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I’ll just be up front, I’m A Bill Gates man. Besides the Apple II and my favorite Apple machine the Apple IIGS I’ve never liked apple products very much. Maybe its me, being primarily a gamer the Macintosh platform never offered very much to me. I’ve also never been a fan of the strange pretentious “hipster” pseud-culture that has tended to develop around the platform. Despite this I can not deny their impact on the computer world as well as some genuinely innovative things to come out of the platform. That being said I will restrain my impulse to post any “top 10 reasons Mac’s suck” links and get to the current computer in question, the Macintosh 5200CD. Even to the Mac world this model is seen as a failed design and one of the worst Macintosh’s ever built. Ironically, although I do agree with this statement I still find it more useful then the much loved Macintosh se/30 which is commonly held up as one of the best models ever produced.

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The 5200CD released in 1995 is an “All-in-One” Macintosh, meaning that the monitor, speakers as well as main unit and various drives are all together In one package. All you need is a keyboard and mouse and a single standard power cable and your set to go. The results of this design in general are a mixed bag. It makes for a very convenient and space saving set up. The down side being that upgrading is hard if not impossible depending on what you wish to upgrade. Limited space inside also makes expansion options few. Another thing is if your monitor dies your pretty much better off just finding a whole other new machine. This particular 5200CD I snagged for $2 at an electronics meeting. Sometimes non savvy sellers may assume the unit is a simple monitor and that can reduce price at times. I’ve had a 5200CD prior and like this unit it had the same structural issue, the plastic body. I like to call these units “Brittletoshes” cause the old plastic is so brittle. I’ve dealt with plenty of old plastic cases before but for some reason the plastic of the 5200 cracks and snaps at the slightest pressure. The vented plastic sides tend to snap if you carry it wrong and apply any pressure to them. The plastic buttons for volume snapped when attempting to adjust sound and every single plastic tab on the back panel snapped off on attempting to remove the rear plate to access the computer innards. Fortunately this does not really effect the computers functionality and is mostly a cosmetic issue. As you can see from the frontal picture the screen is a rather generous 15 inches and is color unlike the older compact macs like the classic and prior. there is a built in 3 1/2 inch 1.44mb floppy drive as well as a mac cd-rom drive either x2 or x4 speed. My unit has a x4 drive installed since it is a later model with the 1GB hard drive installed. In the lower right corner you can also find a convenient headphone jack as well as an inferred sensor for use with a remote, more on that later.

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Here is the rear of the unit. From left to right we have the standard power socket (keep in mind flipping the switch does not turn the computer on or off, it cuts the power but is not a power on button). Below that we have the A/V module installed. I believe on some models this was optional but the two 5200’s Ive come across had this pre installed, I’ll get to this module a little later. Below the a/v module are ports for ADB which the mac version of the PS/2 allowing keyboard/mouse connection. printer port and modem port. On my 5200 the modem port is covered. I believe this is because an ethernet card is installed. Microphone and external speaker ports are also provided as well as monitor adjustment pots in the upper right corner. Lowest is the coaxial cable connection, yes, this mac can also act as a cable television.

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This is after the brittle plastic back plate is removed. To get to the motherboard you unlatch that small metal handle near the center and give it a gentle pull. The entire board should disconnect and slid out with little effort which is something I do like.

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The board layout is overall pretty simple and removing and reinserting is very easy. on the lower left there is a rather bulky external battery used I assume as the CMOS battery but I was surprised to not find a small lithium battery that was common at the time and still is.

1) That’s the ethernet card that came pre installed. I didn’t look to see the brand and I don’t feel like reopening the thing so…

2) RAM, here we have the RAM for the 5200CD. mine originally came with 40MB total (one 32MB stick and one 8MB stick) but I upgraded to the maximum 64MB via 2 32MB sticks which is a standard amount for the time. The RAM is 72 pin and I found a 32MB stick for $4 off eBay so a full upgrade would probably cost less then $10 even if your 5200 came with no RAM.

3) CPU, a 75mhz PowerPC 603. This is a PowerPC CPU and not a X86 CPU as found in IBM compatible PC’s. the non x86 CPU’s that Apple liked to use until recent 2000’s is another thing about Apple. without going into the differences between the x86 and PowerPC architecture I will say the PPC chips are technically superior and I would say the PPC 75mhz chip runs a little faster and cooler then its x86 equivalent the Intel Pentium 75mhz. Still the PC 603 is a early PPC chip. One of the biggest issues with the Mac 5200CD is that the CPU is a 64bit processor on a 32bit motherboard thus severely hampering the CPU and creating various instabilities.

4) ROM chip, basically the Bios of the mac. It contains the special Macintosh program that tests the computer on start up and if everything checks out OK, the OS loads.

5) This is the AV card

now one really neat feature this computer does well is act as a television and via the coaxial connector on the back you can use the mac as a spare TV. I do not have cable so was unable to test this feature but I’m told the feature works well from other users. The feature is easy to access from inside the mac OS. With the a/v unit supplying stereo RCA inputs as well as composite and S-video you can even watch movies or play video games in SD quality on your mac. The screen is fairly sharp and has a nice picture.

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Here I am watching Alien via my laserdisc player on the 5200CD. I do not own a remote for the setup but the inferred sensor on the front allows for the capability.

Finally for the OS I loaded Mac OS 8.1. The system came to me with system 7.5.1 which was very speedy but i prefer 8.1 for the 5200CD despite the slight decrease in speed due to a more heavy OS. 8.1 provides some extra tweaks and features as well as fixes some instability issues the system has. I find it a fair trade off but system 7.5.1 is still a good choice. My prior unit had OS 9.1 installed and it crawled so I defiantly do not recommend anything higher then 8.1 My hard drive is 1GB which for my purposes is plenty large for the OS and whatever I decide to install. The 5200CD uses a standard IDE interface as opposed to the usual Mac SCSI interface for hard drives so finding a larger hard drive should be cheap and easy if desired. I use an apple keyboard II with the power button on the keyboard. This is one of those macs that power on/off by the keyboard power button, I do not see the point of this and find it an inconvenience. also the 1 button mouse…ewww.

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overall I found this machine sluggish. even with RAM maxed out it didn’t really give me great performance. I played a few games on the system like Full Throttle and Dark Forces and although game play was certainly acceptable I had some slight choppiness with FT on some parts. I do like the all-in-One concept for space deprived situations but expansion options are pretty limited. Despite whats said about the 5200CD It does make a cheap option for playing Mid 90’s Mac games and early 90’s stuff if you don’t have a lot of space to spare at home. The plastic case though is horribly brittle and the thing pushes 50lbs all together. On the plus side you have a large color monitor and can use OS 8.1 as well as have a spare TV. combine it with a external DVD player and you really can save some space.

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One Comment

  1. My first mac was similar to this machine. I had the 6200cd. It had the same processor issues and wasn’t the best mac. But however in 2001 it was way better than my 1999 presario laptop. Mine never had the built in screen. I always saw the built in screens as an advantage for macs had proprietary monitors and they tended to be expensive at that time. Up until they switched to the flat screens, the nineties apple monitors were actually the Sony Trinitron monitors. I guess the brittle cases was an all in one issue, since I never had that issue on my headless models. Must have been the heat from the CRT.


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