Apple IIc

The Apple II is an 8-bit wonder and was Apple Computer’s first success. It was also arguably the first big hit of the personal computer revolution. Steve Wozniak famously hand-built the original Apple computer kit in 1976, then he and Steve Jobs became tech darlings after the introduction of the Apple II. Part of the “1977 Trinity” when introduced that year, the Apple II significantly outlived its contemporaries: the Commodore PET and TRS-80. Until discontinued in 1993, the Apple II line defined home computing.

I watched the Apple II from afar. I saw the ads and software reviews in magazines, toyed with one or two briefly in school, but I only had direct access to CP/M and DOS machines in the 1980s. I’m happy to rectify that omission with this lovely Apple IIc.

The Apple IIc was the fourth member of the Apple II line, introduced in 1984, a few months after the Macintosh. It was created during a tumultuous period in Apple’s history. The business-focused Apple III had flopped, as had the technically-sophisticated but troubled Apple Lisa. The Macintosh was the latest attempt to develop a hit on par with the Apple II.

In the early ’80s, Apple began to think about a portable Apple II. After seeing the advances of Toshiba and others, engineers began experimenting with a “book-sized” computer with a built-in disk drive. Once Steve Jobs was involved, he focused this compact Apple II (thus the “c”) on new computer users. Unlike other Apple II designs, the case would be closed and the most popular adds-on already installed. While the IIc could not be squeezed into a book-sized footprint, the case was sized to fit within a briefcase.

The IIc was the first Apple device to utilize the “Snow White” design aesthetics carried forward to the Apple IIGS, Macintosh SE, and Macintosh II family of computers. Sadly, it’s hard to find a IIc that has not color shifted from the original creamy white of “fog” to a jaundiced yellow.

Cover of the 16-page Apple IIc product brochure

The computer is powered by a variant of MOS Technology’s 6502 processor. Western Design Center (WDC) crafted the 65C02 as a low-powered chip that remained clocked at 1MHz. Apple hoped the lower-power would produce less heat within the confined case.

Out of the box, the IIc had the ability to display 80-columns of text, an internal 5.25-inch drive, a separate external drive connector, composite and RGB video connectors, two serial ports, and mouse/joystick support. It also came standard with 128K of RAM.

Priced at $1,295, customers did not appreciate the compact design as much as Apple hoped. The Apple IIe remained more popular. Perhaps customers feared the IIc was a lesser version of the original, linking it to the IBM PCjr, also introduced in 1984. The IIc was manufactured until 1988, when it was replaced by the 4MHz Apple IIc Plus (which survived until 1990).

I acquired this Apple IIc through Craigslist. It was a well-used household computer. I was blessed to acquire a full set up: computer, monitor, printer, mouse, joystick, disks, manuals, and necessary cables. Everything sat in boxes for many years, but the dust and grime were minimal.

The only IIc peripherals not included were an RF modulator, modem, paddles (hand controllers), the external Disk IIc, and the rare flat-panel display.

A nicely-maintained Apple IIc set up.

While inspecting my haul, I discovered this is an early IIc, manufactured around October 1984. The logic board and power supply looked good, and I was ready to power it on for the first time. I was pleased to hear the usual startup sounds and an amber Apple //c greeting me on the screen.

Inside the Apple IIc manufactured in autumn 1984
The Apple IIc is ready to go

The keyboard needed attention. While it worked, it felt terrible. Later IIcs came with a more robust keyboard and Alps switches, but these earlier models used Apple’s “hairspring” switches. These switches are not as nice as the Alps, but the biggest problem was the rubber mat installed between the keycaps and the switches. Meant to reduce spill damage, the combo rubber sheet had warped and deteriorated with age, now inhibiting the keys’ ability to bottom out when pressed. After removing and cleaning all the keycaps, I decided to remove the spill guard to improve the keyboard’s feel.

Early model IIc Atlanta Photocircuit keyboard with Apple “hairspring” switches

With the computer itself squared away, it was time to slide a disk into the 5.25-inch drive and see how the Apple II operated. However, I was frustrated to find the disks were not readable. I tried several, and after each, the IIc responded with a “Check Disk Drive” message. I have bad luck with floppies, so I went about my usual practice of opening the drive, cleaning it, lubricating the metal rails and contact points, but still nothing. I knew the drive’s head was moving because I could hear its machine gun sound at startup. So, I flipped the drive over and realized the spindle motor was not running the drive belt.

The belt appeared tight and in good condition, but the motor itself wasn’t spinning. I tried manually turning the motor, and it moved freely. So, I took a chance and tapped on the spindle motor with the back of a screwdriver. I was surprised when it moved (though erratically) on the next startup attempt. I helped the drive spin with my finger the next time, and I saw DOS Version 3.3 System Manager greeting me on the screen. I’m relieved it has worked since.

Checking the floppy drive belt and motor

I also addressed a few nit-picky details. Someone had taken the computer apart in the past and forgot one of the screws securing the floppy drive to the bottom case. I found a properly threaded #5 machine screw, but it was a bit too long, so I cut it down to size. Also, the power switch was upside down (the off symbol was on and on was off). I quickly popped it off and put it in the proper orientation.

Cutting down a #5 machine screw to secure the floppy drive
A properly oriented power switch

Now it was time for upgrades. Nearly a year ago, I purchased Steve Chamberlin’s Floppy Emu for a Mac SE/30 restoration. The Floppy Emu can emulate any Apple drive, but its neatest trick is to serve as an SD-based hard drive for an Apple II. But before this IIc could use a hard drive, the ROM had to be upgraded.

Early Apple IIc units came with ROM 255. This 16K ROM did quite a bit in a small package, but eventually, it was replaced with 32K ROMs. Upgraded ROMs can support SmartPort disks. The most common SmartPort product was Apple’s Unidisk 3.5, a handy external double-sided double-density 800K 3.5-inch floppy drive, but several third-party vendors made SmartPort compatible hard drives. This IIc (with the right ROM) could now break the 140KB disk barrier.

Hunting for the right ROM, I stumbled across Steve Buggie’s eBay post. Professor Buggie not only produces quality ROMs, he also showered me with additional Apple II material. I was blown away with helpful information, free software, and tips and tricks he voluntarily sent my way.

A bounty of bonus material accompanying an upgraded IIc ROM

With the new ROM in hand, I followed the straightforward instructions. Since the ROM size doubled, it’s necessary to make a few changes on the IIc’s logic board. Apple was well prepared for this upgrade because all you have to do is break one trace connection and solder in a different one. With that five-minute task behind me, I pulled the original ROM and inserted the new one.

Placing a solder blob on W2
Testing to ensure continuity is broken at trace W1
New ROM ready to go

Now, I decided to go the extra mile and install Big Mess ‘O Wire’s handy Internal/External Drive Switcher. This simple device allows you to select whether the IIc boots normally from the built-in 5.25 floppy, or from the external drive. The switcher has two parts, connected by two small wires. The first part plugs into the internal floppy connector, and the second part plugs into the external connector. The wires run between the two and a switch on the external connector reverses the boot order.

Internal connection providing a pass-through connection to the built-in floppy
Plugged into the external floppy connector with the switcher control wire popping out of the case

Once in place, I could flip the switch and boot the IIc from the Floppy Emu’s stash of floppy images. However, I was stuck when trying to access the hard drive images. When booting, I saw the standard greeting on the top of the screen, but nothing else happened. If I pressed Control+Open Apple+Reset, I would only get a prompt. Perplexed, I tried many different things, and surprisingly, at some point it booted! I was so excited I immediately explored the drive and started playing games. However, I wasn’t paying attention to what made it work. So a few days later, I couldn’t repeat the trick.

Eventually, I learned the switcher had to be in the default position for the hard drive image to load. I assumed it should be switched so the external drive was the boot device, but an Apple II would expect a floppy to be first, so the hard drive was expected to be a secondary device. With that understanding locked in my brain, I’ve not had a problem since.

Now that I could play games, I realized the joystick had a problem. The primary trigger button didn’t work. When pressed, there was no click. I assumed the internal switch was worn out, so I cracked it open. Once pried apart, I was relieved to see the switch was simply dislodged and no longer contacted the button. It was a simple matter to put it back into position. I also took the opportunity to clean the well-used joystick thoroughly.

The joystick trigger was dislodged
Peripherals prepped

Thirty-five years late, but I’m finally exploring the Apple II universe. The computer came with stacks of floppies. Some are productivity and graphics apps such as AppleWorks, The Newsroom, Print Shop, MousePaint, etc. and a decent number are games, including Zaxxon, Sargon III, Spy vs. Spy, Spider-Man, etc. Of course, there is also a treasure trove of content available online.

It’s liberating to use an 8-bit machine that doesn’t need pampering. With no complicated OS to corrupt and no finicky setting to tweak, the Apple IIc loads software, runs software, or writes software. One at a time. That’s it. And that’s enough.

Apple iMac G4

The iMac G4 was the memorable follow up to Apple’s revolutionary iMac. Upon the return of Steve Jobs in 1997, he boldly transformed Apple’s products and inspired a historic line of devices. This “Flat Panel” iMac was built to highlight its attractive LCD monitor, which turned the traditional Macintosh all-in-one design on its head.

I first encountered an iMac G4 when I helped a friend set one up in 2002. Every experience was new. From taking the alien-looking device out of the box, to seeing OS X, to launching Safari, it was my first exploration of a now common-place world.

The Bondi Blue iMac released in 1998 demonstrated Apple’s renewed prowess. It ushered in a series of bold decisions, including the use of translucent materials paired with bright accent colors. After the original iMac’s nearly a five-year run, this “new iMac” retained the translucent plastics, but pivoted away from color and embraced stark white. Echoing the styling of the iPod released the year before, the iMac G4 and iPod were a matched set. Simple and stylish, both designs are now legendary.

iMac G4 with a 4th Generation iPod

Named for its PowerPC G4 processor, the iMac G4 came in 700MHz to 1.25GHz variants. The RISC-based PowerPC chip was a technology partnership between Apple, IBM, and Motorola. Apple used this processor across its product line: from the portable iBook and PowerBook to the tower-style Power Mac and the amazing Power Mac Cube. Even the bargain-priced eMac and the early Mac Mini and rack-mount Xserve came in G4 configurations.

The display was available in 15-inch, 17-inch, and 20-inch sizes. The half-dome base housed NVidia GeForce graphics, at least 256MB of RAM, a 40GB to 80GB hard drive, and a CD/DVD optical drive. It offered USB 1.1 or 2.0 and FireWire 400 connections. A 56Kbps modem and 100Mbps Ethernet were builtin, with Apple’s AirPort WiFi as an option. The earliest versions of this transitional iMac could run Mac OS 9.2, but later models only ran OS X Jaguar to Tiger.

Exterior was in good condition

This particular iMac came to me through Craigslist. It is a “Spring 2003” 17-inch model with a 1GHz PowerPC 7445 G4 processor supported by 256KB of Level 2 cache. It also has Nvidia GeForce4 MX graphics with 64MB of dedicated VRAM capable of supporting resolutions up to 1440 x 900. It came with the standard 256MB of system RAM, but a 1GB upgrade was also installed. Finally, an 80GB Ultra/ATA100 hard drive was present, along with a 4X “SuperDrive” DVD-R/CD-RW.

It had been reasonably well-preserved, but needed a good cleaning. Opening the computer was like working a 3D puzzle. It was impressive to see Apple’s precision as each part fit together with tight tolerances.

Apple’s design didn’t give dirt many places to hide, but it always finds a way to collect somewhere.
While the keyboard looked good on the surface, nastiness was hiding under the keys.
Completely disassembled iMac puzzle

Once the computer was disassembled and thoroughly cleaned, I verified everything was in good condition and determined my upgrade options. I decided to max out the RAM, replace the 7200 RPM drive with an SSD, and add WiFi to the system. Along the way, I also replaced the battery and picked up Apple’s propriety speakers.

I kept the 1GB of laptop-style SO-DIMM memory in the user-accessible slot but secured another 1GB of DDR RAM for the logic board. The official specification limits the system’s RAM to 1GB, but a 2GB configuration works fine. For the hard drive, OWC offers a simple kit to replace the spinning drive with a 120GB Mercury Electra 3G solid-state unit. The Airport Extreme card, supporting 54Mbps 802.11g, was easy to find on eBay, and the installation couldn’t be easier tucked under the bottom plate. Unfortunately, I tried to add Bluetooth, but while Apple’s Bluetooth modules are affordable and easy to find, the cable that connects the module to the built-in antenna proved impossible to source.

Fresh RAM and battery
120GB SSD with a SATA to IDE/ATA converter
New thermal paste for the G4 processor and related heat piping

After reassembling the computer, I was pleased to see it power on without issue, though it took a bit of work to get OS X installed. While I had a DVD for Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, it would not install. I was able to download a copy of 10.4 Tiger from Archive.org, but several errors occurred during the installation. Eventually, I was able to get the base Tiger OS up and running. After removing WPA2 security from my WiFi router, I was also able to test the Airport Extreme card and download a small collection of system updates.

Installing Mac OS 10.4 Tiger
Loading software updates

I believe the iMac G4 is the most attractive and innovative-yet-functional computer made during Apple’s Power PC era. While my early Apple experiences were in the 68k days, soon after the G4 was retired, I returned to the Mac fold and purchased an iMac G5 for my home. I’ve had a Mac ever since. I am proud to add this beautiful machine to my collection.

Apple Macintosh SE/30

I suppose I should thank YouTube’s recommendation algorithm for getting this started. Sometime in 2018, I ran across several vintage computer repair videos that got me thinking about the great computers of the past. The videos both scratched a nostalgic itch and fed a need. I’d been looking for a hobby to get my mind off the daily grind, but I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t feel silly or uninteresting. Then I saw YouTubers explaining and repairing computers I’d spent countless hours hunched over in my youth along with many others I only saw in magazines.

As these things go, a few videos turned into a series of weekend binges, and before I knew it, I was on eBay bidding on a vintage Mac. But not just any Mac; it was an SE/30. The best of the compact Macs, and an inconspicuous powerhouse in its day.

My history with the SE/30 started in 1992. I was a freshman and my college built its first general-purpose computer lab filled with Macintosh Classics and a single SE/30. The little SE/30 sat on a small olive green cabinet and hummed along thanklessly at the center of the lab’s LocalTalk network. It was a simple file and print server, feeding countless documents to the connected LaserWriter II.

I bought my nicely maintained Mac from a seller in New Hampshire. It came with the keyboard, mouse, Kensington trackball, original disks and manuals, dust covers, and a carrying bag. I paid the healthy sum of $311, but it was in good condition, and I was proud to own such a classic machine.

When the computer arrived, I fired it up and heard the once-familiar chime of a happy Mac. Even more nostalgic was the whirring of the Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive and the distinctive sound of its eject motor. Unfortunately, the hard drive did not work, but the computer seemed fine otherwise. Until… I turned it off and on a few times. Before long the screen would fill with random lines and the Mac stopped making sounds.

After some Google searches, I soon learned the dangers of leaking capacitors. If you want to own vintage computers you should be willing to repair them. So, a hobby was born.

Before I could fix my little Mac, I had to learn how. Many hours were spent watching YouTube, reading websites, scanning forums, and selecting tools. Soon, I had a true hobby: something that occupied my time and took my money.

Electronic repair workbench assembled and ready for action.

Over several months, I built a good electronics workbench. This was certainly overkill for repairing a single Macintosh, but I was bit by the retro computing bug, and I was going all in.

With the help of my new tools and several YouTube tutorials, I successfully heated and pulled each of the surface mount capacitors, extracted two through-hole capacitors, cleaned the board with white vinegar (where needed) and isopropyl alcohol. I then replaced each of the capacitors, improving my soldering skills along the way.

Surface-mount capacitor ready for heating and removal.
Closeup inspection of pads after capacitor removal.
Recapped logic board with new battery.

With the logic board completed, it was time to upgrade the stock RAM from 4 to 8MB, scrub all the Mac’s nooks and crannies, clean and lubricate the floppy drive, and address the dead 80MB hard drive. The drive showed no signs of life. While I measured voltage on the drive’s circuit board, the drive motor was a stone. I have learned that rubber parts within vintage Quantum drives can break down and cause the head to stick, but it seemed to me the drive motor had totally failed. Being new at this, I badly stripped a screw trying to access the internal drive mechanism, so it was time to try something else.

I appreciate the benefits of solid state storage over degenerating magnetic media, so I pursued replacing the original SCSI drive with an solid state solution. After some research, I secured version 5.1 of Inertial Computing’s SCSI2SD. Once in hand, I was very thankful for a wonderful setup guide available at David and Steve’s Blog. This site also provided starter image files to load onto the 2GB SD card I had purchased for the Mac.

Once the drive image was loaded, I was ready to test the SE/30. After a quick prayer and double checking the cables, I powered it up and was greeted with a happy Mac and a booting drive.

With the parts lying on my bench, I noticed the SCSI2SD was roughly the same size as the hard drive’s circuit board. After some measuring, a few trips to the hardware store, and good use of a Dremel tool, I fashioned a metal plate for mounting the SCSI2SD to the Quantum hard drive.

Original 80MB Quantum hard drive
Fabricated metal plate for mounting the SCDI2SD
SCSI2SD hard drive circuit board replacement
A sleeper SCSI2SD

It took some work getting the modified drive properly aligned in the mounting cage, but with my sleeper SCSI2SD in place, the Mac was ready to be buttoned up.

Once back in one piece, I utilized the incredibly useful Floppy Emu through the external floppy connector to load a complete operating system and several useful apps. For the OS, I debated whether to go with the original System 6 disks that accompanied the computer, move up to System 7.1, or jump all the way to System 7.5.5. After taking all three systems for a spin, I decided System 7.1 provided the best experience. It could run System 7 programs, but was slimmer than 7.5.5.

In a stroke of luck, I completed this restoration on September 15, 2019. Almost exactly one year from the date I won the eBay auction. During that year, I learned new skills, built a workbench, and discovered a hobby. I’ll always be thankful to the Mac SE/30 for this great experience.