Mac Musings

The Overpriced Mac in 1989

Daniel Knight - 2005.01.12

If 1985 was the "no new Macs" year, 1988 was the "one new Mac year." The Mac IIx, the only new Mac introduced in 1988, was a slightly updated Mac II with a 16 MHz 68030 CPU, 68882 math coprocessor, and and a high-density floppy drive.

Apple's high-density floppy, sometimes known as a SuperDrive and also known as FDHD (floppy disk, high density), not only increased data storage from 800 KB to 1.4 MB per disk, it was also able to read and write 3.5" floppies from the PC world.

Other Apple introductions in 1988 include the LaserWriter II, A/UX (Apple's first Unix), a CD-ROM player, System 6.0. On the PC side of things, there were 30 million MS-DOS users (we have roughly the same number of Mac users today), Microsoft shipped Windows 2.0, and the first Internet virus> infected 6,000 computers.

In October 1988, Steve Jobs unveiled the NeXT Cube, which would ship in 1989.

Macintosh 1989

In January 1989, on the Mac's 5th birthday, Apple introduced the fastest b&w compact Mac ever, the SE/30. With the same 16 MHz 68030 as the Mac IIx, the US$4,369 computer became a favorite server solution, especially with a network card plugged into its processor direct slot (PDS).

Two months later, Apple rolled out the Mac IIcx at $5,369. The IIcx provided the same power as the Mac IIx and SE/30 in a mid-sized case with three expansion slots (vs. six in the Mac IIx and one in the SE/30).

The first modular Mac with onboard video shipped in September. The IIci sold for $6,700 floppy only, $8,800 with a 40 MB hard drive. Visually similar to the IIcx, the IIci ran at 25 MHz - and you no longer had to buy a separate video card to connect a monitor.

Finally, we have the first battery-powered Mac, the Portable. The 16 lb. portable used a lead-acid battery for up to 10 hours of use in the field. It used a low-power 16 MHz 68000, supported up to 9 MB of RAM, and the hard drive version ($7,300) had a special Connor hard drive, which made hard drive upgrades a bother.

The PC World in 1989

Spec-for-spec, the computer closest to the Mac was the NeXT Cube. Both it and the IIci ran a 25 MHz 68000 CPU and supported SCSI devices. The Mac used a HD floppy drive; the NeXT used an unpopular rewritable optical drive. The Mac supported color; the NeXT shipped with a 17" grayscale display and showed four shades of gray.

The Mac IIci with a 40 MB hard drive sold for $8,800 plus keyboard and monitor, although a lot of Mac dealers sold floppy-only Macs with third-party drives to save their customers money. The NeXT Cube sold for $6,500 including its display. It even had ethernet support.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web on a NeXT computer in 1989.

In the PC world, the 80386 microprocessor kept getting faster, and it eventually peaked at 40 MHz before the 486 displaced it. On the low-end side, Intel's 80386SX put the 386 on a 16-bit bus, reducing performance but also allowing lower-cost motherboards.

Although it's difficult to find a lot of pricing on old PCs on the Web (Mac prices are easy to come by - I think it says something about the user base for each platform), a 20 MHz 386 system with 2 MB RAM, 40 MB hard drive, and a 14" color monitor sold for about $4,000 in 1988.

In stunning contrast to the Mac Portable, the Poqet PC was the first pocket-sized computer to run MS-DOS that weighed just one pound. (By comparison, Compaq's first notebook computer weighed 7 lb.)

Looking at the competition in 1989, there was really no reason to consider the Mac overpriced.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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