Running NetBSD on the most obsolete kit I can find


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Name: Spooky
Description: Evil unix genius.
Project: Running NetBSD on the most obsolete kit I can find
Last Updated: 14/11/06


I can't help it, it must be something ingrained into the very fibre of my being. I must purchase random crap hardware and make it run unix. Previously I've done this on a variety of crappy x86 machines. Then I went all portable and made a solar powered Jornada 680 that ran NetBSD 3 and now I think I've excelled myself. Behold the most pointless project of all time...

The Macintosh SE/30 unix box type thingy

Ok, so lets start with some basics. What is an SE/30?

Oooh, obsolete

Basically it's the last proper 'classic' macintosh made (ok, ok... excluding the color classic boxes, but this is my bastardisation of history so ner!).

Introduction Date: January 19, 1989
Discontinued Date: October 21, 1991
Processor Type: 68030
Processor Speed: 16 MHz
Processor FPU: 68882
System Bus Speed: 16 MHz
Data Path: 32-bit (24 bit dirty ROM)
Level 1 Cache: 0.5k
Standard RAM: 1 MB
Maximum RAM: 128 MB
RAM Slots: 8 (2 groups of 4)
SCSI Hard Drive: 40 MB, 80 MB Floppy Drive: 1.44 MB
Exp. Slots: SE/30 PDS
Built-in Display: 9" Monochrome (1 bit, none of your fancy greyscale)

I found this particular model on Ebay. I paid a whopping £20 for it including a rather sexy carry-case. It came with a rather 'original' 40MB hard drive, 4 MB of RAM and a RasterOps 24bit external graphics board and software (for sale, make me an offer). The SE/30 comes with no ethernet connectivity of any kind and clearly 4MB of RAM wasn't going to cut it, so another quick trip to Ebay was on the cards. A few quid later I had another 64MB of RAM and a Asante PDS slot ethernet card winging their way to me from the states. What to do about the 40MB drive? Well as luck would have it I happen to have a large pile of SCA drives straight out of various SGI boxes. One narrow to SCA converter later this little fellah is packing a 9GB, 7200 RPM, 8MB cache IBM Deskstar. Overkill, but that's my trademark.

So, here's what we have.

A Mac SE/30 (1)
With 68MB of RAM (2)
An Asante Network Card
A 9GB IBM disk (3)

(1) The mac SE/30 has what is known as a dirty ROM. Although the machine is fully 32 bit there are portions of 24bit code in the ROM. That means to utilise more than 8MB of RAM you need an app called MODE32. This is an extension that runs in Mac OS and enables the fully fruity 32bit-ness (you need this for NetBSD).

(2) The memory support is picky and there are some annoying rules to bear in mind. Firstly, it's old... 32pin Fast Page memory upto 16MB per simm at no slower than 120 ns. Secondly, memory must be installed in groups of 4 filling the two banks, one complete bank at a time. And finally the larger capacity simms that you are installing *MUST* be in the 4 slots (bank A) furthest from the back of the mainboard (I call the back where the adb, serial and whathaveyou ports are located). 64MB in just 4 simms is not a supported configuration, you require simms in bank B (The slots closest to the back of the board). If your mac looks like it's in jail (black and white stripes on the display) then you have a memory configuration error and haven't followed the rules... fool!

(3) The apple hd/sc disk initialising tool doesn't support hard drives other than those supplied by apple. You will require the 'hacked' version of the tool to use other manufacturers drives.

Before we get into the real nitty gritty of making this shit work lets give you some heads up on useful tools that will make your life a hell of a lot easier.


A 3.5" Floppy drive and at least 3 functional floppy disks.
An external SCSI CD-ROM with a Male 25pin DB SCSI cable (terminated).
A CD writer.

Useful software,

MacDisk Demo Version - Read and write Mac formatted HFS floppies. It also unbundles BIN files on the fly. The demo-ness limits files to a maximum size of 1MB (Not a problem for us.).

WinImage - Writes raw disk images.

Lets Begin!

Step 1 - Giving the Mac a Mac OS

(If your machine has a working 7.5.x OS on it and spare space to partition for NetBSD you can skip this part).

Physically install your drive, if you can't work out how to do this you're in the wrong place.

Grab this incredibly usefully System 6 with patched HD/SC app disk image wot I done made - here. Then write it to one of your floppies, bung it in your mac's floppy disk and power that bad boy on. System 6 boots pretty quick (it's worth trying some system 6 stuff anyway... it was the last Mac OS to be built in assembly apparently. There is a nice site related to all System 6 lovings here.) You'll notice on the disk there is the patched version of HD/SC tools. Double click on this. Hopefully with the wind blowing in the right direction you should see your drive. Select the drive and then initialise the disk. Shock horror the contents of the disk are now gone, replaced with a big blank mac flavoured hole. (Just for future reference I called the mac partition Panic at this point... this was the 3rd attempt at me initialising this particular drive and I was running out of options. Long story and not relevant to this document)

Now, on to partitioning the disk. I decided to have a 1 GB Mac OS partition, a 7 GB NetBSD partition and leave the remaining space for NetBSD swap goodness. Using the custom partitioning option I made a 1GB Mac HFS partition at the top of volume, then created a 7GB A/UX root/usr partition that I will NetBSD-ify later. Finally I used the remaining space as an A/UX swap partition. Once the partitioning is complete shutdown your mac.

Now to put a 'more useful' OS on the Mac. Download the System 7 network install disk from here and write the image to another floppy. Fire up the ol' mac-a-roo and promptly after the BUNG! sound slip the new floppy into the machine. System 7 off of a floppy is *MUCH* slower than system 6 so be patient. Pretty much straight after finder appears you'll be asked to initialise a disk... this is your recently partitioned hard disk. Initialise that bad boy then open it up. Copy the system folder from your network install disk to the hard disk. Restart your mac... and hopefully TADA! Working minimalist Mac OS booting from your HD. If you have trouble booting your OS boot from the system 6 disk and copy the patched HD/SC app to your hard disk. Boot from the system 7 floppy and run the HD/SC app. Using the HD/SC app install the updated disk driver. Then open and close the system folder on the hard disk (Allegedly this makes a difference... who knows?) and reboot. If you still see no Mac OS then you're on your own.

Right, you now need some way of getting software onto your mac. Download my handy-dandy transfer disk here. It's full of usefull bits and bobs that will allow you to transfer software in various ways to your mac. Once again winimage that bad boy to a floppy. Copy the contents of that floppy to your mac's hard disk, Install the Macintosh CD-ROM software 5.3.2. Shut down your mac and attach your external SCSI CD-ROM. Power the mac back up and bung an ISO-9660 cd in your drive, after a few seconds the disc icon should appear on the desktop. Now the annoying part... Download all 19 parts of Apple System 7.5.3 that you can get here. Now before you get all excited and burn them to CD put all the files into a single .tar file (Again, if you don't know how to do this stop reading now and go away.) with a name that conforms to basic ISO 8.3 file name rules such as 753.tar, then burn this to CD. Bung the CD in the mac, copy the tar file off and using mactar extract the .bin files. Now using ya-base64 (Or binhex 4.0, one should work and both are on the transfer disk image I just gave you.) un-binary-encode the files and when complete double click on the first part of set. This will start the 7.5.3 complete install. Leave that chruning away and go to and grab the 3 files for the 7.5.5 update. Using the same procedure as the 7.5.3 install, copy these files to the mac, extract them and install the update. You now have a fully functional, complete Mac OS 7 install. Remember the dirty dirty filthy dirty (Sorry...) ROM issue? Well you need to install the MODE32 application. Grab it, CD it, extract it and plonk it in your System Folder / Extensions.

Now you have a fully working Mac. You can play around with this for a bit (Which I would recommend... look here or here for some cool apps for Mac OS.) or you could go straight for the money shot... NetBSD! But you'll have to wait until tomorrow for that.... if I can be bothered to write part 2.


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