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Using Magneto Optical drives on vintage 68k Macs

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Always wanting to subject myself to more complications and potential problems, I found and purchased an Olympus 230mb external SCSI magneto optical drive, brand new unused. I remember seeing these types of drives advertised in Macworld in the 90s and drooling over their modern technology (like I how drooled over a IIci when I was using a lowly Plus). 

So I purchased one and it’s on the way. It will accompany my vintage storage solutions including Zip and Jaz. 

Presently I only have one easy method for moving files downloaded over to my vintage Macs. And that is a USB Zip drive. The solution is slow, but it works. I’ve found Avery labels for the zips and printed nice looking disk labels. It feels and sounds very good (ASMR inserting and using a Zip disk). However 100mb is a bit low for some OS versions. OS 9 barely fits in 100mb as an emergency boot. 

I do have the Jaz drive but I wanted something different. Enter the magneto optical drive. Optical technology for reading the data and optical magnetic for writing.  Not perfect but seems reliable. At least in principle.  I also picked up a pack of 10 brand new unopened 230mb disks for about $1 a disk. 

While I wait for this stuff to ship to me I’m anxiously thinking about how it will all work. It seems that these drives and media are RAM and not WORM. Can anyone confirm using one of these types of drives. Can I boot from one?


It looks to me like higher capacity drives are backwards compatible with the 230mb media. Is that true?


I would like a nice solution where I can use a drive on my G4 to write files that I want to use to a disk. How do I find a compatible MO drive to by for that machine, considering it lacks SCSI?  Does anyone have any experience with IDE MO drives and their proper operation under Mac OS 9 and 10.4.11?  

There are a lot of drives on eBay and a variety of options. Never really touched this medium before so I’m looking to get experience with it. 

Ideally I’d have a Jaz drive on my G4 but the options for that are rather expensive.

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MO is among the most reliable media for vintage Macs. Unfortunately, it's pretty expensive. It's a beige whale of mine. It should be fun, although expect the normal kinds of annoyances you get when adding a new type of thing to your ecosystem. It's not impossible for these devices to fail (although they should fail in a way that doesn't take your data with them) and of course we're talking about electronics that are old enough to serve/vote/drink/smoke etc, so, you know, expect the normal kinds of problems with those things. That said, I haven't heard that the failure rate on these is too high, certainly nowhere near anything like what zip/jaz/rev/orb/anything-by-syquest-or-nomai and even bernoulli experienced.


In order, hopefully:

  • You can boot from MO media
  • Media are compatible forward at least one generation (128 -> 230, 230 -> 640, 640 -> 1.3, 1.3 -> 2.6, same applies to 5.25 media.)
  • There are IDE, firewire, and USB MO mechanisms, so you can use a 640 (or probably 1.3) gig drive on a powermac g4 or, if your 68k supports HFS+, a brand new M1 Mac mini, with no trouble.
    • To my knowledge, this new, basically any MO drive should work fine with few or no drivers, although 9 may need the same treatment (drivers and/or the same way you'd run a zip where you boot with the media installed) as system 7 does, don't quote me on this.
    • Though, do you have any systems that run 9 and don't have CD-ROM drives?(not that this isn't a good idea, I have an 8.1 or so boot Zip100 I used to do some formatting on the scsi2sd v6, but, I'm fortunate enough to have an appleshare server as well so that's not strictly necessary, at least for me, so this'll really be situational.)
      • To this point, this is arguably a better recovery/restoration/tools option, but it requires a bootable CD drive or that your Mac be within the range for the 75NAD and that you have a working floppy, plus networking. Networking is, perhaps ironically, arguably the easier part of this because everything from the Plus to the Beige G3 (and some imacs and blue-and-whites, with add-ons) supports serial localtalk. Mac OS boot CDs can also all run Apple-brand/compatible and onboard ethernet, although they usually only have the appletalk stack loaded, at least pre-9, so you can get access to a whole terabyte of utulities in that manner, on more than one machine at a time, but you shouldn't let that stop you from enjoying MO because it's an enjoyable format, and, I want some anyway even though I also have a sizeable Zip collection and because I have the aforementioned networking.
    • To this point, I want to make the note here that this is as widely compatible as Zip, minus a couple PowerBook bays which got Zip but didn't get MO mechanisms, but, those machines all have one of SCSI, USB, or Firewire, so you aren't going without.
  • In general drives should be able to do both, but WORM MO did exist and it was common up until the very end of MO as a technology and lives on in successor format, due to the format's suitability to archival storage.
    • You probably could boot from a worm MO device but you probably wouldn't want to, you'd want to start with the install from a CD image and customize from there.
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Thanks for the great info Cory!


I currently have over 100 vintage Macs ranging from the Plus all the way up to G5 and a couple PowerBooks. I haven’t yet setup my house with a network connection where I do all of my vintage Mac testing. I’ve essentially converted our wet bar that was never used into a work area for testing my machines. 

I have setup at that station a monitor keyboard and mouse and my zip and Jaz drives. When I have a Mac to use or test I place it on the counter and connect my Iomega trash (as some call it, I call it treasure) and boot up any one of my disks for a different purpose. I have disks for different OS versions all the way back to 6.0.8 for booting Zip on even a Plus, to 9.0 on a Jaz for booting up an 8600 or G3 beige. 

I do appreciate the value of CD but to be honest my experience with the media is that the drives typically become somewhat unreliable. I have had more success copying the contents of a CD over to a Jaz cartridge than trying to get an old Apple external SCSI to boot a CD. 


I have a G4 with internet at my work from home office desk, and that has a DVD R SuperDrive and a USB Zip 100, along with access to my NAS with a few terabytes of vintage software. Ideally I’d have a network connection to my wet bar with access to my NAS but it’s not very backwards compatible to the machines I really like playing with. Under ideal circumstances I’d put a 4TB drive in my G4 and boot up AppleShare IP to serve out to my older Macs when I need to. I just lack the energy to fulfill all of this and go the simple route of sneaker net with zip and Jaz. 

But zip is 100mb snd Jaz is 1GB. I like Jaz but I don’t want to constantly boot it up at the rate I am. I’d rather have something inbetween that could be more reliable and when I saw a MO drive for Mac brand new in box for $50 I couldn’t help but think that might be a decent solution. At least for recovery disks. 

Yes, CDROM can be really useful. I have blank CDs and CDRW but not many older Apple drives like CDRW and CDR can be tricky to write and read back on an Apple external 300 or 600 drive. 

I’m probably the perfect candidate for an external SCSI2SD but I’ve read about the issues with configuring them for a particular machine. I like the idea but at the same time I don’t. When I’m using a vintage machine, I like things to be as close to the original experience as possible. Including troubleshooting. I don’t want to have a machine that doesn’t boot and I spend hours trying to figure it out when in the end it ends up being a SCSI2SD configuration issue or corruption on the card. 

In that way the vintage media is superior. You know what you’re getting into. A Zip drive connected to a Mac with a bootable system folder should just work. Especially with a large number of different disks for different situations. I’ve managed to create even a Mac OS 9.1 bootable Zip disk. 

My experience with floppy drives is 80% don’t work. I’m still working through the biggest priority of recapping machines before they’re lost forever. Once I’ve recapped them all I need to learn how to recap power supplies. Then it’s fixing the floppy drives. Floppies are good, universal, and fairly cheap. However a Zip disk is about as expensive as a floppy these days and holds 70x the space. 

You mention you can go up a generation on MO and the drive I’ve acquired is a 230MB. Would that mean I may be able to use media for 640MB in that same drive?  That sounds intriguing if true. 

As of this morning I’m looking into options for a MO drive connected to my G4 so that I can write disks on there and read them on my older vintage Macs. It seems a 1.3GB drive is pretty common. I will have the 230MB SCSI drive for old Macs. 

I basically want something I can easily sneakernet with, as well as create bootable recovery and install media that I can customize. Like say a 7.5.3 installer, with the 7.5.5 update on the disk, and some diagnostic and drive formatting tools like Norton and FWB HDT. Plus Apple Diagnostics, MacCheck, Snooper, TechTool Pro, and benchmarking software. I use all of these to validate a machine I’ve recapped. That’s the main reason I don’t use CDROM because to have those tools I would have to burn a custom CD which doesn’t always work properly. And changing what you want or have means burning another CD. In my case I just change the contents on the disk. Or erase it and start over. 

Hope this isn’t too long to read. 

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One of the first things that I did when I set up my MDD as a bridge machine of sorts was to add in a SCSI card that gave me access to older SCSI drives.


I also have an MO drive (I actually had two NOS units) one of which I was going to add to my Q900, but getting the MO disks at a reasonable price was a little difficult about 7-8 years back and the drives had come with a faceplate for a different Mac (Maybe an 8600?) when I was looking into it, so I never did go through with installing it.

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2 hours ago, Juror22 said:

One of the first things that I did when I set up my MDD as a bridge machine of sorts was to add in a SCSI card that gave me access to older SCSI drives.


I also have an MO drive (I actually had two NOS units) one of which I was going to add to my Q900, but getting the MO disks at a reasonable price was a little difficult about 7-8 years back and the drives had come with a faceplate for a different Mac (Maybe an 8600?) when I was looking into it, so I never did go through with installing it.

Maybe that’s the key for me is to find a supported SCSI card for my Digital Audio dual 533. 

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I'd need to look into how far MO is cross-compatible, 230 might work in 1.3 drives, but I'll be honest, I don't remember. In general, 640 drives advertised compatibility with 230 media, so that's a safe option. I believe there's USB/FW/IDE 640 drives available as well.


W/re networking, you can use ethernet or an ET/LT bridge, but the server software is a concern.


ASIP: Mac OS 9 max disk size is regrettably 2TB AFAIK, and neither ASIP nor built-in AppleShare can re-share volumes, but 10.2 or possibly 10.3 should be able to share large volumes and still talk the Apples with older OS releases, so just by way of "put a few big disks in a G4" that'd be the next place to look. (Also a mini G4's stock 10.3 loadout.) Unfortunately, 10.4 can talk AppleTalk but the AFP server can't, so the machine appears on the network and can't really do anything for older Macs. (It looks like 10.3 shares the same 16TB max volume limit 10.4 has and should talk the apples to basically anything older, so that'd probably be a good option.)


That said:


W/re SCSI2SD: you are correct, without going to the 75NAD and without having to deal with floppy drives (and/or sourcing a floppyemu) it's the next best tool for this use case. The external one would be ideal. If you're mostly testing things, you should be able to put a fairly universal OS install on an SD card and then disconnect internal storage to avoid bus conflicts, do your testing+inventory. Most Macs shipped with hard disks on fairly predictable bus ID numbers so you can even configure your SCSI2SD to avoid that ID and you should basically be fine with minimal fuss.

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The Fujitsu MO extension will work on System 7.0 and up, and supports 3.5" and 5.25" up to 9GBs.  I have a 2.3GB Fujitsu drive connected to my IIci.  Works great.  It's my main workhorse for archival.


I think the 230s were a non-ISO standard format, but everyone seems to have supported it anyway.

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2 hours ago, cheesestraws said:


Here's where I chime in monotonously with 'netatalk2 on NetBSD is dead easy and works really well, in my experience' ;-)


I have Debian servers with this at work that I've set up, to support various Pre-Intel Macs in the office.  It does work great.  However, for my home, I don't want to have to deploy another server somewhere.  I'm already getting a bit cluttered with everything I have already.


My QNAP NAS might even be able to speak the netatalk protocols to the older Macs.  But I don't have networking on all of my vintage Macs, I don't have a network run to there, and I don't yet have an old router to run the older Macs off of (because modern auto negotiate doesn't support older Mac NICs).

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2 hours ago, MrFahrenheit said:

I have Debian servers with this at work that I've set up, to support various Pre-Intel Macs in the office.  It does work great.


You will note that I very deliberately did not suggest Linux.  The AppleTalk protocol stack in Linux is in dire straits, it breaks often, and people who have attempted to keep it maintained in the past have been put off by the awfulness of trying to contribute to the Linux kernel.  So, one always has to play the interesting game of 'will the next kernel update break AppleTalk?'.  Also, you have to compile the damn thing yourself and keep it running.  For some people, of course, those two things are fun.  Personally, I'm too tired for that, and I try not to use environments that are actively hostile to my use cases; if I'm going to stare impressively at walls of scrolling text for dramatic effect I prefer to do it at work where I at least get kudos for beating my head off walls.  I suggest NetBSD because its kernel support is more or less maintained, or at least people seem to think it's worth keeping, and netatalk2 is in the package manager, thus massively reducing the amount of work I actually need to do.  But if you are determined not to use a network for this, then this whole discussion is pointless.


2 hours ago, MrFahrenheit said:

because modern auto negotiate doesn't support older Mac NICs


I think you have your causality slightly backwards here, and I'm curious about your use of the word "modern".  Before 802.3i, there were a lot of ... broadly compatible Ethernet variants, which varied considerably in various timings and so forth.  When autonegotiation was introduced with the 100mbit version of 802.3, it was defined to interact with standard Ethernet, because it piggybacks data transfer on the timing of link detection pulses.  It was designed in such a way that standard 10mbit devices, or devices that were similar enough to 802.3i, would function properly.  But, as noted above, there was considerable variation, and for older NICs that did link detection completely wonkily, it simply cannot work.  If you look at the dates of Mac NICs that do not work properly, you will note that they were generally introduced before the end of 1990, and it is not a coincidence that 802.3i was published in 1990.  So it is much more correct to say that pre-1990 Mac NICs do not implement the 10BaseT Ethernet standard (on the entirely reasonable grounds that it did not exist yet), and therefore they cannot work reliably with autonegotiating ports that require standards-compliance.

Edited by cheesestraws
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Idly, I have yet to personally see any Mac equipment that doesn't auto-negotiate fine on all my gigabit hardware, I have one LCPDS card that won't connect, and, it's from a third party and I suspect it of being faulty or having a jumper that I've missed that's set wrong. That card will just pop out so I'm just gonna go get a working LCPDS card and toss the one I have or pass it on to someone who has the energy to tinker with it.


Though, every Mac from the Plus to the Beige supports localtalk and all the localtalk bridges I've ever seen will auto-negotiate on whatever random gigabit switch with no problem, so that's what I've been doing, especially on things where I haven't acquired Ethernet hardware, such as my Classic II and PB1400c/166, or the 6200 whose LCPDS card isn't working correctly.


A work-around for very early NuBus cards that don't auto-negotiate correctly would, perhaps, be to replace that NuBus card with a newer one that does. New build NuBus, SE-PDS, and SE/30-and-IISI-PDS devices have been floated and would also address this problem.


I have also seen suggestions like, setting a port on a managed Ethernet switch to what the old Mac/NIC is expecting, or, using a 10bT hub as a go-between. Those ideas would also work fine for this scenario, and some might even prefer that option for any number of reasons.

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Usually unmanaged gigabit switches from the more budget area of pricing are more difficult to connect with older Macs. At work I use Netgear managed switches for this reason, and I stipulate 10Mb on those ports I have old Macs on. Not so much now but we used to have many IIsi machines with 68040 cards and MacCon Ethernet. Those did not work on off the shelf budget gigabit switches in my scenario. 

This is a bigger issue than just myself. I’ve helped a few people last year on Reddit who couldn’t connect their Mac to their networks at home by suggesting an old 10Mb hub or switch or router in between and each time I’ve been thanked because it made it all work. 

Ideally I’d have a large work and display area for my vintage Macs at home, with several cable drops for Ethernet, a LocalTalk bridge for those that don’t have Ethernet, and a good test station for machines I’m working on. 

Back on topic I am actually eagerly anticipating the arrival of my magneto optical drive and disks. And perhaps I should look for a PCI SCSI card for my G4 so I can attach something like a Jaz to it. 

I did find a few higher capacity MO drives that list backwards compatibility to 128MB disks. I’m thinking the better brands would be Fujitsu, Sony and Olympus. If anyone has an suggestions of particular drives and brands to look for and to avoid I would appreciate it. I find the medium intriguing. 

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Yeah, I see this from time to time. In every scenario I've ever seen, the card was a replaceable one. This is a solvable problem. Other ethernet cards do fit in the IIsi. If a planned SE/30 reproduction ethernet card were built, I believe the IIsi would also benefit from that. Though, NuBus seems like it would be the lower hanging and more beneficial fruit all around.


Do we have manufacture/sell dates on the ethernet hardware "known" not to work with modern ethernet hardware?


(Sidenote: I do plan on getting managed switching at some point, but, I'm not going to mess around with this particular kind of shenanigans, so any Mac IIs I presumptively get will have Ethernet cards that work well on modern ethernet installed.)


(I have a IIsi, I should pull it down and see what Ethernet is in it at some point.)

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W/re Jaz: There were (although, last I looked they are a bit pricy these days) SCSI/USB adapters for Jaz, a PCI card would also solve that problem.


From a practical standpoint, I'd say if you get MO working, just use MO as your transitionary media, but SCSI for that might even be beneficial if you don't end up with a 640M drive for your G4 and the 1.3GB  one doesn't end up working w/ 230 media. (I remembered I know someone who might remember this faster than I can find it, which I'd need to remember to do, I'll see what they say.)

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The drive should just work like any other SCSI removable device. A friend of mine had an early 650MB 5.25" MO drive, it was an huge external beast. Putting in a disk and hearing it spin up was certainly something and that was with the loud cooling fan it had. For laughs I connected it to the Apple IIgs and it worked just fine. That was likely the first and last ProDOS formatted MO disk made. I also tried it on a PC and a Mac without any problem as well. Oh yeah, and you had to flip the disk over to use the whole capacity.


Just be patient when writing data to the drive. It takes a while to heat up the disk surface to the Curie point and write new data.

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MO disks will outlive us all unless they get melted in a  fire. The only issue would be the drives dying from age.


From what remember the 230MB  media (smaller then the 5.25" ones) is not a flippy. Most of my disks are 1.3GB (650MB per side). I do have some 2.6GB drives but never found any media and the 4gb+ drives are unreliable from the start which is why they stopped making them.

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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. 


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@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. :D8-)

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4 hours ago, olePigeon said:

@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. :D8-)

My HP MO library didn't have a T-800 terminator arm inside. 

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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. 

Edited by MrFahrenheit
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