Apple Macintosh Quadra 700 and AppleColor High-Resolution RGB Monitor (Part I)
Sometime between 2003 and 2006 I found this Apple Macintosh Quadra 700 at the old State Road Goodwill in Cuyahoga Falls. According to this Macintosh serial decoding site my Quadra (serial # F114628QC82) was the 7012th Mac built in the 14th week of 1991 in Apple’s Fremont, California factory.
It looks like I paid $15 for the Quadra and the massive Apple Multiple Scan 17 CRT monitor that came with it.
In fact, the Multiple Scan 17 is so large and hulking that I don’t feel like dragging it out of the closet to take a better photo.
After I started this blog I dragged over most of the vintage Mac stuff out of my parents’ attic to my apartment. I decided that the Quadra 700 should get a semi-permanent place on my vintage computing desk. The desk (which you’ve probably seen in the Macintosh SE and PowerBook G3 entries) has a credenza that limits how deep of a monitor I can use. The Multiple Scan 17 doesn’t leave enough space for the keyboard and really restricts what else I can have on the desk.
Originally my plan was to use the Quadra with an HP 1740 LCD monitor I picked up at the Kent-Ravena Goodwill so I bought a DB-15 to HD-15 (VGA) converter.
However, while digging through the Mac stuff in my parents’ attic I made an interesting discovery. Unbeknownst to me I owned AppleColor High-Resolution RGB 13″ monitor.
When I was still living with my parents there wasn’t really a lot of room in my bedroom for all of the vintage computing stuff I had accumulated. Often, I would lose interest in something and it would go into the attic.
At some point my Dad must have brought home this monitor from a thrift store. Unlike most CRT monitors where the monitor cable is attached to the monitor this one has a detachable cable which was lost when he bought it (I have since purchased a replacement on eBay). With all of the Mac stuff put away and no monitor cable to test it with, it joined everything else in the attic and I forgot about it.
Years later when I stumbled upon it deep in the shadows of a poorly lit part of the room, I thought it was the cheaper Macintosh 12″ RGB monitor that went with the LC series. But then, I saw the name plate on the back.
This was an amazing stroke of luck because that’s a damn fine monitor. Back in the late 80s this was one of Apple’s high end Trinitron monitors. Remember those Apple brochures my mother got in West Akron in 1989 from the Macintosh SE entry?
I’m fairly sure that the monitor sitting on the IIx in that picture is the AppleColor Hi-Res 13″. In fact, if you flip over that brochure, there it is, listed as the AppleColor RGB Monitor.
For reasons that will become obvious in a moment, the AppleColor RGB fits very nicely on the top of the Quadra 700 when it’s positioned as a desktop rather than a mini-tower.
There’s some scratches and scuffs on the monitor but for the most part it works and looks spectacular.
This monitor is a classic piece of Snow White era Apple design. My favorite thing about this monitor are the large brightness and contrast dials it has on it’s side.
Apple also sold a rather attractive optional base for the AppleColor RGB monitor with great Snow White detailing, as seen in this drawing from Technical Introduction to the Macintosh Family: Second Edition.
Unfortunately I’ve never seen that base come up on eBay.
Oddly enough, when I ventured further into my parent’s attic I found a box of Macintosh stuff that a college roommate had recovered from being trashed at a college graphics lab that contained, among other things, the manual for this model of monitor.
The Quadra 700 is one of my all-time favorite thrift store finds. It was the first extremely serious Macintosh I have owned from the expandable 680X0 era (roughly from 1987 to 1994 when Apple moved to PowerPC CPUs). Previously the most powerful Mac I had found was a Macintosh LC III with a color monitor. That machine introduced me to what the experience of using a color Macintosh had been like in the early 1990s but the Quadra was on another level entirely.
To put this in perspective: Macintosh LC III was a lower-end machine from 1993 that gave you something like the performance of a high-end Macintosh from 1989. The Quadra 700 (along with the Quadra 900 which was basically the same guts in a larger, more expandable case) was Apple’s late 1991 high-end machine. When it was new, the Quadra 700 cost a staggering $5700, without a monitor. The monitor could easily add another $1500.
In order to talk about the importance of the Quadra I have to go back to the Macintosh II series, which I also discussed in the Macintosh SE entry.
Apple created a lot of machines in the Macintosh II series and it’s a bit difficult to keep track of them. As you can see in the brochure, the original machine was the Macintosh II, built around Motorola’s 68020 processor and for the first time in the Macintosh, a fully 32-bit bus. That machine was succeeded the following year by the Macintosh IIx, which, like all following Macintosh II models used the 68030 processor. The II and the IIx both had six NuBus expansion slots, which is why their cases are so wide.
If you’re more familiar with the history of Intel processors don’t let the similar numbering schemes lead you into thinking the 68020 was equivalent to a 286 and the 68030 was equivalent to a 386. In reality the original Macintosh’s 68000 CPU would be more comparable to the 286 while the 68020 and 68030 were comparable to the 386. In the numbering scheme that Motorola was using at the time processors with even numbered digits in their second to last number like the 68000, 68020 and 68040 were new designs and processors with odd numbers like 68010 and 68030 were enhancements to the previous model. The 68030 gained a memory mapping unit (MMU) which enabled virtual memory. The jump from the 286 to the 386 was much greater than the jump from the 68020 to the 68030.
The next machine in the series was the Macintosh IIcx in 1989, which basically took the guts of the IIx and put them in a smaller case with only three expansion slots (hence, it’s a II-compact-x). Like the II and the IIx, the IIcx had no on-board video and required a video card to be in one of the expansion slots.
Later that year Apple reused the same case for the Macintosh IIci, which added on-board video.
The case used in the Macintosh IIcx and IIci was designed to match in color, styling, and size the AppleColor High Resolution RGB monitor I have, as seen in this illustration from Technical Introduction to the Macintosh Family: Second Edition.
As you probably caught onto by now the Quadra 700 uses the same case as the Macintosh IIci but with the Snow White detail lines and the Apple badge turned 90 degrees, turning it into a mini-tower. That’s why the monitor matches the Quadra so well.
The last Macintosh to use the full-sized six-slot Macintosh II case was the uber-expensive Macintosh IIfx in 1990. It used a blistering 40MHz 68030 and started at $8970.
However, if you bought a IIfx, you may have felt very silly the next year when the Quadra series based on the new 68040 processor came out and succeeded the Macintosh II series.
The 68040, especially the full version of the chip with the FPU (floating point unit) that the Quadra 700 used, was a huge jump in processing power.
According to these benchmarks at Low End Mac, the 25MHz 68040 in the Quadra 700 scores 33% higher than the Macintosh IIfx’s 40MHz 68030 on an integer benchmark and five times as fast on a math benchmark. Plus, it was just over half the price of the IIfx.
The interior of the Quadra 700 is extremely tidy. The question the hardware designers at Apple were clearly working with was: what is the most efficient case layout if you need to pack a power supply, a hard disk, 3.5″ floppy drive, and 2 full-length expansion slots in a case? In the Quadra 700 the two drives are at the front of the right side of the case, the PSU is at the back of the right side, and the two expansion slots take up the left side of the case.
You can tell how the arrival of CD-ROM drives threw a wrench in all of this serene order. You’re never going to shoe-horn a 5.25″ optical drive in this case. And when you do get a CD drive in the case you’re going to have an ugly looking gap for the drive door rather than just the understated slot for the floppy. I think Apple’s designs lost a lot of their minimalist beauty when they started putting CD drives in Macintoshes soon after the Quadra 700.
Inside the case, the way everything is attached without screws is very impressive. The sides of the case and the cage that hold the drives forms a channel that the PSU slides into. Assuming nothing is stuck you should be able to pull out the PSU, detach the drive cables, and then pull out the drive cage in a few short minutes without using a screwdriver (actually, there’s supposed to be a screw securing the drive cage to the logic board but it was missing in mine with no ill effects).
We tend to think of plastic in the pejorative. But, plastic is only cheap and flimsy when it’s badly done. This Quadra’s case is plastic done really, really well. It doesn’t flex or bend. It’s rock solid. But, when you pick the machine up it’s much lighter than you expect it to be.
Recently, I needed to replace the Quadra 700’s PRAM battery, which apparently dated from 1991.
The battery is located under the drive cage so this was a nice opportunity to remove the power supply and drive cage to see the whole board.
The new battery is white, located in the bottom right hand corner.
Looking at the whole board there are two really interesting things to note here.
First the logic board itself is attached to the rest of the plastic case using plastic slats and hold-downs. Had I wanted to remove the logic board and I knew what I was doing, I could probably do that in a few minutes.
Second, notice the six empty RAM slots. Curiously enough, on the Quadra 700 the shorter memory slots just above the battery are the main RAM. I believe this machine has four 4MB SIMMs in addition to 4MB RAM soldered onto the logic board (the neat horizontal row of chips labeled DRAM to the left of the SIMMs on the bottom of the picture) The larger white empty slots are for VRAM expansion.
You can tell from this series of articles (that I assume were posted on newsgroups back in 1991) written by one of the Quadra 700’s designers how proud they were about the video capabilities of the Quadra 700 and 900.
He makes three major points:
- The way the video hardware talks to the CPU makes it really, really fast compared to previous Macintoshes with built-in video and even expensive video cards for the Macintosh II series.
- The Quadra’s video hardware supports a wide variety of common resolutions and refresh rates including VGA’s 640×480 and SVGA’s 800×600. That’s why I can use the Quadra with that VGA adapter pictured above. This was neat stuff in an era when Macintoshes tended to be very proprietary.
- If you fully populate the VRAM slots (which gives you a total of 2MB VRAM) you can use 32 bit color at 800×600.
Point 3 just blows me away. To put that in perspective, the Matrox Mystique card that my family bought in 1997 or so had 2MB VRAM and did 800x600x32-bit color. There’s a good reason the Quadra 700 was so outrageously expensive. If you were a graphics professional and you needed true color graphics, Apple would gladly make that happen for the right price.
There is a person on eBay selling the VRAM SIMMs that the Quadra uses. It would probably cost me about $50 to populate those RAM slots. It’s very tempting.
I’m planning on doing another entry on the Quadra 700 sometime in the future to talk about what actually using this machine is like.