1989: Mac SE/30, IIcx, IIci, and Portable

In January 1989 – January has always been one of Apple’s favorite months for new product releases – Apple unveiled the best ever compact Mac with a 9″ b&w display, the Macintosh SE/30.

Essentially a Mac IIx in an SE case with a single expansion slot, the SE/30 with an ethernet card became a favorite network server, since it didn’t require buying a video card and monitor like the IIx did.

Best of all, its expansion slot could hold an accelerator card, eventually allowing the SE/30 owner to buy a 50 MHz 68030-based upgrade – or even a 33 MHz 68040, which was more powerful yet.

In March, Apple introduced two very practical monitors for professionals, the Portrait Display, which showed a full page at once, and the Two-Page Display, a 21″ screen that showed two pages side-by-side. Both were high quality b&w screens, many of which remained in use for a decade or more.

Macintosh IIcxAlso in March, Apple released the first small modular Mac, the IIcx. Essentially a IIx with only three NuBus slots in a case about two-thirds as wide, the IIcx was a runaway success, especially in the graphics community. Even with a video card and network card, the IIcx still had a slot to spare.

Apple didn’t stop there – six months later it shipped the Mac IIci, the first Mac to run faster than 16 MHz. Not only did the IIci run at a blazing 25 MHz, but by adding a 32 KB level 2 cache card, you could boost performance another 30%, making it about twice as fast as 16 MHz Macs.

The IIci was also the first modular Mac with integrated video. Using system memory, the IIci supports a 640 x 480 display at 256 colors or a Portrait Display with 16 shades of gray.

Of course, there were compromises involved with this design. Since video runs at 25 MHz, it is very fast, but because it uses system memory, other processes were slowed by about 8%. To overcome this, many users installed NuBus video cards (accelerated ones when they became available), allowing all system memory to be used just for programs, not sharing some of it for video.

The IIci had the best SCSI throughput of any 60830-based Mac, hitting approximately 2.1 MBps, compared with 1.4 MBps for earlier models. Even the “wicked fast” 40 MHz IIfx introduced in 1990 had slower SCSI.

The Mac Portable

Macintosh PortableIntroduced simultaneously with the IIci, the Mac Portable was one of the largest “laptop” computers ever created. Weighing in at almost 16 pounds, the Portable had a lot of redeeming features:

  • the lead-acid battery provided up to 10 hours of power
  • the active matrix screen was the clearest on the market
  • the 16 MHz 68000 was as perky as any Mac – except the new 25 MHz IIci
  • it could have either a trackball or numeric keypad
  • the handle made it easy to tote
  • it was a Macintosh, so Mac users didn’t have to learn DOS or Windows so they could work in the field

MacUser cover, November 1998The Portable really was an impressive piece of hardware despite its weight. MacUser called it “by far the most complex piece of machinery devised for sale by Apple computer” (Nov. 1989). Also, unlike earlier 68000-based Macs that were limited to 4 MB of RAM, the Portable could handle an amazing (and expensive) 9 MB of static RAM.

Even today, those who get their hands on the Portable are readily seduced by it. Just keep in mind that this is not a laptop; it’s a Mac to go.

The Competition

Intel first shipped the 80486 in 1989, although it wasn’t used in a shipping computer until 1990.

And NeXT introduced NeXTstep, it’s Unix-derived, Mac-like operating system, which would eventually form the basis for Mac OS X.

Personal Perspective

When I worked at ComputerLand of Grand Rapids, I had an SE/30 on a pivot arm over my desk. That plus a 9600 bps NEC modem and an ImageWriter LQ printer kept me in business.

I used a IIci for several years, designing books on an Apple Two-Page Display. Although a powerhouse in its day, I was glad to move on to Quadras and Power Macs in later years. Of course, desktop publishing is one of those areas that drove the Mac market and never had enough speed.

I also own a couple Portables, both work but need to be cleaned up. One has 5 MB of RAM, and I used to tote it around, claiming it was my Macintosh Gameboy. It handles System 7.x quite nicely.

As I said above, the Portable is seductive.

Next – 1990: The ‘Wicked Fast’ IIfx and the First Consumer Macs

Keywords: #macse30 #maciicx #maciici #macportable

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