A Cult Classic: The Colour Classic II

2003 – The Color Classic, introduced in February 1993, was one of the earliest Macs to merit the Road Apple label. Road Apples are defined as Macs that were less than they should have been, models crippled for the sake of marketing or to keep costs down.

Mac Color ClassicDespite that, it quickly became a favorite among compact Mac aficionados and is still considered a cult classic.

The Macintosh LC, LC II, Classic II, and Color Classic shared the same basic design. They ran a 32-bit 68030 processor (68020 on the original LC) at 16 MHz on a 16-bit bus and were hardwired to access no more than 10 MB of RAM, regardless of how much you might install. These limitations were set aside when the next generation of Macs put a 25 MHz 32-bit processor on a 32-bit bus and supported up to 36 MB of RAM – the LC III, LC 520, and Colour Classic II.

Of these models, only the Colour Classic II has achieved legendary status, in pa because it was never offered for sale in the United States, Apple’s biggest market.

Introduced ten years ago today, the Colour Classic II had the same 10″ Trinitron display and 512 x 384 pixel resolution as the Color Classic – but it was easily twice as fast with a 56% faster CPU and a data bus that matched the 68030’s 32-bit bus. It also had a single LC PDS expansion slot, allowing the addition of ethernet, a video card for an external monitor, or an accelerator to boost performance.

The best card ever made for that slot was the Sonnet Presto Plus, which includes a 33 MHz 68040 processor, ethernet, and 32 MB of additional memory. For those still using an LC (from the original through the III+) or one of the Color Classic models, the card is still offered for US$99.95.

Probably the most popular hardware hack was converting the 10″ monitor to 640 x 480 resolution. It’s a shame Apple didn’t figure out a way to allow the display to sync at both 512 x 384 and 640 x 480, something multiscan monitors do with ease. (Then again, Apple was late to the multiscan monitor game. NEC pioneered it with its first MultiSync monitor in 1985, but Apple didn’t get on board until March 1994, when it released the Multiple Scan 17  and 20 displays, followed by a 15-incher in June. That was two years after the Colour Classic II was introduced.) There are a couple of different mods for boosting the CC’s resolution, and the Trinitron monitor is up to the task of crisply displaying all those pixels.

The most popular hardware upgrade has to be installing an LC 575 motherboard, which simply slides into the same slot as the Color Classic or Colour Classic II’s motherboard. The 575 motherboard uses the vastly more efficient 33 MHz 68040 processor and can support up to 68 MB of RAM using a single-banked 64 MB SIMM. This is commonly called the “Mystic” upgrade (after the code name of the LC 575).

The only problem is that the CC must be hacked to support 640 x 480 resolution or the operating system must be modified to support 512 x 384 with this upgrade. My son Brian hacked the OS his Color Classic after installing a 575 motherboard; he also planned to do the screen mod.

The Colour Classic II was a decent performer in its day, and it’s a shame Apple never produced a CC III with a 68040 CPU – which is essentially what Color Classic users end up with after the LC 575 motherboard swap.

And if that’s not enough performance, there are PowerPC Processor Upgrades that can turn the Mystic CC into a Power Colour Classic running at 66 MHz or 100 MHz, depending on which upgrade card you find. And some go even further, sometimes managing to somehow squeeze a G3 into the CC’s compact case.

The Colour Classic II has a cult following in Japan, the UK, the US, and elsewhere (as does the original Color Classic). There’s just something about the form factor that makes it attractive, and some users would rather invest a lot of time and money into building the fastest Color Classic simply because they love the design.

Some day I may find the time to turn my Color Classic into a Mystic. If not, I do have a Sonnet Presto Plus….

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