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A look at an early Apple IIe

(Warning: I’ll be discussing topics that may seem extremely obscure and pointless to the casual visitor.  If you’re don’t find interesting the minor nuances in Apple II design, manufacturing and engineering over the years, this will likely be terrifically boring.)

A while back, I came into possession of an early Apple IIe and I thought it might be fun to post about it here.

This is Apple IIe serial number A2S2-01601.  The motherboard is a Rev. A, date-coded “8233″, in hand-written ink, which would put it mid-August 1982, several months before the IIe was announced in December of that year. Here’s a look at some of the chips and their date codes.

(click the ‘i’ for image captions and information)

Notes: The date code on the PCB, 8233, is the 33rd week of 1982, which (if we assume the week starts on a Sunday) puts the date of “manufacture” (probably when the board was assembled, rather than when the PCB was etched) between August 16 and 22.  Steve Jobs was 27 years old; Woz had just turned 32.

Older Apple IIs don’t necessarily match up with older power supplies, by serial number.  There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to how Apple decided which power supply went into which machine.

The “newest” chip in this Apple IIe is the MMU, with a date code of 8244, made eleven weeks after the rest of the PCB was assembled. I’m not sure if this means this batch of machines was assembled and then put on a shelf until the next shipment came in from Synertek, or if this particular computer had its MMU replaced at some point.  Judging from the pins on the chip, it doesn’t appear to have been serviced.

OKI Semiconductor used a 5-digit date code on the DRAMs that I haven’t figured out yet.  I can’t find a datasheet or manual describing how they did their encoding.  I believe that either the first two numbers, “24″, indicate the week of manufacture, and the “1″ is used for the year, assuming a 1980 decade, so these were made in the 24th week of 1981; or the first digit indicates the year “1982″ and the “41″ indicates the week, which puts them as manufactured right around the same time as everything else in this IIe.  OKI had two plants, one in Taiwan and the other in Singapore.  I suspect the “52″ and “97″ trailing numbers on the DRAMs indicate factory of origin, though I might be way off here.

Here’s a look at some of the interesting and unique case features:

(click the ‘i’ for image captions and information)

Here’s a video clip of Apple II historian and hardware expert Tony Diaz comparing this computer to Apple IIe A2S2-01345 during his “Apple II Road Show” session at KansasFest 2013.  Fascinating to see how different were their fates, considering how seemingly close they were in production order.

Tomorrow, I’ll post some photos comparing this Apple to a II Plus, as well as a later model IIe.

No awesome Retrochallenge 2014WW prizes for me

Sadly, another year has slipped by and I wasn’t able to get to my intended 2014WW project.  This is partly because January is always a crazily busy month for me – work picks up, and an entire weekend and most of the preceding week is lost to an anniversary getaway with my wife – and partly because I wasn’t able to locate the Apple /// BOS disk that I’d pre-configured to work with my CFFA card and I didn’t adequately organize my time to devote the necessary 90 uninterrupted minutes (give or take) to start over.  So there it is… My dreams of Retrochallenge glory lie in ruins.  We’ll get ‘em next year.

One last dance with 6502 assembly language

Way back when (2012 or something?) I posted my intention to learn 6502 assembly language, and explained that my roadblock to this point has been an inability to get my head around binary math-by-hand.  Life, site hacks and other stuff got in the way, but I’m back to this again.  I still do think it’s possible to do without being able to multiply 1101011101011101 by 101010111110110111 without the aid of a calculator.  Someone pointed out to me that it helps to have a goal, in this case an “end-product” program that I want to write, so I’ve come up with an idea that I want to make real, or as “real” as any program code can be, I suppose.

Some people want to run a marathon before they die, or climb Everest.  I want to learn 6502 assembly language.

Retrochallenge 2014WW

I’m off to a bit of a slow start, I’ll admit, but I’m already further along than I got the entire month during the 2012WW.  So far, I’ve dusted off my Apple /// and a monitor (I love the industrial design on that thing) and been able to test the hardware.  Everything passed the diagnostics as expected, but I’ve had little luck getting much further, as I can’t locate the BOS disk that already has the preconfigured drivers to get the /// up and running with my CFFA card.

True, I could skip that for now (and I may have to if I come up empty in the next couple of days) and just boot directly to a Business BASIC disk and work that way, but I’ve come to really appreciate the speed and convenience of working off the CFFA over the past few years. Unfortunately, no one (that I’m aware of) has come up with a work-around for having to boot the /// from a floppy disk in the internal 5.25″ drive.

The other alternative is to build a new bootable BOS driver disk and work from that.  Not impossible, but that takes a fair amount of time and there’s no guarantee that I won’t accidentally wipe the existing data on the CFFA, which includes my half-finished, last-place winning KansasFest 2012 HackFest entry.  As bad as it is, I’d still hate to lose that – it’s one of the few still-existing fragments of code I wrote.

Worse, the rebuild time will have to be uninterrupted as I have a tendency not to be able to get back to a half-finished project like that.  If I don’t complete the process, it will sit incomplete for months and when I do decide to get off my butt and wrap it up, I’ll have forgotten everything I did to that point and have to start over anyway.

Then again, I could just use a blank CompactFlash card.  Still a lot of configuration, but I won’t have to be as careful about ensuring I don’t accidentally wipe it and have to start over.

So, fingers crossed that I can find that bootable disk by my self-imposed Friday deadline.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of my official Retrochallenge 2012WW setup.

2014WW Apple III

Crying wolf

6502Lane is back.  (You’re reading this, aren’t you?)

Exciting news, right?  Probably it has lost a bit of its edge though, considering I take it offline every two or three months in a storm of tears and drama, and then bring it back again, often just hours later.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Honestly, I didn’t expect to stand it up ever again after the most recent decommissioning: the domain was set to expire after the end of the current registration and I felt I was done.

It had become clear the vintage computing book I was attempting to write wasn’t going anywhere and my entropy in community involvement was making it a more and more attractive prospect to clean out my storage space of Apple II and /// computers and documentation that hadn’t been touched in more than a decade.

The ever-increasing content theft and personal attacks both within the vintage computing hobby and beyond combined with my frustration at the crude nature of today’s blogging tools and a general waning of personal interest in the Apple II platform to dull my passion.  I was happy to move on.

Former readers of this blog, tired of my cry-wolf, rage-quit-and-return antics, agreed and stayed away in droves.

And then a post appeared in the “Apple /// Enthusiasts” group on Facebook.  Another user had come to a similar point in his life and offered up his extensive collection, hoping it would go to someone who would cherish and enjoy it, as he just didn’t have time any more and the focus of his priorities had shifted away from his former interest.  I (and I’m sure about a dozen other collectors, hobbyists and recyclers) immediately contacted him and while I didn’t score the bulk of his holdings (most of which ended up on eBay a short while later for a king’s ransom), I did land a couple of interesting items that I’ll document here at some point.

As the bartering and electronic payments were flying back and forth between us at a furious pace, my RSS reader gently nudged me, reminding me that it was time to sign up for the impending Retrochallenge 2014 Winter Warm Up, or at least make a note of it for an upcoming episode of Open Apple.

Two years ago, I’d entered 2012WW with the intention of doing something – anything – with my Apple ///, but when you reach your 40s, time really begins to slip quickly past and before I knew it, I had less than a week left in the 30-day retro computing competition.  Disappointed, I withdrew but promised myself to return someday.  And that day, I felt, was here so I sent off an email to the organizer, announcing my entry and all was happy.

But there was a snag.  You see, entry into the Retrochallenge requires an active blog, so the community can follow your progress and everyone can join in the fun.  To make an already overlong story slightly less so, 6502Lane is back, is back (though without most of the previous content … more on that later) and I’m going to be doing something with my Apple /// for the 2014WW.  I’m thinking music and video — something you couldn’t easily do on an Apple II, much like Andy Hertzfeld’s inspiration for the Running Horses demo so many years ago.

There’s more to this sordid tale, but I’m out of practice and winded, so I’ll post more later.