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In previous articles we covered both the nearly identical LC and the LC II, both of which were early attempts to bring an affordable color Macintosh to the market. Both machines more or less accomplish what they set out to do but also both were heavily compromised in functionality to achieve this end.  The main compromises of the original LC and following LC II were

1 – A 32-bit CPU on a 16-bit motherboard severely hampering the performance of the LCs 16mhz 68020 CPU.

2 – An imposed limit of 10MB of RAM regardless of the size of the RAM stick(s) installed.

3 – complete lack of a MMU or FPU socket on the motherboard.

4 – Difficulty getting the LC to run with monitors outside of the fixed resolution 512×386 monitor it was intended to be paired with or period Apple or early VGA monitors.

The LC II added the ability to use virtual memory via the CPU’s built in MMU and tweaked the video a bit but was otherwise identical. Thankfully the LC III finally addressed all the above issues while maintaining the same small form case. Finally we have a full 32-bit data bus so as not to strangle the 32-bit CPU. There is now a MMU as there was built into the LC II but also much more expandability for RAM as well as a socket for a FPU chip and the video memory supports 640 x 480 resolution without any kind of fiddling or upgrade.

Other then the LC III badge the case is identical to the LC I and II. bear in mind there are two versions of the LC III case and one features a manual eject floppy drive that looks a little different with an indentation to grasp the disk. These cases also have the case badge as more of a label then etched onto the case. Otherwise these machines are identical.

The rear of the case though is identical to the LC I & II. from left to right you have the power connector and switch, Mac video port, modem and printer ports, external SCSI port, ADB port and finally an audio jack for speakers and mic. The Ethernet card installed on the right is the same one that used to be installed in my LC II.

The LC III like the LC I & II does not support power on via the keyboard and use of the rear switch is required. Opening the LC II is exactly the same as the other LC’s with just two fairly sturdy tabs securing the top.

Now with the top removed.

The general layout is basically the same as it was in the LC II with a single floppy drive and space for a SCSI hard drive. Mine came with a standard 80mb SCSI hard drive but I upgraded mine to a 500mb model by transferring the upgraded hard drive from my LC II.

Now lets take a look at the motherboard.

1) Enhanced LC PDS slot – The PDS slot on the LC has a slight extension to it compared to the PDS slot in the LC and LC II. The “enhanced LC PDS slot” in the LC III supports both 16-bit PDS cards of the type that would be used in the older LC machines but also 25mhz 32-bit PDS cards. Unfortunately these 32-bit cards are quite uncommon.

2) CPU – The LC III unlike the LC I & II now uses a full 32-bit data bus as opposed to a 16-bit but so the CPU can be taken full advantage of. The CPU in the LC III is a Motorola 68030 running at 25mhz, also a bump up from the 16mhz of the previous LC’s.   Some benchmarks of the time placed the LC III twice as fast as the LC II in overall performance. There is also a version of the LC III known as the LC III+ which is identical save for the CPU which got a speed bump up to 33mhz. There is no way to tell the two models apart as there was no indication given on the outer case. Only opening the case and checking the CPU or powering the machine up and checking in software would reveal the difference. There are guides available on modding the LC III into an LC III+ but perform at your own risk. Also Later LC III’s with the manual floppy drive eject are more likely to be the plus models though be aware this isn’t a sure thing.

3) FPU – Finally we have a socket to add an optional 68882 math coprocessor to assist in complicated math calculations. This doesn’t seem to of been a popular upgrade though as I’ve never come across an LC III with this upgrade though the chips are fairly cheap (as of 2018).  Like on the x86 PC though I don’t think the FPU was heavily utilized in any number of games on the Mac so the FPU upgrade was not seen as a priority.

Empty FPU socket to the right of the CPU

68882 coprocessor installed

4) RAM – The LC III has 4mb of RAM on the motherboard but also unlike the previous LC’s the LC III has a single 72 pin SIMM socket with the ability to add up to 32 additional MB or RAM for a potential max of 36mb. This is the configuration of my LC III featured here. The LC III was also the first Macintosh to use 72 pin SIMMs. This was a welcome feature as the previous 10mb was serviceable for the time but the ability to add up to 36MB total went a long way to extending the usefulness of the LC III in the future.

5) Video – The LC III features built in video and 512kb of VRAM standard. This allows 640 x 480 resolution on a 640 x 480 capable monitor out of the box and I had a much easier time hooking this LC up to my various monitors via a Mac to PC VGA adapter and getting a image without any hassle or “out of range” errors. The VRAM is upgradeable to 768kb via a VRAM slot and 256 KB 100ns VRAM SIMM. This will allow a maximum resolution of 832 x 624 at 16-bit

6) PRAM – this is the ever present PRAM battery for saving settings. It is always recommended to swap this battery out when you get a new Mac or if you start encountering strange instabilities.

The Mac LC III was a great evolution of the LC line finally fixing all of the shortcomings of the line while maintaining a lower price point. For all intents and purposes the LC III was a Macintosh IIci in a smaller form factor case with slightly lower performance and much less expansion capabilities. If all you wanted to do was some light work and gaming and didn’t need the expansion slots of the Macintosh II line the LC III was an excellent option that saved money and took up a little space in the house.

For the retro Mac gamer I would easily recommend this machine over the LC I and II. They don’t take up much space, are light and relatively cheap and easy to fine. They also offer enough power to run early color Macintosh games or black and white titles well and can work with most monitors hassle free.

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Previously we talked about Apples attempt to create a low cost color Macintosh for the home and educational market. That machine was known as the Macintosh LC. In this article we’re going to look at Apple’s 1992 second attempt at a low cost color Mac, the aptly named Macintosh LC II. Unfortunately as we will see the LC II solved virtually none of the issues that plagued the original LC to the point that it almost makes you wonder why Apple even bothered to release the LC II.

First lets take a look at the front of the machine and the case.

The LC II uses the exact same slim form factor “Pizza Box” style case as the LC. It looks identical on the front except for two differences. Fist off is obviously the printed model name on the front be LC II as opposed to LC. The second change is the lack of a cut out slot for adding a second floppy drive. The dual floppy version of the original LC was so uncommon that Apple decided to do away with the option all together for the LC II.

The rear of the case though is identical to the LC. from left to right you have the power connector and switch, Mac video port, modem and printer ports, external SCSI port, ADB port and finally an audio jack for speakers and mic. This machine had a Ethernet card installed when I bought it which you can see all the way on the right in the expansion slot.

The LC II like the LC does not support power on via the keyboard and use of the rear switch is required. Opening the LC II is exactly the same as the LC with just two fairly sturdy tabs securing the top.

Lets take a look with the top removed.

Internally the LC II looks very similar to the LC as far as where things are placed both on and off the motherboard. The right side of the board is obscured in this image by the Ethernet card I have installed. On the upper left we have the 1.44MB floppy drive and to the left we have a SCSI hard drive installed, usually 30 – 80mb in size though this one has been upgraded to a 100+mb hard drive by the previous owner. In between them we have a speaker and fan for cooling.

My LC II suffers from leaking capacitors like almost all Macs from the 80’s and early 90’s yet still functions.

1) CPU – Possibly the biggest difference in the LC II is the upgraded CPU from a 68020 @ 16mhz to a 68030 running @ 16mhz. Unfortunately the 32-bit CPU is still running on a 16-bit data bus so we see virtually no increase in performance. Interestingly enough some sources claim the LC II actually runs slower then the original LC in some instances. The one big advantage though of the new 68030 is that this CPU had built in memory management capabilities finally allowing the use of virtual memory on the LC II.

2) LC PDS Slot – expandability was the same as the on the LC allowing for expansion only via one LC PDS (Processor Direct Slot) though on my motherboard the slot is a snazzy white as opposed to black on the LC.

The previous owner whom I believe was a teacher had a Ethernet card installed presumably this was an educational model connected to a network

3) RAM – Just like the LC the LC II had a limit of 10mb of RAM. Also like the LC the RAM was expanded by two 30 pin slots. The difference in the LC II was that opposed to having 2mb soldered onto the motherboard the LC II had 4mb on board. This was good news to first time users That didn’t have the money to upgrade RAM or did not have any sticks laying around but for users that already had 4mb sticks on hand it was a bit of a waste. This is because as I mentioned the LC II had the same 10mb memory limit as the LC but on the LC if you added two 4mb sticks you would get 10mb with the 2mb on board. With the LC II doing this same upgrade you still ended up with 10mb or memory but 2mb were completely wasted (4mb on board + 4 = 4 =12mb but with a 10mb limit). It was still worth the upgrade to have the 10mb max but it just feels a bit wasteful.

4) Video – Built in video on the LC II is almost exactly the same as the LC with 256kb of VRAM upgradable to 512kb via a VRAM socket next to the two 30 pin RAM sockets. The stock configuration of the LC II supported 512×384 pixels at 8-bit color while upgrading to 512kb gave the ability to display that same resolution at 16-bit color or 640×480 at 8-bit just like the LC. The LC II was also still meant to run at a 512×386 resolution with the 12″ Apple RGB monitor. This still gave problems with many Macintosh games and programs expecting a standard 640×480 res. The video on the LC II was supposedly tweaked though to allow it to work with a wider range of external monitors but in my testing I couldn’t find any that failed to work with the LC but worked with the LC II.

Eventually I did find an adapter that did work. This adapter had DIP switches and I found setting it to “auto sync” and 640 x 480 @ 67hz (the lowest setting) produced a off center but usable image.

5) PRAM battery – for saving settings

6) Floppy connector – The LC II supports 1.44mb floppy drives that receive power via the floppy cable and also use auto eject mechanisms. The LC II lacks a second floppy connector due to the complete removal of a dual floppy option.

7) 50 pin SCSI connector for connecting a SCSI hard drive.

So looking at the overall specs and design of the LC II we quickly realize that the changes from the LC are very minimal indeed. so to understand this better lets take a quick second look at the shortcomings of the original LC.

1 – A 32-bit CPU on a 16-bit motherboard severely hampering the performance of the LCs 16mhz 68020 CPU.

2 – An imposed limit of 10MB of RAM regardless of the size of the RAM stick(s) installed.

3 – complete lack of a MMU or FPU or the ability to easily add one.

4 – Difficulty getting the LC to run with monitors outside of the fixed resolution 512×386 monitor it was intended to be paired with or period Apple or early SVGA monitors.

Of these four shortcomings the LC II really only addressed part of problem 3 which is incorporating a CPU with a built in MMU to allow for virtual memory. It is true the machine came stock with more RAM but the total limit was still an anemic 10mb and even with the tweaks to the video I still had a hard time finding  a monitor outside of the Apple 12″ RGB or a professional NEC multisync CRT that would display with the LC II. I tried several adapters as well as several monitors such as my Sony G240 and Mitsubishi Diamondtron CRT’s but all gave a “out of range” error. I finally found and adapter with switches that allowed me to set it to 800 x 600 resolution manually and that seemed to work okay. You may have much more luck with an earlier SVGA monitor. Also one has to take into consideration that as stated earlier in some instances the LC II may even be slightly slower then the original LC.

Overall the improvements to the LC II don’t really seem significant enough to justify its existence though I’m sure a number of people did appreciate the inclusion of virtual memory and even the increased stock RAM. If your a retro gamer I would still suggest holding out for an LC III or Macintosh II though for the price these things go for its worth grabbing if your a collector.

LC II running with a screensaver. This monitor has severe vertical folding issues that are not to apparent in this image.

 

The Macintosh LC, if not Apples most crippled computer must be up in their top 5. The machine is purposefully held back in so many ways that performance is severely impacted yet it was still successful and is still an enduring member of the Macintosh family.

The LC in Apples 1990 Macintosh LC stands for “Low Cost” or “Low Cost Color” so one wouldn’t be shocked to to find that the machine is hindered performance wise. This was Apples stab at making a low cost color Macintosh for the family and the educational market.

The first thing one notices about the LC is its extremely thin and light case. This case became known as the “Pizza Box” case due to its similarity to the shape of a Pizza Box. The case is remarkably small and light and despite being all plastic it holds up as there are only two fairly sturdy plastic tabs on the rear that secure the top of the case down. The LC sports one or rarely two 1.44mb floppy drives. The two drive versions were not very popular but you can see on the left where another floppy drive could be placed. Usually as with this model that space was occupied by a 30 to 80GB 50 pin SCSI hard drive.

Looking at the rear of the LC was have a standard connector for a power cable as well as a switch. The LC does not support soft power on from the keyboard so powering on and off is done via the rear switch. Next to that we have a 15 pin video port for the built in video, an apple printer, modem port an external SCSI port a ADB port for keyboard and mouse and finally two audio jacks for speakers and mic.

Here is the inside with the top cover removed and we can see the motherboard is very small and compact. This machine when I got it had the hard drive removed but you can see where it would be mounted. between the two drive bays we have a speaker and a small fan. The LC also uses a proprietary small form factor power supply which if yours dies can be an issue to replace.

1) CPU – The Macintosh LC is controlled by a Motorola 68020 CPU running at 16mhz. The crippling factor here though is that we have a 32-bit CPU running on a motherboard with a 16-bit data bus thus severally hindering the performance of the CPU. One example of the bottleneck this created is the Macintosh II which used the same CPU yet ran on a 32-bit motherboard. This computer is almost twice as fast or up to 40% faster then the LC despite having the same clocked CPU. This performance gap is due mainly to the restrictive data bus of the LC. The LC also lacked a MMU (Memory Management Unit) for virtual memory or ability to add one thus limiting the memory.

2) RAM – RAM is another area that the LC is a bit limited. The LC comes with 2MB of RAM soldered onto the motherboard with the option to add another 8MB via two 30 pin SIMM slots for a total of 10MB of memory. This limit is placed by the memory chipset so even placing larger RAM sticks into the sockets still results in a limit of 10MB. This amount of memory, though usable, was fairly small even by the standards of 1990.

3) Video – The LC came with video built into the motherboard as well as 256kb of VRAM upgradable to 512kb via a VRAM socket next to the two 30 pin RAM sockets. At stock configuration the LC supported 512×384 pixels at 8-bit color while upgrading to 512kb gave the ability to display that same resolution at 16-bit color or 640×480 at 8-bit. The problem was the LC was mainly meant to display at the 512×386 resolution and even had a special 12″ RGB monitor which had its resolution fixed to 512×386. This monitor fits perfectly on top of the case of the LC, LC II and LC III. Many programs at the time expected 640×480 so when displayed on the 12″ RGB monitor at 512×386 a number of programs displayed incorrectly.

The LC is also notoriously picky about what monitors it will work with. neither my Sony G420, Gateway T17LC-8 CRT monitor nor my Samsung Syncmaster 171n LCD monitor would work with the LC when using a mac to PC adapter. This incompatibility continued when attempting to use a VGA to S-video converter as it produced a rolling and unstable image on my Sony KV-32FV310. usually the error was an “Out of Sync” error as the LC seems to output at a 25khz frequency many monitors just will not accept. I finally had to use a NEC PG-2740 professional monitor to get an image from this machine or the LCII I also have.

It is supposedly possible to modify the Apple 12″ RGB monitor to run at 640×480 but it likely takes some experience with soldering and working with CRT monitors and not for the novice.

4) LC PDS slot – Expandability on the LC was pretty meager and it only sported one specialized LC PDS (processor direct slot). This slot was mostly intended for the Apple IIe compatibility card which granted high compatibility with the huge Apple IIe backlog of games and programs but other cards such as accelerators and video cards were produced as well.

5) PRAM battery – for saving settings

6) Floppy connectors – The original LC had two floppy connectors for connecting one or two 1.44mb floppy drives. Note that these are special drives that receive power via the floppy cable and also use a auto eject mechanism. The dual floppy versions of the LC are pretty rare as this was not a popular option.

7) 50 pin SCSI connector for connecting a SCSI hard drive.

8) PSU connector

So lets go over and list the issues that crippled this machine.

1 – A 32-bit CPU on a 16-bit motherboard severely hampering the performance of the LCs 16mhz 68020 CPU.

2 – An imposed limit of 10MB of RAM regardless of the size of the RAM stick(s) installed.

3 – complete lack of a MMU or FPU or the ability to easily add one.

4 – Difficulty getting the LC to run with any monitor outside of the 12″ RGB  fixed resolution 512×386 monitor it was intended to be paired with or period Apple monitors.

Considering that Apple was trying to create a low cost machine at an affordable price one wouldn’t be to surprised at the cost cutting done to the LC and the limitations thus created. One plus I could give the LC is that it is extremely lite and the Mac itself is easy to transport and setup. The case is also pretty durable for being all plastic and the tabs seem to hold up fairly well. That said for the modern retro gamer looking for an early 90’s Macintosh I would stay away from the LC for anything other then pure collecting. They are fairly cheap even on eBay as well as easy to find but there are far better options such as the various models of the Macintosh II or the LC III (which we will get to). I should note that the LC in this article currently is none functional due to leaking capacitors which is a common issue on old PC’s and especially these 80’s and early 90’s Macs. Apple did in fact attempt to correct the issues that limited the LC though it wouldn’t be until the third iteration that they more or less got it right.

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