The Night Owl’s Favorite Mac

December 8th, 2008

The other day I read an article in Macworld observing the 25th anniversary of the Mac, which will actually occur in January of 2009. Several writers suggested that the SE/30, introduced in 1989, was their favorite model — ever.

In production less than two years, the SE/30 was basically an amalgam of the original Mac form factor with a — for its time — powerful 16MHz Motorola 68030 processor. Selling for an exorbitant $6,500, it was basically the all-in-one equivalent of the IIx; in essence of souped up SE. You can see where the obvious name for this product, SE/X, was a little too suggestive.

Now I understand the power of nostalgia, and I can see where pleasant memories may conspire to overpower logic and reason. So maybe an event or a possession that perhaps wasn’t so great at the time assumes greater importance later on.

Before you get the idea that I’m really dismissing the greatness of the SE/30, consider that I do not feel any lure in the original Mac design, even though it was a trendsetter in its time. Its biggest shortcoming was the nine-inch black and white 512 x 342 display. That may be fine and dandy for simple word processing and all, but if you were doing heavy-duty desktop publishing and graphics as I was, it was a serious impediment to productivity.

Indeed, after working with Macs at the office for several years, the first Apple product I brought into my home was a IIcx, outfitted with the venerable 13-inch Apple color display. Now I have to tell you that, though this gave me a lot more desktop space than the all-in-one Macs of the time, it was by no means sufficient for my purposes. In those days, however, a 19-inch color display would routinely set you back around $2,500, and you’d have to pay close to that for a decent accelerated graphics card. I had to save and save again to upgrade.

How times have changed!

The IIcx wasn’t my favorite, however. I actually preferred the IIci at the time, because putting a card in its cache slot gave it a credible dose of steroids. Although the measured performance improvement was relatively minor in the scheme of things, what it did enhance made all functions seem snappier.

Later on, I even added a 68040 accelerator card to the mix, making that IIci near the equivalent of a Quadra in terms of absolute performance.

I realize that the IIci’s native 25MHz 68030 processor is quite paltry by 21st century standards, but it was a powerful beast for its time. Indeed, in some respects, such as application launching, it almost seemed quicker than today’s bloated graphics applications on a dual quad-core Mac Pro loaded to the gills with RAM.

That particular compact design also had its undeniable charm. You see, it weighed less than 14 pounds, yet had room for eight RAM modules and three NuBus expansion card slots, all in its relatively diminutive (for its time) case. In contrast, the Mac Pro, which doesn’t have a whole lot greater capacity, except for hard drives and optical devices, towers above the IIci in more ways that one. It also tips the scales at close to 43 pounds. It’s not a trivial thing to lug around, particularly when my aging back decides to protest.

It is not nostalgia, however, that inspires me to suggest that Apple is missing the boat by not delivering a modern IIci equivalent to fill a gaping hole in the Mac product line.

Yes, folks, here I am again recommending that Apple deliver a midrange Mac that has the essential guts of the iMac without the built-in display. Sure, the iMac has been a great success, and it’s also true that desktop computers just aren’t in vogue these days.

Notice, for example, the fact that Apple was quick to update the note-book lines this fall, but left the iMac and the under-appreciated Mac mini on the back burner.

However, midrange desktops are still ubiquitous on the Windows platform. They offer the combination of decent expandability and more than sufficient power for all but devoted gamers and content creators. A Mac equivalent would perhaps have space for an extra hard drive, another two RAM cards, and perhaps an extra expansion port for additional video hardware or perhaps a second network port.

In the scheme of things, this particular design might perhaps cannibalize sales from the iMac or maybe even the Mac Pro. But a sale is a sale, and I also believe thats potential Mac switchers who can’t find the right computer in Apple’s current product line would just love this model.

The same may very well be true for those of you who still feel a fondness for the IIci and wish Apple would build a true successor.

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13 Responses to “The Night Owl’s Favorite Mac”

  1. Karl says:

    I think a midrange Mac is a great idea… But doubt it will happen because I think Apple gave that up to the Windows world a while back.

    As far as favorite Macs go… mine is actually a Mac clone. A PowerComputing PowerCenter 132 tower. That was the first computer I purchased. Though I had been using a few Macs at work ranging from a Quardra 950 to PowerMac 8100/100. Apple/IBM/Motorola came up with the CHRP design, which the PowerCenter falls into, and I still think they were some of the best computers.

    Though I don’t use it, that PowerCenter is still set up running Mac OS 8.5. Its got a 250MHz G3 upgrade card. A couple of 4GB hard drives. A VooDoo 3x graphics card. An internal Zip drive and is stuffed full of old software… Freehand Graphic Studio, ClarisWorks and other long forgotten applications.

    Ahh those were the days to be a Mac user. 🙂

  2. I had a PowerTower Pro. It worked great, but it was badly built and had a hostile interior. Any attempt at expansion left me with bloodied fingers because of the sharp edges on the chassis.


  3. Frank says:

    I’m a big fan of mini tower type enclosures for the work environment. My boss recently said I could buy a Mac when my current IBM is ready for replacement. However, Apple’s lack of a mini tower leaves me at a loss about which Mac to choose. I have a 22″ monitor so don’t need an iMac and the lack of expansion and 2.5″ drive make the Mini less than compelling.

    At my previous job, I had a B&W tower that lasted 5 years because I could upgrade RAM, video card, HDDs, processor, etc. Upgrades are a lot cheaper and more environmentally sound than buying a whole new computer.

  4. Karl says:

    Gene Steinberg wrote:

    I had a PowerTower Pro. It worked great, but it was badly built and had a hostile interior. Any attempt at expansion left me with bloodied fingers because of the sharp edges on the chassis.

    That was the same with that PowerCenter… But after the bloody battle of installing RAM and what not. You would sit back during the restart and treat the wounds. Then get back to work with a better machine. 🙂

  5. That’s it: They had a marketing deal with a drug company that makes bandages and healing creams. 🙂


  6. Bo says:

    A midrange tower would be a great idea, but I doubt it will ever happen again. I replaced my aging G4 Sawtooth that at the end of its (useful) life sported a 1.2 GHz processor, two 250 GB harddrives, four USB2 ports and a ATI 9000 AGP graphics card. Upgradeability is environmentally friendly, but may not be the best for a company like Apple – due to its upgradeability I could keep it way, way after its original “throw away”-date. The aluminium iMac that replaced it can hardly be upgraded at all, and will probably not last half as long. I can’t even change the hard drive in the d*** thing myself… Planned obsolescense I guess…

    “Favorite Mac of all times” made me think of the 512K Fat Mac that I used at the University in the mid eighties… Maybe not a great machine by todays standards, but a revelation at the time.


  7. Andrew says:

    My favorite Mac of all time is probably the 1.0 GHz 12″ PowerBook. I still have an use one as a backup and short-haul travel machine. It wasn’t particularly fast even for its day, but the build-quality, look, feel and utility made it a real winner that remains a great alternative to newer model for frequent travel.

  8. Andrew says:

    Another candidate for my favorite Mac is the Sawtooth G4 tower. Like Bo’s, my Sawtooth was heavily upgraded and lasted 9 years as a front-line production machine before being replaced in October with a new Mac Pro. At the end of its time with me (it is still happily chugging away for its new owner) it had dual 1.0 GHz G4 processors, 2.0 GB of RAM, 4 USB 2.0 ports, ABG wireless (PCI) that OS X recognized as a genuine Apple Airport Extreme, and an upgraded ATA controller with a pair of fast 320GB hard drives and an 8X DVDRW drive that currently lives in the lower slot of my Mac Pro. The only weak link was video, which was upgraded to nVidia GeForce FX5200 AGP AND ATI Radeon 7500 PCI, each card driving a 19″ LCD through DVI.

  9. Karl says:

    Yeah, another candidate for me is my G4 tower (Gigabit Ethernet). I have it stuffed with RAM & a couple of hard drives. An video card, (I don’t remember which one.) and 800MHz processor upgrade. Thing runs Tiger well and still use it in a pinch to surf the web, rip a CD or even convert video.

    Though I have to say, I hate the monitor I have connected to it. A generic 17″ CRT. I have thought about getting another processor upgrade card for it and a new LCD but just don’t think it’s worth it any longer.

  10. Love my PowerBook 15-inch Titanium. Still looks brand new.

  11. Andrew says:

    Funny thing about the Titanium is that it still looks “high tech” too.

  12. NorthAZJoe says:

    I still have my favorite mac – My very first one – a Macintosh Classic, it has been modded a little though. I put the guts of a Classic ll in the Classic case along with 10 Mb of RAM and a 160 Mb HD. I don’t use it much, but it still runs fine and starts really fast. I also have an eMac 1.25 Ghz with 768 Mb as my daily machine. I’m planning to move up sometime early 2009 to an intel machine. I’m just waiting to see what happens after christmas. The eMac will go to my son and his Power Mac G4 will go to his sister.

    Now, if I could just get my wife to switch…

  13. Ian says:

    Ditto the IIci.

    I started playing with older Apples when I discovered the Goodwill Computerworks store in Austin in 2001. I bought all kinds of Macs there from superdrive SEs to 1st generation PowerMacs and had a blast tearing them apart, reassembling them, installing various OS versions, etc.

    By the time I went back to school in 2002 I found I always returned to the IIci, System 7.1, WriteNow, and a Portrait Display. Wrote many papers on that machine…

    I think I kept using it because it’s form factor, expansion, and cheap upgrades hit a sweet spot for me. I reverse-switched this year, but I’d come back for a Mac III 😉

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