Signs of old age

The least pleasant aspect of collecting a few vintage machines is their maintenance. One of the bits of advice I often give to new vintage Mac enthusiasts is Don’t leave these Macs unused for extended periods of time; try to use them as often as you can. Usually the part that suffers most in a vintage Mac left unused for a long time is the hard drive. Over the years I’ve witnessed my good share of Macs whose hard drives didn’t come out of the long sleep (I call this phenomenon Dead On Reboot). With vintage PowerBooks another source of problems after long periods of neglect is of course the battery — this is especially the case with the Macintosh Portable and the PowerBook 100.

Another rather common problem with vintage compact Macs (from the 128K to the Classic II) are their capacitors on the logic board. With time (and neglect) these components fail and leak on the logic board itself, causing a few issues. I tried to follow my own advice, but since I own a fair number of vintage Macs and there isn’t much space for them where I live, it’s hard to keep them all in their best shape, despite my very good intentions. Having only a small desk devoted to my vintage hardware, I’ve had to resort to some kind of rotation system where, say, I use my Macintosh SE for three weeks, then I put it away and replace it with the Macintosh Classic for another three weeks, then the Colour Classic, etc. As I said, despite my best efforts, two of the compact Macs in my little collection — first the SE/30, now the Macintosh Classic as well — have started presenting the telltale symptoms of capacitor trouble.

Earlier today, after booting my Macintosh Classic, I noticed something weird: the system clock wouldn’t advance. After a bit of Web research, I found this page, Macintosh Classic Logic Board Repair with a few decent images of where the failing capacitors are located. It also has a good summary of the revealing signs of a Mac whose capacitors are starting to fail:

The Mac Classic range of computers often show a variety of symptoms but which have a common cause of failure, for example:

  • Low volume or no sound.
  • Real time clock not advancing.
  • Power up problems with checkers and stripes etc.
  • No serial or LocalTalk functionality.

My Mac Classic suffers from the first two symptoms, while the SE/30 is curiously mute only on boot (and sometimes it presents a chequered/striped screen, but restarting the machine usually makes the problem go away, at least for now). In the next days I’ll open up my compact Macs and take a look at their logic boards. The most frustrating thing for me is my lack of skills (and tools) when it comes to soldering/desoldering components. I’ll do my best to clean the logic boards and to perform some damage control. If you find yourself in a similar situation, probably a good place to ask for help/advice are the 68k Macintosh Liberation Army forums. And if you have some logic board cleaning tips to share, you’re welcome to chime in by leaving a comment. Thanks.

2 thoughts on “Signs of old age

  1. Dang.

    I could easily spend the rest of my waking hours booting up all of the classic Macs I have hanging about the workshop … just to keep things in proper shape. It would be a full time job.

    On a related note, the hard drive in my trusty PowerBook 170 suddenly stopped booting (not from lack of use … more likely it hit the MTBF wall) and I’d love to get it going again. This article made me wonder if I could kickstart that drive by freezing the sucker?

  2. Don’t freeze the sucker. Just try and try and try again and again and again. And then, try again. Don’t give up. … They will come.

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