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Using Magneto Optical drives on vintage 68k Macs


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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. 

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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.

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16 hours ago, trag said:

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.

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11 hours ago, Unknown_K said:

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. 

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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

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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.

 

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4 hours ago, Cory5412 said:

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

 

 

On 2/9/2021 at 3:13 AM, MrFahrenheit said:

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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6 hours ago, Cory5412 said:

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.

 

 

 

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.


Well, I did some surgery on the drive cage and ripped off the metal backplate that’s 3 inches wide and 1/2 inch high covering the IDE port of my Fujitsu 1.3GB MO. I’ve successfully set it to slave and it’s on the bus with the DVDR drive. I now have, on one single machine:

 

- SATA Card with 2TB SATA hard drive

- New Apple Original DVDR SuperDrive

- USB Zip 100Mb drive

- Adaptec SCSI Card with:

   - Iomega Jaz 1GB SCSI

- Fujitsu 1.3GB ATAPI MO Drive

 

I can use this machine to backup and restore from and to any of these media. Additionally it’s connected to my NAS which supports AppleShare, with 16TB of storage space. 
 

The G4 can boot Mac OS 9 or OS X 10.4.11, and download from the internet directly using TenFourFox, or access files I’ve downloaded from my Windows 10 PC to the NAS. All of my CDs are imaged onto the NAS and I can burn a CD, or write the contents of a CD to any one of Zip, Jaz, or MO and use on any one of a Mac SE through the G4 even. 
 

This is the ultimate in bridging. I realize I don’t have a floppy drive. Don’t fret, I’ve got many 68k Macs with floppy drives, I just copy the disk images using another media and access on the Mac I want to make floppies on. 
 

I also have SCSI external Zip, Jaz, CD (and a Yamaha CDR) and MO drives and can easily move data back and forth with great ease. 
 

I’d also get into the other formats but... this is quite enough. 100mb on Zip is a convenient size for the cost (new sealed disks about $1.5-$2 each). MO is great for making installer media and such. Easily rewritable and cost of between $0.003 and $0.008 per megabyte (depending on size used). It seems faster than Zip, but slower than Jaz. Jaz 1GB is great for capacity, speed, and reasonable cost. 3 packs of 1GB cartridges are about $15, or $5 a cartridge. Right in the middle of cost per MB of MO. They’re not as reliable as MO, but they’re freaking fast. Faster than most of my internal hard drives. Faster than SCSI2SD in most of my tests. 
 

On my test bench I have a keyboard and mouse, a monitor, and a stack of Jaz, Zip, and MO external drives all daisy chained. I connect a Mac I want to test or use to the setup and boot whatever media and OS version I want. Last night I played MYST on an LC475, which I copied over to a 640mb MO disk to try. It worked great. That’s my use case. Just moving data and having fun with it at the same time. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I suspect that most “IT WON’T BOOT” issues with these are independent of the system version and, to some extent, even the hardware. I know that only some optical drives are Mac-bootable, and that’s a characteristic of the drive mechanism; but in the pre-USB days, whether you could boot from a lot of the more hard-drive-like removeable-disk technologies was solely dependent on whether the disk was formatted with the correct drivers (just like if you were to attempt booting into Mac OS 9 on a late-model Power Mac, but your boot drive didn’t have OS9-compatible drivers installed).

 

IIRC, you can in fact boot even ancient 68000 Macs from a Zip disk — but only if that disk was formatted with suitable drivers.

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19 hours ago, gsteemso said:

IIRC, you can in fact boot even ancient 68000 Macs from a Zip disk — but only if that disk was formatted with suitable drivers.

I concur!

 

I formatted most of my Zip disks using the patched Apple HD SC Setup, so the system treats them for all intents and purposes as a hard drive.

 

Accordingly, even the Plus can boot from it, because the drivers are natively supported.

 

The only issue is that I can no longer eject a disk unless I shut down first.  This isn't really a big deal of course, especially in I'm going to be booting from it!

 

c

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21 hours ago, CC_333 said:

I concur!

 

I formatted most of my Zip disks using the patched Apple HD SC Setup, so the system treats them for all intents and purposes as a hard drive.

 

Accordingly, even the Plus can boot from it, because the drivers are natively supported.

 

The only issue is that I can no longer eject a disk unless I shut down first.  This isn't really a big deal of course, especially in I'm going to be booting from it!

 

c

You can always use 2 ZIP drives one for boot and one for removable DATA.  How common are SCSI ZIP drives these days anyway?  A jazz drive would probably max out a compacts SCSI bus and still be cheaper then a 1GB SCSI HD.

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21 hours ago, CC_333 said:

I concur!

 

I formatted most of my Zip disks using the patched Apple HD SC Setup, so the system treats them for all intents and purposes as a hard drive.

 

Accordingly, even the Plus can boot from it, because the drivers are natively supported.

 

The only issue is that I can no longer eject a disk unless I shut down first.  This isn't really a big deal of course, especially in I'm going to be booting from it!

 

c

 

Actually you can accomplish this by formatting the Zip disk with the Iomega Zip tools app, and then using an older 4.x driver on the disk.  I have successfully booted Mac System 6.0.8 on a Mac SE using this method.  No need to format using Apple HD SC Setup and fooling it.

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22 hours ago, gsteemso said:

I suspect that most “IT WON’T BOOT” issues with these are independent of the system version and, to some extent, even the hardware. I know that only some optical drives are Mac-bootable, and that’s a characteristic of the drive mechanism; but in the pre-USB days, whether you could boot from a lot of the more hard-drive-like removeable-disk technologies was solely dependent on whether the disk was formatted with the correct drivers (just like if you were to attempt booting into Mac OS 9 on a late-model Power Mac, but your boot drive didn’t have OS9-compatible drivers installed).

 

IIRC, you can in fact boot even ancient 68000 Macs from a Zip disk — but only if that disk was formatted with suitable drivers.

 

I've found that in most cases you can make removable media bootable by formatting it using the tools it comes with, on the Mac you plan to boot it from, and then installing the driver extension with a few spaces before its name so that it loads first.  My Fujitsu MO drives all didn't boot from brand new disks, but when I reformatted them using the MO Formatter utility, they were bootable.

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