Apple introduced the Macintosh SE/30 on January 19, 1989. It was a quantum leap over its processor the Macintosh SE. The "30" in SE/30 stood for the computer's powerful 68030 processor. The SE/30 had a 16 MHz 68030 processor with a 16 MHz bus, one Processor Direct Slot (PDS) for expansion, and eight available RAM slots with room for up to 32 MB of RAM (128 MB was possible using MODE 32). Apple offered two basic configurations: 2 MB RAM with a 40 MB internal hard drive that sold for $5,069 or 4 MB RAM with an 80 MB internal hard disk drive that sold for $6,369. The SE/30 was obviously intended to be a high end Macintosh targeted at serious computer users and professionals.
The SE/30 was basically a Macintosh IIx enclosed in an SE chassis. The main selling point for potential buyers was the relative low cost of the SE/30 compared with the nearly $9,000 price of the IIx. The SE/30 offered the brute power of the IIx, but it lacked the expandability. The IIx had six very powerful NuBus slots compared with the SE/30's single PDS.
Vectronic's Macintosh SE/30
The SE/30 used the same 1-bit black and white display of the previous all-in-one Macs. It had a built-in 9-inch monochrome monitor that displayed a resolution of 512 x 384 using bit-mapped graphics and just like its predecessors; it did not display gray scale, although a third-party modification using the Micron Xceed video card supported 8-bit gray scale video on the SE/30's internal monitor. These cards are today very rare.
Apple called the all-in-one's "compact" Macs. Apple referred to the Macintosh IIs (the II, IIx and later the IIcx and IIci) as the "modular" family of machines. These modular Macs were extremely expensive and marketed almost exclusively to graphics, scientific, and engineering professionals who needed powerful color computers for graphic intensive applications. Apple targeted the compact Macs to education, small business, and home users. At the time, Apple offered three compact Macs: the SE, the SE/30, and the Plus. The SE/30 bridged the gap between the high performance of the modular Macs and the small footprint of the compact family.
From the outside, the Macintosh SE/30 looked just like an ordinary SE, but the internals of the machine represented a new design incorporating the performance features of the IIx. Apple's use of the name "SE/30" was a curious decision. Many pundits at the time thought the machine should have been called the SEx. Like the IIx, the SE/30 used a 16 MHz 68030 processor with a built-in memory management unit (MMU). The SE/30 also used the same single in-line memory module (SIMM) RAM chips.
The SE/30 used the same 256K SIMM-mounted ROMs as the IIx. Apple claimed that the SE/30 was a 32-bit machine, but the ROMs were "dirty" containing some 24-bit code. The SE/30 ran in 24-bit addressing mode. In order to break the 8 MB barrier of 24-bit addressing, it was necessary to patch the ROMs using MODE 32 by Connectix Corporation. MODE 32 also gave the SE/30 the ability to use virtual memory with System 7. A maximum of 128 MB total system RAM was possible using 16 MB, 120 ns, 30-pin memory chips in each of the SE/30's 4-SIMM banks. You can obtain a free copy of MODE 32 from Apple Inc. Search on the linked page for MODE32_7.5.sea.bin or MODE32_7.5.txt.
The 256K ROMs enabled the SE/30 to support Color QuickDraw Toolbox functions. However, most users could not take advantage of it because of the SE/30's limited 9-inch monitor. The SE/30's 32-bit Processor Direct Slot provided an obvious opportunity to add color with the addition of an external monitor. The advantage to this configuration was that it was still far cheaper to add an expansion card and external monitor to the SE/30 than it was to purchase a similarly configured Macintosh II or IIx.
The SE/30 came with an integrated 68882 FPU and Apple Sound Chip supporting four-voice stereo sound. It also featured the SWIM (Super Wozniak Integrated Machine) floppy disk controller chip, as well as the FDHD (floppy disk high density) floppy disk drive that read MS-DOS or OS/2-formatted disks as well as Apple II ProDOS disk. At the time, it was necessary to use the Apple File Exchange Utility to transfer files from a foreign operating system format to the Macintosh system.
The SE/30 had a single 32-bit expansion slot called the 030 Processor Direct Slot. It was basically NuBus-compatible but had a different form factor so 96-pin NuBus cards didn't fit. Shortly after the introduction of the SE/30, conversion boards allowed SE/30 owners to use NuBus cards. Furthermore, the SE/30 could use the same NuBus software drivers, which were mostly contained in each NuBus card ROM chips. The 030 Processor Direct Slot's 120-pin connector was also not physically compatible with the 96-pin Macintosh SE Processor Direct Slot. The SE/30 expansion slot was positioned vertical to the computer chassis, unlike the horizontal layout of the expansion slot in the older Macintosh SE.
One other significant change from the Macintosh SE was the use of 64K bytes of separate dual-ported video RAM to control the internal monitor. Since the video RAM was connected directly to the CPU, there was no need for a video buffer in the memory subsystem. This meant that main memory was not burdened with the additional task of controlling video I/O, unlike the Mac SE's memory subsystem. In the original Mac SE design, the CPU had to interleave its memory access (three out of four cycles) with the video circuitry so that the Mac's screen could be drawn. Thus the SE's CPU could only access memory 75 percent of the time. This arrangement degraded system performance. The separate video RAM in the Mac SE/30 allowed the 68030 processor to access memory at each cycle, which resulted in a big win in performance.
The ports on the SE/30 remained the same as those on the SE. The SE/30 had two ADB ports, two DIN-8 RS-422 serial ports, a floppy drive connector port, and a DB-25 SCSI connector. The SE/30 had an audio out jack, but did not have a mic jack.
The Macintosh SE/30 outperformed the SE by almost a factor of 4 to 1. Disk read/write operations were also faster than the SE because the SE/30 used a higher speed hard disk drive. It generally outperformed the older Macintosh II, and according to benchmark tests in Byte's February 1989 edition, the SE/30 even outperformed the Macintosh IIx in some test categories. The SE/30's performance, expansion capabilities, and flexible 3.5" internal hard drive bay, made it a very popular low-end server for much of the 1990s.
Apple never sold the SE/30 in numbers anywhere near that of its older brother, the Macintosh SE. By the time it was released in 1989, its tiny black and white monitor wasn't really suited for the market Apple intended it to fill. Even though the Macintosh SE/30's performance to price ratio resented a real bargain for its day, the market was moving toward the modular Macs and many would opt for either a more expensive and configurable Macintosh II or a far less expensive Macintosh SE or Macintosh Plus. The SE/30 would be the most powerful compact Mac ever built by Apple. Apple retired the SE/30 in October 1990 and replaced it with the limited Macintosh Classic that sold for a mere $1,500 and had a fraction of the SE/30's capabilities. Apple relegated the compact family of Macs to the low-end of its computer line and would never again produce one with the power and high cost of the SE/30.