BMOW title
Floppy Emu banner

Archive for the 'ROM-inator' Category

Mac ROM-inator II: The Thickening

Mac ROM-inator II rominatorii-front-and-back

The Mac ROM-inator II is back in stock – get yours now at the BMOW Store. The ROM-inator II is a replacement ROM SIMM for Macintosh II series computers and the Mac SE/30, adding a bootable ROM disk, 32-bit cleanliness, HD20 hard disk support, and more. Read more about it at the project’s home page.

One small mystery has followed the Mac ROM SIMM project from its earliest days, even before BMOW took over the project from Doug Brown. Experience has found the Mac SE/30 to be much pickier about replacement ROM SIMMs than other Macintosh II series computers. On many SE/30 machines, the computer won’t boot with a ROM-inator II SIMM installed until the SIMM is shimmed or braced with clips or rubber bands. Why? Neither Doug nor I ever found a satisfactory answer. While it isn’t difficult to do, it’s an added step that isn’t needed for other machines.

Over the years, a few SE/30 owners have suggested the ROM-inator II SIMM is too loose in the SE/30 ROM socket, and one person had success manually tinning the SIMM pads to make them slightly thicker. I was never fully convinced about this theory. Why would it only affect the SE/30 and not other machines? And anyway the replacement SIMM was the same thickness as the original ROM SIMM (about 1.2 mm), to the limit of my caliper’s measuring abilities. The exact thickness is hard to pin down, since it varies slightly at different regions on the PCB, and there’s also a +/- 10% thickness tolerance from the manufacturer.

I recently learned something that made me reconsider the thickness theory. Back in 1970s and 1980s, PCB thickness was sometimes specified in mils (thousands of an inch) rather than in millimeters. 50 mil PCBs (1.27 mm) were a common thickness, but today these have all but disappeared. Now 1.2 mm is the closest standard thickness, and that’s what was used for all the previous generations of ROM-inator SIMMs.

Is it possible the original SE/30 SIMM was 50 mils (1.27 mm) nominal thickness, with a matching thickness socket, while all the other Macintosh II models used 1.2 mm nominal SIMMs and sockets? That would be a little surprising, but it could explain the behavior I’ve seen. With a 10% thickness tolerance, that means original SE/30 ROM SIMMs would be anywhere from 1.14 to 1.40 mm thick, and ROM-inator II SIMMs would be anywhere from 1.08 to 1.32 mm thick. It’s conceivable that the ROM-inator II SIMMs at the thin end of the distribution, under 1.14 mm thick, might have trouble in SE/30 machines.

It’s still just a theory, but it seems like a plausible one. I spoke to my local SIMM manufacturing partner about getting a thicker PCB, but unfortunately 50 mil PCBs were not available. To complicate matters further, if you’re concerned about differences of a hundredth of a millimeter, then you also need to consider the thickness of the PCB’s copper layer and any plating on the copper. Much of this calculation went over my head, but eventually my local partner was able to find a Korean manufacturer who could create a 1.27 mm stackup with 10% tolerance. The new batch of ROM-inator II SIMMs in the store today were made by that manufacturer.

So there you have it. If I’ve done this correctly, the nominal thickness of a new ROM-inator II SIMM should be a whopping 0.07 mm greater than before, an increase of about six percent. Will that do anything to help the SE/30? Especially when the thickness tolerance is still larger than the new increase in thickness? Honestly I’m not sure, but I’m interested to find out. Maybe it will behave the same as the ones from the previous manufacturer, which would be anti-climactic but fine. Or maybe it will provide some new clues for this long-running SE/30 ROM SIMM mystery.

Read 4 comments and join the conversation 

Mac ROM-inator II is Back!

The Mac ROM-inator II replaces the stock ROM in the Macintosh SE/30, IIx, IIcx, IIci, IIfx, or IIsi, adding a bootable ROM disk, 32-bit cleanliness, HD20 hard disk support, and more. I had to discontinue this little guy in February, due to unavailability of flash memory chips and heavy product support needs. I’m happy to report that I’ve found a new flash memory provider, and streamlined the product a bit, enabling the reintroduction of ROM-inator II SIMMs today.

The new version is the ROM-inator II Atom, replacing the old Basic and Mega designs while retaining the same overall concept and compatibility. The contents of the built-in ROM-disk on this 2MB ROM module have been refocused to setup, recovery, and utility purposes rather than gaming. The ROM disk contains:

  • System 7.1, with System Update 3.0 and Apple CD-ROM Extension 5.3.1
  • HD SC Setup 7.3.5 (patched to support formatting non-Apple hard disks)
  • SCSI Probe 3.3 (for troubleshooting the SCSI bus)
  • ResEdit 2.1.3

Even when booting from a regular hard drive instead of the ROM disk, you still get the benefits of 32-bit cleanliness, HD20 hard disk support, a boot menu, and custom Happy Mac icon and startup chime.

Read more about the ROM-inator II Atom at the product page, or buy one now at the BMOW Store.

Read 5 comments and join the conversation 

The End of the ROM-inator

All good things must come to an end, and today it’s the end of the Macintosh ROM-inator II SIMM and SIMM programmer. The DIY ROM-inator I kit was discontinued a year ago, and now the ROM-inator II is also being retired. I hate to see it go, but as I’d cautioned more than year ago, this was inevitable.

The ROM-inator II SIMMs (both standard and MEGA sizes) use a set of 16 megabit 5 volt flash memory chips to interface directly with the Macintosh bus. There was only one manufacturer still making this chip, and they moved it to “end of life” status in March 2018. Supplies dwindled, prices went up, and now they’re all gone. The 64-pin SIMM socket needed for the SIMM programmer became similarly hard to get, with only one known remaining supplier with a finite number of new-old-stock parts.

Both technical challenges might be solvable, with enough effort. Perhaps level converters with 3.3 volt flash memory could be integrated on the SIMM. The top edge of the SIMM might be redesigned with a different edge connector to fit a programmer socket that’s still commercially available. But candidly, the ROM-inator was always a somewhat poor value proposition for me, requiring more effort to maintain and support than was reasonable given its sales. I’m not interested in a big new engineering effort to redesign the hardware now.

There are also some issues on the software side that would need attention, if the ROM-inator II were to continue. There’s an unknown bug involving the SIMM programmer’s bootloader, which often causes the programmer to fail to be detected by the software. On MacOS Sierra and later, the software requires an awkward series of quitting and restarting before it will successfully connect. The driver and software application also need to be digitally signed, to shut up the warnings from the latest versions of Windows 10 and MacOS.

Smaller capacity 5V flash memory chips remain available, and I could conceivably design a “ROM-inator II Mini” with 512KB or 1MB of total storage. That would be enough for a modified system ROM with the new startup sound, new icons, HD20 support, and 32-bit clean ROM. But it would leave no space available for a ROM disk, and no way for users to reprogram the SIMM. And there’s already somebody on eBay who’s selling almost exactly that.

Thanks, ROM-inator. It’s been a fun ride!

Read 11 comments and join the conversation 

Mac ROM-inator II Sale!

Want to add new features to your old Mac? The Mac ROM-inator II hardware for vintage Macintosh is on sale at a special price for a limited time. The ROM-inator II SIMM replaces the stock Macintosh IIx, IIcx, IIci, IIfx, IIsi, or SE/30 ROM with a programmable flash memory module. Add a bootable ROM disk, change the startup chime, hack the icons, gain HD20 support and get a 32-bit clean ROM. For the ultimate in customization, you can also use the optional ROM SIMM Programmer to reprogram ROM-inator II with your own custom content. It’s a great way to breathe new life into your old II-series Mac or SE/30.

Boasting 2x the storage capacity of the original ROM-inator II, the 8 MB ROM-inator II MEGA is on sale for $49, which is $10 off the regular price of $59. The MEGA’s default ROM disk image has been expanded with a nice collection of classic utilities and games, including ResEdit and some SCSI tools, which should be useful for anyone configuring a new hard disk. The ROM SIMM Programmer is also on sale for $49, $10 off the regular price of $59. Combining the ROM SIMM Programmer and the MEGA, you’ll have the maximum possible flash ROM space for your custom content. The 4 MB ROM-inator II “standard edition” is also available for $36.

Be the first to comment! 

Mac ROM-inator Kit Back in Stock

rominator-board-350-2 rominator-installed-372

After a long absence, the Mac ROM-inator Kit is back in stock at the BMOW store. The ROM-inator replaces the stock 64K or 128K of ROM in a compact Macintosh with a full 1 MB of flash memory. Once installed, the flash ROM’s contents can be updated from within the running Macintosh, allowing for a bootable ROM disk and crazy customization possibilities. It’s compatible with the Macintosh Plus, 512Ke, 512K, and 128K.

The kit includes preprogrammed flash chips with the following ROM changes as defaults. Any of them can be changed by updating the flash memory with a simple GUI tool.

  • Startup beep is replaced by a glass “ping”
  • Happy Mac icon is replaced by a Mac wearing sunglasses
  • Pirate icon is displayed while waiting to load the ROM disk
  • ROM disk image including System 6, utilities, and games
  • 128K ROM code turns a Mac 128K or 512K into a 128Ke or 512Ke

 
Get Them While They Last

This will most likely be the final batch of Mac ROM-inator Kits, so if you’ve been wanting one, get it now! The ROM-inator is nice bit of technology, but when I put on my businessman hat I must admit it hasn’t been a great product. Stuffing the kits and pre-programming the ROMs is very time-intensive, and isn’t something I wish to continue doing. Instead, I’ve documented a “Make Your Own Kit” parts list and instructions for DIY builders. But for those who prefer a pre-packed kit, you can still get it while supplies last.

Read 3 comments and join the conversation 

MEGA, and the Future of ROM-inator II


It’s my pleasure to introduce the Mac ROM-inator II MEGA, with 2x the storage capacity of the original ROM-inator II SIMM. Like the standard ROM-inator II, the MEGA replaces the stock Macintosh II series or SE/30 ROM with a programmable flash memory module. Once installed, the flash ROM takes over the Macintosh, allowing for a bootable ROM disk, new startup sound, new icons, HD20 support, 32-bit clean ROM, and other crazy customization possibilities.

I’m assembling the MEGA SIMMs as needed, so the order processing time will be longer than for other BMOW products. The standard ROM-inator II SIMM will remain available, and is probably still the best choice for most users. But for those looking for the largest possible ROM that the Macintosh II series machines can support, the MEGA is a great option.

The default ROM disk image has been expanded for the MEGA. Thanks to the FC8 on-the-fly decompression that I implemented last year, the 8MB of flash on the MEGA is enough to store the 512KB system ROM and a 12MB disk image full of classic utilities and games. The utility programs include ResEdit and some SCSI tools, which should be useful for anyone configuring a new hard disk. Both the MEGA and the original ROM-inator II SIMMs can be reprogrammed with the optional ROM SIMM programmer.

 
The Future of ROM-inator II

Both styles of ROM-inator II SIMM use a set of 16 megabit 5V flash memory chips to interface directly with the Macintosh bus. There’s only one manufacturer that still makes this chip, and they recently moved it to “end of life” status, with an official retirement date of March 2018. The chips are still available for now, but already the supplies are dwindling, and the price is going up. This isn’t good news for the long-term viability of the ROM-inator II products.

I may place one final order for a large number of chips before March 2018, but after that I don’t see a clear path forward. Using 3.3V flash memory would require level converters for 60-something memory bus signals, with 32 of those requiring bidirectional level conversion. That would be expensive, and difficult to physically fit and route on a 3 inch SIMM.

Smaller capacity 5V flash memory chips remain available, and I could conceivably design a ROM-inator II Mini with 512KB or 1MB of total storage. That would be enough for a modified system ROM with the new startup sound, new icons, HD20 support, and 32-bit clean ROM. But it would leave little or no space available for a ROM disk.

We’ll see what 2018 brings. Until then, enjoy the ROM-inator II hardware while it lasts!

Read 4 comments and join the conversation 

Older Posts »