How to recover data from an old SCSI drive

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‘Tis the season for spring cleaning, and maybe you’ve found an old Mac in a closet or off to the side somewhere in your garage. That Mac is a time capsule and it might be fun to see what’s on the hard drive. The challenge: how to transfer data from your old Mac’s SCSI hard drive to your current Mac.

scsi logo

SCSI logo

In my case, someone contacted me asking if I could harvest the data from a Mac IIci’s hard drive, complete with a power supply so old it wouldn’t turn on. There’s a certain joy in working with old hardware, but it’s still a drawn-out project.

Many old Macs used SCSI connections for internal and external hard drives. Modern-day Macs use SATA for internal hard drives, and USB or Thunderbolt for external drives. So we need to find a way to access the data on the SCSI drive, and then transfer it to a modern Mac.


Adaptec’s USBXchange functions as a terrific bridge device between your old Mac’s SCSI port and any USB device you care to hook into it. Mac OS 8 and 9 drivers may be difficult to pin down, they can still be found online.


Adaptec USBXchange

The USBXchange is used to connect a USB hard drive to your old Mac. After installing the drivers, you connect the USBXchange to the SCSI port of the old Mac, and then connect the hard drive to the USBXchange’s USB port. You can then copy over the data from the old Mac’s hard drive to the external storage device.

Adaptec considers the USBXchange an “obsolete product” so you’ll have to look for a used one online.

Old Macs and USB cards

macintosh g3 dt Image: Wikipedia/Danamania

Power Mac G3

If there was ever a definitive kick in the pants for old school Mac owners, it was the fact that Apple never made a Mac with both SCSI and native USB onboard. So, older hardware with expansion slots are handy, and Apple’s beige G3 desktop and tower machines remain best of breed computers in terms of machines that run Mac OS 9 speedily, are fun to work with, and can readily accommodate a USB card for any of its PCI expansion slots.

While it might take some time to hunt down one of these old Macs at a local Mac user group garage sale or eBay, the end result is worth it. If you have a bunch of older SCSI drives, you can readily install the SCSI drives as needed into these machines. With the USB card in one of the PCI slots, you can connect a USB storage device and then copy the data.


Sonnet Allegro USB 2

Sonnet’s Allegro USB 2 card is available for $30 and supports Mac OS 9 and later. Other USB PCI cards can be found through searches on Amazon and eBay and drivers can still be acquired online as needed.

Floppy drives

How about turning to old tech to fix the problem? Since the files on your old Mac are very likely small in size, you might want to consider getting a USB floppy drive, which costs about $20 through retailers like Newegg and Amazon, and some 3.5-inch floppy disks. Connect the floppy drive to your old Mac, copy the files to floppy disks, and then connect the drive to your current Mac and copy the files over.

Data transfer

If there’s anything the flash memory industry has taught us over the years, it’s how quickly storage technology evolves—a 4GB hard drive seemed almost otherworldly throughout the 90s, but they now retail for under $10 as an impulse item at almost any drug store.

Once your older Mac is in place and is ready to communicate with both its internal SCSI drive as well as an external USB device, it’s time to move the files over. Keep things simple: insert the USB flash drive, let your Mac format it to the Mac OS Extended file structure, and then copy the files over in small chunks to make the task easier for an old hard drive that may not have seen use for some time. Eject the USB flash drive, insert it into your current Mac,and copy the recovered files over.

If you have files needing to be recovered from an old SCSI drive, it’s best to address this sooner rather than later. I’ve always considered Macs to be well made and somewhat invincible—a friend and I used the joke that the Apple II series computers would be the only things (along with cockroaches and Twinkies) to survive a nuclear war—components can still degrade over time and become that much harder to repair, replace, and shop for as the years go by.

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