Vectronic's Macintosh Classic
Originally Published: June 25, 2006
The Classic originally shipped with System 6.0.7, but it supports up to System 7.5.5. I would seriously advise against installing anything newer than 7.0.1. The Classic just doesn't have enough RAM to run anything higher. Its slow 8 MHz, 68000 processor crawls if tasked with anything above 7.0.1. The Classic has the ability to start a ROM disk by holding down the Command-Option-X-O keys during the boot process. This boots the Classic into a special combination of the System and Finder only the Classic can run. It is similar to System 6.0.7. Apple actually shipped an entry-level version of the Classic without an internal hard drive. The ability to boot Mac OS from ROM would have definitely alleviated the need to boot from a floppy disk unless a newer version of Mac OS was necessary. Mac OS runs quite slowly on a floppy disk.
The Classic has about the same ports as the Macintosh SE and SE/30 (one fewer ADB port), and like those older Macs, it does not have a microphone port or internal microphone. The Classic has a single ADB port, one DB-25 SCSI port, one DB-19 disk drive port, one printer port, one modem port, and a speaker jack.
The Macintosh Classic was basically an upgraded Macintosh Plus. It shared features of both the Plus and the Macintosh SE. Like the Plus, it was not expandable. The Classic did not have the processor direct slot for PDS cards available on the older Macintosh SE and SE/30. Like the SE (FDHD variant), it had a fan and an FDHD disk drive capable of using 1.4 MB or 800K floppy disks. Like the Plus and SE, the Classic used the trusty Motorola 68000 chip.
The Classic's design is a testament to Apple's desire to cut manufacturing costs. Its chassis is tightly squeezed in a form-fitted case that trims down the overall size when compared to the similar form factors of the Plus and SE. The Classic is about 1 pound lighter than the Macintosh SE. The Classic's motherboard is about one half the size of the Plus, SE, or SE/30. The motherboard has 1 MB of RAM built-in. RAM expansion beyond 1 MB requires a vertical RAM expansion card, which has 1 MB of additional onboard RAM and two 30-pin SIMM slots. RAM must be installed in groups of 2. The Classic can only address up to 4 MB of RAM. 30-pin SIMMs installed on the expansion card can be either 256K or 1 MB. Many found this disappointing because the older SE/30 could officially address 32 MB of RAM (more with third-party software).
The Classic is difficult to open because its front bezel fits so tightly to the chassis. Many of these older Macs show the scares of previous owners prying them apart with a screwdriver or some other form of blunt instrument. I doubt my Classic has been opened since it left the factory. Apple Service Techs used a "case cracker" to open them up. I have opened up quite a few Classics and Classic IIs. Patients and a careful hand are required. The Classic's front bezel is curved at the top (see the image below), unlike the straight front plate of the Macintosh SE. The Classic is more rounded on its edges and has a softer overall look.
My Classic has 2 MB of RAM (it has a vertical board with no SIMMs) and a 40 MB hard drive. This would have cost the original owner about $1500 in 1990. Apple sold a stripped down version of the Classic without a hard drive and with 1 MB RAM (without the vertical RAM board) for $999.
The Classic was very popular in schools and with consumers purchasing their first Mac. Unfortunately, many found the Classic too out of date in 1990. The 68000 processor was over 6 years old at the time. The older Macintosh SE was at least marginally expandable, and the SE/30 was far more capable with its 68030 processor and Macintosh II architecture. In 1991, Apple addressed many of Classic's shortcomings with the Classic II, which would eventually replace the Classic. Unfortunately, the Classic II, which offered a maximum of 10 MB of RAM and a 68030 processor, still suffered from the same bottleneck 16-bit bus used by the Classic.
I personally like the Classic, as long as it is used for its intended purpose and with its intended software. It is more refined than a Plus and has a nice smooth platinum case. These old Macs are a lot of fun and for $45, I think I found a great deal.