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Mac IIcx--the Core of the Future

LAWRENCE J. MAGID <i> is a Silicon Valley-based computer analyst and writer</i>

When the Apple Macintosh personal computer was introduced in 1984, it was regarded as something of a toy computer. It attracted its share of enthusiasts who loved its graphics and ease of use, but for the most part, business buyers weren’t impressed and early sales were sluggish.

Over the years, Apple has upgraded the machine regularly and has sold more than 2 million Macs. Along the way, the company has upgraded the computer considerably and won a much wider array of customers, including many universities, engineering firms and other businesses.

On Tuesday, Apple unveiled its eighth member of the Macintosh family, the Macintosh IIcx. Although it isn’t a breakthrough product, the machine is small, quiet and less expensive than similarly equipped earlier models.

The new Macintosh is controlled by the Motorola 68030 central processing unit, the same one used in two other recently introduced Macs, the IIx and the SE/30. This high-performance chip lets the new Macs run about 15% faster than the original Mac II. More important, the new CPU has “memory management” circuitry that will enhance the computer’s ability to run several programs at a time.

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Like the IIx and SE/30, the new Mac comes with a floppy disk drive that can read and write 3 1/2-inch disks formatted for the IBM compatible MS-DOS operating system. That makes it possible for the Mac to exchange data with IBM Personal System/2 machines, most laptops and many other IBM compatibles. Unless specially equipped, the new Macs cannot run IBM software, but they can access the same spreadsheets, word processing documents and other data files.

In the tradition of the Mac II, the new machine has expansion slots so that users can easily add additional equipment such as monitors, internal modems or cards that accelerate processing speed. To save space and reduce costs, Apple has equipped the new machine with three, instead of six, expansion slots. That limits the ability to add accessories to the machine, but for the near future at least, three slots should be more than adequate for most users.

The required monitor adapter card takes up one slot, but there currently are few uses for additional expansion cards. You can load up to eight megabytes of internal memory without using additional slots. And, as with all Macs, there are several built-in “ports,” or sockets, that allow you to plug in equipment such as a modem, printer, extra hard disk drive or compact disc drive without using slots or even removing the cover.

At a press briefing, though, Apple Chief Executive John Sculley predicted that the physical design of the IIcx is likely to become a mainstay for the Macintosh line, suggesting that the same design would be used for future machines. If that is true, we can expect a plethora of add-in boards from hardware developers for upgrading the new Macs. That someday could make the machine’s limited number of slots a frustration to computer users.

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The new machine is about a foot wide, 14 inches deep and six inches tall. For me, its compact design makes it much more attractive than the larger Mac II or IIx. Office space is a precious commodity, and I hate to see it wasted by unnecessarily large computers.

The IIcx can be placed vertically or horizontally and can be put on the floor, on the desk or even inside a cabinet or drawer. It weighs only 14 pounds and is small enough to stuff into an over-the-shoulder bag. Of course, you need a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse, so I’d hardly call it transportable. However, you could buy an extra monitor and easily carry the machine itself between home and work.

I’m hoping that some enterprising company develops a lightweight, flat panel display that can be mounted on the unit, turning it into a transportable machine. Apple is reportedly planning to release a laptop Mac later this year, but it is expected to be very expensive, according to industry insiders.

The new machine is much quieter than earlier models. If you’re in a busy office, you might not notice the noise from your computer’s fan or hard disk. But I work in a quiet environment and I hate being forced to listen to noisy computers. The Mac II and Mac IIx are too loud for my taste. If you’re shopping for a new computer, you might want to listen to it in a quiet environment, not a noisy showroom, before making your decision.

Like IBM’s latest models, the new Mac can be taken apart easily. You loosen one screw to remove the cover and, from there, you can remove every component without using any tools. Its modular design makes it easy for a technician, or even an average computer user, to replace components.

Macintosh computers never are cheap, although they are about the same as similarly equipped systems from IBM. But because Apple has patents and copyrights that prevent others from copying the Mac, you’re not going to see cheap “clones,” as you do with IBM equipment.

The Macintosh IIcx, with a megabyte of memory and a floppy disk drive, has a suggested retail price of $4,669. With a 40-megabyte internal hard disk and an Apple monochrome display, you’ll pay almost $6,000. And if you want to run more than one program at a time, you’ll need additional memory. Apple charges $2,000 for a four-megabyte expansion kit. At the suggested retail price, it would cost almost $9,000 for a fully loaded Mac IIcx with four megabytes of internal memory, an 80-megabyte hard disk and an Apple color monitor.

Fortunately, Apple does have competition when it comes to memory, disk drives, monitors, printers, keyboards and other peripheral equipment. Just as with IBM equipment, you can save a lot of money by buying a stripped-down machine and shopping around for your other equipment. You might ask if your dealer can put together such a hybrid system. Apple won’t guarantee other companies’ equipment, though, so be sure that the store is willing to stand behind such a system.

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MACINTOSH IIcx: THE SPECS

The Macintosh IIcx is a smaller, quieter and less expensive version of the Macintosh II personal computer. It can be outfitted with a variety of keyboards, monitors and hard disk drives.

Features

Motorola 68030 central processing unit. Floppy disk drive that can read and write 3 1/2-inch IBM compatible disks. Operates at the same speed as Mac IIx and SE/30, about 15% faster than a regular Mac II. Three expansion slots that can be used to add monitors, accelerator cards, internal modems and other devices. Two serial ports. A Small Computer Systems Interface (SCSI) connector for external disk drives, compact disc drives and other equipment. Includes a plug for an external floppy disk drive. Compatible with virtually all expansion boards for Macintosh II.

Size

A compact machine, it weighs 14 pounds (not including the monitor) and is 5.5 inches tall, 11.9 inches wide and 14.4 inches deep.

Price

With one megabyte of random access memory but no hard disk, $4,669; one megabyte RAM, 40-megabyte hard disk, $5,369; four megabytes of RAM, 80-megabyte hard disk, $7,069. (Prices include a floppy disk drive but not the keyboard, monitor or required monitor adapter card. Keyboard costs $129 or $229, depending on model.)

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Manufacturer

Apple Computer Inc.; 20525 Mariani Ave., Cupertino, Calif. 95014. Phone: (408) 996-1010.


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