Blast From the Past

Byte, February 1984

Dan Knight - 2001.05.29

The February 1984 issue of Byte has got to be one of my all-time favorite computer magazines - it Byte, February 1984has in-depth coverage of Apple's Macintosh along with all the usual geeky stuff.


Commodore was planning a "Unix-like" OS for a Z8000-based computer, to be called "Next Generation" and include 256 KB of RAM.

Speculation was that a boost in IBM production could spell trouble for clone makers, but in reality it was the clone makers that would come to shape the PC market.

Intel's new 80186 CPU was faster than the 8088 and eliminated the need for some support chips, which could help reduce PC prices, but in the end very few '186 machines were made. I remember the Tandy 2000, but can't think of any others.

Never Give Up the Ship Dept. Digital Research, Zilog, and AMI agreed to create a version of the Z80 CPU with the CP/M operating system incorporated into the chip. CP/M was pretty much dead in 1984; they just didn't know it yet.

Seagate and Vertex announced 100 MB hard drives - that was twenty times the capacity of the Apple ProFile, a 5 MB hard drive for the Apple III and Lisa.

The Apple Macintosh Computer

This product preview begins,

Apple established itself as one of the leading innovators in personal computing technology a year ago by introducing the Lisa, a synthesis and extension of human-interface technology that has since been widely imitated. Now the company has strengthened that reputation with a new machined, the Macintosh. In terms of technological sophistication and probable effect on the marketplace, the Macintosh will outdistance the Lisa as much as the Lisa outdistanced its predecessors.

Why such an impact? Because the $2,500 Macintosh was far more accessible than the $10,000 Lisa. And to achieve this price breakthrough, Apple had to reinvent the Lisa in more ways than you can imagine.

Rather than go into all the details here, which would make for a very lengthy article, we've waded through two long articles and six sidebars, extracted the most interesting information, and posted it in a separate article as The Original Macintosh.

Apple Announces the Lisa 2

The birth of the Macintosh marked the death of the Lisa - and the birth of Lisa 2, a less costly replacement for the original that also shared the Mac's 3.5" floppy drive. The base Lisa 2 would sell for "under $4,000" with 1 MB of RAM, while the Lisa 2/10 added an internal 10 MB hard drive to the mix.

Lisa 2 could run both the Lisa operating system and the Mac OS.

User's Column

One of the best things about reading Byte over the years has been Jerry Pournelle's column, then called the User's Column. In this issue, the longtime Z80-CP/M user talks about the genuine IBM PC they recently received at Chaos Manor.


This issue had a special section looking at benchmarks, starting with an article explaining when benchmarks are and are not meaningful. Articles looked at benchmarking software, printers, compilers, and CPUs.

Review: ProDOS

Apple's new OS for the Apple II line, ProDOS, included support for Apple's 5 MB ProFile hard drive, marking files with the time and date they were saved, adding nested directories, and use of a RAM disk. ProDOS was one of the first operating systems to use disk names (like the Mac) instead of a physical drive ID (like the C: drive in DOS and Windows).

Review: IBM CS-9000 Lab Computer

There's a tale that IBM had considered the Motorola 68000 CPU for their personal computer, but went with the Intel 8088 in part because it made for a cheaper design. The IBM CS-9000 was based on the 68000, the same 8 MHz CPU found in the new Macintosh.

Not a personal computer by any stretch of the imagination, the powerful Lab Computer started at $5,000+ and ran OS 1.1 or Xenix, not any of the established PC operating systems.

Review: Apple Disk Emulators

This review looks at four RAM disks for the Apple II. The models offered ranged from 128 KB (less than one floppy stored) to 320 KB. Two were expansion cards that fit inside the computer, while the other two were external devices. These "disk emulators" averaged 4-5 times faster than a floppy disk, making them great for programs that did a lot of file access. Prices? $349-1,095.

Bubbles on the S-100 Bus

About ten years back, bubble memory was the next big thing. Unlike a floppy or hard drive, bubble memory had no moving parts. Unlike a RAM disk, bubble memory retained its contents when the computer was turned off. Clever, but it never caught on.


Open the front cover to a two-page ad promoting the Apple ImageWriter, the Apple Card (a credit card), and Catalyst, a program from Quark that allowed users to install "almost anything written for the Apple III" to the ProFile hard drive - including copy-protected software.

Everyone was making DOS computers. Outstanding values included the Chameleon, a $1,999 portable with two floppies and a 9" screen, and the TAVA PC, a $1,999 (plus monitor) desktop.

Speaking of clones, Compaq was pushing their new Compaq Plus, which took the original portable Compaq and added a whoppingly huge 10 MB hard drive.

If you wanted letter quality printing but still needed a typewriter, the Bytewriter offered both in one package.

Think 3.5" floppies are too big? Amdek and Hitachi both had ads for 3" floppy drives. According to the Amdek ad, Apple II users could store 286 KB per disk - twice as much as Apple's 5.25" floppy.

Remember Smith-Corona typewriters? Corona Data Systems made DOS computers, one a PC clone, the other a Compaq clone.

"Dimension. The most powerful, most compatible personal computer you can buy." The Dimension used the same 68000 CPU found in Lisa and Macintosh, but it also "contains the microprocessors found in all of today's popular personal computers" - Z80, 6502, and 8088. Clever idea, but only a handful were ever produced.

Did you know Epson made some innovative computers over the years? In this issue, they had a two-page ad promoting their QX-10 Valdocs system, which had single-key commands to launch programs and perform common functions such as saving and printing. Alas, the QX-10 was based on the old Z80 processor and CP/M operating system, which was doomed by DOS.

Here's a real blast from the past - a Heathkit ad! "I built this 16-bit computer and saved money. Learned a lot, too." That computer was the Heath H-100, a hybrid machine with two CPUs (8085 and 8088) that could run two operating systems, creating a bridge between the CP/M past and the MS-DOS future. Also available preassembled as the Zenith Z-100, the machine had a great keyboard and a IBM PC incompatible architecture that supported up to 768 KB of memory and S-100 expansion cards.

Another PC-incompatible DOS computer was the Texas Instruments Professional Computer, which had superior graphics and a better keyboard than the IBM PC. As with the Heath/Zenith machine, that incompatibility doomed an otherwise excellent computer.

The Sanyo PC Plus was available from Scottsdale Systems for $1,099 - one of the cheapest DOS machines of the day.

"Can you name the world's third largest supplier of personal computers?" Back in 1984, Apple and IBM filled the top two slots, while NEC was #3. Their APC (Advanced Personal Computer) shows why they never made it to the top - dual 8" floppies, unique architecture, huge size made this "advanced" machine unattractive to businesses.

For more in-depth coverage of the first Macintosh, read The Original Macintosh.

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