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  • 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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