I have a problem… another compact Macintosh followed me home last night.
Last week, I spotted a Macintosh SE for sale on my local Facebook Marketplace. But because I’m already in the middle of having the 1991 Macintosh Classic recapped and don’t really have the time, space or money to sink into another computer, I was going to pass on it.
I passed the SE on to a professor who seemed interested in purchasing a vintage computer like a compact Mac, but he didn’t seem interested. I didn’t want to see the SE end up in a landfill or electronics recycler like so many others (or the hands of a gamer wanting to gut it and turn it into a “sleeper” PC, someone wanting to use it as a “rad” iPad stand or turn it into a Macquarium) so I made an offer on it.
The next day, the seller took my offer.
What is the SE?
The Macintosh SE (or System Expansion) was released in March 1987 alongside the Macintosh II – which was a very important milestone for the Mac at that point. (The Macintosh II introduced color graphics and a “modular” design; it was the first Mac to not be a compact Mac.) Unlike the II, though, the SE was a modest improvement to the compact Mac line.
The Macintosh SE was released to be the “flagship” compact Macintosh at the time. While the SE has the same Motorola 68000 processor as its predecessors (128k, 512k, 512ke and Plus) and the later Classic, it added support for an internal expansion port (or PDS, processor direct slot) and was the first Mac to feature ADB (the Apple Desktop Bus) for connecting peripherals. ADB would remain Apple’s standard all the way until the iMac G3 retired it in 1998 in favor for USB.
There were two models of SE sold: a dual-floppy model that has two 800k floppy drives, no hard drive and 1 MB RAM standard; a model featuring a floppy drive and a 20 MB hard drive. Later in the SE’s run, in 1989, the Macintosh SE FDHD was introduced. The FDHD replaced the 800k floppy drive with the Apple “SuperDrive” that could read and write to high-density floppies and floppies formatted by other systems, such as MS-DOS or ProDOS.
Also in 1989, the Macintosh SE/30 was introduced. The SE/30 is aesthetically similar to the SE, but features the Motorola 68030 processor and is a much better machine in terms of specs and performance. The SE/30 can have up to 128 MB of RAM installed, and (with slight modifications) can run up to Mac OS 8!
The Macintosh SE and its lower-cost, older brother – the Macintosh Plus – was sold until October 1990, when the Macintosh Classic replaced them.
The Classic is, in my book, a slightly better machine. The Classic has the same 68000 and 4 MB RAM limit. However, the Classic is much easier to work on (more on that in a bit) and features System 6.0.6 in ROM. (You don’t need a hard drive or system software floppy to boot into the OS on a Classic, unlike the SE.) However, the SE does have the expansion port (which the Classic lacks.)
So now we know what the SE is, but what about my particular system?
My Macintosh SE came with a carrying bag, the computer itself, original ADB keyboard and mouse, an assortment of cords and a Cal Poly mouse pad.
First, let’s talk about the carrying bag and accessories. I’ve been wanting to purchase a carrying bag for my Macintosh Classic (so I can tote it around) but they can be expensive online. This one is really dirty and needs a good cleaning. However, one issue affects the entire system – it was obviously previously owned by a smoker. While the smell of nicotine/cigarette smoke doesn’t fill the room when you pull it out, you can definitely smell it when removing the system.
The carrying bag features pouches for floppy disks, your mouse and cords.
The computer came with the original ADB keyboard and mouse, which is a welcomed addition to my collection. (Much like the bag.) Earlier this spring I got an Apple Design Keyboard and ADB Mouse II for my Classic, both of which are too new for it. (Though any ADB keyboard/mouse will work with these systems.) These peripherals are more era-appropriate for the Classic. (Although the keyboard was discontinued by the Classic.) The ADB Keyboard features mechanical switches, providing a nice sound and really nice feel for typing. (But still doesn’t compare to an IBM Model M.)
Now to the star of the show… the computer itself.
This Macintosh SE is a dual-floppy model – two 800k floppy drives and no hard drive. As far as I know it has 1MB RAM installed.
It was made in the 20th week of 1988 at Apple’s Fremont, California plant. You can actually see some SEs and other computers being made at that plant in this promotional video Apple put together around the time this computer was made.
This Macintosh SE is really dirty. Not only are the plastics really yellow and the computer smells like cigarette smoke, the previous owner must have wrote their name on the computer and keyboard. I believe a good cleaning at some point should be able to remove it. As for the smell and yellowing, I’d likely have to disassemble the entire computer to give it a good deep clean to (hopefully) get rid of the smell. You can reverse the yellowing through a process called “RetroBrite” but I don’t plan on doing that here. A lot of people have had good luck with RetroBrite, but I don’t have the space for it. Plus, I’ve heard it can have weird and sometimes disastrous results if done improperly.
My SE also has the programmer switch (which I removed and placed aside) and a Kensington lock for securing it to a desk.
Since I don’t have a system software floppy, I cannot boot the system into Mac OS. However, I do get a blinking floppy icon – which is good. Despite this computer being dirty, the CRT seems to be in decent condition. Both floppy drives also seem to function normally – as they would eject the floppies I inserted.
Last night I also removed the bucket and decided to inspect the battery to see if it was intact. The Macintosh SE is completely different from the Classic in terms of servicing and layout – and not in a good way. The SE’s logic board is much larger (takes up the whole base of the unit) as it uses through-hole components. While the Classic’s logic board was based on the SE, it’s much smaller due to integration and surface-mount components.
One good thing with this particular SE is the case separated with no effort. The bucket can be very stubborn to remove on my Classic, but the SE separated with no assistance needed.
I made one mistake when removing the logic board on the SE: I forgot about a speaker connector that runs to the logic board. (On the Classic, the audio signal is passed through the main analog board molex.) Thankfully, this didn’t do any real damage – the pins were easy to straighten back.
Thankfully, the original Varta battery seems to be intact. I’ve heard these Varta batteries are probably the best Apple ever used – many still hold a charge decades later. Since I don’t have a multimeter, I don’t know if this particular battery still has a charge or not.
Putting the logic board back in is a pain. That speaker connector is very difficult to reinstall, and the logic board can get stuck on the rails it sits on. You also have to remember to reinstall the foil shielding before putting the bucket back on.
That is about it for the SE for now. I plan to have it recapped and do a “restoration” on it at some point in the future, but likely not soon. The Classic’s analog board is being recapped, and the Classic should be alive again when I get the boards back. My next stop for the Classic project will be purchasing a FloppyEmu, which I can also use to boot the SE.
The 1988 Macintosh SE is alive!
I acquired a 800k “double-density” System 6.0.8 boot floppy, which allowed me to boot the machine. Unfortunately, since all of my software is on high-density floppies (that don’t work with this model of SE) that is nearly all I can do at this point.
However, it’s a step in the right direction. The 6.0.8 floppy didn’t include any desk accessories, but it did include TeachText. Which allowed me to write a small text document, which I subsequently saved to the disk.
I was able to enter the control panel and discovered something somewhat amazing. After 32 years, the original Varta battery still holds a charge. The date was spot on and the time was only off by approximately an hour. That’s incredible! Also, the previous owner’s (?) system sound – the monkey – was still set.
The next step for the SE is to get a FloppyEmu so I can transfer files between the SE/Classic and my modern MacBook Pro. Also, this will eliminate the need for purchasing rare double-density/800k diskettes.
For the SE itself, I’m going to have to disassemble it (again, unfortunately) to clean and lubricate the floppy drives. The case also needs a good cleaning. While I don’t plan on retrobriting the case, it has some scuffs and marks that should come off with some elbow grease. As for the thing on top of the handle (possibly an anti-theft mechanism?) I’m not sure what to do about that.