Apple Rolled Out 6 New Macs at Once in February 1993

Dan Knight - 2003.02.17 - Tip Jar

February 10, 1993 was one of the biggest days in Mac history. Apple introduced six new models.

Consumer

The Macintosh LC series had been an unexpected runaway success for Apple. Although deliberately designed to be inexpensive and have limited expansion, the first consumer priced color Macs were the most popular models Apple had made.

But they weren't without their limitations. Both the original Macintosh LC and the later LC II ran a 16 MHz 32-bit 68030 processor on a 16-bit bus, which somewhat crippled performance; were limited to a maximum of 10 MB of RAM; and only supported 4-bit/16-color video out of the box.

Macintosh LC IIIThe new LC III addressed all of those issues. With a 25 MHz 68030 CPU on a 32-bit bus, it matched the performance of the IIci, which was discontinued on the same day the LC III was introduced.

Like the LC II, the III had 4 MB of RAM on the motherboard, but unlike the earlier models, it wasn't limited to 10 MB total memory. With a 32 MB 72-pin SIMM, the LC III could handle 36 MB total memory, which was an awful lot in 1993. (At the time, I had a 4 MB Mac Plus at home and used an 8 MB IIci for book design at work.)

The LC III also had twice as much video memory onboard, so it supported 8-bit/256-color video on a standard 640 x 480 display without a VRAM upgrade. It also supported 16-bit video with stock memory at 512 x 384 and a special resolution of 640 x 400.

With a VRAM upgrade, it could display 16-bit color on a 640 x 480 or 832 x 624 display. The LC III also supported Apple's 640 x 870 grayscale Portrait Display, although only at 4 bits/16 shades of gray out of the box. With a VRAM upgrade, the LC III managed 8-bit video on a portrait monitor. This became a popular setup for writers and editors.

As if all of this wasn't enough, the LC III had one more trick up its sleeve: an enhanced LC PDS. The original LC Processor Direct Slot used a 16 MHz 16-bit bus. By adding some additional pins, Apple extended the bus to support 32-bit operation and allow cards designed for the enhanced bus to run at 25 MHz.

All this for US$1,350 in 1993 dollars. But for just US$40 more, you could get a Color Classic that included a 10" Sony Trinitron display.

Compact

Designed to complement the successful LC II and Classic II, the Color Classic brought a 10" color display to a revised compact Mac case. The internal display supported the same 512 x 384 resolution as the inexpensive 12" color monitor designed for the LC series.

The Color Classic was designed around a slightly modified LC II motherboard. This gave it the expansion slot the b&w Classic II was missing. It also provided 8-bit video on the internal monitor out of the box - and 16-bit video with a VRAM upgrade.

Color ClassicAlas, the Color Classic had the same limitations as the LC, LC II, and Classic II: a 16-bit data bus and the inability to handle more than 10 MB of RAM. While the LC III was breaking through those barriers, the CC maintained them. (These were later addressed in the Colour Classic II, which was based on the LC III motherboard and was never sold in the US.)

That spot above the monitor is a built in microphone, and the buttons to the left of the floppy drive control volume and brightness.

With the LC PDS, it was easy to add an accelerator, a video card, ethernet, and even video input to the Color Classic, although it wasn't until 2000 that someone created a three-in-one card that provided acceleration, ethernet, and the ability to support 32 MB of additional memory. (The Presto Plus remains in the Sonnet catalog, and pricing has dropped by $200 since it was first released.)

The Color Classic has attained cult status among Mac collectors, who have become proficient at upgrading it. With its slide-out motherboard, it's fairly easy to slide in the motherboard from an LC/Performa 520, 550, or 575, which provide a 25 MHz 68030 on a 32-bit bus, a 33 MHz 68030 on a 32-bit bus, or a 33 MHz '040 on a 32-bit bus without sacrificing the Color Classic's expansion slot.

One of my son's has a "Mystic" Color Classic (the unofficial name for one with an LC 575 motherboard) and still has fun with it. However, there's a bit more to the upgrade than a simple motherboard transplant, and some users have even modified video to support 640 x 480 on the crisp 10" display. For more information:

As seen by the last link, there are even those who have managed to put PowerPC upgrades in their upgraded Color Classics. Like I said - cult following. (Yes, I do have one, but I haven't upgraded it yet.)

Color To Go

Just as the compact Macs defined Apple as being different from the rest of the computer industry and the LC series defined low cost Macintosh computing, the PowerBooks had changed the face of portable computing. Since their introduction in October 1991, radical ideas like a built in trackball and a keyboard closer to the screen had become the norm; today every laptop owes its design to the PowerBooks.

PowerBook 165But in a world of color computing, PowerBooks were black-and-white - or grayscale at best. That changed on February 10, 1993. That changed with the PowerBook 165c.

The 640 x 400 passive-matrix color display was considered the best available at the time, although it was not nearly as nice as the then-new and very expensive active-matrix color displays appearing on the market. (Apple's active-matrix color PowerBook 180c would be introduced just four months later.)

The PB 165c was something of a get-it-to-market-now compromise. Where color Macs had traditionally supported 256 colors from a 16 million color palette (8 bits per color channel), the 165c was limited to 4,096 colors (4 bits per color channel). Still, this was adequate to support ColorSync.

The 165c also supported external color displays, which can either mirror the internal display or be used to provide additional workspace, including Apple's 512 x 384 12" monitor, 832 x 624 16" screen, and 640 x 870 Portrait Display. It also supported VGA and SuperVGA (800 x 600) monitors from the PC world, but at a flickery 60 Hz (VGA) and 56 Hz (SVGA) refresh rate.

Because passive-matrix video is slow, video performance suffered on the PC 165c, and moving the cursor would often leave a fading trail on the screen. The amount of power needed to drive the screen gave the 165c about one hour of use in the real world, far less than b&w and grayscale PowerBooks.

Still, this allowed Apple to jump into the color portable market with a US$3,400 model, which was not an unreasonable price ten years ago. (The four-month-old PowerBook 180, which ran at the same 33 MHz speed, had debuted at US$4,110. The active-matrix 180c, which would ship four months later, debuted at US$4,160.)

The PowerBook 165c had some flaws, but the attraction of color sold it.

More Power

We've cover the consumer and portable markets, but what about the workhorse machines found in graphics departments? Surely Apple wouldn't ignore this key market.

They didn't. Apple introduced a new product line, Centris, and three new 68040-based models. The least powerful offered roughly the same power as the one-time speed champion Macintosh IIfx at half the clock speed, and the top-end model outperformed the larger, more expandable, and vastly more expensive Quadra 950.

Like the LC III, and unlike the Color Classic, these new Macs all used 72-pin SIMMs.

Centris 610

The US$2,520 and up Centris 610 used the low cost 68LC040 processor, a version of the 68040 without a floating point unit (FPU), running at 20 MHz. Measuring just 3.4" high, the new low-profile case had room for a hard drive, a CD-ROM, a floppy, and a short (7") NuBus expansion card.

Macintosh Centris 610With 4 MB onboard and two slots capable of taking SIMMs as big as 32 MB, the Centris 610 could support up to 68 MB of RAM. Like the earlier Macintosh IIsi, it didn't have a built in NuBus slot; it used a PDS adapter if and when a user needed to add a NuBus card.

The 610 shipped with 512 KB of video memory, which supported 16-bit video on Apple's 12" 512 x 384 color display, 8-bit video on displays up to 832 x 624, and 4-bits on portrait and two-page displays. By doubling VRAM to 1 MB, the 610 supported 16-bit video up to 832 x 624 and 8-bit video on larger monitors. It did not support 24-bit video.

One way Apple cut costs on the 610 was by eliminating power on from the keyboard. Instead, the user had to push in a power button located on the front of the computer - right below the floppy, where a Windows user would mistake it for an eject button, and sticking out far enough that shoving the keyboard against the front of the computer could occasionally turn off the power. This same case was later used for the 660av, Quadra 610, and Power Mac 6100.

A special budget version of the C610 was available without ethernet, and this was the model that replaced my Mac Plus somewhere around June 1993. This was the computer I used when I began Low End Mac in 1997.

Centris 650

Macintosh Centris 650The US$2,700 and up Centris 650 used the same case as the Mac IIvi, IIvx, and Performa 600, one that would later be used by the Quadra 650 and Power Mac 7100.

Except for the budget version, the Centris 650 used a full 25 MHz 68040 CPU, the one that included the FPU. It essentially replaced the Quadra 700 in the Mac line, offering one more NuBus expansion slot, room for an internal CD-ROM, and a very rugged metal case. The C650 was slightly faster as well, although it didn't offer the 24-bit video of the Quadra 700.

Advantages compared to the Centris 610 includes three NuBus slots and twice as many SIMM sockets. With 8 MB of onboard memory (only 4 MB in the budget model) and four 32 MB SIMMs, the C650 could support a whopping 136 MB of RAM.

Quadra 800Quadra 800

Thanks to interleaved memory, the US$4,700 33 MHz Quadra 800 could edge out performance of the larger, more expandable 33 MHz Quadra 950 - and it was both a lot smaller and much more affordable.

As with the Color Classic and Centris 610, the Quadra 800 introduced a new case design to the Mac lineup. This 14" tall minitower had several drive bays and one of the most inaccessible motherboards in the history of the Macintosh. (For more on that, see our Road Apple report on the case.)

The motherboard was almost identical to that in the Centris 650, but mounted vertically. With 8 MB of onboard video, it could also support up to 136 MB of RAM.

Conclusion

Unlike the recent past, where Apple can introduce the iMac in five different colors or offer the Power Mac G4 in 3-5 different CPU configurations, the February 1993 rollout debuted six new models.

The LC III went on to be a great success, eventually giving way the the Quadra 605/LC 475 in a similar case. The Color Classic recycled the LC II motherboard and put it in a new case. It was a bit crippled, but the CC II addressed all of those limitations.

The PowerBook 165c was a transitional model, but for four months it was the only way to get a color PowerBook.

The Centris name and models didn't last long. Apple turned the Centris 610 into the Quadra 610 in October, also boosting speed from 20 MHz to 25 MHz. The 25 MHz Centris 650 became a 33 MHz Quadra 650 in the same way, but the Quadra 800 remained unchanged until the Power Mac era.

This is the same kind of improved value we see in the Mac line today, but on a much broader scale.

Today, such a burst of new products would replace over half of Apple's line, but there were still other desktop Macs and PowerBooks to pick from. The scope of the Macintosh product line was never more vast nor expanded as quickly.

February 10, 1993 was quite a day in Macintosh history. LEM

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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