Monthly Archives: January 2011

Apple III: RND(x)

A couple of quick Apple III items.

Bill Budge Honored

Did you know famous Apple II programmer Bill Budge (Raster Blaster, Pinball Construction Set) worked on the Apple III graphics driver?  Well, if you read the online edition of Wired magazine, you probably do now.  On February 10, 2011, The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (PDF) will present Budge its second annual Pioneer Award for his groundbreaking work on Pinball Construction Set.  The Apple III connection here is that it was while Budge was working on the driver at Apple that he was inspired by a group of pinball fanatics (that included Woz) at the company to develop his first pinball game, Raster Blaster.

It’s nice to see some of the pioneers and luminaries from the early days of the Apple II industry whose last names aren’t Wozniak or Jobs getting some recognition.  Congratulations, Bill!

More on the 512K Card

Here are a few more shots of the On Three 512K card.  High resolution versions are available in the Picasa gallery.

The On Three 512K card removed from the machine, PROMs and address lines removed.

Close up of the PROM sockets and resistor packs on the 512K board.

An On Three 512K board (top) next to a standard 5v Apple III 256K board

A Look at On Three’s 512K Memory Board for the Apple III

When Apple introduced the Apple III at the National Computer Conference in May of 1980 in Anaheim, California, it was touted as supporting up to 512K of RAM (as opposed to the Apple II and II Plus, which commonly shipped with up to 64K).  Thus, I was somewhat surprised when I opened this Apple III and took a look at the installed On Three 512K memory board.

On Three's 512K Board

On Three's 512K Board

I don’t know specifically what I was expecting – probably a similar set up to what you see in Apple IIIs with 128K and 256K boards.  And that’s sort of what I got, with the exceptions of the additional wires and cables coming from the memory board and attaching to various spots on the motherboard.  The person from whom I acquired the Apple III didn’t have any documentation about On Three’s expansion, so I was confused.  Why would a 512K board need such additional electronics if the III natively supported that much memory?

On Three's board includes several modifications

One of the unfortunate side effects of the III’s short lifespan is that Apple never developed more than a handful of expansion cards for the machine.  While cards such as the ProFile controller and the UPIC were produced in fairly plentiful numbers and are easy to find today, Apple never got around to releasing memory boards with more than 256K RAM, or much of anything else for that matter.  This left it up to small third party developers to manufacture and support peripherals for the die hard users who refused to migrate to Macintosh or other Apple products.

One of these developers, a user group called On Three, holds a special place in Apple III history.  While most UGs of the day held weekly or monthly meetings and offered other services such as shareware sales and newsletters to members, On Three took it much further.  In addition to printing a professional monthly Apple III-specific magazine, they also published numerous commercial-quality software titles and the 512K memory expansion.   The latter is doubly impressive, as Apple never released much in the way of low-level technical documentation for the machine, so it represents an excellent hardware hack in the truest sense of the word.

Back to the issue at hand.  I had this neat add-on, and no documentation for it.  Fortunately for me, when Dave Ottalini decided it was time to get rid of his Apple III collection, it ended up in the hands of Bill Degnan.  Degnan photographed and commented on much of the collection, including the 512K board.  It was his website that turned up in the Googles when I was hunting for more information.  After a brief email exchange, Bill provided me a copy of the scan he made of the user’s guide.  (You can get a copy here, if you’re interested.)

A quick perusal of the PDF gave me the answer to my question:  the Apple III doesn’t actually support 512K.  SOS does but not the hardware itself, at least not without some modifications.  The manual doesn’t really go into much other technical detail, but there it is.  In the mean time, enjoy some pictures of the board while my search for the specific function of On Three’s hacks continues.

Several hardware modifications are necessary to allow the Apple III to access 512K of RAM

On Three's new board includes addressing ROMs as well new address lines

In the end, the rather high $949 introductory price (On Three later dropped it to $449) and fact that it was introduced after the III was discontinued to an already-shrinking market, helped to limit the number of boards that made it into the hands of users.

Update (1/19): I added a gallery of high-resolution photos of the On Three board.  Check it out in the Picasa galleries.

Apple Lisa 1 goes for $15K at auction

15k lisa

This is the first entry since I decided to focus the blog on the Apple III, so naturally it’s about the Lisa.  Figures, right?  Anyway, I got an email this morning from my Juiced.GS editor asking if I might know why this particular Apple Lisa 1 eBay auction went for $15,000.  Here’s my thoughts on this.

There was a discussion about the auction recently over on Low End Mac’s LisaList.  Initially, the bidding jumped up to $25,100 but either the seller canceled the high bids, or a potential buyer backed out and the price dropped back to $7,500 before doubling up to the closing price.   At first blush, that seems a little high, but honestly I’m not all that shocked.  Working Lisa 1’s that I’ve seen on eBay over the last year have gone for at least $5,000.

My guess is that this one got as high as it did due to the seller’s story about his brother having been on the Lisa development team and the possibility that this is a prototype model.  Who knows if it’s true or not, but those kind of details tend to drive up the price, as I’m sure anyone who browses eBay’s vintage computer listings has seen.

Additionally, it has the original Twiggy drives (though the seller does state he doesn’t know if they work or not).  Recall that those drives had a high failure rate and users often replaced them with more reliable third-party drives, making the Twiggy’s rather rare.  When the Lisa 2 shipped, it came with a single 3.5″ Sony 800K drive and Apple offered an upgrade to Lisa 1 owners which included replacement of the Twiggys.

This unit is also clean and appears to have at least one expansion card in it, though I don’t know enough about the Lisa to be able to identify which one.  It boots all the way to whatever version of the Lisa System software is installed and the screen (including the anti-glare screen) is in good shape.

There’s another Lisa 1 listed that’s not in as nice shape, and doesn’t have the apparent history, and as of this writing, is over $3,000:

http://cgi.ebay.com/Apple-Lisa-Computer-A6SB100-Collectors-Item-/130470202512

Update: this auction ended with a final bid of $9,433.34.  The machine doesn’t power up, has motherboard damage from leaking batteries and doesn’t include a keyboard, mouse, software or other accessories.

So, considering all that, $15,000 doesn’t feel excessive.  Now, actually having the kind of money you would need to be able to spend $5,000 above the original 1983 retail price on a 28-year old computer is another thing entirely.

The other question that came up in our email exchange was why the mainstream press hadn’t picked up on this like it did with the Apple-1 that recently sold for a king’s ransom at Christie’s of London.

My bet would be that price would have to reach six figures for an outlet like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal to become interested.  The $213,000 sale price and the fact that it was sold by Christie’s, which doesn’t normally handle such auctions, are probably the only reasons the Apple-1 received as much press as it did.  For an item that has so few models still in existence, Apple-1’s have appeared on eBay on a surprisingly regular basis over the years.  That may change now, though; it only takes one person with more dollars than brains to spoil it for the other kids.

Lisa 2s are fairly common and typically don’t break $1,000 unless there’s something really special about them.  It’s the Lisa 1 that gets collectors salivating.  Many were upgraded to Lisa 2s for free by Apple and the thousands more were buried in a Utah landfill, so they have that rarity thing going for them, although again, they do show up on eBay frequently.  I find myself wondering how rare they really are.  No way to tell, I suppose.

lisadump

A lot of this is may be generated by the zeitgeist Apple has been enjoying lately, too.  Hard to say.  There’s some speculation that both of these machines were purchased by the same collector.  After all, how many technology museums with a focus on vintage Apple computers could there be in Italy?

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Interested in the Apple’s second failure? Read David T. Craig’s excellent article analyzing Lisa’s legacy.