Collection Spotlight

8 MHz Forever? Apple's Macintosh Classic Was No Faster than the First Mac

- 2007.09.26 - Tip Jar

I love my Classic, don't get me wrong. It's a great little machine, and it helped Apple push a lot of Macs in the classroom (just like the Apple IIe helped them push a lot of Apple IIs in the classroom), but it has some severe limitations that are hard to look over.

The Macintosh Classic

Perhaps the biggest limitation is the 8 MHz 68000 CPU. This was the same processor and speed used in the original Macintosh six years before the Classic. By October 1990, when the Classic was introduced, 8 MHz was really a bottleneck. They should have at least doubled the clock rate to 16 MHz, like the Portable and PowerBook 100 did. That would have been a noticeable difference.

They also should have kept the expansion slot like the SEs had. It would have made the machine a bit more expensive, but it would have made the owner's options for expansion a lot better than just adding a SCSI device or more RAM.

However, this machine isn't all bad; it has several things going for it. I really like the way the front curves, just like the Mac LC and IIsi introduced at the same time. You also have to admire the fact it was the first sub-$1,000 Mac, something that didn't happen again until the 350 MHz blueberry slot loading iMac introduced in October 1999.

Another thing this machine had going for it was that instead of the standard (at the time) 256 KB ROM, every Classic shipped with a larger 512 KB ROM, which was loaded with a stripped down copy of System 6.0.3 and was fully bootable. Granted, it can't do much more than boot, but if you want to get the very most out of this machine, you can boot off the ROM (hold down Cmd-Opt-X-O during startup) and load your apps from a floppy disk or hard disk, saving space by not having to install a system.

However, 6.0.3 is rather limited, and you'll get a much better machine by running System 6.0.8 through 7.1. (System 7.1, however is not free and legal to download.)

I don't recommend 7.5.5 on this machine, even with 4 MB of RAM.

My Mac Classic

My Macintosh Classic was actually my first and only (to date) free liberation. I lucked out this one, as it already had the now hard to find RAM expansion card and the maximum 4 MB of RAM. I wiped the hard drive and installed System 7.5.3 followed by the 7.5.5 update over a serial connection using disk images mounted on my PowerBook 1400. It worked, but it was a slow install.

Here's the general opinion of 7.5.5 on the 8 MHz Classic: It is slow. Booting alone takes at least 5 minutes. After that, most actions, such as clicking on a menu and waiting for it to be drawn or opening a Finder window, takes 10-20 seconds. If you're looking for speed, run System 6.0.8 or 7.0.1, even if you have 4 MB of RAM.

What can you do with a Mac Classic today? I use mine as a light writing machine. I have been thinking of installing it in the kitchen and using it as a recipe machine (actually, that was my original use for this machine, but you know how things go when you get a new addition to your collection...).

HappyPlusClock can display time in analog or digital form.

One of the things I've been thinking of doing is using one of the creations from Retrochallenge 2007, called HappyPlusClock, which essentially turns your Mac in to a giant clock, which is another great addition to a kitchen. These machines are so cheap however, you may want to get a trio of them, and have two running HappyPlusClock - one in analog and one in digital - and have the third Classic pulling recipe duty. That would be the ultimate Mac collector's kitchen. Sounds like my dream kitchen. :-)

In many ways Classic was a reissue of the Macintosh Plus in a new case and with a few additions, like an internal 40 MB hard drive. For a machine designed to replace the very popular Macintosh SE, it was a poor choice to compete with the champ as it lacked the SE's expansion slot.

Despite being a tad slow in it's day (and even today), the Mac Classic can still be used as an appliance. Don't expect it to go on the Internet - unless you are really daring, that is. LEM


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