iFixit celebrates Mac's 30th by turning an '84 antique inside out

Vintage means a CRT display, a 3.5-in. floppy drive and just 128K of memory

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Apple's launch of its original Macintosh personal computer, the do-it-yourself iFixit website today tore apart the beige all-in-one to find out what was inside.

Ironically, iFixit awarded the 1984 Mac a "repairability" score of 7 out of a possible 10, blowing away today's 21.5-in. iMac, which last year received a score of just 2.

Apple introduced the 128K Mac -- so named because it had a paltry 128 kilobytes of system memory -- in early 1984 with a now-famous television commercial that aired during Super Bowl XVIII, a Jan. 22, 1984, game that the Los Angeles Raiders won 39-9 against the Washington Redskins.

The iconic machine -- many called it a a toy at the time, including those running Microsoft's DOS operating system -- hit retail on Jan. 24, 1984, for sale not in an Apple-owned retail store, which were decades from appearing, but in mom-and-pop computer shops that were all the rage three decades ago.

With a steep price of $2,495 -- about $5,600 in today's dollars -- the Mac was not an impulse buy, and as with Apple's 2013 hardware, competed with a plethora of computers, including the less-expensive $595 Commodore 64, IBM's $669 PCjr (code-named "Peanut"), and Radio Shack's $1,099 TRS-80 Model 100, as well as with Compaq's first PC clone, the even-higher-priced $2,999 Compaq Portable.

iFixit disassembled a non-functional 128K Mac, then posted its usual write-up and photographs on its website today.

"Once you're inside, it's simple and straightforward to replace any of the main components: floppy drive, power supply, logic board, or CRT display," said iFixit, referring to the Mac's major components.

Like the current crop of iMacs, the original was not intended for DIY upgrades. But as iFixit noted, Apple had quietly designed the Mac's logic board so that it could be factory-upgraded to 512K of system memory, quadruple the original's. Later in 1984, Apple did just that, releasing what came to be known as the "Fat Mac."

By comparison, the current lowest-priced stock 21.5-in. iMac offers 8GB of system memory, or more than 1,600 times as much as the Fat Mac.

Apple charged $2,795 (in 2014 dollars, nearly $6,300) for the Mac 512K, the Fat Mac's official designation.

Unlike today's iMac, the original Mac used no hard-to-pry-lose adhesive, relying instead on scores of screws to hold the case together and components in place. On the downside, said iFixit, the 128K Mac contained "some dangerous high voltages ... that make repair potentially hazardous."

As of Friday, a pair of original Macs were listed on eBay, at prices of $1,950 and $2,500.

A new 21.5-in. iMac sells for $1,299, or approximately $580 in 1984 dollars, meaning a consumer today could buy four machines with the same purchasing power used 30 years ago to acquire one 128K Mac.

The 128K Mac turns 30 today, and popular DIY site iFixit took one apart to show what a vintage machines looks like from the inside out. (Image: iFixit.)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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