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Archive for the 'ROM-inator' Category

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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ROM Disk Creation with ROM-inator II

ROM Disk

Good news, ROM-heads! The software needed for ROM-inator II programming is now available for Mac OSX as well as Windows, and I’m marking the occasion with this step-by-step guide for creating your own bootable ROM disk. Here’s what you’ll need in order to get started:

Hardware

Software and Files

You can find the latest versions of all of these in the Downloads section of the ROM-inator II project page.

  • ROM SIMM Programmer utility software
  • FC8 compression command-line software
  • ROM-inator II 512K base ROM file

Disk Image File

Lastly, you’ll also need a disk image file that defines the contents of your ROM disk. If you’ve previously used a Floppy Emu disk emulator or a Macintosh software emulator like Mini vMac, you’ve doubtless seen these kinds of disk image files before. For ROM-inator II, the disk image file should be in “raw” format, meaning it contains only the actual contents of the Macintosh disk with no extra headers or checksums. Files in this format typically have a .dsk suffix for their filename. If in doubt, confirm that the first two bytes of the file are 4C 4B (hex). You’ll find an example disk image at the ROM-inator II project page.

 
Prepare the Disk Image

When using compression, the ROM-inator II Atom SIMM can store a disk image as large as about 2.2 MB (or 5.5 MB for ROM-inator II Basic, 12 MB for Mega). The exact limit depends on the contents of the disk image and its compressibility. You can use your own pre-existing disk image, or start with these empty 2.25 MB or empty 5.5 MB or empty 12 MB disk images. If you’re using your own disk image, its size must be a multiple of 65536 bytes (64 KB).

I recommend Mini vMac for editing the contents of the disk image. It’s a cross-platform tool that emulates a Macintosh Plus, and you can quickly mount disk images by dragging them into the Mini vMac window. Once you’ve mounted a few different disk images, you can copy programs and data between images to configure your ROM disk image however you’d like it. If you’re unfamiliar with this process, check out this disk image setup tutorial for the original ROM-inator.

On Windows, another alternative is HFV Explorer to transfer data directly to/from the disk image, without a Mac emulation intermediary.

Don’t forget to include a System folder in your disk image! The Macintosh will need an operating system in order to boot. You can find installers for Systems 6 and 7 at Macintosh Garden – as well as all sorts of other vintage Mac software.

 
Compress the Disk Image

compress-data

Next, you’ll compress the disk image file so that it fits in the space available in ROM. The compression format is FC8, a custom format that I designed specifically for this purpose. The FC8 compressor is a command line program, so you’ll need to run it from a command prompt (Windows) or terminal (Mac). The ROM-inator II disk driver uses FC8’s block compression format, with 65536 byte blocks. To compress the disk image, type this at the command line:

fc8.exe -b:65536 mydisk.dsk mydisk.fc8

This will compress the disk image file mydisk.dsk, and create the compressed file mydisk.fc8. If the fc8 program or the disk images aren’t in the current directory, you’ll need to specify the path to those files on the command line.

Check the size of the resulting mydisk.fc8 file. For the ROM-inator II Atom, the compressed file must be no larger than 1.5 MB (1572864 bytes). For ROM-inator II Basic, the compressed file must be no larger than 3.5 MB (3670016 bytes). For the ROM-inator II MEGA, the compressed file must be no larger than 7.5 MB (7864320 bytes). If it’s too big, remove some files from your disk image and try again.

Note that simply deleting a file from the disk image may not help, because “deleting” normally just marks sectors as unused but doesn’t actually set their contents to zero. To truly delete the file and gain better compression density, you may need to create a new disk image from scratch and then copy all the files from the old disk image. It’s a minor hassle, but worth it for the improved compression density. Typical disk images will compresses to 60-70 percent of their original size, when using FC8 65536 byte blocks.

 
Create the ROM Contents File

You’ll need to concatenate the 512K base ROM file and the compressed disk image file, in order to create the final ROM contents file. The base ROM file contains the low-level code needed to operate your Macintosh, including the ROM disk driver that performs on-the-fly decompression of your disk image’s data. At the time of writing this file is named iisi+romdrv1.2.rom, but check the project page to get the latest version. The concatenation is performed on the command line, using the built-in programs copy (Windows) or cat (Mac OSX and Linux):

copy /b iisi+romdrv1.2.rom + mydisk.fc8 myrom.rom (Windows)

cat iisi+romdrv1.2.rom mydisk.fc8 > myrom.rom (Mac OSX and Linux)

This will concatenate the files iisi+romdrv1.2.rom and mydisk.fc8, and create the combined file myrom.rom. If the files aren’t in the current directory, you’ll need to specify the path to those files on the command line.

The resulting myrom.rom file should be 2 MB (2097152 bytes) or less for the ROM-inator II Atom, 4 MB (4194304 bytes) for the Basic, or 8 MB (8388608 bytes) for the Mega, in order to fit the space available in ROM SIMM.

 
Program the SIMM

simm-programmer-software

The final step is to program the ROM-inator II SIMM with your new ROM contents file. Connect your ROM SIMM Programmer to your PC or Mac’s USB port. Turn the programmer’s power switch to OFF, insert the ROM SIMM in the socket, then turn the switch to ON. Open the ROM SIMM programmer utility software.

From the software’s GUI, select myrom.rom as the file to write. Programming speed will be fastest when “verify after writing” is selected as the verification option. Ensure the SIMM capacity is set correctly (2 MB for the ROM-inator II Atom, 4 MB for the Basic, 8 MB for the Mega), then press the Write to SIMM button.

After programming is complete, turn the programmer’s power switch to OFF, and then remove the ROM SIMM from the socket. Have fun with your new ROM disk!

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