Vectronic's Macintosh Classic II
Originally Published: Mar. 21, 2004
The Classic II was the last of the compact, black and white Macs. It represented the low end of Apple's desktop line of computers. The Classic II is quite capable of doing some "modern" things like surfing the Internet (albeit slowly) by modem or DSL, or playing MPEG files. Unfortunately, the more modern you try to make the Classic II, the slower the computer runs due to the 16-bit data bus.
The Classic II originally shipped with Mac OS 7.0.1 but it can use up to Mac OS 7.6.1. We have installed Mac OS 7.5.5 on a few of our Classic IIs, but have found that anything more than 7.1 causes system performance to crawl. The problem is two fold, first the max RAM of 10 MB is just too little to use anything more, and second, the 16-bit data bus is just too crippled. If you want to enjoy using a Classic II, do yourself a favor and don't go past Mac OS 7.1. Our Blue Max Classic II has Mac OS 7.0.1 installed. I think that the Classic II was never intended to run anything as bulky as 7.5. Running Mac OS 7.5 in a Classic II will result in an extremely sluggish system. That is because Mac OS 7.5 has a lot more processes running in the background. Mac OS 7.5 loads many more extensions at startup and has a lot more overhead. Consider the RAM requirements for example. 7.0.1 uses 1.6 MB of RAM while 7.5 uses nearly 4 MB of RAM. 7.0.1 is very simple in comparison to 7.5 but there is something charming about its simplicity.
If you must run Mac OS 7.5, I would suggest doing a custom install and only installing what is absolutely necessary. Another scheme you might use is to install Mac OS 7.0.1 and then add additional extensions if you need them (provided they work). Remember, more extensions mean a slower system.
The Classic II has the same basic ports as the Classic. It has one ADB port, one DB-19 drive port, one DB-25 SCSI port, one modem port, one speaker jack, and unlike any other compact black and white Mac before it, one microphone port. The Classic II shipped with an external Apple microphone and its system software will allow the user to record custom alert sounds. Apple also included a plastic mount for the external microphone. The mount has very sticky two-sided foam tape. The owner could stick the microphone anywhere on the casing, but once there; the mount requires quite a bit of force to remove and removing it would probably result in damage to the case. Like the Macintosh Classic, the Classic II does not have any slots for expansion.
There is often confusion about the modem port. This port is not an Ethernet port nor is it an RJ-11 modem port (suitable for connecting a standard telephone line). The Classic II does not have a modem card installed or a free slot to install a modem card. The modem port is actually a serial 2 DIN-8 RS-422 port that is used to connect an external standard RJ-11 modem. Can the Classic II surf the Internet? Yes, but without a modern browser and only 10 MB of max RAM with a 16 MHz processor, not very well. I actually got The Blue Max on the web back in 2000 using a 28.8K external modem. I placed a bid on eBay for a Classic II. I can't remember if I won, but I remember that loading a page took several minutes and the computer crashed often. I doubt that eBay would even load today because web technology has advanced dramatically and most commercial sites require a modern browser.
The Classic II has a built in 9-inch black and white monitor with a single resolution of 512 x 384. It is not capable of producing gray scale without significant modification. It has a single internal 1.4 MB floppy disk drive. Apple shipped the Classic II with either a 40 MB or 80 MB internal SCSI hard drive.
The Classic II has the reset button and a programmer button built into the case. Actually, these buttons reside on the motherboard. The Classic II has two plastic extensions (for lack of a better term) that when pressed activate the motherboard switches. Compact Macs before the Macintosh Classic (and later the Classic II) did not have these button extensions built into the case. Apple offered a snap on set of buttons for the Macintosh SE and SE/30. Without the snap on buttons, a bent paperclip through the side vents did the trick of clicking one of these motherboard switches.
The Classic and Classic II are the hardest compact Macs to get into. Opening the casing requires a "case cracker" or a padded flathead screwdriver and hammer. The top of the casing is slightly rounded and fits together tightly. It must either be pried loose by a case cracker or tapped loose by a flathead screwdriver (with padded head) and hammer.
Most Classic IIs have holes on the side of the case for the speaker, which is mated to the analog board. We have an early example of a Classic II that does not have these holes (see thumbnails below). The older Macintosh Classic never had these holes. Without the speaker holes, the sound coming out of the speaker is muted to say the least. Even with volume turned up to the max (set using the system software), sound can barely be heard. The holes definitely help to alleviate the problem of a muted speaker.
We modified one of our Classic IIs back in 2002. The process is documented and you can view it by clicking the link below. Apologies for the quality of the images. Our photographic equipment has definitely improved since 2002. We affectionately call the resulting masterpiece, "The Blue Max."
I am really fond of the Classic II. Many deride the Classic II for its slow 16-bit data bus, which fails to take advantage of the full potential of its 16 MHz 68030 CPU. Others complain about its max RAM of 10 MB. I agree that the Classic II could have been a better machine but I believe the cost would have made this computer unmarketable. The Classic II is a superb computer and when used for its intended purpose, it really shines.
The Blue Max