Vectronic's Apple IIc Pus
Originally Published: Aug. 2, 2009
The IIc Plus uses a 4 MHz 65C02 processor. The processor's instruction set is a superset of the 6502's with an additional 27 instructions. The IIc Plus runs at 4 MHz by default. Holding down the ESC (Escape) key during boot will cause the IIc Plus to run at 1 MHz. This is necessary because earlier Apple II software is optimized for the 1 MHz 6502 chips used in earlier Apple II computers. This is especially critical for games that are programmatically timed to run at 1 MHz.
The IIc Plus' case is very similar to the original IIc. Apple changed the color from the older IIc's off-white to platinum, the blue-gray color used on all Apple products at that time. Other minor changes include removing the 40/80 columns button and replacing it with a volume control slider knob, and coloring the keyboard the same platinum color as the case. The IIc Plus has a Mac-like keyboard with an enlarged Return key. Gone is the Solid Apple key of the original IIc, replaced by the Option key found on Macintosh keyboards. The IIc Plus retains the older IIc's little used "keyboard" button on the top of the case that lets the user change from the standard (QWERTY) keyboard layout to the Dvorak keyboard layout. The original IIc has a rather heavy external power supply. The IIc Plus has a built-in power supply utilizing a miniature design developed by Sony. Like the original IIc, the IIc Plus has a built-in handle that doubles as means to angle the case to a more comfortable typing position.
The IIc Plus has the following ports: joystick/mouse port, DIN-8 serial printer port, DIN-8 serial modem port, DB-15 video expansion port, DB-19 floppy drive SmartPort, and an RCA jack. As a cost savings measure, Apple removed the audio-out jack found on the original IIc. The only source of audio is the tiny built-in speaker located in the front-center of the case. The IIc Plus has most of the built-in Apple II peripheral equivalents and port functionality of the original IIc. However, the original IIc has DIN-5 serial ports that require special IIc-only cables in order to connect to Apple peripherals. Apple moved the IIc Plus to the company's standard DIN-8 serial ports used in the Macintosh SE and Apple IIgs. The floppy disk port is also different from the earlier IIc. Originally the IIc only supported one external 5.25-inch floppy disk drive. Later model IIcs supported the UniDisk 3.5, a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive that only worked with the Apple II line. The IIc Plus' "SmartPort" offers backward compatibility with these earlier drives as well as compatibility with the external Apple 3.5 drive used by Macintosh computers.
The IIc Plus has a built-in 3.5-inch floppy disk drive. It can read and write to 800K (double sided) floppies, but it cannot use 400K (single sided) floppies. You can connect up to three disk drives in addition to the built-in drive using the floppy disk drive port. The external drives can be any combination of 3.5-inch drives and 5.25-inch drives, but they must be connected in a particular order and only two of the three can be 5.25-inch drives. You connect the first drive to the disk drive port and any additional drive to each other in a chain. The important thing to remember about connecting disk drives is that the 3.5-inch drives must be closest to the computer in the chain. Many applications will ask you to distinguish between the drives by number. The built-in drive is drive 1. The first external 3.5-inch drive is drive 2. The numbering starts over for 5.25-inch disk drives. The first is drive 1 and the second is drive 2.
Like the original IIc, the IIc Plus has 128K built-in RAM. RAM is expandable up to 1 MB using the memory expansion socket, but just like the original IIc, the IIc Plus is difficult to open and much care must be taken during the process. The memory expansion socket on the IIc Plus is not compatible with memory cards designed for the older IIc. Both Apple and third-party vendors offered memory expansion cards.
Although the IIc Plus arrived on the scene two years after the introduction of the 16-bit Apple IIgs, it does not share the IIgs' enhanced graphics. It has the same graphics as the original IIc, a fact not lost on critics at the time who were disappointed that Apple didn't use a miniaturized version of the IIgs at the heart of the IIc Plus instead of an enhanced IIc. The IIc Plus has two text modes: 40-columns text (24 lines, 5 x 7 dot matrix), and 80-columns text (24 lines, 5 x 7 dot matrix). It has three graphics modes: low-resolution 16-color graphics (40h x 48v color blocks, 40h x 40v with four lines of text), high-resolution 6-color graphics (280h x 192v dots, 280h x 160v with four line of text), and double high-resolution 16-color graphics (560h x 192v dots). Apple removed the redundant 40/80 columns button found on the top of the original IIc and replaced it with a volume control slider knob. The 40/80 button is not really necessary because the use of 40 or 80 columns is usually controlled by the software running in the computer. The user can switch to 80 columns from the command prompt by typing PR#3, which just like on the earlier Apple IIe tells the computer to activate the 80 Column Text Card. The IIc Plus doesn't actually have an 80 Column Text Card, but the functionality is the same for compatibility reasons. Like the Apple IIe, the IIc Plus boots to 40 columns by default.
Apple offered an excellent high-resolution composite monitor in either monochrome (Apple Monochrome Monitor) or color (AppleColor Composite Monitor). Unfortunately, I don't have one of these later model composite monitors. I am using a platinum Apple Monochrome Monitor IIe (A2M6017). It is possible to use an RCA plug to connect the IIc Plus to television with an RCA jack. Older television sets require a radio-frequency (RF) modulator to convert the IIc's composite signal. Apple provided an RF modulator with the original IIc, but didn't bother to include one with the IIc Plus. By 1988, using a CRT television for a primary monitor just was not practical. A CRT television lacks the resolution and the image is blurry. 80 columns of text is difficult to read. The IIc Plus' system disk, Apple II System Utilities, uses 80 columns.
Apple shipped the IIc Plus with the ProDOS-based Apple II System Utilities, Version 3.1, system disk on a 3.5-inch floppy. In 1984, the original IIc shipped with System Utilities, Version 1.0 on a 5.25-inch floppy disk. The earlier system disk is not compatible with the Apple IIe. Version 3.1 is compatible with the Apple IIe, the original IIc, and the IIc Plus. Like the original IIc, the IIc Plus has built-in Applesoft BASIC, a version of the BASIC programming language used in Apple II computers.
Apple's decision to introduce the IIc plus is a curious one. Originally, the project to build it called for simply replacing the original IIc's internal 5.25-inch disk drive with a 3.5-inch disk drive. The project grew to include a faster processor and some inside Apple wanted to go further and make the IIc Plus a portable Apple IIgs. The IIc Plus ended up being an enhanced version of the original IIc. Although it is the fastest computer of the Apple II line at 4 MHz (the IIgs has a 2.8 MHz processor), it is still just an 8-bit computer with none of the 16-bit Apple IIgs' advanced graphics and audio capabilities. If the Apple IIgs heralded the possible future of the Apple II line, the IIc Plus signaled the end.
In 1988, Apple was a company just getting back on its feet after the expulsion of Steve Jobs and the embarrassing failures of the Apple III and the Lisa. The Macintosh platform was finally coming into its own. Although the Apple II line had a loyal base of users, the company's chosen future was the Macintosh. Apple had strong ties to the millions of Apple IIs used in classrooms and homes around the world, but the company could not forever perpetuate two distinct standards. As the Macintosh platform rose to prominence, the company let the Apple II line die on the vine. The IIc Plus would be the last Apple II computer introduced by Apple.