Macintosh II

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Macintosh II
CPU: 16 MHz 68020
RAM: 120ns 30-pin SIMM, 1MB standard (0 onboard plus 8 slots), 68 MB max
Hard drive: (Optional) 40 MB SCSI
Form factor: Desktop
OS: (4.1-7.5.5)
Available: March 2, 1987-January 15, 1990
MSRP: US$5500

Released in 1987, the Macintosh II was Apple's first none all-in-one Macintosh, offering better expansion options, faster processing and a direct competitor to the IBM PC.


The Mac had been part of the computing world for over three years and just about everyone who came into contact with the little machine instantly fell in love with it. It was funky, it was powerful and, most of all, it was fun. What it wasn't though was perfect and the Mac's biggest flaw was its expansion options (or, rather, lack of them). There was also another problem that Apple were struggling to overcome and that was one of respect as, faced with the IBM PC, many still considered the Mac to something of a toy rather than a 'real' machine. The solution was to, literally, take the Mac apart.

Ever since January 24th 1984 (and even up to a year earlier of the Lisa is included), the Mac had been an all in one machine which was typified by its built-in 9" screen. It made the machine easy to set up, reduced the number of cables lying around and was a nice, self-contained solution. It did have its limitations though and power users soon found the size of the screen to be too restrictive, the all-in-one design stopped any form of expansion and having an external hard drive (available with the Mac Plus), while an option, was messy. The solution was to follow the path that most of the other desktop manufacturers were taking and create a more modular system with an external monitor and a base unit allowing plenty of room for expansion. The result was the Macintosh II.

Launched alongside the Mac SE, the Mac II was more than just a re-configuring of existing system elements and Apple made sure that the Mac II offered far more than the little SE (which Apple generally liked to treat as being the low-mid end machine and the Mac II as being the high end machine). The venerable Motorola 68000 was replaced with the new 68020 and the clock speed was switched from 8MHz to a mighty 16MHz - double the speed as well as the extra features offered by the new chip. The Mac II did stick with 30 pin SIMMs but eight slots meant that it could be expanded from 1Mb all the way up to 68Mb, even if Apple did opt for proprietary PAL RAM (although users could install standard SIMMs up to 4Mb in size).

Compared to the all-in-one Macs, the Mac II was cavernous inside and this allowed users to add not only a hard drive (up to 5.25" in size)(the optional 40MB drive would push the basic price from $3900 up to $5500) and up to two 3.5" floppy drives, but also up to six NuBus expansion cards. In terms of speed the Mac II was a powerhouse when compared to its all-in-one cousins but by lacking any sort of on board video hardware it meant that users not only had to buy the machine itself but then had to buy a graphics card as well. This may have pushed the price up but it did allow the Mac II to go where no Mac had gone before: colour. This in itself caused headaches as Mac OS had never been thought of in colour terms - even the Apple logo in the corner of the screen was monochrome. It wasn't only colour though as being able to upgrade the graphics card meant that users could not only dabble in the colour world but could also work at higher resolutions and on bigger screens.

There were quirks and niggles though that went beyond the decision not to include a graphics card. The PRAM battery was soldered directly to the motherboard which meant, theoretically, once the battery died, the machine had to be either scrapped or sent away for repair (although users quickly learned how to effect that repair themselves), the memory was expensive, the ROM contained remnants of older 24-bit code (resulting in it being deemed dirty' - the Mode32 system extension software will fix this problem though) and the floppy drives were both of the 800Kb variety. Admittedly the Mac II was released before Apple made the switch to the 1.44Mb floppy drive but while the SE was upgraded, the Mac II wasn't and users wanting to move to the higher capacity drives not only had to fork out for the drives themselves but also the necessary hardware to upgrade the drive controller.

Given the expansion and power that the Mac II offered it was already an impressive machine but, by sticking to the same operating system and underlying instruction set, it could take advantage of the existing software catalogue that had been created since the release of the Mac 128 in 1984 (this was a time when the concept of creating an on-going series of machines was still a novel concept). Apple had certainly learned from not only the likes of Lisa and the Apple ///, but also the IBM PC and in the Macintosh II it had a machine that business simply had to take seriously.

Full Specifications

  • CPU: 16MHz Motorola 68020
  • FPU: 16MHz Motorola 68881
  • ROM: 256Kb
  • RAM: 1Mb - 68Mb
  • Display: N/A
  • Resolution: N/A
  • Audio: Stereo
  • Floppy: 1x (or 2x) 800Kb 3.5"
  • Hard drive: 40Mb (optional)
  • Drive bay(s): 1x5.25" half-height
  • Size (HxWxD): 5.5" x 18.7" x 14.5"
  • Weight: 24 lb
  • Gestalt ID: 6
  • Addressing: 24 bit (32 with Mode32 extension)
  • Battery: 3.6V Lithium (soldered onto motherboard)
  • Expansion slots: 6xNuBus
  • Ports: 2xSerial, SCSI (25 pin), 2xADB, Audio (out)
  • Introduced: 02/03/1987
  • Retired: 15/01/1990
  • Cost: $3900 / $5500 (with HD)
  • System: Mac OS 4.1 - 7.5.5
  • Code name(s): Little Big Mac, Milwaukee, Ikki, Cabernet, Reno, Becks, Paris, Uzi, Jonathan
  • Upgrade path: IIx, IIfx