Author Archives: Mike

Belated Birthday Wishes, Apple IIGS!

I suppose it’s appropriate that my birthday wishes to the IIGS are a month late. It was released in September 1986 but I didn’t own one until 1999 — nearly seven years after Apple discontinued it. My feelings about the machine, like my memories, are a bit distant and confused. In 1985, Commodore introduced to great fanfare the Amiga and all of my “Commie-loving” – that was an insult back in the day. The Soviet Union was still a thing that existed and might destroy the world at any given moment – “Commode-ore” friends went wild, wasting exactly zero minutes tracking down me and my “crApple” II buddies (see what we did there? With the crap and the Commodore and the… yeah… hey, it was funny to us) to rub our faces in it and wave around their copies of the premiere edition of AmigaWorld magazine as they mocked us: “Can your crApple II do this?” “How do you like them Lo-Res Graphics now, rainbow boy?” “Warriors, come out to pl…”

Wait. Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite as, “Lord of the Flies,” as all that but they did have a point and damn, did those animations put out by the “Bernie” chip look smooth. (Or was it “Denise”? I can never keep all those chips straight.) Our clever jabs about no slots, cheap plastic build and god-awful keyboards lost a bit of their sting that sad day. Not to mention the pathetic load times on that disk drive of theirs. Yeesh… Anyway, we took it all in stride. We knew it wouldn’t be long before Apple came roaring back to reward the faithful fanboys for our devotion and knock the socks off everyone with the latest machine. Of course they would. Rumors of a new II had been popping up in A+ and Nibble magazine for months now that it would be amazing and better yet, the great and powerful Woz himself was said to have designed it… or worked on it… or guided development. Whatever, it would be nothing short of miraculous and then we could tell those Commie and Atari fanboys what was what. In the meantime, we had to content ourselves with daydreams and whiled away the hours coming up with lists of what the new specs might be – all of them much improved over the Amiga, naturally. One of our artistically inclined friends even came up with sets of drawings based on what we’d read, visualizing what the “IIx,” as it was still dubbed, might look like, hoping it would come soon. And come it did, eventually and what we got was… well…

Back then, when I wasn’t at band camp, I whiled away the long California summer hours in the local Egghead discount software store, drooling over the shelves of Apple titles, all neatly wrapped in shiny cellophane and carefully arranged, their price tags a reminder that I couldn’t afford any of them but I guess it was enough to be close to them or something. I would hang out and try to chat up the retail employees about the latest game rumors or tips I’d picked up in the new issue of Computist and generally make a nuisance of myself until they gave me something to do, just to shut me up. At first, I would help out setting up demo computers or test out the newest titles for them and I would carefully interject thoughtful corrections and details into any conversation a salesman might be having with a potential customer. All of this for free, mind you. Hey, the salesmen were busy and I knew they didn’t always have time to learn every little detail and I was happy to point out their mistakes to the customers.

Can’t imagine why that would have been … what was the word Tony used? Oh yeah – “infuriating.” “Snot-nosed punk,” was also mentioned in passing.

Shortly thereafter I was shifted to the help out in the stock room, re-wrapping the boxes after everyone had made pirated copies of the latest games, and unpacking UPS crates as they came in from the software companies. So when the set of boxes emblazoned with the rainbow Apple logo showed up one day, I got to help unload them from the truck. My heart was pounding – this was it! Had to be! Of course, everyone else wanted to see as well, crowding around as the thing was unpacked. I was pushed to the side and they kicked me out of the store promptly at closing so I didn’t get to see as they set it up after hours. The next morning, I rushed back to make sure I would be first in line when the place opened up. My father, mostly curious what all my excitement was about, tagged along.

And there it was! At last! Sitting on the demo desk, running through some animations and playing sounds that I’d never heard from a computer before: rich, full chords of music; loud, realistic blasts of a cannon as an action game segment was displayed. And the graphics? Gorgeous! Lickable, even! I was enthralled and made sure to approach with the appropriate amount of reverence and respect. ‘G’ and ‘S’ stood for graphics and sound, and boy did it ever live up to the letters. I marveled over the new case design, oddly familiar yet new and beautiful and fresh. I wanted one so badly, I could taste it. Apple really got it right and I was going to make sure the C-64 sucking, ST-owning jerks I called friends were going hear about it. They’d regret ever doubting Apple. Or me.

My father was… less than impressed. He’d been looking over the little sales data chart Egghead was handing out and his eyes kept going back and forth between the machine and the list, brow furrowed. Hours later, after he finally managed to drag me away (much to the relief and joy of the Egghead staff) as I was chattering effusively at the local IHOP while we ate our eggs and pancakes, and making vague threats about the end of the Commodore and Atari empires in the very near future, he stayed quiet.

“So when can we get one?” I finally dared to ask. “I bet if you call them today, we could have it here by next week.”

Without looking up and in one single, horrible moment, he killed off my little dreams. “We’re not getting one.”

I was dumbstruck. How could he even suggest this heresy? “What? Did you see that computer? It’s amazing! And it’ll run all the software we already have-”

He shook his head and then laid it all out for me: “It’s a dead-end. It’s too much like the Mac, and it’s in color and sounds better.”

“So that’s good, right?”

“No. Think about it. Apple is all about Macintosh right now. It’s slow, monochrome, no expansion possibilities, no software for it, overpriced and still not selling well. Then along comes this other machine: color, seven slots, supports all your Apple II software. Just a better machine. No way they’re going to support something that’s better if it doesn’t say ‘Macintosh’ on it. Probably why they used the slow processor, too. ‘6502 compatibility’ my ass. Put a 68000 in there and there’s no reason to buy a Macintosh. Sorry, I’m not getting stuck with a machine that I can’t buy software for because – you mark my words on this – they’re not going to advertise it, not going to release anything and it’ll be dead in a year.” He went on a bit but I’d stopped listening.

I was devastated. And he was right, mostly. The IIGS managed to hang on through a couple of revisions and minor upgrades, and lasted until the end of 1992, well beyond my father’s predicted short lifespan. It even got a GUI shell called GS/OS that looked a whole lot like the Macintosh Finder. But company support for the platform was anemic at best. Apple ran few print and TV ads that even mentioned the IIGS by name and pushed it at elementary schools, where they were set up to run as fast Apple IIe’s. Very little software was written to take advantage of the new capabilities and in the end, my Commodore and Atari friends got the last laugh as it never ran faster than a pathetic 2.8 MHz (at least without an expensive, third-party accelerator board), well behind the other 68000-powered computers in its class, the Amiga and the ST.

There was another upgrade in the works, one that got far into development and maybe even close to release, known as the “ROM 4” or “Mark Twain” to torment the loyal fanboys and girls with what might have been. Pictures of the few existing prototypes can be found on the web. The 6502 was decades old by then and it would be unfair not to give credit to Western Design Center for squeezing every last drop out of potential out of the architecture with the 65C816, the heart of the IIGS, but by then its limits were a well-known end point around which there was no easy getting. Apple’s only interest in the II at that point was as a revenue stream to continue propping up the slow-selling Macintosh line, it’s hypocritical “Apple II Forever!” battle cry notwithstanding. Mac finally got color in 1987 and, perhaps coincidentally, sales began to trend upward as Apple moved away from the “toaster” design, the hallmark of the first Steve Jobs era. And once Macintosh could stand on its own two legs, that was pretty much it for the Apple II.

So, happy birthday, IIGS. I didn’t know you back then but I hear you were…. interesting.


Apple introduces the IIGS

Apple introduces the IIGS


Apple II S/N 5025 (continued)

After last month’s post about A2S1-5025, I received several requests for photos of specific areas of the machine that were not visible in the first set of pictures. Here you go:

This is the keyboard, removed from the case.

Rev 0 Keyboard (second version)

Rev 0 Keyboard (second version)

Bottom of the keyboard.

Apple II Rev 0 keyboard, second version - from the bottom.

Apple II Rev 0 keyboard, second version – from the bottom.

Apple part number 01-0425-01 is described in the Apple II/II-Plus Level II Service Manual (1981, Pre-Release Version, available in PDF format here – do a text search for “keyboard varieties” in the file) as “The first Apple keyboard,” but it is not. The early revision 0’s shipped with 01-0341-01, an example of which can be viewed here.

As with the Apple II board itself, the early days of production saw the keyboard undergo a number of changes more evolutionary than revolutionary. The circuit board was made shorter and wider to better fit the case, with the silver leaf plates formerly used to secure the keyboard to the plastic sacrificed to make room for the reconfigured electronics. The silk-screened Apple part number was moved from the lower right to left…

Apple II keyboard second version (01-0425-01)

Apple II keyboard second version (01-0425-01)

The encoder chip and associated electronics were migrated to the lower right…

Apple II Rev 0 keyboard encoder chip

Apple II Rev 0 keyboard encoder chip

These long, threaded, brass posts lined up with the spacers on the PCB to provide a mounting system.

Threaded brass posts affix the keyboard to the case.

Threaded brass posts affix the keyboard to the case.

The mounting set up is reinforced with these hollow spacers that also align the keyboard assembly on the brass posts.

Hollow spacers provide guides for the posts and reinforce the mounting.

Hollow spacers provide guides for the posts and reinforce the mounting.

Here’s the upper shell, removed from the base pan and keyboard.

Apple II Rev 0 case - upper shell

Apple II Rev 0 case – upper shell

Close up of the black nylon “velcro” lid fastener pad.

20160225_210347377_iOS

When trying to determine whether an Apple II is a revision 0 or some later production model, there are a few identifying markers on the motherboard that can quickly be verified. One of the indicators easiest to identify is the presence (or lack) of the color killer circuit, which includes a transistor visible on the PCB in the area to the right of the CPU, between rows F and H (there’s no row G), like so:

Color-kill circuit transistor.

Color-kill circuit transistor.

This circuit was added to production beginning with the revision 1 boards so it’s simple math: no transistor means the board is a revision 0.

All revision 0 boards, and only revision 0 boards, lack the color kill circuit. (I, on the other hand, lack grammatical skills apparently.)

All revision 0 boards, and only revision 0 boards, lack the color kill circuit. (I, on the other hand, lack grammatical skills apparently.)

Another “dead giveaway” that you’re looking at revision 0 board can be found under the 6502 chip. Or rather, not found. All Apple II boards beginning with the revision 1 run were assigned a part number which, early on, could be found by taking a peek under the processor. As an example, here’s what you see when you pry up the CPU on a rev 0 board, with the revision 4 Apple II Plus below it.

Rev 0. No part number under the CPU.

Rev 0. No part number under the CPU.

Apple II Plus rev 4 part number under the CPU.

Apple II Plus rev 4 part number under the CPU.

These memory select jumper blocks allowed users to upgrade their memory easily. Simply plug-in your new DRAMs and insert the appropriate jumper blocks to let the computer know how much memory it had to work with. The presence of these, while an indicator that you are looking at an early Apple II board, doesn’t guarantee a revision 0. Later boards shipped with them soldered in place and at some point they were removed altogether.

Revision 0 memory blocks, not soldered.

Revision 0 memory blocks, not soldered.

This is one that often gets missed in auction photos on eBay because of the awkward position you have to hold your phone in to get a clear shot, but a surefire indicator is the copyright date that appears just above the system ROMs and below the Apple Computer logo. Only revision 0’s are marked ‘1977’; every thing after that stamped with a 1978 copyright (or later.)

Only Revision 0 boards are (c) 1977.

Only Revision 0 boards are (c) 1977.

Someone asked for a shot of the underside of the 6502, so here you go. I assume “PHIL.” means it was manufactured in the Philippines. No idea what the other text might mean.

20160225_210838873_iOS

I’ve got a few more areas to cover, but that’s probably enough for now. I’ll knock the rest out in a third post next week.

Apple II S/N 5025

A few people have suggested that I document my revision 0 Apple II computer, so here you go.

I obtained this computer in 2014, as thanks in part for helping a grieving widow organize and clear out her late husband’s vintage computing collection. The computer does not work. Photos and stuff start here:

Apple II and Disk II Drive

Apple II and Disk II Drive

This is a revision 0 Apple II, one of the first 6000 produced. It was made late in the run, bearing case number A2S1-5025.

Apple II serial number sticker

Apple II serial number sticker

According to the accompanying receipt, this Apple II was purchased at a store called Computer Workshop of Kansas City on North Oak Street in Kansas City, Missouri on July 19, 1978, more than a year after the official introduction at the West Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco. The original owner paid $1,197.44 ($1,150.00 + $47.44 in tax) for the computer. According to the US government’s CPI inflation calculator, that would be $4,358.83 in 2015. The receipt unfortunately does not have the Apple II’s serial number written on it but I have no reason to doubt its authenticity.

Apple II S/N A2S1-5025 - sales receipt

Apple II S/N A2S1-5025 – sales receipt

Here’s a look at the base pan.

Apple II Rev 0 S/N A2S1-5025 - base pan

Apple II Rev 0 S/N A2S1-5025 – base pan

The motherboard bears the serial number 5206, handwritten in black permanent marker. The discrepancy between case and board numbers is due to the fact that Apple also sold the II as a board-only DIY kit to hobbyists. These boards drew from the same pool of serial numbers but didn’t come with cases. The white serial number square is beginning to flake away and I’m concerned because I don’t know how to stop this process.

Rev. 0 Apple II - board number 5206

Rev. 0 Apple II – board number 5206

At some point, the original power supply was replaced with this later one. I haven’t had any luck locating a unit for sale that would be period-correct.

Rev. 0 Apple II - upgraded power supply

Rev. 0 Apple II – upgraded power supply

Here’s a photo of the 1977 copyright date found on revision 0 boards, and the CPU. The datecode on the 6502 reads 7807 – the 7th week of 1978. Oriented just above the chip in the photo, you can see the ends of the dark olive green slot connectors that Apple used in the latter stages of the revision 0 production run.

Rev. 0 Apple II - 6502 CPU

Rev. 0 Apple II – 6502 CPU

Here’s a close up of the machine ROMs and a row of DRAM chips. The date codes all look right for this machine.

Rev. 0 Apple II - ROMS and DRAMs

Rev. 0 Apple II – ROMS and DRAMs

Most RF modulators installed in these early Apple IIs were the “Sup’R’Mod” type, but the one installed in my Apple II looks like a generic version.

Apple II Rev 0 RF Modulator

Apple II Rev 0 RF Modulator

Here’s the keyboard, with the raised power light.

Apple II Rev 0 keyboard

Apple II Rev 0 keyboard

… and the keyboard PCB with the inspection date of May 10, 1978.

Keyboard Inspection Stamp

Keyboard Inspection Stamp

The Disk II drive is an early model, bearing serial number 00562. According to the accompanying paperwork, the drive was purchased on September 27, 1978 at the Team Electronics store in the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island, Nebraska. At some point, a write-protect control switch hack was installed.

Disk II Drive, S/N A2M0003-00562

Disk II Drive, S/N A2M0003-00562

One cosmetic difference between the early Disk II drive models and later ones (aside from the rainbow cable) is visible on closer inspection. The lower area of black plastic on the face plate is shiny on the earliest Disk II’s. In later examples, the finish has been changed to matte. I have vague memories of Tony Diaz explaining why they made the change, from some long-ago KansasFest, but it escapes me.

Disk II faceplate - old version

Disk II faceplate – old version

Disk II faceplate - new version

Disk II faceplate – new version

Here’s the Disk II Drive Controller card. Based on the date codes on the chips. the P5 and P6 PROMs were replaced at some point.

Disk II Controller Card

Disk II Controller Card

Here’s the receipt for the Disk II Drive from the Team Electronics store.

Disk II Drive Receipt

Disk II Drive Receipt

The case lid…

Apple II Rev 0 case lid

Apple II Rev 0 case lid

… and the underside of the lid.

Apple II Rev 0 case lid bottom

Apple II Rev 0 case lid bottom

The warranty paper work for the Apple II consisted of this card. The one that shipped with the Disk II Drive is identical.

Apple II Rev 0 limited warranty card

Apple II Rev 0 limited warranty card

And that’s pretty much it. The computer doesn’t work – you can see the problem here:

I’ve done all the simple troubleshooting (chip swapping, etc) that I know how; it’s probably a problem for a skilled electronics technician. Maybe someday…

The Software Factory – AstroApple (Tape Distribution)

This archive contains a disk image (13 sector DOS 3.2 format) of the tape distribution of AstroApple, an astrology program by Bob Male, distributed by The Software Factory. The other side of the disk has the diskette distribution, but there were so many bad sectors that the FC5025 couldn’t image it.

Get the archive here.

Someone posted a scan of the manual here (free to view in your browser; downloading apparently requires free registration).

astroapple-manual