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Make Old Apple Printers Work in Snow Leopard

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One of the lesser-known changes in Snow Leopard is the removal of the old AppleTalk networking protocol, which Apple has deprecated for years. But even though most networking devices stopped supporting AppleTalk long ago, largely due to improvements in other areas, one area where AppleTalk has long been used is in printers.

Not new printers, of course. But many older printers - the workhorses of the 1990s - are still humming along fine. Although it's become more difficult to find replacement toner cartridges, and they're quite expensive when you do need to buy them, if the printer works well and does what you need (and if you don't print a lot), it's hard to justify junking it.

That was the case for my beloved LaserWriter Pro 630, which I've used since 1994, but which I wasn't able to print to once I upgraded to Snow Leopard. After quite some effort, I was able to bring it back online and use it via Snow Leopard. Although people with other old Apple printers may not be able to follow my path exactly, I hope my basic approach will help point in the right direction.

Oddly, Apple claims that Snow Leopard includes the necessary software to print to the LaserWriter Pro 630, but the company doesn't say how to work around the removal of the AppleTalk support necessary to communicate with the printer.

Back to Basics -- I started by considering what makes up a LaserWriter Pro 630. It has a Canon EX print engine, a hardware PostScript Level 2 interpreter and a print server that can use only EtherTalk as a means of transport. (EtherTalk is AppleTalk over Ethernet, and is the weak link in this scenario.)

The LaserWriter Pro 630 predates the graphical Web browser, so Web configuration and the Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) clearly weren't options, and even TCP as transport layer wasn't going to be available. So it was clear that I had to forget about the printer's Ethernet port and the communication capabilities behind it. But then how could my Mac talk to the PostScript interpreter and the print engine?

Since these older printers had to work with computers other than Macs (and because they were often based on hardware used by other cross-platform printer manufacturers), they often had other communication ports as well. This particular printer has four possibilities beyond Ethernet:

  • LocalTalk port (RS-422): This network port would seem to be a possibility, with the addition of an Ethernet-to-LocalTalk bridge from a manufacturer like Asante (look for the Asante FriendlyNet Ethernet to LocalTalk Bridge; for more discussion, see the old and likely obsolete article "Printer Sharing and Print Spooling in Mac OS X," 2003-03-31). They're not made any more, but if you have one around, it could be worth trying. However, there are two problems with using the LocalTalk port. First, since it hails from the same era as the printer's Ethernet port, it likely won't work with Snow Leopard's modern networking and printing technologies, and second, with a throughput of only 230.4 Kbps, it might be awfully slow.
  • Centronics-style parallel port. Parallel ports used to be commonplace for connecting printers to PCs. It was almost unthinkable that anyone would ever use this port to print from a Mac, but what if I could find a parallel print server that would plug into the printer and which I could connect to via Ethernet?
  • Serial port (RS-232): Serial ports were less commonly used than parallel ports for printing, but if I couldn't find a parallel port print server, perhaps I could get a serial print server that would meet the same needs, if at a slower speed than the parallel port.
  • SCSI port. Although it's a communication interface, SCSI on printers was used almost entirely for connecting a hard disk that would store downloadable fonts or commonly used background art.

Do Parallel Ports Ever Meet? I first looked for "parallel print server" on eBay and bought a widely used but now discontinued D-Link DP-301+. Beware of this model, which sounds good when you read about it online. It, like all of these small parallel print servers, has a severe design flaw. It lacks an external reset button, so once configured (as most used units would be), you can't reset it without using its built-in Web interface. In this case, it is not only difficult to find the device's IP address, but it remains inaccessible unless you have the proper password. Unfortunately, the seller didn't know the password, since a former friend of his had configured it, and I was happy to return it.

After some more searching, I bought a new Netgear Mini Print Server PS101 parallel print server. It is also quite common, even smaller than the D-Link unit, and from a company I like. It was a bit more expensive, but easier to set up. If there was a password on the device, you would need a Windows machine (or possibly VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop) to run the Windows software that's required for resetting, but at least there is such an option.

The Netgear PS101 gets its IP address via DHCP, so you can figure it out by scanning for devices on your LAN using the Angry IP Scanner utility (scan once before you plug in the PS101, and once afterwards, and look for the new device). With an AirPort base station, you can also use the DHCP Clients tab in AirPort Utility (Advanced > Logs and Statistics > DHCP Clients) to monitor a new client being added. Once you've found the PS101, you can connect to its Web interface via a browser. There's not much to configure in the Web interface; just finding the IP address is the key.

Once I had the IP address of the print server, I was ready to go... or so I thought. I opened the Print & Fax preference pane on my Mac and started to add a new printer. But what exactly to enter? Selecting the IP button was fairly obvious, but which protocol is right? The default LPD? The modern IPP? The proprietary but widely supported Jetdirect? I could tell from a port scan in Network Utility that the Netgear print server used port 515 and 9100, and a quick Google search showed that 515 was used for LPD and 9100 was used for Jetdirect.

I added a printer for both of these protocols, but to no avail. Both printer connections showed up with a green light in the Print & Fax preference pane's printer list, but with LPD, printing a page timed out after more than a minute. Jetdirect was slightly more promising, printing a lot of garbage, indicating that at least there was communication taking place.

Initially, I thought the problem might be PostScript 3 code being sent to a PostScript 2 printer, but that turned out not to be the issue. I had overlooked one last thing to configure on the printer - how to tell it to communicate properly with the parallel port. Time to read the manual. As if I still had that around after 15 years...

Luckily, Apple provides manuals for older products online. I found and downloaded the manual for my LaserWriter Pro 630, but it was entirely in Courier, with no styles or graphics. Lest you think I'm complaining about aesthetics, the problem was that the information I needed was in a table in Appendix C (page 60), and it took me nearly an hour to figure out how to interpret the mass of monospaced text. (Line numbers are missing, but each setting corresponds to four lines, each of which describes one communication method, so I looked at the Parallel line for each setting.)

On the left rear top of the LaserWriter Pro 630, above all the connectors, there is a tiny wheel that offers 10 settings. Unfortunately, the LaserWriter Utility application is not available any longer under Mac OS X. With it, I could have enabled a setting that would print a configuration page when the printer turned on, and that page would have displayed the current communication settings.

But reading the table in Appendix C gave the clues I needed. The wheel was set to 0 to start with, which corresponded to a "Normal" connection and "PostScript" as the Control Protocol Mode. I knew those values didn't work via the parallel port, which also eliminated settings 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Settings 1 and 3 used "Raw" as the connection and "HP PCL 4" as the Control Protocol Mode, whereas setting 9 used "BSP" as the connection and "PostScript" as the Control Protocol Mode.

Since I knew I wanted the printer to interpret PostScript and not HP's PCL (Printer Command Language), I chose setting 9 even though I have no idea what connection type "BSP" involves, and printed a test page. It worked! My LaserWriter Pro 630 had returned to the land of the living without being savaged by Snow Leopard!

It gets better. Because my FritzBox Wi-Fi gateway doesn't route AppleTalk between the Wi-Fi and Ethernet segments of my network, I previously couldn't print from my MacBook unless I plugged the MacBook into my Ethernet network. Because this new setup doesn't use AppleTalk, I can now print wirelessly from my MacBook, sans Ethernet cable.

Extrapolating to Other Printers -- Although I'm pretty sure this approach will work fine for those with a LaserWriter Pro 630, other old Apple printers may lack a parallel port or may have an entirely different method of changing the parallel port's connection mode.

But if your printer has a parallel port and perusal of the original manual implies that you can tweak the connection settings with a hardware switch (rather than the LaserWriter Utility), give the Netgear PS101 print server a try. There are also plenty of other parallel and even serial print servers, some with Wi-Fi, that might work.

I do wish Apple would give more hints about how to continue using a theoretically supported Apple printer under Snow Leopard. Suggestions for Ethernet-to-parallel/serial print servers and an explanation of what Normal, Raw, and BSP mean with respect to connection types would be welcome.

Unless - I won't say "until" - they do, however, I hope my attempt here at explaining how I brought my LaserWriter Pro 630 back into service under Snow Leopard will help others keep their perfectly functional old printers humming along.

[Christian Voelker works as a network admin in an advertising agency in Hamburg, Germany, and specializes in archival solutions based on DuraSpace and DSpace. His long term pet project is a local history archive for citizens of Hamburg.]


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Comments about Make Old Apple Printers Work in Snow Leopard
(Comments are closed.)

Lawrence A. Husick  2009-10-06 16:38
I had a similar experience with an Apple Laserwriter 16/600 PS Fax. Luckily, it has an Ethernet port and can be configured for IP printing IF you have the original Laserwriter Utility software, and a computer running MacOS 8.5 or lower. I had an old PowerBook 540, scrounged an AAUI ethernet dongle, ran the software from the original floppy disk, and BINGO. Back in printing business. Snow Leopard's drivers even know about my 500 sheet bin and envelope feeder.
Frank Rezny  2009-10-06 19:07
If you have Mac capable of running something up to 10.5, you can simply share the printer from that machine. Just use it as a print server. If it has Leopard on it, You can even use ScreenSharing to manage the machine headlessly. If it's got a big hard drive, you have a file server as well.This is precisely what I did to run a Konica-Minolta Magicolor 2350 until I got around to configuring it with LPD. I really didn't want to give up full duplex PS level 3
Christian Völker  2009-10-11 11:28
This is always a very good if not the best solution *if* you keep another machine around and running for other purposes. This was not an appropriate solution for me and I guess for many others too.

First, it is printing at home. I stopped keeping my Macs back in the nineties, when five or six of them had piled up in the storage, where they still wait to become antiques. Since then, I forced myself to sell each Mac before I buy a new one.

Then, mine is an extremly low printing volume environment. Most of what I do nowadays, I do online. If I print, it is a page or two I need to prepare for a meeting or so. I dont want to fire up several machines and wait for them to boot. It has to be simple and reasonably fast.

Last, I believe that in an environment, where you keep a machine running at all times, you will print more then me and factors such as toner cost and supply will have forced these old printers out of service already.
I had to do the same. I have an iMac "on a stick" model which I found out could not be upgraded to Snow Leopard. So two annoying limitations = a solution. I left the IMac at 10.5 and use Bonjour sharing to print to my GCC brand laser printer. GCC does provide instructions on how to set up IP printing, they are modestly complicated so I decided to stick with this solution.
S Bannon  2009-10-06 21:13
BSP = Business Server Page
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-10-07 04:54
Fascinating - never heard of it. Can you provide a reference? It seems to have a different meaning these days.
Geoff Rosenberg  2009-10-06 21:55
I have a Laserwriter 8500 and had no trouble getting it on my wi-fi network just as I had done for the last 10 years here at home. It's plugged in to a 4 port switch which is linked to an Airport Express that is on a WDS with a Dual band Time Capsule main base. I can print to one of three input trays I have, too.

It would be criminal to forget the value of this 600 DPI office giant, even if Apple no longer acknowledges its role in creating it!
Harold Duckett  2009-10-07 07:16
I have been using my Laserwriter 8500 to print 1/2 scale (12"x18X) architectural drawings for review to save paper on printing full scale (24" x 36") drawings. It is connected via ethernet, but Snow Leopard does not recognize the printer as everyone now knows. Any suggestions on how to get the 8500 back into action? This is too good a machine to give up on and beats everything out there that can print 13x20 paper.
Andy G. Moore  2009-10-07 06:12
This isn't a comment but a question. I have a LaserWriter Pro 600 (no Ethernet port) that I am using with an Ethernet/Localtalk bridge. It works well right now (I am currently using Tiger). Will this setup still work if and when I get a new Snow Leopard machine?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-10-07 06:46
Very likely not, because it will be expecting AppleTalk over that LocalTalk port. I'd recommend getting a friend with Snow Leopard on a laptop to help you test before you make the jump. That way you can try the fix here before it's absolutely necessary.
Christian Völker  2009-10-07 06:48
I am pretty shure it wont work. The limiting factor will probably the LocalTalk Bridge. However, this printer has the same Parallel Port as the LaserWriter Pro 630 and thus the same solution that worked for me will probably do for you as well:

guy steele  2009-10-07 08:51
I concur. I have this problem and it only surfaced once I installed Snow. When I went to Leopard I lost my HP InkJet but that's because HP didn't release a new driver for it. I can connect directly through USB and it works but not over the Airport Express.

My HP Laser is from 1998 and is and has been a wonderful workhorse. It's a LaserJet 2100M. It still worked on Leopard but with the elimination of Appletalk I have to go through another computer on the network to print to it. It is connected to my router through a laserbridge.

Now I know this is a solution but I always have to remember to start or bring from sleep the other computer which is in another room.

I keep wondering if there is a way to turn the ethernet cable into a USB connection and see if I could use the printer over the Airport Express.

Arrgh. Sure I could buy a new HP Laser but man-oh-man that 2100M is still so solid.

Any suggestions? Thank You!
Christian Völker  2009-10-08 02:58
HP printers have a so called EIO slot for an internal printserver. This is an even smarter solution than my external printserver because it does not need a separate power plug.

I am not an HP expert, but any JetDirect 6xxn model should fit and provide configuration through a web interface and support either IPP and LPD. Newer models like 620n feature Fast Ethernet, which wont speed up your printer but might be better supported in the long run.
Wil Stilman  2009-10-13 15:34
Yes I believe it will. My config is like yours 4 port Linksys router and an Asante ethernet / Appletalk box connected to a Laserwriter Select.
I simply plugged the new Snow Leopard machine into the ethernet network and it found the printer on the first try!
Harold Duckett  2009-10-07 08:22
I am being told by some Mac gurus that the Laserwriter 8500 has an IP address and an IP printing address can be set up in Snow Leopard. Then everything works. My question is, since the startup page on my 8500 was long ago turned off, how do I reset the printer to the factory defaults so it will print the startup page, which will show the IP address?
Derrick Yamaura  2009-10-12 17:28
To get back to the default settings, you need to turn off the printer, set the "Communications Switch" (between the Ethernet port and the Parallel port) to the "out" position (there are only two positions; in and out), then turn the printer back on. Then, it'll print a startup page every time the printer is powered on.

I can tell you right now, though, that if you didn't have an IP address set up previously (via "Apple Printer Utility" or "LW Utility for Windows"), then the IP address will be (the factory default).

Unless you have access to a Mac running the classic OS, then you'll have to assign an IP via telnet. Instructions (and a link to the LW 8500 owners manual) can be found in this Apple Discussions Forum thread:
Richard Hassinger  2009-10-08 07:48
1994 was before the "invention" of the web? Do some research. I was surfing with Mosaic 1.0 in '93.
Glenn Fleishman  2009-10-08 07:48
This printer model was introduced 1993-01-01, a few months before Mosaic debuted, which one could argue is the debut of the practical graphical Web. However, the Web really dates to 1991 or even earlier, so we will tweak the article!
Christian Völker  2009-10-08 02:29
"Do some research." Nope, I wont. I mentioned the web to provide some general context in a word. I still believe that this gives a rough idea of why one cant expect engineers of that time to forsee the impact of internet technology and implement related functionality in their products while developing printers.
Matt McCaffrey  2009-10-13 09:23
In 1993, I was still doing text-based online connections through CompuServe, extracting myself from America Online which foreshadowed a graphical web experience by providing a diskette of graphics to be called locally (because they would have taken forever at dialup speeds), and the few outliers who were experimenting with hyperlinked text on the Internet were crazed scientists, not everyday folks like me. (Oh, and I was reading TidBITS in that lovely enhanced text markup, because that's all there was.) Christian's time-era marker worked for me, because it reminded me that the 1990s represented Apple's attempt to follow on the LaserWriter/LaserWriter Plus.
Benjamin Lowengard  2009-10-08 05:09
I have a bunch of old appletalk cable and related devices in the basement if you're adventurous to
set up "steam-punk" networking. Really!
Andy G. Moore  2009-10-09 06:03
OK, I admit to being late to the party (even though my first Mac was the original 128), but I tried Mr. Rezny's tip about sharing the printer and it worked with my laptop (albeit running Tiger).

Can I assume that the shared printer would be available in Snow Leopard as well? It would give me a good reason not to get rid of a still-good iMac G5.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-10-09 07:21
Yes, it should work, since the Mac running Snow Leopard would use whatever modern technologies necessary to talk with the Mac running as the print server, and the print server Mac would use AppleTalk to communicate with the printer. It's basically the same workaround as the parallel print server, but via a different port and a vastly more capable print server (a Mac).
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-10-09 09:34
In email, Chris Pepper wondered if using a USB-to-parallel or USB-to-serial adapter might work generally, and more specifically, if it might work when plugged into an AirPort Base Station.

Honestly, I'd be surprised if it would, just because of the ages of the technologies involved, but if anyone has such devices around and would be interested in trying, I'd love to know the results.
Christian Völker  2009-10-11 10:40
As what kind of device does the USB converter register himself with the Operating System? Can this be influenced (USB Overdrive might be of help here)? Will it show up in the printer configuration wizard?

As soon as Chris has taken this hurdle, he will have to choose the appropriate driver. To make an educated guess, one would have at least to know about the printer model he wants to connect I believe. Is this a PostScript printer? Are there generic drivers for PostScript Printers over USB?

Drivers made for printers without internal rasterization engine wont be flexible enough to work over various interfaces. They are usually bound to a fixed combination of manufacturer, model and interface. So, these (usually cheap) printers are less likely to work at all.
I had great success connecting an older LaserJet (about 5 years old though) which had a broken USB port through the Parallel interface to a Time Capsule with this cable:

I wasn't expecting it to, but it worked - and even automatically identified the right driver.
Nellie Chase  2009-10-13 12:39
Has anyone found the magic formua for using the parallel port on a LaserWriter Select 360 ? I have been trying to print on a simple network using the TRENDnet TE100-P1P Parallel Print Server. I can print directly with a USB to Centronics 36 cable, but I really need to print over a home network. The only clue I have is it will print a test page on # 4 of the rotary switch on the back, which in the LW360 manual corresponds to raw PCL5. Any wisdom would be much appreciated !!
Wil Stilman  2009-10-13 15:44
I use an iMac G5 on a 4 port network with an Asante Talk box running to the Laserwriter Select 360. As long as this machine is running, the Snow Leopard MacBook Pro finds the appletalk network and my printer every time. This printer too, is a real workhorse having using 17 toner cartridges and I still have 3 more in storage.
The fact that LaserWriter utility no longer can be run seems to be a handicap for configuring these older printers. However, SheepShaver allows the classic Mac OS to run even on current Intel Macs. And it can access the Internet, which indicates that it sees the network connection.

I don't have a LaserWriter to play with, but maybe LaserWriter Utility or Apple Printer Utility can run inside SheepShaver and do what is necessary to the printers.....

(I use SheepShaver on Tiger. Haven't tried it on Leopard.)
Maurizio  2009-10-15 15:38
Hallo, I went through the whole thread (and many other out there) with no results. I have an almost perfectly working LW IIg which is older than anything mentioned here and I cannot find a way of using it. Any idea (no, I don't have a networked pre Snow machine)? Thanks in advance
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-10-16 07:22
I'm not familiar with the IIg's specs, but the trick is to look for an alternative port, like parallel or serial, and then get some sort of a converter or adapter that can plug into it on one side, and either Ethernet or USB on the other.
It appears that the IIg actually has an Ethernet port, though it's an AUI15 and not the usual RJ45. Perhaps one of these would work in bridging it to your network?
It also has an RS-232 port -- there are a million USB to RS-232 adapters available you could try. This is a more likely solution. It might even work, as I had success with a parallel port printer, with a TC or AirPort Extreme.

The driver, in any event, is definitely included in Snow Leopard, so it's just a question of physical interface:
L.S. Cousins  2009-10-16 14:19
I have been trying to configure a Netgear PS101 with a Laserwriter Pro 630 as suggested. But I cannot get the IP address. Is there some trick to using the Angry IP Scanner Utility ?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-10-16 14:35
Just launch it, enter your network's IP range in the two fields (something like and, choose IP Range from the pop-up menu, and click Start.

Then look in the list for something that wasn't there before - that will be the PS101.
L.S. Cousins  2009-10-17 15:00
With this I get and in blue and all the intervening numbers in red. No variation when the PS101 is connected. How do I know what my Network's IP range is, if it is not what you suggest ?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-10-18 17:50
It sounds as though your network is indeed using a different IP range, since at least your Mac should show up. You can see what your Mac's IP address is in the Network preference pane, and your network's range is probably that number with the fourth digit replaced with 1 for the start and 255 for the end.
L.S. Cousins  2009-10-22 06:34
Thanks for this. It clarified things. I have now found that I can get the IP address if I connect the PS101 directly to the second ethernet port on my MacPro, but I have had no success in printing to that. Not on the same subnet ?
I still cannot get any IP address for the PS101 if I connect it to the same switch as the Internet connexion. Could the problem be with the Unex Nexswitch SD 050s ? Unfortunately I cannot so far find the manual for that either at home or on the InterNet.
You can use Print66 on an old Mac running OS 7/8/9. It is free and will make the old machine and LaserWriter visible to SL using IP Printing (LPD). Print66 is free - Google for it.

Details here:
Jonathan Finegold  2009-10-26 08:46
I have an old workhorse HP LaserJet 4ML that I would hate to lose. I read a comment above by Wil Stilman in which he says that he got his Laserwriter to work with Snow Leopard with a 4-port Linksys router and an Asante ethernet/Appletalk box.

I have what sounds like a similar configuration--the HP printer connects via serial (or is it parallel?) to the AsanteTalk box, which then connects via ethernet to my Linksys router. Is this likely to continue working in Snow Leopard?
Bob Zemeski  2009-10-28 09:36
My experience with Apple support has been disappointing. I have three printers Canon ir2000, Hp Laserjet 4050, HP color Laserjet 5500dtn. The only one listed as being supported is the 5500, but it not visible in any of the normal ways to add a printer. Three different technicians said that if it were USB they could help me. I said all my printers are only network printers. I asked if they thought the Microsoft would tell me they couldn't help me because I was a business and not a home consumer. I will have to revert back to Lepoard.
Konica magicolor 2350 works fine thro the IP, and now even displays the remaining toner which never worked thro appletalk and remianing % on spooling