 

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I noticed that the Ethernet cable was precariously close to the CRT board, so I ended up angling up the bracket a few more degrees which worked a treat.

 

The final problem to solve was power to the Wi-Fi card. The card comes with a USB power cable, which conveniently connects via an InLine DC connector (5V) – so I decided to build a replacement cable that would work in the Mac. I already have a SCSI2SD V6 card in my mac, which uses a 4-pin Mini-Molex connector for power - so I found this cable on eBay:

 

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Now I can power both the SCSI2SD and the Wi-Fi card. Funny story: I ordered this part on eBay and literally 15 minutes later my doorbell rang and a guy handed the part to me – weird! Molex connectors have both a 5v and 12v line in them, so I was very careful to only wire up the 5v line as otherwise my board would be fried. This was my finished cable:

 

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A soldering iron was required, and I insulated the 4-pin connector with a bit of hot glue. If you’re in Australia, the Jaycar part numbers are HM3414 for the 4-pin Mini-Molex, and PS0526 for the DC connector (it took me forever to find these!)

 

I plugged everything in and powered up the Mac – the Link Light came on solid on the DaynaPort card, and the blue lights came on the Wi-Fi card – a quick check in the Open Transport control panel showed that I was on the network – success!

 

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I put the case back on, and I now have a Wi-Fi Mac. It works incredibly well – as soon as the machine boots up, it connects via DHCP to our home router and it’s on the network straight away :)

 

Next Steps

 

I’m a Software Dev, so I’m keen to write a System Extension to display a Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar to manage the connections – just like you would on a modern Mac. I believe that you can communicate with the Vonets module via Telnet to manage the Wi-Fi networks.

 

I’m new to Classic Mac programming though (not a lot of demand haha) – so it will take me a while to brush up on my C skills!

 

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This is cool! 

 

I remember in the past either it was bbraun or dougg3 one of the two had done a wifi bridge setup but was able to make a custom program that would interface to the web engine to allow you to change access points, etc. But it wasnt nearly as small or hide-away as you have. Yours is nice;-)

 

The cool thing about this, is machines with built-in ethernet like laptops, the wifi card could go in there where the old modem was, occupy its space, and then cable it over to the ethernet system. :)

 

the PB5XX comes to mind where you dont have Card sockets for WiFi, but you do have on-board ethernet. Its AUI which is just a logic-level version of Ethernet, and you MAY be able to wire it into the adapter behind the Jack itself. so its logic-to-logic at that point. 

Edited by techknight

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Thanks all for your feedback. I think this would work for any Ethernet enabled Mac, largely thanks to the Half-Duplex support provided by the Vonets Wi-Fi module. The Vonets module has another RJ45 port on it which is quite bulky (relatively speaking!) - but the fact is it's not even used (it's only used if you want to use the module as a WAN router).

 

So if you're thinking of putting this in a laptop, then you could probably de-solder off the extra RJ45 port - which would give you something really minuscule. If you're really brave, you could also do some much more direct wiring instead of using RJ45 connectors.

 

For network cards that only have an AUI port on them, then you could use an RJ45 tranciever if you can squeeze it in - or as techknight suggested above, I wonder if you could wire directly into the AUI port?

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the PB5XX comes to mind where you dont have Card sockets for WiFi, but you do have on-board ethernet. Its AUI which is just a logic-level version of Ethernet, and you MAY be able to wire it into the adapter behind the Jack itself. so its logic-to-logic at that point. 

 

I'm pretty sure that's not happening. Fast Ethernet uses a different media attachment standard than 10mb/s ethernet, so unless you can find a modern board that still uses 10BASE-T *and* also still has discrete PHY, MAC, and MUI components skipping the (A)AUI transceiver is going to be a pretty tough row to hoe.

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I dont think you understood what I meant. I found a schematic to convert AUI/AAUI over to standard ethernet which I can ditch the magnetics and wire directly into the WiFi adapter after the conversion. 

 

Edit: OR not. turns out all the schematics I could find use proprietary chips which have long since been discontinued. Ugh, oh well. Just be easier to hack an existing adapter as one mentioned. 

Edited by techknight

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I dont think you understood what I meant. 

 

The AAUI interface isn't just "the wires behind the jack", which seems to be what you implied earlier.

 

AAUI is just the standard 10bits/sec Ethernet "Attachment Unit Interface" fitted with a proprietary connector instead of the standard 15 pin D-shell; it carries a bus between the Ethernet controller's MAC/LLC layers, IE, the parts that know how to encapsulate and decode Ethernet frames and the final "Medium Attachment Unit" (MAU, sorry, tossed the wrong acronym in earlier which is the thing that at the lowest level packages the Ethernet signals into their "wire-ready" form. (And also contains some rudimentary intelligence for things like collision detection.) You *need* an MAU to do Ethernet, and Macs with AAUI interfaces are missing it. While in principle you could, I suppose, come up with some simpler circuitry than that in a standard MAU in order to tie together Ethernet cards at this level you'd still basically have to emulate an MAU at some level.

 

The problem gets even worse because, as I noted, Fast Ethernet cards use a different bus standard for their MAUs, called "MII", so even if you *could* just tie together two ethernet cards at the AUI level by just pasting their buses together (which you can't) you wouldn't be able to tie a Fast Ethernet card to a 10MB card. (Or a 1g or 10g card for that matter, those likewise have their own interconnect standards at that level.) And that's assuming you can even find a modern card that still has the PHY and MAU in separate chips with a bus between them; most modern devices don't.

 

In short, an AAUI transceiver has more than just a transformer or something in it; it has a semi-intelligent widget that it's going to be less than easy to live without.

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I would have to draw it out for you to understand what I am talking about. My statement was grossly over simplified to try to picture a scenario. Thats all. 

 

And I know all this already. I am going to ditch the magnetics and "wire behind the jack" to deal with it at a logic level. (Basically so I can hide all the shit inside the powerbook). 

 

Sure you still have to convert from RX/TX/CD to basic TX+/- RX+/- MAU. which the ICs for this arnt available anymore unfortunately, but there is a way to deal with it in discrete logic with a 10Mhz reference frequency.  

Edited by techknight

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And I know all this already. I am going to ditch the magnetics and "wire behind the jack" to deal with it at a logic level. (Basically so I can hide all the shit inside the powerbook). 

 

Okay then, sure. Nonetheless I am left scratching my head at how much this actually saves you. As you noted you'll still need to build a substitute for the missing MAU out of discrete logic; I have no idea how much discrete logic that's actually going to take but do you think you're going to be able to fit that on a small enough piece of circuit board that ditching a couple small surface-mount transformers is going to make-or-break squeezing it into a Powerbook?

 

EDIT: ... Or is the plan to build a single circuit board that has both your MAU logic and the ethernet/wifi bridge SoC on it? I suppose I could see that working, especially if you could use a single CPLD or the like for the MAU-to-pre-transformer-ethernet converter and skip having to cable this to a separate module that, presumably, you've had to brutally hack to remove the transformer.

Edited by Gorgonops

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Fantastic stuff, ants - from another Mac collector in Melbourne :)  I'd love to try it on my SE/30 or another 68K machine.

 

Networking has never been a strength for me, what do you do with it connected to your network - can you access file shares, NAS, or even (with a powerful enough CPU) play shared MP3s?

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How about that rain hahaha! The big thing for me is File Sharing - i.e. easily getting apps onto the Mac to play with. I know there's Floppy Emu etc, but it's incredibly fast & easy to transfer new apps I've just downloaded over the network onto the Mac.

 

I just use an FTP server running on the Mac, but I've meaning to try out some proper file sharing software such as "Dave" - which might work with NAS devices etc.

 

Something tells me that a 16mhz processor isn't going to cut the mustard playing an MP3 - I remember many years ago my 33mhz 68040 Mac couldn't even play them...

 

That said, I do have some grand software plans brewing in my head to breathe new life into my networked Mac - but I'm keeping them under wraps for now just in case they are a total failure!

 

Watch this space ;)

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Something tells me that a 16mhz processor isn't going to cut the mustard playing an MP3 - I remember many years ago my 33mhz 68040 Mac couldn't even play them...

 

It is sort of an amusing irony that the CPU in that Wifi router SoC is *many* times more powerful than the CPU in the computer it's serving. ;)

 

Anyway, since I neglected to mention it earlier, nice job on both the fabrication and the writeup. The end result looks from the outside just like a commercial product.

 

So it sounds like you've only tried this with TCP/IP based applications so far? I'd be interested to know if the bridge can handle Ethertalk. (IE, classic Appletalk, not Appleshare IP.) Does it act as a transparent Ethernet bridge in your application, or is it acting as a router NAT-ing clients on the Ethernet side onto the WiFi network?

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580HMz I know! Maybe I should flash the ROM to make it play MP3's hahaha!

 

I've got another old mac so when I get a chance I'll try out Appletalk and report back.

 

I'm not a networking guru, but I don't think it's using NAT - the IP address on the Mac is assigned by our home router. That said, there's actually two IP addresses on the network - one for the Mac NIC and one for the Wifi module. This is actually really great because you can easily access the settings on the Wifi card via it's own IP address.

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This is cool!

 

I remember in the past either it was bbraun or dougg3 one of the two had done a wifi bridge setup but was able to make a custom program that would interface to the web engine to allow you to change access points, etc.

Here's a link to his project. http://synack.net/~bbraun/wnce2001config.html

 

I think it would be pretty neat to be able to do the config on the 68k machine.

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