The Low End Mac Mailbag

Connecting a LaserWriter to Ethernet and the TiBook That Wouldn't Boot

Dan Knight - 2007.08.23

Using a LaserWriter with a Modern Mac

Jean Lee wonders:

Dear Dan,

I've been using Macs my whole life. Anyways, I have an old, old Mirror Door G4 (which will be replaced with a Mac Pro soon) and a MacBook Pro I bought last year.

The thing is, I also have two Apple printers leftover from the 90s. The funny and ironic thing is, I had no idea that they would be compatible with my modern Macs, let alone my MacBook Pro with an AsantéTalk thing. They sat in storage since 1999 until one day I was like, I wonder if these still work. Then surprisingly the test page printed out on both of them. I was amazed.

The reason I still use them is because the toner cartridge on my LaserWriter Pro 630 lasts for 8800 pages, and I can get the cartridge refilled for like 50 bucks. I mean, I want to get a new laser but the fact that I know my dad spent like $2,000 on that printer so I can't justify getting a new one when it still works. But it is so slow. I can't print out black and white high pixel resolution images without it taking a million years to send to the printer. I was just wondering if it was possible to add memory to that dinosaur printer . . . will it make it faster? Can I even find memory for it? And is it even worth it?

The printer is quite old, and I'm unsure of investing any money into it, because every so often I incur a jam in that old thing. The ironic thing is since we put those printers away when we got USB Macs we've gone through at least four Epson printers that all broke down.

The funny thing is the day I found my printers, I found the Apple Extended Keyboard II in the box as well. I think I may throw away that keyboard; I can't use it with my G4 - or is it compatible. Ha ha, that would be funny, that bulky grey thing with my sleek apple monitor.

-jean

Jean,

Don't knock your old Power Mac. That's exactly the model I'm using here at Low End Mac headquarters. It's a real workhorse, especially with 1.75 GB of RAM, two USB 2.0 cards, and a pair of 400 GB hard drives (one for work, one for backup). I love mine!

If you're using that printer with an AsantéTalk adapter, no wonder it's slow. That uses the ancient AppleTalk protocol at 230 kbps. The LaserWriter 630 has ethernet, which is 40 times faster, and every Mac since the mid-90s has ethernet. If you don't already have an ethernet network, it's time to add one. 10/100 routers are pretty cheap, as is cabling.

As for the Apple Extended Keyboard, it was one of the best keyboards ever. If you'd like to use it, all you need is a Griffin iMate plugged into your Mac's ADB port and the keyboard's cable plugged into it. Not cheap at $39.

If you don't want to invest in the adapter, at least don't toss the keyboard. Clean it up and offer it on the Low End Mac Swap List. You can probably get $10 from it.

Dan

Dear Dan:

Hi, I had another question about utilizing my LaserWriter 630 Pro. I looked everywhere on the back of that thing; I see no ethernet card on it. Then I asked my dad when we got it, he said 1993. That was before we even had dialup Internet. I mean the Asante thing has a place for the ADB cable, and the other side has a spot for the ethernet cord. Then I have a standard ethernet cable that connects to my 5-port Linksys ethernet hub. This hub connects my printer, my G4, Airport Extreme Base, and Vonage phone base. Do I have to install an ethernet card on the printer? Or maybe I'm blind and can't find the ethernet card on it? I swear I looked everywhere for it.

-jean

P.S. I went on the LEM Swap List and advertised the keyboard as free if anyone wanted it.

Jean,

My bad. The LaserWriter 630 Pro does have ethernet on the back, but it's not a standard RS-45 connector (the one that looks like an oversized phone jack). Back in that era, Apple put an AAUI port on the back of its computers and printers. With the correct adapter, it could connect to either 10Base-T ethernet (which became the standard) or the older 10 Base-2 ethernet that used coaxial cable.

You just need an AAUI-to-ethernet adapter, which you can probably find on the Swap List.

Time to add a page about AAUI to the website....

Dan

TiBook Won't Boot

Kris Finkenbinder is frustrated:

Hi Dan,

I'm wondering with your years of experience with older PowerBooks you might know (just off the top of your head without wasting any time on research) what the following symptoms might mean in a PowerBook G4 Titanium (DVI, 1 GHz):

  • No boot chime
  • No hard drive spin-up noise, just a momentary noise from the optical drive
  • Black screen
  • Caps-lock and Num-lock both light up and stay lit, no response to key presses
  • Gets hot if left on

I have had trouble finding any reference to the caps-lock and num-lock lights indicating anything specific. I know the PRAM battery is often the culprit when a Mac refuses to boot, and the one in this unit has been dying for quite a long time, according to what the owner told me. The unit has also been dropped on its head a few times, and at least the case is in pretty bad shape.

I was wondering if you know offhand how likely it is that a simple PRAM battery replacement might bring this thing back to life. At $40-50, this model has the most expensive PRAM battery I've ever seen, and the owner doesn't have a lot of money to spare, so unless I can confirm that it isn't a more serious hardware issue I will probably have to recommend that they plan on looking for a replacement used PowerBook rather than try to fix this one.

On a side note, this same client also had a PowerBook G3 (Lombard) and had given it to me in exchange for my computer services. I was quite shocked at how well it ran Tiger with just 256 MB of RAM. All I had to do was swap out the original 4 GB hard drive with my 60 GB backup drive containing a clone of my iBook G4. It's a little slow booting up, but as usual OS X is surprisingly functional despite the lack of processor power. The design is very nice and it's a very light machine.

I've been a bit discouraged about the lack of FireWire for booting purposes, but I had an old FireWire PC Card hanging around and found that it worked like a charm, at least for accessing an external drive while running OS X. I was thinking it would be a great machine to take in the field to quickly make backups of photos with a FireWire card reader. I estimate that with an optional second battery in the expansion bay it could last for a week or more without needing a recharge, waking it up just long enough to copy the photos off a card and then putting it back to sleep.

Now it looks like the quickest way for me to get my client back in action is to swap her hard drive out of the TiBook and into the Lombard and give it back, at least temporarily. Too bad, I was really enjoying having it around. If only there were an inexpensive adapter to connect a standard IDE/ATA drive to that SCSI port for booting and cloning. There are a couple of FireWire-to-SCSI adapters out there but they are $100 or more, and SCSI-to-IDE adapters exist (Addonics makes one) but cost just about the same. Add the $30 special SCSI cable to the mix, and it looks like there is no affordable way to boot from any type of external drive with the Lombard, or to use the Lombard as an external drive like I can do with any newer Mac that has FireWire and supports Target Disk Mode.

If you know better, I'd love to hear about it. This is really the only big shortcoming with the Lombard as far as I'm concerned.

Kris F.

Kris,

I couldn't believe it when you mentioned $40-50 for a PRAM battery, but Google confirmed it. In fact, some place charge up to $80 for it. Yikes! And that's cheaper than the battery for the pre-DVI TiBooks. I'm beginning to understand why Apple dispensed with a PRAM battery with the iBook.

Your symptoms indicate the computer is getting power - keyboard lights and heat. But something is preventing startup. Very likely a bad PRAM battery, but I can't guess beyond that. I'll post this in the mailbag in hopes of hearing more from readers, but $40 for a battery is probably less than half what you'd pay a tech to look at the computer.

I like your plans for the Lombard, but wouldn't a PC Card reader make more sense than a FireWire reader for your memory cards? It's bound to be less expensive and more compact.

SCSI is ancient history. Although a few G4 Power Macs had an optional SCSI card, Apple hasn't had it as a standard feature on a Mac since 1998. I can't think of any practical way to make a bootable drive for the Lombard other than a SCSI mechanism in a SCSI enclosure.

But there's another option: A drive bay hard drive. Accelerate Your Mac has instructions for putting an IDE hard drive in a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM enclosure. It's probably a lot cheaper than going the SCSI route with a SCSI drive, SCSI enclosure, SCSI cable, and HDI-30 PowerBook SCSI adapter.

Dan

Dan Knight wrote:

I couldn't believe it when you mentioned $40-50 for a PRAM battery, but Google confirmed it. In fact, some place charge up to $80 for it. Yikes! And that's cheaper than the battery for the pre-DVI TiBooks. I'm beginning to understand why Apple dispensed with a PRAM battery with the iBook.

I think the main problem is that the PRAM battery for the TiBook includes a whole circuit board for some reason, rather than just being a battery.

I like your plans for the Lombard, but wouldn't a PC Card reader make more sense than a FireWire reader for your memory cards? It's bound to be less expensive and more compact.

Yeah, you're right, and that's one of the options I was looking at. I noticed that they're very inexpensive, and fast, and I assume that they will work with the Lombard. But I already have the FireWire card, and I have been planning on getting a FireWire card reader anyway. It would be shareable between all my different computers that have FireWire. The FireWire card also opens up the possibility of using external FireWire hard drives and CD/DVD burners to make redundant backups in the field.

I have had some difficultly identifying which other PC cards would work with these old PowerBook G3s, or with PCMCIA-equipped Macs in general. I have a PCMCIA network card that doesn't seem to work, and a USB 2.0 card that seems to be detected correctly - but the Lombard complains about it drawing too much power, even when I connect the external power cable between the card and one of the USB ports on the back of the Lombard. OWC lists only a handful of cards for the Lombard, including one FireWire and one USB 2.0 card, but I'd like to have a more comprehensive list available of which PC cards will work (and why).

Again we're back to the lack of clear information on third-party hardware compatibility, both on a hardware-to-hardware level and a hardware-to-software level. I have a spare slim DVD drive (two, actually) that I assume would physically fit in the Lombard just by swapping out the bezel from the Lombard's CD-ROM drive, but some notes I saw online make it seem as though the drives either might not work or at least may not be bootable (incompatible ROM?), which would make the modification substantially less useful. Looks like buying a guaranteed compatible DVD-ROM drive will cost at least $60, so I would prefer just using what I have if possible.

SCSI is ancient history. Although a few G4 Power Macs had an optional SCSI card, Apple hasn't had it as a standard feature on a Mac since 1998. I can't think of any practical way to make a bootable drive for the Lombard other than a SCSI mechanism in a SCSI enclosure.

But there's another option: A drive bay hard drive. Accelerate Your Mac has instructions for putting an IDE hard drive in a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM enclosure. It's probably a lot cheaper than going the SCSI route with a SCSI drive, SCSI enclosure, SCSI cable, and HDI-30 PowerBook SCSI adapter.

Ah yes, the Xcaret expansion bay module. Despite the age of that article, MCE are amazingly still selling those in various capacities, including an empty one for just $69. That's one of the options I've been looking at.

I just noticed that I haven't seen any explicit mention of SCSI PowerBooks actually being able to boot from external SCSI devices (including other PowerBooks in SCSI Disk Mode). Is it actually possible to do so, or is SCSI Disk Mode only useful for transferring data? I noticed that when I held down the Option key there was no Startup Manager screen that came up like I'm used to seeing with newer Macs. Is it possible to choose to boot from an external SCSI device using the Startup Disk control panel in OS 9 or OS X? If not, then I guess the expansion bay module really would be the only bootable option.

By the way, do you know if it is safe to insert and remove the PowerBook G3 expansion bay modules while the system is running?

Thanks,
Kris F.

Kris,

Any PowerBook with SCSI can boot from an external SCSI drive or from a Mac that supports SCSI Disk Mode. All you need is the right cable and a compatible OS. My first experience with OS X, back in the beta days, was running it from an external SCSI drive connected to the G4 I used at my last job.

I don't know if the expansion bay modules are hot swappable, but as long as they're not mounted on the desktop, I suspect it would be safe to swap them. You can probably learn more about this in our G-Books forum on Google Groups.

Dan

That's a relief, that they can boot from SCSI devices. I was severely disappointed recently when I finally realized that MacBook Pros are unable to boot from external SATA devices through a SATA ExpressCard. I had stupidly been assuming that would work because SATA and IDE drives are always bootable, at least in desktops. But of course without special support in the Mac ROM, PCMCIA cards and ExpressCards only do their thing after the system has loaded the proper drivers, so they can't be used as boot devices, like my FireWire PC card can't make the Lombard boot from FireWire devices. Good to know that at least the built-in SCSI port is as useful as FireWire is today.

Addonics has a proprietary "universal" port technology I've been looking at closely. They call it USIB [Universal Storage Interface Bus], and it can be connected to USB 2.0, FireWire, and eSATA ports just by using different interchangeable adapter cables. It's possible to get a USIB enclosure that can be easily converted between being a FireWire device and an IDE device. Just this evening I found a SCSI-to-IDE adapter selling on eBay for $40, and the necessary combination of SCSI cables for the PowerBook would end up being about $50. Since the USIB device at the core would be shared, the overall cost would be reduced. If I could get it all working, that would mean it would be possible to have a single hard drive that would be bootable on all PowerPC Macs that support either SCSI or FireWire booting. Using some of the hacks out there, the drive could also contain an Intel-compatible boot partition.

Think about that for a second. One hard drive, one version of OS X, to support an entire decade of Mac models - and on into the foreseeable future. With a big enough drive I can have some troubleshooting partitions loaded up with utilities like DiskWarrior and some clean install partitions loaded up with fully updated copies of Panther/Tiger/Leopard, potentially saving me many hours of work when doing a clean upgrade of a client's computer. Sort of like having a slipstreamed, updated Windows disc to install from.

I also recently discovered how easy it is to restore a bootable CD or DVD disk image onto a spare hard drive partition, which can massively speed up Archive & Install type upgrades that would normally be done directly from the CD or DVD. The potential is really something to think about. The flexibility available in booting and installing Mac OS X continuously amazes me and makes Windows look even more like a bad joke.

Kris F.

Kris,

Thanks for the info on USIB. For years I've been buying FireWire/USB 2.0 drive enclosures because they're more flexible (my current choice: NewerTech's miniStack v2 - and the newer v3 adds eSATA and FireWire 800 to the mix for $50 more). In my mind, eSATA is going to replace both as the preferred way of attaching a hard drive to personal computers. Considering that all Intel Macs uses SATA, I'm surprised that Apple hasn't yet made an eSATA port a standard feature on any Mac. That day will come.

I'm not so sure about USIB. On the one hand, it simplifies things: One USIB device plus a set of USIB adapters works almost anywhere (SCSI is about the only protocol not supported). But it's an expensive solution: $26 for the USB 2.0, FireWire, and CardBus/PC Card USIB adapters, $30 for eSATA. Then add the cost of a USIB enclosure. And there's no pass-through FireWire port, which most FireWire drives offer.

If I needed ultimate flexibility, I think I'd pick a NewerTech miniStack v3 enclosure for $120, as it includes USB 2.0 and FireWire hubs plus USB, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800 cables. (eSATA is not included.) It's not a small enclosure, but it has a good heat sink.

If an enclosure exists that supports SCSI plus FireWire and USB 2.0, I can't find it. I think you're going to need a separate SCSI drive for your Macs that can't boot from FireWire.

Tell me more about your disk image discovery, as this could be invaluable to those who have to support multiple Macs - or people who need to downgrade from OS X 10.4.10 for some reason. (In my case, because my Brother laser printer doesn't work with it.) This could make a good article for Low End Mac.

Dan

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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