Vintage Mac Living

Elsie, a Prototype of the Macintosh LC

- 2006.06.26

I recently acquired a very special Macintosh LC. I say it's special because of two things:

  1. It has a vintage DynaMac LCDisplay, which was designed specifically for the LC.
  2. This isn't an ordinary LC, it's a prototype Elsie!

Yes, you heard me right, a prototype.

Elsie ROMsThere are several ways to tell that this LC is a prototype, the most obvious is the Stickers on the ROMs that say "ELSIE ROM 6/1/90 ©Apple Confidential" (right).

Other identifiers that differentiate this from a normal LC motherboard include, but are not limited to:

  • A CUDA reset button on the logic board,
  • The RAM SIMM slots are positioned next to the ROMs, not next to the power supply.
  • There is no VRAM slot, and the internal video only displays 1-bit black & white.
  • The Logic Controller (VSLU chip) is located near the DB-15 video connector, not next to the ROM chips.

Here are pictures of two LC boards with the differences marked. The image on the right is a normal LC motherboard, and the one on the left is the prototype board. (Please excuse the crudity of these pictures. I don't have a digital camera, so I had to use my scanner.)

When I first got Elsie home, it seemed to work fine (although I only used it for a few minutes). It's running System 6.0.7, and it has a bunch of old Mac software on it, like MacWrite Pro, Word 4, Pyro 4 (a screen saver from the late 80s).

It also has some cool old programs that allow the Finder to make sounds, much like the Apple IIgs did with the GS/OS.

When I first turned it on, I was greeted with HAL saying "I am completely operational, and all of my circuits are functioning perfectly." And then with James Brown with "Ah, I feel good".

Something really strange about this Mac is that the PRAM battery is still good - it appears that this machine has not been used since some time in 1992.

I soon ran into problems, which may have been there all along, but I can't say for sure.

I tried putting in a different hard drive that has a universal install of System 7, but when I did that, Elsie started acting crazy. It would freeze when the "Welcome to Macintosh" screen appeared, and the internal speaker started picking up radio frequencies regardless of volume.

It sounded as if it was looking for a radio station, but it could never find it.

I let it sit overnight and tried again the next morning. Now it didn't make the noise, but it started restarting itself randomly, constantly, and then it gave the chimes of death.

I put my other LC's logic board in the case, and it worked, so I can't figure it out.

Maybe it's a flaw with the ROM, so trying to use System 7 with it screwed something up. Maybe it's some booby trap Apple put in to keep the prototype out of the wrong hands. Or maybe it was like this all along, and it just didn't do it to me right away.

If anyone knows more about this machine (maybe someone from Apple), please email me. All I know is it's a really cool thing to have, and I got it for free! LEM

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