Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985. In a now-famous boardroom brawl, Jobs was outmaneuvered by his chosen CEO, John Sculley. Directing the Macintosh team had been Jobs’ most meaningful accomplishment to date, but Jobs and the team were exhausted by the rush to launch the Mac in 1984. Exhaustion, coupled with Apple’s management confusion, led most of the original team to leave Apple to pursue other interests.
John Sculley knew the Apple II line was far from state-of-the-art and would not sustain the company much longer. He also recognized the genius of Macintosh. Though he resisted lowering its price (solidifying its reputation as an impressive but expensive computer), he did support enhancing the Macintosh to ensure its ongoing attraction to creative professionals. Jean-Louise Gassée was charged with producing the Mac’s next act, and he did so with the Macintosh II.
Gassée believed the Macintosh abandoned two key features that made the Apple II a success: color and expandability. He set about correcting these omissions in the next generation of Macintoshes, but one of them would be addressed with the Macintosh SE.
Late in 1984, the original Macintosh was enhanced with more RAM, moving it from 128K to 512K. In 1986, the Macintosh received several needed upgrades in the form of the Macintosh Plus. This model addressed many shortfalls of the original, such as adding support for 1MB of RAM, larger 800K floppy disks, external hard drives, and an improved keyboard. While the Plus made the Mac a useful computer, more significant changes were ahead.
In 1987, Apple released the Macintosh SE. Upon its introduction, it shared the stage with the first incarnation of the Macintosh II. While the Mac II had a faster processor, color graphics, and six NuBus expansion slots, it also came with the steep price of $5,500, not including a display. The SE was a continuation of the original Macintosh, keeping its compact design and nine-inch CRT but updating it with Apple’s new “snow white” aesthetic. It also came with a somewhat more reasonable price of $2,900 for the dual-floppy configuration and $3,900 for a single-floppy and 20MB hard drive.
The SE stood for “system expansion,” which meant a single processor direct slot (PDS) located on the side of the logic board. The SE also supported up to 4MB of RAM (with modifications) and either two internal floppy drives or one floppy and an internal 20MB or 40MB hard drive. The SE was also the first Macintosh to incorporate the Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) interface, introduced on the Apple IIGS. Finally, the SE supported faster hard drives than the Plus, and it was the first Macintosh to come equipped with a cooling fan.
Over time the PDS expansion slot was used to add graphic cards, Ethernet adapters, RAM expansions, processor accelerators, and even MS-DOS compatibility.
The Macintosh SE FDHD (floppy drive high density) was introduced in 1989. My SE is a later SuperDrive model. It was made in the first week of May 1990 in Fremont, California. The SuperDrive matched the FDHD’s 1.4MB floppy drive but added the ability to read MS-DOS disks using special software. The Macintosh SE/30 was released a few months earlier, making the Macintosh SE SuperDrive the last SE model introduced. It was replaced by the similar but lower-priced Macintosh Classic (though the Classic lacked slot expandability) in October 1990.
Like the original Mac, the SE was powered by Motorola’s 68000 processor, running at 8MHz. The 256K ROM reportedly has room to spare, so a picture of the development team is allegedly stored in ROM. My SE came with the stock configuration of four 256K 30-pin SIMMs providing 1MB of RAM. I decided to upgrade the machine to a maximum of 4MB by replacing the 256K SIMMs with 1MB modules. In order to execute this upgrade, I needed to remove a jumper on the logic board, but earlier versions of the SE required cutting one or two resistors.
The screen is a standard 9-inch monochrome CRT providing 512×342 resolution. In addition to replacing the thankfully intact battery, I decided to proactively replace the electrolytic capacitors on the logic and analog boards. While I inspected the Sony power supply, after a quick clean, I left it as I found it for now. The logic board only has a few axial capacitors, while the analog board has a collection of different-sized through-hole capacitors. Only C15 was awkward, as the kit I purchased from Console 5 used a large red film capacitor to replace the non-polar electrolytic.
After replacing the capacitors and oiling the fan, I fired up the computer and was greeted with a checkerboard pattern. I assumed I had made a mistake with one or more capacitors, but I found no errors when checking my work. After some research, I suspected a RAM problem, but restoring the original RAM did not fix the problem. Puzzled, I decided to check the voltage rails. I learned it’s easiest to test the voltages using the rear floppy drive connector. While the +5v and -12V were fine, the +12V was reading 3.6V.
While I inspected and reflowed the solder connection from the power supply to the PSU, I did not check the connection from the analog board to the logic board. Upon closer inspection, I saw several likely bad solder joints on one side of the connector.
After reflowing each pin, I was pleased the Mac fired up to a flashing question mark. My relief at booting the Mac was premature because after mounting an external hard drive and using the computer for a while, I noticed the display had a slight shimmy that worsened when I slapped the side of the case. So I pulled out the analog board again and, this time, reflowed the CRT connector’s solder joints.
The floppy drive received a customary cleaning and lubrication before I turned my attention to the hard drive. The SE came with its original 20MB MiniScribe hard drive. To my surprise, it operated perfectly. The drive was full of material from its previous owner. This SE lived a typical life for a Macintosh of this era. It belonged to a biology and ecology high school teacher, and the content included class material, grades, and letters. Most of the files were dated from the mid to late ’90s, so perhaps she was the computer’s second owner. I acquired this computer locally through Facebook marketplace. It seems the previous owner lived a few hours drive away and had friends in my community. I suspect this computer was passed around a bit before it was listed on Facebook.
While I recently purchased a BlueSCSI kit as a potential hard drive replacement, since the MiniScribe appeared to work perfectly, I decided to leave it in the computer. I wiped the contents and opted to install System 6.0.8. The original SE shipped with System 4 in 1987, but Apple recommends System 6 through 7.5.5 for the later SE models. The 4MB upgrade would have made this a fine System 7 computer, but I decided to go with a simpler setup. Configured as it is, this computer would still work well for basic productivity tasks, simple gaming, or visiting retro BBSs.
This Mac did not come with a keyboard or mouse, but I acquired an Apple Keyboard II and ADB Mouse through eBay. The mouse was already clean and in good working order. The keyboard was dirty and showed signs of use. I used my vintage Northgate Computer key remover to take out all the normal keys for cleaning, but unfortunately, I grabbed both ends of the space bar and snapped it in the middle.
It is always vexing to manhandle plastics that become increasingly brittle with age, but I could have done a better job extracting this space bar. I was relieved it had not cracked entirely in half. After cleaning the key, I glued it back together with cyanoacrylate adhesive (good ole Super Glue), and it should hold together. The rest of the keyboard cleaned up nicely without further issues.
Finally, I was ready to button up the computer, but first, I extended my regards to the SE’s development team. Along with the aforementioned picture in ROM, the Macintosh team signed the inside of the case. This practice started with the original Macintosh and survived through several subsequent models.
The compact Macintosh is iconic in all its forms, but I suspect that most users with a diminutive Macintosh sitting on their desk had the SE. Not only because it was available longer than any other model (1987 through 1990) but because it was a well-rounded computer in its day. Capable of mastering documents and supporting other creative pursuits, the SE was a quintessential Macintosh.