Originally Web posted Wednesday, 19 January 2011.
Content last modified Saturday, 9 January 2021 .

Standard Vintage Mac Removable Mass Storage Device Driver Operation

The point of this page is to not have to retype basically the same thing on other pages on siber-sonic.com. As well as to hopefully help a few people who just want to get some data off some old drive with an obsolete media format in a reasonably quick and reasonably easy fashion. Nothing new or newsworthy here… this information may be on 20 other sites as far as i know. Now it’s on 21. [smiley]

Oh Those Drivers!

“Driver” is one of those geek words that we in the nerd class toss around and just expect everyone who handles personal computers to understand. Well, i am not ashamed to admit that when i started working at Apple in July 1996, i really didn’t understand what a driver was. In case anyone happening upon this page is unclear on the concept, let’s fix that:

Software code tasked with the job of getting pure software (such as an OS, application programs, and so on) and hardware (such as drives, screens, keyboards, mice, and oh so much more) to communicate and work with each other.

Driver software, usually just called “a driver”, is purpose-made for certain devices. In some cases, such as USB, there may be generic drivers that serve a class of hardware items. More commonly, there needs to be a specific driver for a specific piece of hardware… and at the other end, for a specific OS.

Oh, let’s clear up another one before moving on:

Mass Storage
Refers to entities which hold a lot of data. Drives, to most people.

Some mass storage drives use “fixed” media, which doesn’t come out (without tools or force), such as hard drives and USB flash drives. Others use media (media being the physical stuff which holds the data) which is removable. OK… back to drivers then away from the basics and onto the main topic.

Mac OS X users tend to not have to think about drivers very much, mostly because Apple has done a pretty good job of using a “kitchen sink” approach (made possible by today’s capacious hard drives and tomorrow’s capacious SSDs): they include a vast array of drivers for popular and not-so-popular hardware already preinstalled into OS X.

Vintage Mac OS (OS 9 and earlier) users aren’t so lucky: we have to add drivers. Sometimes. This is what this page is about, in the specific case of mass storage devices with removable media:

If it spins and the spinning thing comes out, this page covers it (or so i hope). CD and DVD media are a special case which i may or may not cover. Certainly anything where the spinning thing is housed inside a cartridge (well, except CD and DVD) are covered.

Must I Install a Driver?

Not necessarily. If all you want to do is get data off some old disks, probably not. To figure out whether this applies to you, you need to know…

Where Mass Storage Drivers Live on (Vintage) Mac OS

Method 1: On-Disk Driver

Method 1, Variant A

  1. Put a cartridge/disk in the drive.
  2. Start (or restart) the Mac.

As the OS boots, it “talks” to each connected (and powered up) mass storage device it can find. It looks for an on-cartridge/disk driver on each disk it finds—for both fixed and removable media. When found, it will load the on-cartridge driver. The volume(s) on the inserted cartridge will mount to the desktop[1].

Once the driver is loaded this way, you can eject that cartridge and insert others, and in most cases, it’ll work. Exceptions sometimes happen due to funky drivers: the first cartridge might have an exotic or damaged driver on it, which might conflict with whatever driver was used to format a different cartridge. Unlikely, yet possible.

Method 1, Variant B

Actually, if you have SCSIProbe (final version 5.2 recommended, though any version from 4.3 and newer should be OK) or a similar tool, it should work equally well to just put in the cartridge/disk any time, then when it doesn’t mount, use SCSIProbe (or your other tool) to mount it. This should also work well if for any reason after ejecting a cartridge, the next one inserted fails to mount.

This method works because the Mac OS only looks for on-disk drivers at startup. Using a tool such as SCSIProbe issues a SCSI command that makes the Mac take a fresh look at that device, and if there is now media in it, load the driver.

With both variants of Method 1, once a driver is loaded, unless something goes wrong, one can merrily eject and insert cartridges/disks until the next restart (or shut down and subsequent startup). This may well be totally sufficient for the purpose of copying data files off old disks/cartridges onto newer, modern (for the moment) media. For everyday use, this could get really tedious, hence when used on an everyday basis, people (used to and still do) use…

Method 2: Polling[2] Mac Driver

If you really want to use your obsolete, collectible removable media mass storage drive on an ongoing, regular basis, or you’re a perfectionist who wants everything “just so” for your Mac Museum display systems (yes, i know the plural applies [smiley]), you might actually want to install a suitable driver on your Vintage Mac.

Whether or not it was made by the same company that made the drive (as in the case of Iomega) or outsourced (as in the case of the SyQuest EZ135 using LaCie SilverLining), the drive originally shipped with a driver… which is to say, driver software on a disk. It might have been on a floppy disk, or it might have been on a cartridge/disk which came with the drive (and probably had some shovelware on it as well).

Whatever the case, if you really want, or need, the original polling driver, you’ll need to find a copy and install it. With luck, you still have the original disk(s) with the original driver. Otherwise, you have the Internet and search engines.

Some 3rd. party drive formatting software, including FWB Hard Disk Toolkit and LaCie SilverLining, included removable media drivers as part of their package. Sometimes these worked well… sometimes not. Even back in the day, this was more the domain of the hobbyist seeking maximum performance than the everyday user who wanted to get work done. Certainly today it will be up to the hobbyist to track down information regarding which versions of which 3rd. party programs have drivers that (say they) work with which devices.

Still Not Working?

If you can’t get your vintage drive to work on your Vintage Mac using any of the methods above, there may be a problem with the drive (or its power supply), the cartridge/disk, and/or your Mac. Remember, this stuff is around or over 15 years old now. I find that i often have to clean all the SCSI connections… each and every contact… sometimes internally as well as externally!

Cartridge Formatting etc.

Not something someone who only wants to pull data off old cartridges will need to care about… yet if you do care, keep reading.

Whatever software that came with the drive and contains the driver probably also contains a formatter. It might be an application program, or even a control panel. Or there might be instructions regarding what to do for formatting.

Most 3rd. party formatters ought to happily format/initialize and probably verify most vintage removable cartridges/disks. Again, the list includes FWB Hard Disk Toolkit, LaCie SilverLining, and probably Anubis and other now-forgotten formatting programs.

What most people probably don’t know is that Apple’s Drive Setup (DSU) version 1 can be used to format a wide variety of removable media mass storage devices, including:

Note that Apple does not provide a polling driver for these products, so yes it does format/initialize/test the disks, and it puts on a perfectly fine on-disk driver that works with Method 1, but unlike some of these other options, it does not include an INIT that polls the drive for disk insertions (Method 2).

Also note that this ability was removed from Drive Setup version 2. As usual, it is best to use the latest version possible, which for DSU version 1 is 1.9.2. Exception: for 68030 and earlier Macs, use DSU version 1.6.1 or earlier, back to version 1.4 (it’s a long story, for another place and time).

Please also note that Drive Setup does Not support the following devices:

Vintage Removable Mass Storage Drives On OS X Macs

Just like the Red Green Show’s Expert portion of the program: I. Don’t. Know. Don’t know and don’t care: that’s why i have Vintage Macs around with built-in SCSI, which Ethernetwork and file share with the OS X Macs (as well as do USB and FireWire for big files).

I’ve read reports of some people having trouble with SCSI devices generally under OS X. I know for a fact from direct experience that Adaptec PCI SCSI cards tend to have issues, under both the vintage OS and OS X. They are not well supported, if they are supported at all, under OS X. My opinion as someone who used to test this stuff at Apple (1996-97): if an Adaptec SCSI card is involved and there is trouble which has no other obvious solution (termination, SCSI ID, drivers), suspect the Adaptec card. Give it a chance: clean the contacts, ensure it is properly in its socket, do all the usual ID and termination stuff, try a different cable, update its firmware if needed (good luck with finding the updater)… then if it still doesn’t work, give up and move on. I found ATTO SCSI PCI cards to be much more reliable and Just Work™ Mac-like. Other brands?: i don’t remember them, if there are any.

Seriously… if you’re having problems getting your SCSI device to work on an OS X Mac no matter what you do, and especially if you’ve eliminated the Adaptec Variable (perhaps by using an ATTO card and getting exactly the same failure) or are wise enough to not want to burn up more of your precious life time, you’ll probably save time and grief by visiting/borrowing/being given/buying cheap a working latter-day beige Mac with built-in SCSI. PowerSurge family G2 machines (7500/8500/9500/7600/8600/9600 etc.) and the beige G3s are especially sweet, as they network well with OS X Macs (at least through Panther 10.3 and OK with patience through Tiger 10.4, which is as far as i’ve advanced as of this writing) over Ethernet, and work well with USB and/or FireWire PCI cards, in addition to being the last high-end models with built-in SCSI.


If you have thoughts or suggestions for (hopefully) easy, simple changes to this page, or have on-topic knowledge on this subject you think would benefit others and feel like sharing it for possible inclusion on this page (credit to you or not as you wish), let me know.

[1] OS 9 and earlier… whether you see them on OS X depends how you have things set. I have not tested these vintage drives on an OS X Mac… i don’t have to… i have a perfectly good OS 9 system (on which i’m creating this web page, by the way). Several, in fact.

[2] Polling, in this context: Software asking the drive, every few seconds, whether media has been inserted. Polling is how a Mac knows when a CD or DVD or Zip disk or other removable mass storage cartridge/disk/disc has been inserted, without the user having to tell it (say, with SCSIProbe).