The Color Classic was a much beloved but underpowered classic compact Macintosh released in February of 1993. Along with the Color Classic II released that same year it was the only “classic” compact Mac to feature a color screen. Unfortunately the Color Classic was very underpowered and was comparable to Apples low cost LC machines. It has a very low RAM limit of 10MB and its 16mhz 68030 CPU was strangled performance wise by its 16-bit data bus. Compare this to its big brother the Color Classic II which featured 36MB of maximum RAM and a 33mhz 68030 on a full 32-bit data bus. Unfortunately the Color Classic II or Colour Classic II as it is also known was never sold in the US and only in Asia, Europe and Canada. Even in places it was officially sold it was not overly common and importing one can command a high price. If you do live in the US though there is a practical solution to turning your Color Classic into the machine it should of been in the first place and that is to replace the motherboard with that of a Macintosh LC 550, essentially transforming it into a Color Classic II. In this article we will be looking at one such machine. Except for the case label on the front and a slightly different motherboard this machine is for all practical purposes a Color Classic II.
The Color Classic and Classic II use the same case and only differ externally by the name plate at the bottom. The case itself is a departure from the earlier styling of the compact Macs and has a much rounder case design. The main attraction to the Color Classics are the built in 10 inch (9 inch viewable) Sony color Trinitron monitor. Former models in the compact Mac lines all used black & white monitors and later macs immediately following the color classics used lesser quality shadow mask monitors. The monitor in these models is known to give a very crisp image capable of 512 x 384 pixel resolution. The down side of this monitor and its lower resolution is that many games from the time required a 640 X 480 resolution. One popular modification does allow you to increase the Color Classics resolution up to the required 640 x 480 increasing game compatibility also adds stress to components and may result in a shorter overall life span of your Macintosh.
Above the monitor we have a built in Microphone, a new feature for Macintosh computers at the time. Below the monitor we have a standard 1.44mb floppy drive as well as a power LED and controls for volume level and brightness.
One thing to note about the Color Classic is the the power switch on the back does not actually power up the system. To initiate boot you need to use an Apple keyboard with a soft power on button on the keyboard. The switch on the rear is simply to activate the power supply. To the right of the PSU we have two pots for monitor adjustments and in the center above our ports is a security lock.
From the bottom left to right we have two ADB ports for keyboard and mice followed by a printer port, modem port. external SCSI port, microphone jack, audio out jack and finally a space for an expansion card. My Color Classic came with a Ethernet card installed.
Getting access to the motherboard in a Color Classic is exceptionally easy and all you need to do is gently press down on the two plastic tabs and pull away from the case. The plastic cover should come right off. To remove the motherboard itself just grasp it firmly and pull away from the case.
If you look inside the bay where the motherboard came out you can see the edge connector on the far side where the board interfaces with the rest of the computer.
The floppy drive and hard drive are accessible by removing the outer case via four t15 screws much like the older compact macs. My machine came with a 120mb SCSI 50 pin hard drive. The hard drive can be removed without removing the analog board with a little effort but the floppy drive usually requires its removal to access it. Also of note the speaker is also housed in a plastic shell below the PSU and behind the floppy drive. The speaker also needs to be removed to access the floppy drive.
Before I start talking about the motherboard I need to restate as the title says that this is NOT a stock Color Classic. Stock I feel this machine is pretty underpowered so thankfully when I picked this unit up it had been upgraded by replacing the motherboard with the motherboard from a Macintosh LC 550. The Macintosh LC 550 motherboard is essentially the same motherboard in the fairly uncommon Color Classic II thus by swapping boards with a 550 board you turn your Classic I into a full fledged Classic II with two minor differences. The first difference is the name badge on the front of the case which I suspect can be swapped out if by some random chance you come across a Classic II’s badge. Second, depending on what you read the Color Classic II either has the exact same motherboard as the LC 550 or the LC 550 has slightly more video ram maximums ( 512k maximum in a Color Classic II as opposed to 768kb maximum in an LC 550). The LC 550 having a higher VRAM max makes sense as it was meant to drive a higher res monitor but still many sources on the internet claim they use the same board.
There are other upgrades you can perform on a Color Classic I or II such as the “Mystic” mod which allows a 68040 CPU or even Power PC CPU mods but these require software and/or hardware modifications where as the LC 550 mod is simply a matter of swapping motherboards and that is all. LC 550 boards have gotten harder to find in the US but price wise it’s still a cheaper and easier option then paying a hefty premium to import a Color Classic II.
The board itself is extremely compact. Take note of the metal legs on the underside when removing or reinserting the board back into the case as they can break off and short components as they rattle around inside a powered on machine.
1) Edge Connector – This is the connector that the board uses to interface with the rest of the computer when inserted into the case.
2) PDS or Processor Direct Slot – A rather limited form of expandability slot. Usually cards using the PDS slot were specific to the CPU used thus a PDS card meant for a 68040 would not work on a 38030 with a PDS slot. My particular Color Classic has an Ethernet card occupying this slot but another popular card was the Apple IIe emulator card which let one play Apple IIe games on the Color Classic I and II.
3) CPU – The LC550/Color Classic II are equipped with a Motorola 68030 running at 33mhz on a 33mhz front side bus utilizing a full 32-bit data bus as seen on this board. This was a pretty speedy CPU at the time and is worlds better then the 16mhz 38030 in the original Color Classic which was strangled performance wise by a 16-bit data bus motherboard.
4) Coprocessor – Here is a socket for an optional 68882 math coprocessor to assist in floating point math. This was an option on both Color Classics and the LC 550. My motherboard thankfully came with one installed. Not terribly useful for games but nice to have none the less.
5) PRAM – standard PRAM battery for holding saved data and date/time.
6) VRAM – Here is the systems video ram for the built in video controller. On the original Color Classic you had 256kb with the slot allowing for expandability up to 512kb of VRAM. On the LC 550 we have 512kb standard with the added RAM via the neighboring slot for a total of 768kb. As I stated earlier there is some mixed information on the internet on if a true Color Classic II board allows up to 768k or is maxed out at 512kb like the original Color Classic.
7) RAM – The original Color Classic was restricted to managable but still low amount of 10mb of RAM but the Color Classic II and LC 550 board we see here comes with 4mb solder onto the board with the ability to expand up to 32 additional megabytes via a 72 pin RAM slot for a full 36mb of RAM as I have on my machine.
In conclusion the Color Classic is a neat little machine. It takes up barley any space which is also part of the reason it has such a cult following in places like Japan where space is at a premium. It also has a very nice and crisp color display unlike previous compact macs which were limited to monochrome displays. While the power and expandability of the original Color Classic is pretty poor the Color Classic II is everything the original should have been and if you happen to come across one pick it up if you like Macs. If your in the US however finding a Classic II may be daunting so if you do have an original model keep an eye out for the LC 550 motherboard, perhaps from an LC with a dead monitor. The motherboard swap is literally just a drop in replacement and you instantly have yourself a Color Classic II with maybe a little extra VRAM.