Macintosh 512Ke

Macintosh 512Ke

Apple introduced the Macintosh 512Ke ("e" for enhanced) on April 14, 1986, a few months after the introduction of the Macintosh Plus. Apple positioned the 512Ke as the lowest cost computer in its Macintosh line. It replaced the Macintosh 512K, which was introduced in late 1984. The 512Ke is essentially an improved version of the 512K. The 512Ke uses the Macintosh Plus' 128K ROMs, giving it many of the same performance benefits of the newer Mac. The Macintosh 512Ke originally cost about $2,000. I purchased my Macintosh 512Ke in 2008 for $45.

The Macintosh 512Ke uses the same processor as the original Macintosh and Macintosh 512K. The 512Ke's 8 MHz 68000 processor runs on top of a 16-bit data bus. The Macintosh 512Ke has a 9-inch built-in black and white monitor capable of a single resolution of 512 x 342. This display was used on all classic compact Macs. Unlike the later Macintosh SE and Macintosh SE/30, the Macintosh 512Ke has no expansion slots and thus cannot be configured to support an external monitor without extensive modification. Like the original Macintosh, Macintosh 512K, and Macintosh Plus, the 512Ke uses a 4.5V Alkaline, Type #523 battery that is accessible from the back of the computer.

The 512Ke originally shipped with Mac OS System 3.0. After June 1986, the 512Ke shipped with System 3.2. After it was discontinued in September 1986, Apple changed the recommended OS for the 512Ke to System 4.1, but officially, the 512Ke can support up to System 6.0.8. My 512Ke is using System 4.2 (Finder version 6.0).

"The Macintosh Finder" showing Mac OS and RAM

Click to view screen capture 2 (note 800K capacity of System Disk)

Like the Macintosh 512K, the 512Ke has 512K RAM built into the motherboard, which was considered adequate in 1986. However, unlike the Macintosh Plus, which has the flexibility of memory expansion using 30-pin memory SIMMs, the 512Ke has no memory expansion slots.

The 512Ke's case is identical to the 512K, except the model number listed on the rear label. The 512K's model number is M0001W and the 512Ke's model number is M0001E. The 512Ke retains the same ports as the original Macintosh and Macintosh 512K. The 512Ke has the following ports: one DB-9 mouse port, one serial disk drive port, one serial printer port, one serial modem port, and one audio out jack. Unlike the Plus, the 512Ke does not have a SCSI port, and thus it cannot support a fast external hard drive. Furthermore, the 512Ke does not have an internal hard drive and cannot be upgraded to support one without extensive modification. The 512Ke can use external hard drives like Apple's HD 20 (Hard Disk 20), which connects through the disk drive port. Some third party external drives use the modem or printer port. However, all these drives, including the HD 20, tend to suffer from performance-crippling bottlenecks due to the relative slow speed of the serial ports.

Macintosh 512Ke
Macintosh 512Ke ports

One of the primary benefits of using Macintosh Plus ROMs in the 512Ke is its ability to use double density 800K floppy disks. The 512K, its predecessor, only supported single density 400K floppy disks. The 512Ke has a single built-in 800K floppy disk drive. Its external disk drive port will support either a 400K disk drive or an 800K disk drive. Apple introduced the 800K External Drive (M0131) about the same time the Plus and 512Ke shipped, but this drive is not pictured here. Pictured below is my 512Ke using Apple's later SuperDrive external disk drive (not to be confused with the SuperDrive DVD/CD drive used on newer Macs). The production date on this SuperDrive is 1991.

Macintosh 512Ke
Macintosh 512Ke using SuperDrive external floppy disk drive

The SuperDrive external floppy disk drive is a must have piece of Apple equipment for any collector. It can use high density (1.4 MB), double density (800K), or single density (400K) floppy disks and it is officially compatible with every Mac with a dedicated disk drive port that has ROMs to support an internal FDHD drive. The 512Ke does not have these ROMs, but we noted no issues using the drive with the 512Ke. To be on the safe side, you should exercise caution using a SuperDrive with the 512Ke. In other words, use the drive at your own risk. The SuperDrive is also compatible with any Apple II computer using an Apple II 3.5 Controller Card (Apple SuperDrive Controller Card), but it is not compatible with the Apple IIe's original 800K, 3.5-inch "Liron" disk drive controller card. Our 512Ke has used it to read and write 400K and 800K floppy disks. As an interesting side note, the Apple IIgs does not have an FDHD controller, but Apple explicitely states on its support pages that the SuperDrive is fully compatible with the IIgs' 800K disk drive port. Likewise, the SuperDrive will work as an 800K drive on the Apple IIc Plus.

Macintosh 512Ke
Original Macintosh 400K disk drive (left) shown next to a SuperDrive (right)

The 512Ke has the same beige-colored case as the original Macintosh and Macintosh 512K. Like those early Macs, its does not have an internal fan and thus has vents on the top to keep the system cool through convection. Apple later offered a heavily discounted version of the 512Ke in a blue-gray (platinum) case labeled as the Macintosh ED (M0001D and later M0001ED). Other than the case color, the Macintosh ED is the same as the 512Ke.

Macintosh 512Ke
Original Macintosh keyboard

The 512Ke originally shipped with the same short Macintosh keyboard as the original Macintosh and the Macintosh 512K, but the Macintosh Plus Keyboard with built-in numeric keypad could be purchased optionally. Apple sold a version of the 512Ke called "512K/800" outside North America that included a full keyboard and had a M0001D model number. Before the end of its production run, this model later became available in North America. My 512Ke system uses the original Macintosh keyboard with the add-on numeric keypad accessory. The keypad provides an adding machine-like set of keys, handy if you work with numbers. The keypad also improves some of the 512Ke's operations by giving you more keyboard options, but it is not necessary for most software.

Macintosh 512Ke
Macintosh keypad accessory

Macintosh 512Ke
DB-9 Mouse

Apple positioned the 512Ke as a stepping-stone to the Plus that could be upgraded to a Plus later for $799. The 512Ke is definitely superior to the 512K, but it still suffers from some of the 512K's weaknesses. It has no RAM memory slots to expand its RAM past 512K, it does not have a SCSI bus for connectivity with a fast external hard drive or other peripherals, it lacks ADB (Apple Desktop Bus) for connecting Apple's ADB mouse and other popular peripherals like game controllers, which extensively use ADB, and it does not have mini-DIN serial ports for connecting standard Apple printers and modems that commonly used this type of connector beginning with the Macintosh Plus.

Macintosh 512Ke

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