Return SE/30 from the dead?

My husband and I are very sad to see that our very trusty and much loved SE 30 will not boot up any longer. He’d very much like to like to try to fix it himself. Any suggestions and recommendations will be very much appreciated. Here’s his synopsis of the situation:

I have a Macintosh SE/30 that I bought in 1989. It has been mostly in storage for a few years now, and I’d like to recover some data from it. The computer starts ups, but won’t boot – I get a flashing question mark symbol indicating (I think) that the computer can’t find its operating system. I’ve been told that this means the motherboard is defective, but that’s all I have to go on.

My question is, is this something I can fix, assuming that I can find a replacement motherboard or whatever else is needed? I’ve installed memory modules in PowerBooks, but that’s the extent of my computer repair experience. Will appreciate any help or advice. Thanks…

First off, if you don’t already have a copy, get The Dead Mac Scrolls. If you can’t buy a printed copy, you can access a scan of it from here: The Dead Mac Scrolls 1992 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Fixing your Mac shouldn’t be hard, but you may require software tools (compatible disk repair/format utilities) and a long-handled Torx screwdriver (if you need to replace the hard drive).

I highly doubt you have a motherboard problem. A flashing question mark usually indicates a problem with the hard drive. Either it’s missing, non-functional, or it doesn’t have a bootable System folder.

Can you boot it from a floppy? If you do, can you see the hard drive?

If so, it might just be a matter of re-blessing the system folder. Drag the System file out of it and then back in (making the special “system” icon appear on its folder icon). Then try to reboot.

If it boots from a floppy, but can’t mount the hard drive, can you see it with some disk repair utility? I don’t know what software you may have, but if any disk utility can access the drive, then it is physically working. See if a repair tool (like Apple’s Disk First Aid or Norton Disk Doctor) can repair it. If that doesn’t work, then can you reformat it? Of course, reformatting will lose all your data.

If the drive isn’t accessible to repair software, then it may have failed. Hard drives from this era are known to suffer from sticktion, where the heads stick to the platters, preventing it from spinning up when it is next turned on. A quick workaround for this is to remove the drive, shake it (horizontally, in the same plane as the platters) a bit to see if that can dislodge the heads. Then connect it and try to boot up.

If that worked, don’t turn the computer off again. Immediately make a back up of the drive’s contents. Then replace the drive. If the stiction dirve-shake didn’t work, then the drive may be completely dead. You’ll have to replace it but won’t be able to make a new backup.

For a new drive, you should be able to use any 3.5" SCSI drive. Use the smallest drive you can get. Everything you can buy will be larger than the SE/30’s original drive (up to 80MB). Don’t get a drive larger than 2TB - the computer probably won’t support it and the APT partition table format doesn’t support anything larger than 2TB.

If you have a third-party drive formatting tool (like LaCie’s SilverLining or CharisMac’s Anubis), use it to partition and format the drive and install the necessary “driver” file. If you don’t have either of them, you can use Apple’s HD SC Setup utility, but it needs to be hacked in order to work with non-Apple drives. See also Apple HD SC Setup - Wikipedia

WRT how to physically replace the drive, iFixit doesn’t have a repair guide, so you may need to do some web searching if you want step-by-step directions.

I haven’t worked on an SE/30, but if it is like my SE, here’s a quick summary of what you’ll need to do:

  • If you installed the debug keys in the ventillation slots, remove them.
  • Remove the four case screws. You will need a Torx T15 screwdriver with a long shaft (at least 12") in order to reach the two screws inside the handle well.
  • Place the Mac screen-down on a soft cloth (to prevent scratching the screen) and remove the back cover. You may need to pry it off. Be careful to avoid damaging the plastic if you want to keep it looking good.
  • It’s a bit cramped in the case. Be sure to not touch the CRT or the analog board (which has some high voltage capacitors) to its right.
  • Disconnect the drive’s SCSI and power cables.
  • Use a long-handled (preferably magnetic) screwdriver to remove the screws that connect the drive’s mounting bracket to the top of the floppy drive. With these removed, you should be able to remove the bracket, with the attached drive.
  • Remove the screws attaching the drive to the bracket. Remove the drive.
  • Attach your new drive to the bracket with the same screws. Then screw the bracket onto the floppy drive and reconnect the cables.
  • At this point, power-on the computer to make sure you didn’t break anything. Boot a floppy and make sure your utilities (whatever kind you’re using) can see the new drive. Then shutdown and power off again.
  • Close up the case and reinstall the screws.
  • Boot a floppy, partition/format the new drive. Restore software from your backup.

Good luck.


Shamimo, thank you so much for all this excellent and thoughtful advice. And extra, extra thanks from my husband:

Wow – what an amazingly generous response to an inquiry out of nowhere from a complete stranger. Thank you so much! I’ve downloaded a copy of The Dead Mac Scrolls, and I’ll reread your instructions until I’m certain I understand them. Then, I’ll get to work. Again, I sincerely appreciate your help with this!

Wow, what a trip down memory lane that was! I’d forgotten about CharisMac, and also the fact that in the System 7 days Apple’s drive setup utility didn’t work with third-party drives. It brought back memories of how excited I was when I got a drive that came with Silverlining, and all the ‘features’ the driver offered. But also how third party disk drivers could be a pain come OS upgrade time.

@MMTalker if you get to the stage where you need to boot off a floppy, images of the software should be easy to find, the difficulty will be creating the floppies if you don’t have a USB floppy drive and some disks. But if you do, the SE/30 can boot System 6.0.8 or 7.1 (or up to 7.5.5 but might be slower to boot)

Mac OS 7.1.x (extras) - Macintosh Garden

And you can get the drive formatting tools @Shamino mentioned as well

Silverlining Pro - Macintosh Garden
CharisMac Anubis Utility v2.54h - Macintosh Garden

In general, between the Macintosh Garden and the Internet Archive’s Macintosh software library you should be able to find all the utilities (and other software) you need.

Software Library: Macintosh : Free Software : Free Download, Borrow and Streaming : Internet Archive


I forgot to add – if you need to open up the SE/30, Apple’s service manual is also available on the Internet Archive:


And thank you so much also, Jolin. Your advice is so very helpful. This project will keep us busy for quite some time.

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My SE dual-boots either 6.0.8 or 7.5.5. 7.5.5 is slower but it has better TCP/IP networking capabilities and better multitasking. 6.0.8 lets your apps have more memory, especially if you disable MultiFinder. And some games (that used the original Sound Manager) are silent on System 7 and later.

Dual booting is trivially simple. Just copy two system folders to the hard drive. Within each one, create a “Disabled” folder. For the folder you don’t want to boot, drag the System file into the “Disabled” folder. When you want to switch systems, drag one’s System file into the Disabled folder and drag the other out. The Finder will automatically bless the last folder to contain both the System and Finder files. Then reboot.

Also, Macintosh Repository:

Thanks for the link. I forgot about those old service manuals.

If you’re uncomfortable discharging the CRT or don’t know how, you don’t have to do that. Just be careful not to touch it or the analog board. Built-in bleeder resistors should have it self-discharge after it’s been powered off for a few minutes, but even if not (e.g. if the bleeders are damaged or missing), it’s not dangerous unless you touch a high voltage part.

If you’re careful, you can remove/replace the hard drive, floppy drive and logic board without your hands coming close to the CRT. I’ve done it many times on my SE.

One last thing. Once you’re inside, you might want to remove the logic board and replace the battery. Even if it’s not completely dead, it’s going to be old (unless you had previously replaced it). it is a 3.6v Lithium battery. The size is 1/2AA.


Ah yes, I’d forgotten. That’s a great site, and I love the design. Thanks :blush:

My SE still boots thank goodness but I enjoyed this trip down memory lane tremendously.

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“disable MultiFinder”. Wow. There’s a blast from the past, bringing back happy memories of my SE/30. It’s in my cellar. You’ve got me wondering if it will start…

I agree with all the comments already mentioned, particularly the need to take care when opening any compact Mac up. The cathode ray tube, after use, stores quite a charge!

There’s a great forum for retro Mac users at 68kMLA which you may find of use. I’ve been renovating a Mac Classic II for the past year and have regularly referred to postings on this site.

The other point to mention is that the capacitors used in Macs of this era are prone to failure. One of the symptoms of this can be the Mac refusing to load from hard disk. (Another sign of this is the CRT screen wobbling when powered up.) You may well need to get the capacitors on both the logic and power boards replaced. If you don’t feel capable of doing this yourself, there are various users on the forum who will do this for a fee.

Hope this helps!


Thanks for this very helpful suggestion. We’ll definitely check out 68kMLA.

It shouldn’t because all compact Macs (I think starting from the SE, but maybe the Plus) have bleeder resistors that will drain off this charge after the unit is powered off.

But you should never trust that. The bleeder resistors may be damaged or missing - in which case, the tube and the capacitors on the analog board may be fully charged. Hence the need to be careful not to touch them or to discharge them before touching them.

That having been said, touching a charged tube (at least a small B&W tube like in an SE) won’t kill you. It will, however, hurt a lot, so you really do want to be careful.

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More great advice! Thanks again.

What a fantastic response my immediate reaction was the same as Jolin “what a trip down memory lane” and I smiled as I read her comment. You really know your stuff, I remember my SE 30 with great affection it was billed as the F1 of computing it was soooo fast.
I hope you get her up and running again I have nothing to add to the advice you gave it is so comprehensive. I am sure this thread will have stirred some dead leaves I for one will be looking at some archives to see if there is anything else which might be of use.


If you’re trawling archives, it’s also worth noting that the Info-Mac Archive is back online


I believe that the SE predates the swollen capacitor problem by a number of years. I used to work in Mac service and I don’t remember any widespread problem with SE caps going bad.

For a Mac that old, that has been sitting, my first guess would be hard drive sticktion. Normally the platters are stuck and can’t spin up. I have always suspected the lubricant drying up and seizing the spindle bearings. Often you can hear the motor trying in vain to spin up the platters. We would normally remove the drive, find an area of floor (because it can’t fall off the floor) that is clean and reasonably smooth, lay the drive flat, and quickly spin it, hoping that inertia will free up the platter. Attach it to power and see if it spins up. Rinse and repeat several times. If that doesn’t work, then heat and or cold can often loosen dried lubricants. I live in Florida, for heat you just put it in the sun. It will get plenty hot in 30 minutes or so. For cold, put it in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer. After either of these, plug it into power and see if it spins up. Repeating the floor spin at this point can help. Once it is spinning, try to keep it so. If you have to unplug it, don’t let it come to room temperature or it may seize up again.


More great advice. Thanks so much!

Yes, the SE predates the “capacitor plague” that bedevilled electronics around the turn of the century (my parents’ iMac had the problem).

Vintage Macs, particularly the 68K ones, do seem to suffer problems with capacitors leaking. While not a problem when they first came out, it does seem to have increased in frequency over the past decade. I’ve worked on three such machines in the past couple of years and all of them needed recapping.

The most recent vintage Mac I’ve worked on - a Classic II - couldn’t “see” its hard drive until I had the capacitors on the power board replaced. The capacitors on it had begun to degrade (I could see leakage corrosion on the Mac’s internal metal frame) and so the power outputs from the board were steadily moving out of tolerance.

I agree with your advice on how to get the hard drive operational but if that fails, or you wish to use a vintage Mac on an ongoing basis, I would strongly recommend recapping both the logic and power boards.


Thanks so much for the excellent advice! We should be starting the project soon.