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Building a Wifi Extension for 68k Macs I've previously posted a few hardware hacking projects where I retrofitted a Vonets VM300 Wifi card into a SE/30 and a Colour Classic. They work pretty well, but configuration has always been a pain as you need to do it from a Modern Mac or PC using a web browser. To solve this, I want to build a native Mac extension to connect to wifi networks - Ideally just like you would on a modern Mac. @hfrazier has already done a lot of groundwork on figuring out how to communicate with the VM300 using HTTP requests, and I've made a start on writing the extension. It's on GitHub here: https://github.com/antscode/MacWifi, and a compiled version is attached to this post if you want to test it out. So far the extension doesn't do much except look pretty: I'm hoping to incorporate the work that @hfrazier has done to actually make this functional. MacWifi.sit
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! 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: 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: 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: 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! 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. 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: 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: I bought some 5mm spacers, 15mm M3 screws, bolts & washers from my local Jaycar Electronics (for the Aussies out there), and started assembling everything: Looks good and very sturdy! I then mounted the completed assembly into the Mac: 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: 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: 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! 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!
Since my SE/30 Wi-Fi Mod was somewhat successful, I decided to apply a similar technique to my Colour Classic (I’m not a total Mac hoarder, I only have these two!). Here’s the result: (my Colour Classic is a Mystic with a 575 logic board, but this technique should also work on a stock Colour Classic) If you’ve got an SE/30 with a network card, then you’ll know that it is in fact 2 cards connected by a ribbon cable – this made my original Wi-Fi conversion easy as I could just re-arrange things inside the case. However, network cards in the Colour Classic butt against the case, so you’re restricted if you want to attach a Wi-Fi antenna. One solution would be to modify the network card itself – i.e. de-solder the RJ45 jack and replace it with an antenna. However, to me it seemed a travesty to butcher a vintage expansion card. Instead I came up with a non-destructive solution which involved mounting the antenna in the RJ45 port itself: Voila! The idea here is that the Ethernet connection feeds into the mac via a thin cable – and then the Wi-Fi signal feeds back out to the antenna (genius, I know...). I found these thin Ethernet cables on eBay, so I ordered a 1-metre one for just a few dollars: I stripped the wires off one end, and then I removed the plastic from the middle of an RJ45 jack using my Dremel: I crimped the cable back into the jack – but this time feeding the cable downward instead of outward. Then using some Epoxy Putty, I placed the antenna mount inside the jack. You need to work quickly as the epoxy putty sets like a rock in just a few minutes: With some fine sandpaper and a lot of patience, I got it looking pretty clean. A lick of paint: Now for the other end of the cable! The Vonets Wi-Fi card comes with some extra little bits for making your own connection: There are 6 pins on the Wi-Fi module for you to use: I soldered the 4 TX and RX wires from the ethernet cable onto the correct pins. The remaining 2 pins are for 5v power and Ground, so I soldered on another wire for the power. Here’s the finished assembly: I piggy-backed the Wi-Fi module onto the ethernet card using a 15mm M3 screw, nut & spacer: The final problem to solve was how to get power to the Wi-Fi card. I could use the same trick as my SE/30 project, whereby I pulled the power from the Molex drive cable using a splitter – however one nice thing about the Colour Classic is that you can easily slide the motherboard in and out via a single connector, I didn’t want to lose that. I noticed that the LC PDS slot on the motherboard was a bit longer than what the network card required. After a bit of research it turns out that there are 2 LC PDS connectors – a 96-pin connection and a 114-pin connection. I found the pinouts for the LC PDS slot on the Interwebs and lo-and-behold there is a free 5v+ and ground connection in the unused holes. I marked them using a Sharpie: Here’s the ethernet card and Wi-Fi module fully connected: With bated breath, I powered on the Mac expecting fireworks – but everything worked perfectly! The link light came on the Ethernet card, and you can see inside from the blue lights that the Wi-Fi card has power! Obligatory IP address screenshot Here’s my 2 Macs with their Wi-Fi Antennae