Become a retro gamer
Turn a classic Mac into a games console
The Macintosh SE has a 9-inch, black-and-white CRT display with a resolution of 512x342 pixels.
4 Disk drive
The SE came with either dual, 800K floppy drives, or a single floppy drive and a 20MB hard disk.
The Motorola 68000 runs at 7.8MHz and has 68,000 transistors. A modern Core i7 has over two billion.
The Apple Desktop Bus interface is obsolete now, but the SE’s keyboard action is still responsive 30 years on.
1MB was a lot in 1987. The first Macintosh, released just 3 years earlier, had one-eighth as much.
6 Expansion ports
As well as two ADB ports, the Macintosh SE has two RS-422 serial ports for a printer and a modem.
A working slice of 30-year-old computer history for under £100 is an incredible bargain
The Macintosh SE is probably the easiest of the all-in-one classic
Macs to obtain second-hand. I found a working one on eBay for under £60, including postage. It didn’t have a keyboard though, so I had to bid on a vintage Apple keyboard too, which added £40 to the total expenditure. Still, a working slice of computer history from 30 years ago for under £100 is an incredible bargain if you ask me. And a ridiculous waste of money, if you ask my children.
The keyboard initially suffered from a Return key that was permanently stuck down, but when I took it apart to try cleaning the mechanism, it suddenly recovered. I think the rear case screws had just been done up too tight and the circuit board was flexing against the keys. The mouse was the old ball type, naturally, and this was also a bit sticky, so I cleaned the ball and rollers with cotton buds dipped in gin. Unfortunately, whereas simply removing the case had magically fixed the keyboard, the same process somehow magically broke the mouse and the button stopped working when I reassembled it. I spent half an hour on my hands and knees looking for a non-existent spring that might possibly have fallen out with my noticing. Once I was satisfied that no such spring was there to be found, I added a blob of hot glue to the top of the mouse button switch to act as a spacer, and the button regained its former satisfying click.
Lode Runner wasn’t included on this Mac. It was originally a free game, but it had to be passed from friend to friend on 3.5-inch floppy disks. You can download it from the internet still, but the Macintosh SE uses an 800K floppy disk drive with a completely obsolete drive modulation, so you can’t create diskettes for it from a ‘modern’ 1.44MB USB floppy disk drive.
Rather than try to connect an ’80s Mac to the internet and download the game directly, I bought an 800K diskette that contains a collection of classic Mac games from rescuemy classicmac.com for about £12. When it arrived, the first thing I did was copy the diskette’s contents to the SE’s tiny 20MB hard disk – and it was just as well that I did, because this floppy disk drive had just one gasp of life left in it. Part way through the file copy, with just one game left to go, it failed. Since then, it hasn’t managed to read or write to another diskette. I built a simple drive head cleaner to try to remove three decades’ worth of grime and oxide (see the How To guide on page 78), but
even this wasn’t enough to resurrect the drive to copy the one remaining game to the Mac.
After I had run about 10 or 20 passes with the diskette cleaner, the sliding diskette cover pinged off and got stuck inside the floppy drive. Carefully waggling about inside with a butter knife didn’t free the cover, so I resigned myself to opening up the case and dismantling the floppy disk drive completely. With hindsight, I don’t really know why I bothered, since the floppy drive wasn’t working anyway, but luckily it didn’t matter. The top two case screws on the Macintosh SE are so deeply recessed behind the carrying handle that my longest Torx T15 screwdriver couldn’t reach. I tried assembling another elaborate contraption by chaining together the screwdriver heads from several electric screwdrivers but the end one got wedged. And while I was rattling that to try to free that, the floppy disk slide cover fell out by itself! I decided to quit while I was ahead and gave up on cleaning the drive heads.
The games that successfully copied from the floppy diskette include pretty decent versions of Tetris and Missile Command, so I’m quite happy with my classic Mac games machine. It sits among my growing Mac museum in my sitting room and I leave it plugged in, so that guests can try and beat my high score at Missile Command (they never will). But, frustratingly, the one game that didn’t copy across to it was Lode Runner, so my retro gaming itch still isn’t quite scratched yet.
The Macintosh SE uses an 800K floppy disk drive with a completely obsolete drive modulation
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Missile Command was a great way to show off the Mac’s mouse interface – it’s virtually impossible to play with a keyboard.
Be careful with mechanisms when cleaning under keys.
Even though Lode Runner’s graphics are monochrome, that belies the continued addictiveness of the game.
This rather revolting mess is what shook out of the Macintosh SE’s keyboard.