Apple IIe Card: A Tool for Getting Macs into Schools

If anything, Apple’s success in getting the Apple II family of computers into elementary schools was a mixed blessing. The education market kept the Apple II line going, prevented DOS PCs from getting a foothold in most elementary schools, but it also kept schools from buying Apple Macs because they couldn’t run all that Apple II software that schools already owned.

An Apple Computer Inside an Apple Computer

The ultimate solution was a brilliant one: Put the functionality of the Apple IIe on an expansion card for the Mac LC. The card even had a floppy drive controller and connector for use with a 5.25″ floppy drive to run all that old software.

Apple IIe Card for LC PDS

The Mac LC was a runaway success when it was introduced in October 1990 – the first Mac to offer color for under $2,500. It was a nice compact, friendly design that made its way into many homes that Christmas, but schools were still wed to their Apple II gear.

Macintosh LCIn March 1991, Apple introduced the Apple IIe card to the education market. The $250 card fit into the LC PDS in the Mac LC and several of its successors. It emulated the Apple IIe almost perfectly, right down to the color artifacts you would sometimes see. It shipped with a cable, which is harder to find than the card itself nowadays, and software for the host computer on a 3.5″ disk that can be downloaded for free using a link at the end of this article.

The Apple IIe was the last model in the Apple II line to be discontinued when it was phased out in November 1993 after a run of 10 years and 10 months!

The Apple IIe card was discontinued in May 1995, 1-1/2 years after the Apple IIe and 4 years, 2 months after it had been introduced.

The IIe Card Takes Over

And that brings up an important point: When the IIe Card is running, you have no access to the Mac OS until you restart the computer or press Option, Escape, and the Apple/Splat/Command key simultaneously. The Mac is busy behind the scenes handling graphics and sound and other things the IIe Card needs to do its magic. (Control-Apple-Escape will open the IIe Option Panel.)

The IIe Card has a 65C02 CPU that normally runs at 1 MHz for compatibility with games and can also be switched to 1.9 MHz operation for other tasks. This is done in the IIe Option Panel.

The IIe Card has 256 KB of memory, half of which is used for an Apple IIe ROM image. The remainder can be used by the Apple IIe, and the card and access up to 1 MB of memory on its host computer.


Michael Guidero shared this information on Facebook:

“That’s what Apple’s official docs say. Reality is somewhat different. 64K main RAM, 64K aux RAM, an apparent 64K second aux RAM (enabled by a bit on $C02B) that is used by the AppleTalk functionality and 64K ROM of which 16K = main ROM, 16K = Aux ROM 1, 16K = Aux ROM 2, and 16K used for slots.

“The 16K for slots includes ~2K for C100-C7FF, and 2K for each of the 7 slots’s $C800-$CFFF space.

“It’s actually quite easy to hack the card’s firmware.”

Thanks, Michael!

Through clever programming, the emulated Apple IIe was able to use the Mac’s mouse as if it were an Apple II mouse.

Apple IIe Card Operation

The IIe Card uses the Mac for graphics, and it defaults to a 560 x 384 resolution – twice the 280 x 192 of the Apple IIe – when displaying graphics on the Mac’s display. In fact, Apple had the low cost, lower resolution Macintosh 12″ RGB Display available for the LC with 512 x 342 pixels that also supported this special resolution. The Color Classic, which normally runs at 512 x 384, also supports this special video mode, as does the Colour Classic II.

The only drawback of the Apple IIe Card is that it requires a Mac with an LC PDS running in 24-bit mode, so it cannot run with Mac OS 7.6 or later, nor can it be used in the Centris/Quadra 660av, which only operates in 32-bit mode. It is not compatible with PowerPC Macs either. The card is compatible with System 6 through 7.5.5.

The host computer must be operating in 24-bit mode when using the IIe Card.

Be Sure to Get the Y-cable!

There is one essential accessory that shipped with the Apple IIe Card, a Y-cable that allows you to connect floppy drives on one port, a joystick on the other. Without the Y-cable, you can’t connect 5.25″ disk drives to the card. The only two floppy drives Apple recommends for the card are the UniDisk 3.5 and Apple 5.25 Drive. When present, the UniDisk 3.5 should be the first drive in the floppy drive chain.

Hard Drive Access

The IIe Card can access the 3.5″ floppy drive in the host computer, so it is usable without the Y-cable. It can also be assigned a ProDOS partition on the host computer’s hard drive. The ProDOS partition must be created without the Apple IIe Card installed, and the card can only access a partition up to 32 MB in size, the largest size ProDOS supports. Be aware the HD SC Setup defaults to 10 MB and 20 MB partition sizes, but you can change that.

Be careful not to accidentally reformat your ProDOS partition.

The IIe Card supports three operating systems: Apple DOS 3.3, ProDOS, and Pascal.

This provided one way for schools to leverage a single 5.25″ floppy drive to copy software to a ProDOS partition and clone that to other computers. It almost eliminated the need for students to use 5.25″ disks unless copy protection was an issue.

Some Success Getting Macs in Schools

The Mac LC and its successors made significant headway in elementary education thanks to the Apple IIe Card. At one point Apple reported that half of the LCs sold to school systems were sold with the card.

This helped slow down the migration to IBM compatibles that were becoming very popular in high school and trickling down into elementary schools.

Compatible Macs

All 68040-based Macs with an LC PDS can operate with 24-bit addressing enabled. PowerPC Macs cannot run in 24-bit mode and are thus not compatible with the Apple IIe Card.

Some Macs that support 24-bit addressing may not allow you to enable it if too much system memory is installed.


I am indebted to Vectronic’s Apple World, which has much more thorough coverage of the Apple IIe Card than I am providing in this introductory article. If you want to know all about the IIe Card or have one and want to get it working, that is the place to go.

Further Reading

keywords: #appleiiecard #appleiie

short link: