A History of the Color Classic
The Color Classic has been lauded by many Mac faithful as what the original Macintosh should have been. The computer was made available to the general public on February 10, 1993, and was received well by reviewers.
Customers were not so accepting of the machine's serious design flaws, but for some collectors, the Color Classic is perfect.
Designed by Daniel De Luliis, a man credited with all of Apple's award winning designs from the early 90s onward, the computer included several major changes from the earlier compact Macs, such as the Classic II.
Nearing the ten year anniversary of the Lisa, Apple was eager to prove its ability to produce a thoughtfully designed computer aimed squarely at consumers at a low price (it eventually was priced at $1,400, well below Apple's other color models).
Chief among the new design features was the introduction of feet - the computer actually seemed to float above the desktop, perched atop four curved feet. The feet first appeared on the Color Classic and made their way into most of the Quadras and Power Macs until 1996.
The floppy drive was modified from the ordinary slot found on earlier Macs into a curved, almost smile-like slot. The space above the monitor was also modified, and it almost resembles a human's forehead.
Another first for a compact Mac, the speaker and brightness controls were both exposed on the front bevel to the left of the floppy drive. De Luliis designed the entire Color Classic chassis using CAD software, something unheard of in the industry at that time. This made it easier for him to introduce complex design features into the computer, like the beveled back.
For all of the thought devoted to the aesthetic of the Color Classic, the innards of the machine seem to have been neglected. Essentially a repackaged LC II, the Color Classic had underclocked the 68030 processor to be compatible with the already obsolete logic card. The 32-bit processor was operating on a 16-bit bus, and Apple limited the amount of memory it could address to 10 MB. Compared that to the SE/30, released five years before, which could be upgraded to 128 MB of RAM.
The crystal clear Trinitron CRT was fixed at 512 x 384, slightly taller than the original Mac. This was to match the Apple II's display for use with Apple's add-in Apple II PDS card.
Initial reviews of the product were very positive, but consumers were largely unwilling to pay such a premium for a severely limited product. Apple released a home version of the Color Classic, the Performa 250, in hopes of bolstering sales, but it was largely unsuccessful.
The Color Classic did well amongst college students, and it did exceptionally well in the Japanese markets. Both of these segments valued the computer's compact design more than its performance.
Apple eventually released a sequel to the Color Classic in Japan that eliminated many of the compromises found in the original. The Color Classic II shared a logic board with the powerful 33 MHz LC 550. In 1994, both models were discontinued, replaced by the LC 500 series.
The Color Classic's life after its discontinuation has been far more notable than its production life, especially in Japan, where upgraded models can cost as much as $2,600. One organization, Kan-chan, counts over 300 members and is still growing. Many of these enthusiasts have upgraded their machines, some to PowerPC 603e processors, and some even to G3s and G4s.
Several companies have cropped up selling Color Classics retrofitted with iMac innards, turning them into Mac OS X ready machines twelve years after they were introduced.
Some of the sources used in writing this article:
- Apple: The Inside Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business Blunders, Jim Carlton
- Infinite Loop, Michael Malone
- The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, Alan Deutschman
- Apple Confidential 2.0, Owen Linzmayer
- Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple . . . a Journey of Adventure, Ideas & the Future, John Sculley
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