Designing the first Mac

IEEE Spectrum has a feature Designing the First Apple Macintosh: The Engineers’ Story, by Fred Guterl, telling the story of the creation of the Macintosh, the one that will celebrate 40 years next January. This “reprint” of a December 1984 article puts aside all the Steve Jobs drama1 and focuses on engineering details like the evolution of the design of the hardware, to the first prototypes to the final machine, and the manufacturing.

The introductory price of USD$2500 is similar to the 2023 introductory of the Apple Vision Pro ; but adjusted for inflation, it is roughly USD$7000 in 2022.

The first Macintosh had 128 KB of RAM, 400 KB floppy disk, a 64 KB ROM that contained large part of the system, including QuickDraw (the graphics primitives), and a 9" black and white CRT displaying 512x342 pixels. 128 KB was barely enough, and the single floppy often led to have to insert disks back and forth, leading to most system being purchased with an external floppy drive. The machine was so low speced that quickly an updated machine with 512 KB was released in the following year. The 512 KB RAM upgrade was possible because the hardware engineers disobeyed Steve Jobs order and made it possible.

The final iteration of the original Macintosh design led to the Macintosh Plus in 1986. The floppy drive was upgraded to a double-sided 800KB drive, a SCSI controller was added to allow connecting external hard drives. The RAM was doubled to 1 MB (8 times the original 128 KB), expandable to 4 MB, and a larger ROM was added to handle both SCSI and the bigger floppies. The keyboard now feature a numeric keypad and arrows, something that Jobs was opposed to. The Macintosh Plus stayed in production for 4.5 years, with only a revised colour from beige to platinium gray, only to be replaced with the less expensive but very similar Macintosh Classic in 1990.

The Macintosh Plus is what got me started to be serious about computing.

  1. This is widely covered in many books about Apple, including Accidental Empires, (Cringely, 1996). ↩︎