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I've got an eMac that's mostly working (running Tiger, plus a selection of other nice software), but has a broken optical drive. I have a spare USB optical drive lying around, and it works for most purposes, but, according to this discussion on the Ars Technica OpenForum, most PowerPC Macs (including eMacs) can't boot from USB drives (at least not out of the box and without a LOT of tinkering and swearing), although they can boot from FireWire drives.

Just in case I ever have to reinstall Mac OS X on the eMac, here's my question: if I plug a USB-to-FireWire adapter into one of the eMac's FireWire ports, and plug the USB optical drive into that, will the eMac be able to boot from said optical drive, or will I have to shell out for a FireWire optical drive?

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    Kudos on having an eMac that still boots! I found this adapter on Amazon, but you'll need extra cables. There are FireWire 400 optical drives, but the only ones I can find are on eBay. Because Firewire 400 is essentially an archaic technology, there are few, if any, manufacturers which have products available. Welovemacs.com has eMac-compatible internal replacement CD & DVD optical drives, too, if you feel like opening the case and doing some organ transplant surgery. :-)
    – IconDaemon
    Commented May 15, 2018 at 16:58
  • @IconDaemon: Well, I've already opened up the thing once (to replace a dead motherboard battery), so I guess I could take a look at putting in a new internal optical drive (assuming I can scrape up a few bucks for it).
    – Vikki
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 0:31
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    Haters will hate. :-) Some people have nothing better to do but be nasty for no apparent reason. I upvoted to put it back to zero. How is the project going, by the way? I maintained a fleet of eMacs years ago, and other than suffering lower back injury from carrying them around, they were solid machines. The kids at my school were fond of poking holes in the speaker cones until Apple provided the plastic grills. Even then, some delinquent figured out how to remove the grill and continued poking the holes. Ethyl 2-cyanoacrylate to the rescue!
    – IconDaemon
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 11:17
  • @IconDaemon: The stumbling block remains funds (lack of).
    – Vikki
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 21:08
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    +1 as well. Please keep asking questions here on vintage Macs. They are on topic and you have people that know the hardware in and out here. I’ll also point at an up and coming community of retro computing enthusiasts at retrocomputing.stackexchange.com
    – bmike
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 3:19

2 Answers 2

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Just in case I ever have to reinstall Mac OS X on the eMac, here's my question: if I plug a USB-to-FireWire adapter into one of the eMac's FireWire ports, and plug the USB optical drive into that, will the eMac be able to boot from said optical drive, or will I have to shell out for a FireWire optical drive?

You will have to get a FireWire optical drive. That is assuming that the computer cannot in fact boot from a USB optical drive.

There are so called USB-to-FireWire adapters but they don't work, they are scams that will ruin your hardware. I would guess it is theoretically possible to create a working USB-to-FireWire adapter, I just haven't seen one.

If booting from a USB hard drive is possible then build a backup now while you can. I don't remember booting from USB to be a problem on any Mac with USB ports. Some optical drives were not bootable as I recall, but that was the drive not the interface. Drives with the right electronics in them would boot, others would not. There really wasn't an easy way to tell but to experiment.

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I believe you’ll have better luck with USB drives that are not optical. FireWire optical drives that supported booting in this era were expensive, so see if you can score a drive that you know used to boot. Even three at scrap prices are often salvageable with DIY skills.

I’m almost certain we booted these Macs from USB drives in the shop back in the day. It wasn’t “supported” but it worked most of the time. Specifically the optical drivers for your hardware are likely missing but please try and let us know your results with your CD drive of choice.

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