Resurrecting a Macintosh Color Classic

The Color Classic is one of those Mac models which I remember appreciating when it was current but didn’t feel it was worth the money. Putting a color screen into the original compact Mac case always seemed an obvious step, but by the time this model was released in 1993 the Mac II line had been out for several years and Apple was beginning to ship the Quadra/Centris 68040 based systems. Why would anyone want an underpowered machine with such a small screen?

Apple+Color+ClassicFast forward twenty years and this little underpowered Mac has become a pleasant reminder of simpler times past. After a four year on-and-off process (mostly off), I finally have a working model in the Vintage Mac Museum, though it took some effort to resurrect.

Back in 2008 a friend of mine found a Color Classic sitting unloved in an antique shop down in Florida. I had recently bought a house and she knew I collected old Macs, so she bought the system for me as a housewarming gift. The unit did not work, it had been sitting for too long in a salty humid environment. The logic board was corroded and missing a few pieces. Still having lots to do with my move I put the Mac on a closet shelf and let it sit for a few more years.

Recently I decided it would be cool to see if I could get things running, but I didn’t want to spend too much money on the task. Working Color Classics sell for about $300 on eBay, but logic and power supply boards sell for around $100 each. After losing a few auctions to last minute eBay “snipers” (I really hate this tactic), I found another board listed with a Submit Offer and arranged to purchase it for a fair price. As part of the arrangement I sent my old non-working board to the seller for him to repair and resell, so a good deal for us both.

The Color Classic, like the Performa 6400 & PowerMac 6500, has a wonderful slide out logic board design: remove a rear case panel and just pull the whole unit out. The designers of the Mac Mini should be forced to learn from these systems. I put in the new board, turned on the power switch at the rear of the machine, and… nothing. A faint whine from the unit, but no other chime or activity.

Bummer. Or so I thought. When mentioning this to the eBayer who sold me the board, he suggested my ADB keyboard or cable might be bad and the Mac wasn’t getting the power up command from the power button on the keyboard itself. I blushed across the internet.

I had forgotten that this old model, like other Macs of that era, use both the physical power switch and the soft power switch on the keyboard. I pressed the keyboard switch and CHIME, the Mac powered up! Even experienced Mac folk sometimes forget the basics…

The Color Classic emitted a few slow beeps, then displayed the blinking folder with question mark. Ah, it just needs a new startup disk, that I can handle. I took the case off, laboriously extracted the old SCSI hard drive, and formatted a new drive. Mac OS Standard (HFS) format is required, 68k Macs can’t read Mac OS Extended (HFS+) disks. Once ready I copied a working System 7.1 install from a Mac IIci to the disk, then installed the drive back in the Classic.

Chime, whir, happy Mac face (yay!), then an error: The version of System 7.1 installed on this drive will not work with this Mac. A newer version is required.

Strange, System 7.1 was the original software which came with this model. Since removing the internal drive was difficult I formatted another hard disk, installed System 7.6.1, and connected this in a case to the external SCSI bus. No dice, the Mac would not boot off the external disk. I tried System 7.5.5 – same result. I tried the System 7.1 and System 7.6 Disk Tools floppy disks, those too got ejected. I was stuck with a Mac which only wanted to boot off the internal drive, containing a non-working system.

On-The-Worktable

I asked myself how badly I wanted a working Color Classic, took a break, and had a few drinks (etc). Time to call it a day and resume troubleshooting tomorrow.

Eventually I figured out the issues. The external drive wasn’t working because it was a 4GB drive, and in that era you needed a 68040 or PowerPC based Mac to read drives larger than 2GB. The Classic has a 68030 processor. The internal System wasn’t booting because with System 7.1 you needed specific System Enabler files for different models of Macs. The Color Classic needed System Enabler 401.

With all the mysteries solved I re-extracted the internal drive, copied a new System 7.1 with the appropriate Enabler, and put everything back together. Chime. Happy Mac. Welcome to Macintosh. And then: the System 7 desktop on an adorable little 9″ color screen.

Wow, that was harder than I expected.

The Color Classic now sits on a different shelf in my office, with its brethren compact Macs the 512k, Plus and SE/30. After this ordeal I’m now somewhat fond of the little guy. I setup the After Dark screensaver to run the Fish module, it makes a nice little electronic Macquarium. Which is good, since my real Macquarium is still sitting unassembled in my front foyer – a project for another day!

Mac-Classic-as-Macquarium


26 responses to “Resurrecting a Macintosh Color Classic”

  1. Adam Rosen says:

    ORIGINAL BLOGSPOT COMMENTS:

    Jason McCormack said…
    Glad you were able to get your CC working! I would like to get mine going in the near future. It worked a few years ago, but no longer powers on. I’m afraid it might need a cap job. When you flip the switch it makes the “faint whine” sound that you described, but will not power on from the keyboard. I’ve used multiple known-good keyboards and ADB cables, just to be certain. I may try to use the motherboard from my MacTV, or put the CC mobo in the TV to try and narrow down a cause…
    May 15, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Anonymous said…
    Hi Adam,
    I have the same Color Classic that I purchased used from my son when he went into the Peace Corp in 1995. I slid a motherboard from an LC550 into it and now runs System 7.6 and NetBSD. Cool, eh?
    http://www.ifixoldmacs.com/omihkal/cc.html
    Tom
    May 15, 2012 at 6:31 PM

    Adam Rosen said…
    Hi Tom. I didn’t realize LC550 motherboard fit in that machine – nor the board from the MacTV, as Jason notes. I’ll have to keep my eye out for one of those, the CC is definitely rather pokey in the stock configuration.
    May 15, 2012 at 8:54 PM

    Thomas Carlson said…
    The LC550 uses the same motherboard that the CC II had. Processor speed is 33MHz, and it gives you the option of 36MB of RAM. That speeds things up quite a bit.
    May 16, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    Grayson said…
    Can also use an LC 475/LC 575 motherboard if you want a 68LC040/25..
    May 16, 2012 at 10:00 PM

    Anonymous said…
    Thanks for sharing this great story with “happy ending” :)
    Now, get your ass on Ebay and buy a SE, Classic and Classic II. Then your collection is complete!
    November 29, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    Tara said…
    I’ll sell you mine! I’ve got 3. One is no working, and of the two others, one has some sort of 040 board in it, and a 640×480 screen upgrade (not sure how this was done), and then the other one has the 550 board in it.

    Looking at ebay, I hadn’t realized I was sitting on a treasure trove. Also have my first mac, a Mac TV, complete with the Lechmere in-store display, though I don’t know if I’ll part with that yet…
    December 6, 2012 at 5:56 AM

  2. jim says:

    If anyone still uses this e me I have about 10 1993-1996 mac performs / lc / ??? been in nice controlled room for year and they all work with 3 shot os

  3. rodrigo says:

    hi, when i turn on my color classic it will only show a red screen, with nothing in. I don’t know why. Because this mac has been with me for 10 years, and until last year it was working perfectly. do you have any idea of what could it be?

  4. Michael says:

    I have a pristine 1993 Color Classic that was kept in its original box after being hardly used. The original box has the bottom half of the packing material and not the top half. This machine has all of the original parts and runs like the day it was sold. The original mouse and keyboard are in the same condition and that is pristine. You would find it hard to get your hands on this type of computer. Computer manufactured May 1993 – *SG3191GQC2C* – Key board *SR31309503N* . What would you do with this if you were in my shoes? Do you know of anyone that would be interested in it? I can submit photos of its condition. Thank you – Mike avenirphoto @ hotmail.com Please title Subject: 1993 Mac

    • Adam Rosen says:

      Hi Michael – well as a vintage Mac afficionado who likes that model, I would probably keep a nice working Color Classic as a part of my collection! However if you’re not looking to hold on to it, that model is usually fairly easy to sell on eBay, especially with the original packaging.

  5. Yuhong Bao says:

    I think a 4GB drive should be readable and bootable by any Mac with System 7.5 or later, though you may need to use an older hard disk driver of course. Drives with partitions bigger than 4GB are a different matter though. The 7.6 disk tools didn’t work probably because it was the wrong disk (Mac OS 7.6 shipped with two of them for different Macs)

    • Adam Rosen says:

      Hi Yuhong – In this case that wouldn’t work, you need the 68040 CPU to read a 4GB drive. That’s a hardware limitation. However it’s possible putting an ‘040 based motherboard which fits in the Color Classic might work.

      Yes I’m aware of the dual Disk Tools floppies for 7.6, one for 68k Macs and one for PowerPC systems. It was the 68k disk that I was using.

  6. jimmy says:

    I got a CC just tonight. Cleaned it up, passes POST fine (with chime), then I read about the “soft power” button on keyboard. Still the screen stays blank. Seems to run fine otherwise, just no image on screen… any tips welcomed!

    Thanks.

    • Adam Rosen says:

      Jimmy, that could be a problem with the display circuitry, power supply or the monitor itself. You might try taking the rear panel off the CC, removing and then reseating the motherboard. You may have a loose connection or corrosion on some contacts if the system has been sitting for a while.

  7. Jimmy says:

    Thanks, Adam. The motherboard was easy to remove. Quite dusty but functional. Cleaned it as good as I can until I get a can of air… and will buy a new PRAM battery. the MO looks fine, really.
    Occasionally it gives a short beep after powering on from button in rear. *Thing is, the “Soft power” button on (2) different KBs, & cables, still does nothing, as if it’s a “dummy button”. Main power button in back seems to do it all(?). Would be fun to get this thing cranking, always wanted one back in the day. Appreciate your help!

  8. Jimmy says:

    I tried both ADB ports with 2 keyboards, 2 ADB cables. I’m going to blow & vacuum the whole thing out and have a look at the video ribbons.
    Would just tuning power on back give the boot chime, like a normal Mac? This one does…

  9. kaj says:

    I have a color classic as well.
    It gives a sound when i turn the power on but doesn’t go on when i use the keyboard.
    After a car ride it didn’t work anymore.
    Does someone know what’s wrong?
    I have like 0 experience with old pc’s

  10. Marc Wilcox says:

    I still have a color classic that I bought while in college. I swapped out the mother board with a sonnet accelerator and am running 8.1 Power User Pro external hard drive. I have a Spirit 5.25 88Mg removable hard drive and a ZipDrive I still use it periodically just for nostalgia sake. I think I have the original mother board stowed away somewhere.
    Since it has been so long I have forgotten some of the ins and outs of the software and hardware. I need to brushup etc. I keep it in my office – they are just fascinated by it – the small screen etc. Lots of good memories

  11. Adam says:

    I have a Colour Classic that was working up until a couple of years ago – the pram battery was on the way out and it would not remember the time anymore. One day it just would not fire up at all. I put a new battery in it today, still no joy. When I flick the power switch on the back there is silence. Any ideas?

    • Adam Rosen says:

      After switching on the power supply on the back panel, are you then hitting the power button on the keyboard? Both are needed to startup the Color Classic.

  12. Gary Foster says:

    Adam, I found your article on restoring your Color Classic fascinating and very informative. I have a 1993 model also with the same screen saver, and enjoy watching the fish swim across the screen as I do other things. It was working perfectly until the other day, when it failed to start up and displayed the blinking ? mark instead. I don’t have any original disks, so I ordered a copy of 7.6. Do you think I can get it to work again without replacing the SCSI internal drive that I can’t afford to buy?

    • Adam Rosen says:

      Hi Gary, a flashing question mark indicates that the Mac can’t find a valid boot drive. That could be caused by corrupt system software, or unfortunately (more likely) a failed hard drive. You should be able to boot the Color Classic via the System 7.6 Disk Tools floppy and see if the drive is accessible to reformat. If not, you can find old SCSI drives on eBay.

  13. Chad Wadsworth says:

    Hello all.

    Was wondering if anyone here might have a CC with the 640×480 hack that they are ready to let go.

    Thanks,
    Chad

  14. Steffan says:

    Just another confirmation – that story about getting a normal Colour Classic and an LC575 logic board together, it works perfectly.

    Slips right in, adjusts to the smaller 512×384 display (instead of 640×480 in the 575) and flies fast.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Yes, the ports are on different spots on the door but with that complete transformation, it’s worth it.

    MacOS 8.1 with which HFS+, and even with so much more OS, it’s FAST. ‘040s always were but at 33MHz it flies.. even adds CommsSlot which I have yet to try fitting something into..

    Anyone dare me to try to fit the DOS stuff from my LC630 DOS Compatible onto this ‘board? The main board just sits in the CPU socket, original CPU onto it. I don’t think the 575 ‘board has video in but it’ll probably still run, you’ll hear the DOS beep… creepy! Colour Classic DOS compatible!

  15. HI, I have a macintosh color classic and I would like to restore it to functional state, any guides or recommendations? TY

  16. Darkly says:

    I dusted off my CC a couple of weeks back as it had been sat on a shelf for several years, only to find it was as dead as the proverbial dodo. Anyone wanting to resurrect a CC should follow these initial steps.

    First of all remove the logic board and then apply power to the main chassis. If the PSU and display electronics are good you’ll hear the solitary cooling fan spin up immediately (remember the case needs to be closed for the fan to operate).

    Now look closely at the logic board under decent light, specifically at the areas surrounding every surface-mount electrolytic capacitor (small round metal cans). There’s every chance you’ll see a surrounding patch that looks slightly dull or dusty, this will be electrolyte that has leaked from the capacitors.

    There is a TEMPORARY fix for this which involves removing the leaked electrolytes (needs to be done anyway for any sort of permanent repair), either by using a dish-washer or soaking and hand-cleaning in a kitchen sink.

    Before starting, remove the PRAM battery if fitted as well as any memory modules. Also remove the two ROM chips, making a note of exact arrangement, position and orientation.

    At this point I simply placed the logic board in a bowl of reasonably hot water containing washing liquid and let it soak for about 15 minutes, before scrubbing it with a soft plastic dish-brush. Finally I rinsed the board in warm water direct from the tap.

    Neow you need to dry the board and the quicker it dries the better. I cooked my board for about 30 minutes on the oven’s minimum setting. This drives water from the board very effectively and in my opinion is a more thorough option than simply letting it dry at ambient temperatures over several days. If it’s been in the oven you *know* it’s dry.

    Finally I replaced the parts I’d removed, refitted the logic board and hit the keyboard power-on switch.

    CHIME!

    The machine booted first time, perfectly, although I did notice some odd high-pitched noises from the speaker whenever the HDD was being accessed. Bearing in mind the above offers a temporary fix, those tired old caps MUST be replaced for a long-term fix. The odd noises have now gone following a complete cap replacement and the board should now be reliable for another 20 years or so.

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