Did you buy an old Macintosh computer such as the Macintosh 128K, the Macintosh 512K, the Macintosh Plus or the Macintosh SE on eBay, Craig’s List, or a garage sale, but it didn’t come with the floppy disks for the operating system and programs? Let’s see how you can generate them and bring your old Macintosh back to life.

Before we go further, there is some basic knowledge you need to have.

On models without a hard disk drive (see list on the next page), the computer won’t load any operating system when turned on. The screen will show an icon of a floppy disk with a question mark. See Figure 1. This is the normal behavior. We frequently see on eBay people selling models without a hard disk drive, saying that the computer is broken and/or sold “as is” because the “operating system won’t load.” This, of course, is coming from someone without the most basic knowledge about old computers. Old computers without a hard disk drive need to load the operating system from floppy disks. In this tutorial, we will explain how to generate those disks.

Macintosh boot screenFigure 1: The boot screen

If when turning on the computer you don’t see the screen shown in Figure 1, and you already tried increasing the brightness adjustment of the screen to its maximum (the brightness knob is located on the lower right corner of the computer), this means the computer is defective. You will need to fix the computer; however, it is not the goal of this tutorial to teach you how to do that.

On models with an internal hard disk drive (models starting with the Macintosh SE), the computer should load the operating system. If not, the hard drive was either erased or it is defective. On these models, you can try installing the operating system on the hard drive (by using the operating system floppy disks that we will teach you how to generate in this tutorial). If the hard drive fails, you can replace it with any 50-pin SCSI hard drive. By the way, this is a great upgrade for old Macintosh computers that allow an internal hard drive, as you will have a larger and faster hard drive than the original model.

Floppy disk drives for Macintosh computers have an electric ejecting mechanism, so there is no eject button on Macintosh floppy disk drives. To eject a disk, you need to turn on the computer while keeping the mouse button pressed until the disk is ejected. If the disk is not ejected using this procedure, it means that either the mouse is broken or the eject mechanism of the floppy disk drive is broken. With the operating system loaded, you can eject a floppy by going to File, Eject or pressing ⌘E.

Before going further, you need to clean the floppy disk drive, which we will show you how to do.

Gabriel Torres is a Brazilian best-selling ICT expert, with 24 books published. He started his online career in 1996, when he launched Clube do Hardware, which is one of the oldest and largest websites about technology in Brazil. He created Hardware Secrets in 1999 to expand his knowledge outside his home country.