The 10 Worst Macs Ever Built
by Remy Davison
Be ashamed. Be very ashamed. If you own, have owned or laid down good, hard folding
for these lemons, you, like Microsoft, have no taste. Hang your head. You're a 'bozo'
who doesn't 'get it'. Now go away and cry in your coffee.
Turkey. An '030 Duo logic board crammed into a 100 series chassis. Actually,
the cheapest update to the PowerBook 145B Apple could think of. Released in 1993
in the midst of the very-good PowerBook 180/180c, it was the el cheapo model as Apple
released the outstanding PowerBook 500 series in 1994. So poorly received was the
150 (although cheap), that new ones were still in inventory in early 1996.
Why? No ADB port, no video out, a murky 2-bit (literally)display (4 grays). A now
hard-to-find Duo memory adapter. The absence of ADB meant that you couldn't install
some software that required a dongle; nor could you power the common ADB modems.
The absence of video out as well totally ruled the 150 out as a portable desktop.
In its defense, owners say, it did hold a lot of RAM (40MB) and the CPU ran at a
respectable 33MHz. Not enough really. For lightness and Dockability, I'd take a Duo
250 or 270c any day of the week.
Verdict: Best forgotten really.
A product of dry-running a low-priced Mac in Japan, the Classic was a budget-priced
($999) Mac that was designed to bring the OS to the masses. It did. Many people remember
the Classic fondly as their first Mac that they bought or used in school.
Yeah, but you wouldn't use one now. In fact, you probably wouldn't have wanted to
use one in 1994. I have one and it lives in the kitchen, but I wouldn't want to do
anything but run Note Pad and the Calculator on it.
Old tech, that's what it was. Essentially a Plus with an internal hard disc, a 1.4MB
floppy drive and a cooler-looking case, the Classic can't have cost anything to design.
Apart from the weird RAM expansion card that was designed to stop people snipping
capacitors like on earlier models. Designed not to steal LC sales, the Classic employed
the ancient 68000 processor running at the same 8MHz as the original 1984 Mac 128K.
RAM limit was a paltry 4MB. Vastly inferior to the earlier SE, the Classic had no
internal expansion slot, and you had to use a LocalTalk adapter or sacrifice the
SCSI port to put it on an Ethernet network.
At least it has an interesting side-feature: the internal ROM contains a bootable
System 6.03 image (hold down Cmd-Option-X-O), which is quite pointless, except for
impressing your friends and testing whether Classics boot at a garage sale (it's
very fast booting from ROM, mind you).
Moreover, casual users wanting to upgrade RAM or hard drive risked Death if they
didn't realise that CRT contained Really High Voltage.
I really wonder how many people upgraded to a later Mac after experiencing the slowness
of the Classic?
PowerBook 5300 series
All right. I confess to owning one of these as well. For quite a while, in fact.
While my example may not have been typical, my experience, and that of Road Warrior
Grand Poobah (now Cubist and Picasso collector), Charles W. Moore, was of essentially
trouble-free 5300s for a number of years.
However, hundreds of people had to send their 5300s back to Apple not once, not twice,
but maybe a dozen times. Yeah, and I haven't heard the 1995 manager of the PowerBook
apologise for this debacle. Yet. At least he lost his job. I won't name the gentleman,
as he probably has more expensive lawyers than I do, but here's a clue: he has the
same surname as one of the villains in Ian Fleming's book, For Your Eyes Only.
What went wrong? Plenty: recalled for a quick battery swap from LiIONs to old-fashioned
NiMHs in the wake of the battery fire problems. Caused by SONY. Let's get that one
right once and for all (Sosumi, Sony). The rest was Apple's fault. Personally, I
prefer to blame the incomprehensible Michael Spindler, CEO of Red Ink Corps.
Dead logic boards, random freezes, cracked hinges and cases, display plastics fraying
apart, loose RAM cards, inadequate power supplies, very slow (4050rpm) hard drives
(blame IBM here), no L2 cache. It pains me that Apple saw fit to stuff an almost-useless
IRTalk port into the 'Book, as well as a media bay that hardly anyone ever used except
for a floppy, but couldn't attach 128K of L2 cache onto the 100MHz (really?) 603e.
Thankfully, as it so often does, Connectix came to the rescue with SpeedDoubler.
Lucky this baby had a CD-ROM drive. Along with its slower, less-expensive brother,
the IIvi, it helped Apple ship 1,000,000 CD-ROM equipped machines during 1992-93.
Why does it qualify as a Worst Mac? Take the case for starters: an ugly metal box
(a PC, in fact), that looked like a PC, had sharp metal edges like a PC, but quacked
like a Mac. I think it was designed to fool sysadmins into thinking it was a hunky-dory
Worse, like the LC and LCII, Apple hobbled the machine, presumably in order to distance
its performance from the mid and high-range Centris/Quadra range. They ran the quick-ish
32MHz 68030 on a 16MHz bus. Apparently, Apple couldn't bring themselves to make this
Mac too close to the old IIfx in performance. At least the thing had its own VRAM,
unlike the IIci/IIsi. The downside was IIci users didn't see the IIvx as an upgrade:
it was slower in every respect, and even a mildly clock-chipped IIsi would leave
it in the dust. Plus it only had 4 RAM slots, unlike the IIci's generous 8.
Believe me, there are PC admins out there who believe Apple still churns out
LCIIs somewhere, like India churns out 1950s Morris Minors. The LCII was Apple's
Volkswagen Beetle without the charm (conversely, the iMac is a VW with the
charm). Running a 32-bit 68030 on a 16-bit bus, the LCII was slower than the 68020
LC on some benchmarks, and was even beaten by the old Mac IIx or PowerBook 140, both
of which ran the same speed CPU.
This might have all been forgiven in the name of product placement if the LCII had
had a decent RAM limit. It didn't. You could stick 12MB in and you'd still
get only 10MB showing up for work, with the rest out to lunch. No wonder there was
quite a market in LCII upgrades. Fortunately, all this stuff was fixed in the excellent
LCIII, and improved upon in the outstanding LC475.
"What!" you might exclaim. "The CC in a Worst Of list? Impossible!"
Sad, but true. Why? Well, it's an LCII in a compact Mac chassic, obviously.
There's two ways of looking at the CC of course. Some see it as the high-tide mark
for the compact design, the ultimate evolution of the original Mac. Others, self
included, think it's a cool, good-looking, almost-portable computer that's really
an LCII with even more compromises.
Like what? Monitor support for a start. The LCII supports a range of Mac monitors,
color and mono, as well as PC VGA monitors. With the CC, it's the 10" Trinitron
with 512x384 resolution. Useless for some games demanding 640x480; too small for
demoing QuickTime clips; and you don't see much of a word-processing document on
it either. At least the mobo was easy to access as it pulled right out of the chassis.
The performance wasn't even close to its ancient predecessor, the SE/30, still arguably
one of the best of the compact Macs (holds 128MB RAM!). Like the LCII, the RAM could
only be upped to 10MB. Actually, its speed was no different from the older Classic
II, the major difference being the Classic II's mono display. But the very fact that
the CC has a color display in a compact, all-in-one design has kept the CC fairly
healthily priced, while better, faster Macs of all vintages suffer price collapses.
The upside was it supported common LC PDS cards for ethernet and had an FPU socket.
Like the LCII, its faults were corrected with the Color Classic II, an LCIII in compact
clothing - but this model was never sold in North America. Since I'm in Australia
and CC IIs (and Performa 275s) are pretty thick on the ground (literally), someone
suggested I started an export business in CCs and CC IIs - anyone want to be my North
PowerBook G3/233 (Series I, 12.1" passive matrix/cacheless model)
This is a hard call. The Wallstreet series was and is such an outstanding landmark
in portable design that it hurts to dump on one of the models. But dump I must. Having
used both, I seriously find this an inferior computer to the 3400-based G3 'Kanga'
model, its immediate predecessor. The reason? A deliberately hobbled CPU. You'd have
thought that Apple would've learned the LCII lesson by now (given the restricted
video-out res of the new iBook, I'm not so sure). The G3/233/0 was much slower
than the Kanga 250MHz, which rode on the back of a 512K backside cache. In fact,
it wasn't a great deal faster than the 3400/240. Add the fact it had a murky screen,
far inferior to the excellent active-matrix 12.1" displays on the 3400/Kanga
(think original iBook) and you have a seriously compromised PowerBook.
Additional negatives included only 2MB of (non-upgradeable) VRAM; no S-video port
and only 32MB of RAM. Even the modem was optional! The 2GB drive was a bit small,
but about industry average for the time. Nevertheless, as this was by far the cheapest
Wallstreet, people bought them by the thousands - it's easy to forget in early 1998
that PowerBooks were still damn expensive. Depending on whether you ordered
a floppy or modem or not, these things went for around $2,300. Cheaper - but you
paid the price.
Its shortcomings are mitigated, to some extent, by the good stuff: fruit like 10bT,
20x CD-ROM, VGA out, 16 bit audio I/O, CardBus slots for future USB/FireWire upgrades,
two hot-swappable expansion bays, outstanding keyboard, SCSI, upgradeability and
sexy design. Plus at least it was cheap(ish). You can throw a 466 or 500Mhz/1MB G3
in these now, making them a prime candidate for upgrades if you find one at the right
price. Or a 292 or 250, if someone's getting rid of one. Use it as a portable desktop
if you can't stand the screen.
Luckily, Apple remedied most of this with the September 1998 refresh of the Wallstreet
line, with a bright 12.1" active matrix display incorporated into the case and
a better 64MB of RAM.
Performa 6300 (also Performa 6260, 6290, 6310) and Performa/Power Mac 5200/5300
"Something rotten in the Kingdom of Cupertino". This was the pits.
Dreadful, terrible, bastardized, appalling amalgam of stuff from Apple's parts bin.
A 64-bit PPC processor on a 32-bit bus meant the CPU ran at half the clock speed.
The mobo was made up of some many variants of bits and pieces that everything ran
at a different speed. Even the ROM was full of bugs. It's amazing it even bothered
getting up in the morning (it often didn't).
Oh, and the modem port didn't support hardware handshaking, so you were reduced to
internet speeds of an out-of-condition snail. The 5200 was an all-in-one (i.e.
with a monitor), but its interior brought dishonor to the illustrious breed. There
was even humorously-named 'Director's Edition', which was all black, had a TV tuner,
a black keyboard and mouse (now highly sought after - they're worth more than the
Mac. Seriously) and cost about $US2,500 over here in Oz. Australian MacWorld,
clearly without consulting head office, made the hysterically-funny decision to give
it a MacWorld 'Best System' award in 1996, citing its 'comprehensive approach
to multimedia' and saying that 'after all, everyone in the office wants one'. Why,
precisely? As a big, black paperweight? An abstract Mac sculpture, perhaps? If you
dropped 2-and-a-half grand on this baby, I actually pity you. If you bought a PC
after that, I empathise. When Guy Kawasaki said he'd 'never met a Mac he didn't like',
he'd obviously never been trapped in a dark alley late at night with a Performa 5300.
I shouldn't really include the Quadra 630 variation here, but I will. Okay, I accept
there were some decent TV/video options for this model, as well as a DOS card variant,
but I still see this, one of the last of the '040s, as a major step back from the
earlier Quadra series, as well as the LC475/LC-Performa 575 models.
Why? The rot started with the Performa 580, an identikit of the excellent LC575,
but with the guts of an alcoholic. Marketing Geniuses at Apple had, by now, discovered
a thing called IDE. They also found that you could cram an 800MB IDE drive in to
a Mac for the price of a 250MB SCSI drive. Better still, you could save a few bucks
by building in shadow-mask display instead of a Trinitron.
What does this have to do with the LC/Quadra 630, I hear you ask? Ah, there's more.
Abandoning SCSI and Trinitron was just the beginning. Here's what happened when the
Marketing Weenie met the Warm, Friendly Engineer:
MARKETING: How's the LC630 coming along?
ENGINEERING: Good. Fast little box. Features TV, full 040 with FPU -
MARKETING: Full '040? You know what those things cost?
ENGINEERING: Yeah, but they improve performance.
MARKETING: Hm. (takes pinch of cocaine from his snuff box) Tell you what: we'll have
three models and only put this FPU one on the high-end one (snorts).
ENGINEERING: But that'll degrade the graphics performance.
MARKETING: So what? If these people want performance, they can do what I did: get
their parents to pay for it. They can buy a Power Mac. What do we care?
ENGINEERING: But -
MARKETING: Look, this comes direct from Michael Spindler upstairs. And that guy is
a certified marketing genius.
ENGINEERING: (mumbles) A certified something.
MARKETING: Now. How about storage.
ENGINEERING: (hopefully) SCSI?
MARKETING: No, we have this IDE thing now. Much cheaper - er - better. ENGINEERING:
What about the SCSI controller chip?
MARKETING: Get rid of it. We don't need SCSI anymore.
ENGINEERING: (incredulous) Get rid of it? Every Mac we ship has SCSI.
MARKETING: (reaching for pain killers) Not anymore. (relents) OK. We have this huge
pile of old SCSI controllers from all the IIvxs we did't sell. You can use some of
ENGINEERING: But they can't support SCSI Manager 4.3.
MARKETING: Hey, I'm the manager around here. If anyone's gonna be managing
SCSI, it's me.
[Exit ENGINEER. Fires off email to Woz, who understands, and responds sympathetically].
In a nutshell, you have it. The 630, unlike every other desktop '040, runs the old
SCSI chip, which limits SCSI throughput to a max of 3MB/ps. This omission makes the
630 a lousy CD burning machine, a lousy scanning machine, and a slow and ponderous
relative when talking to its Jaz, Zip and hard drive friends. If you're in the market,
do yourself a favor and get yourself a nice Quadra 700 or 800.
Power Mac 4400 (7220 in some markets who were unlikely enough to get it)
Admittedly, the Japanese version of the 4400 is probably the worst, as the base
model only ran a 160MHz 603e and didn't get as much VRAM and no L2 cache (jeez, every
6100/66 that left the factory had an L2 as standard). Unfortunately, the 200MHz models
weren't much better. A me-too PC design with, for some reason, the floppy on the
left (très un-Mac). Employing the Tanzania board (also licensed to
clone manufacturers, probably as a sick joke - although they managed to improve upon
it, ironically), it was born during the transition from 5v to 3.3v DIMMs. As a result,
the 4400 has ridiculously expensive RAM, which is enough to put you off buying one.
You can upgrade to G3, but why would you bother? The far better 6400 and 6500 towers
are readily available, and the 5500 is faster in its 225, 250 and 275MHz forms. The
4400 does have a few PCI slots, which is one of the precious few things in its favor.
Frankly, you're much better off getting a 604e-based 7300 or 7600 for approximately
the same money.
At least the 4400 has built in ethernet (on the 200MHz model) so you can get all
your files off it. Quickly. Look at the cool iMacs and the powerful and elegant G4s
and be grateful for how far we've come since 1997.
Mac TV (an '030 500 series with a TV tuner and an inflated price)
Quadra 900 (on the market only weeks before the better, faster 950 turned
up; upgrade mobo available; headline: 'Apple gouges Pro customers once more').
Mac 128K (brilliant, but flawed; inadequate RAM, no real storage facility).