A Compact iMac?

1998.09: A compact iMac? Isn’t the iMac already small enough?

Yes, the iMac is remarkably tiny for a computer with a built-in 15″ monitor. But I’m thinking smaller: modular.

Mac LC painted blue. myoldmac.net

The motherboard in the iMac is a marvel of miniaturization and economical design. I don’t have its dimensions, but it would probably fit comfortably in an old Macintosh LC case (photo from AppleFritter), although probably with a more up-to-date Bondi-inspired color scheme.

The market for this iMac isn’t the first time buyer, but someone who already has a computer and monitor, whether Mac or Windows.

This is a thought experiment: How can we make the most affordable iMac?

Eliminate the built-in monitor, which may be its most expensive component. Not only does this directly reduce the size and cost of the iMac, it also makes it lighter (lower shipping costs) and permits use of a smaller power supply (further reducing costs).

Apple HD20 “zero footprint” hard drive

Design it so it can either support a 15″ screen on top of the computer or sit next to a larger monitor. The whole thing could be about the size of a “zero-footprint” hard drive (about 10″ square, 3″ tall) from the Compact Mac era. Be sure the top is scuff resistant. And don’t forget the tiny speakers.

The iMac motherboard already has a DA-15 video port, so Apple could just run that to the outside of the case (maybe the side for easy access). And ship it with an adapter so users can attach a VGA monitor without buying a separate part.

Make CD-ROM optional. Build in a Device Bay like the PowerBook G3 uses. This makes it easy to pop in a CD-ROM or DVD player – or the infamous missing floppy, a Zip drive, a hard drive for backup, etc.

Think different about the power supply. Instead of building it into the box, use a power brick like PowerBooks and StyleWriters use. This will also let the computer run cooler, since the AC isn’t being turned to DC inside the machine.


  • Design a Bondi-and-ice padded carrying case, allowing users to tote the modular iMac between home, school, and work.
  • Since it runs off DC, offer a special uninterruptible power supply with DC output for the computer and one AC outlet for the monitor. This could be quite compact and inexpensive.
  • DVD and floppy drives, of course.
  • A Bondi-and-ice ethernet-to-LocalTalk adapter for connecting older Macs and printers.
  • A Windows-to-iMac file transfer kit, including cables and MacLink file translators.
  • A USB version of PowerPrint, allowing Windows converts to print to their old inkjet, laser, or dot matrix printers.
  • A SCSI card for the Perch (mezzanine) slot, allowing those with older Macs to attach their old drives.
  • For this and the original iMac, sell a subwoofer to take the strain of low frequencies off the tiny internal speakers and really make the iMac sound fantastic. [Apple eventually offered an iSub.]

Apple could sell a Windows bundle: the modular iMac, 64 MB RAM, Virtual PC, a file transfer kit, and PowerPrint. (Hmm, a $1,000 Windows computer?) Owners of older Macs could use the LocalTalk adapter to send files between computers. Maybe Apple could even offer a memory-free version for users who want to install their own RAM.

Of course, all this assumes Apple will be able to meet the ongoing demand for the iMac, leaving enough parts to consider putting the iMac motherboard in a different case.

This would be a great way for Apple to reward longtime Mac users, by making an iMac that can use some of our older hardware and making it easy to move files to the new computer.

Update: In 2005, Apple introduced the Mac mini, which incorporated some of these ideas in an even smaller case than I could have imagined in 1998.

Further Reading

keywords: #imac #headlessimac #modularimac