Mel's Macintosh Universe: Computer Corner
Mel's Macintosh Universe

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The Three Faces of a Mac Plus Boot-Up

By Melvin Ah Ching
Posted September 19, 2003


A reader recently wrote:

I recently was given a Apple Macintosh Plus from a friend and when I try to start it up all I get is a frowning face icon. What does it need or is it a large paperweight?

There are 3 conditions the Mac Plus gives you when you turn it on.

1. Smiling Mac and boot process: The Mac Plus boots from a floppy disc or hard drive. A short chime will sound and after a short period of time desktop icons show up with the start-up disc icon in the upper right hand corner, the trash icon in the lower right hand corner and a menu bar showing up at the top. Your Macintosh is ready to go.

2. Mac starts but displays a blinking question mark (?) disc icon in the middle: In this case the pleasant start-up chime will sound and the Mac will try to boot from a start-up volume. If no start-up volume is found (on either a floppy disc or hard disc), the question mark disc icon will be displayed. If you are booting from a floppy disc, the Mac will also spit it out.

What you need to do is insert a floppy disc with a system folder on it. If the Mac detects a start-up system folder (with a system file and finder) inside, it will start up and display the proper icons as outlined in example #1.

If your Mac Plus is hooked up to a hard disc and it does not start, you have to make sure that hard disc has a system folder on it. If it previously started with a system folder and doesn't start now, then more than likely something is wrong with your start-up volume on the hard disc.

In this case you will have to restart your Mac Plus with a systems utility disc (such as an older version of Norton Utilities or Apple's Disc Tools approrpriate to the system folder/files on your hard disc). The Mac should start with the utility disc after which you launch the utility program to repair the hard disc or in the worst case scenario, reinstall a fresh system folder.

3. Sad Mac with doomsday chimes: A hardware problem has been detected. If you are booting from a hard disc, you may want to try and disconnect it and boot the Plus up with a floppy. If the Mac successfully boots with a floppy, then more than likely the problem is with the hard disc. If the Mac still displays the Sad Mac icon and plays the doomsday chime, it could signify a more serious hardware problem. In this case you might want to try the reset switch (a plastic doohickey that you should have installed on the side of your Plus) or simply turn the Mac off and on just to see what happens. If the problem persists consider the following:

  • Contemplate whether or not you want to spend time and money to try and getting it fixed. More than likely you will have to pry open the Mac's case to figure out what is wrong. This is not recommended unless you know what you are doing. It can be quite daunting trying to find out what is wrong. You may also want to note that there is a deadly shock hazard inside every Mac Plus and all other all-in-one, cathode ray tube Macs. The shock hazard is the innards of the built-in monitor. Accidentally touching it could trigger a deadly shock even if the Mac is disconnected and powered down.

  • The easier thing to do, is just let go and bid the trusty ol' Mac farewell. Remember, these things are nearly 20 years old, and it is quite remarkable that any of these old warhorses can still work!

    If the latter is the case, you may want to donate its innards to another Mac or computer hobbyist and use the outer shell as an example of late 80s pop design or convert the thing into a MacAquarium.

    I love the Mac Plus and plan to keep mine for as long as it runs.. and maybe even after it goes to the great beyond.

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    Copyright 1998-2003 by Melvin Ah Ching Productions.
    Last update: September 19, 2003.