Second Class Macs & Road Apples

Macintosh IIfx


Dan Knight - 1999.12.24

Second Class Macs are Apple's somewhat compromised hardware designs. For the most part, they're not really bad - simply designs that didn't meet their full potential. (On our rating scale, the more brown apples, the worse the hardware.)

I resisted adding the Macintosh IIfx to the Second Class Macs list for a long time, but I finally concluded that it does belong on the same list as the upgrade-challenged IIsi.

Like the IIsi, the IIfx is a very competent machine. In fact, until the Quadra 700 came out, it Mac IIwas by far the fastest computer Apple made. In fact, until a lot of applications were recompiled for the 68040, they ran faster on the IIfx than on any Quadra!

The IIfx was the first Mac to earn the label "wicked fast" - which it was. And it's still a very competent performer.

So what makes it a Limited Mac?

  1. SCSI voodoo: Some SCSI devices will work just fine (I've had very good luck using drives with active termination), but others have not been so fortunate. The IIfx needed a special "black" SCSI terminator for most devices, a terminator unique to the IIfx and difficult to find if lost.
  2. Memory: This was Apple's only computer to use very fast memory with latched read and write. The 64-pin SIMMs are harder to find every year. If you are in the market for a IIfx, be sure you can locate memory before you buy one.
  3. No upgrade path: There were a few accelerators that could boost the IIfx into the 45-55 MHz range, but it was the last Mac to use the big six-slot Mac II case.
  4. Unfilled promises: The IIfx had a pair of helper chips (10 MHz 6502 CPUs) designed to process I/O while leaving the 40 MHz 68030 free from handling I/O, but the OS was never optimized for this technology.

The IIfx is an incredible machine (we also rate it a best buy on the used market). It has six NuBus slots, room for a 5.25" hard drive, a 40 MHz system bus, a built-in level 2 cache (Apple's first), and room for 128 MB of memory - if you can find it. It's a powerful server and still a very decent user's machine. If not for the SCSI and memory issues, it wouldn't be listed as a Second Class Mac.


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