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The SE/30 Colorized

by Adam C. Engst

The oldest Mac still in Apple's current product line is the venerable SE/30. When the SE/30 first came out, people quickly became fond of it because of its combination of IIcx power and SE size. It also gained a few converts later on in its lifetime when people who owned the SE decided to increase power by upgrading the SE to the SE/30, which is what we did last year. So why has the SE/30 been able to hang on while the IIcx and IIx have fallen by the wayside? Primarily, the SE/30 offers an attractive combination of small size, good speed, and acceptable expandability despite its lack of NuBus slots. The main problems facing the SE/30 these days are the small screen and the 24-bit ROMs that will not let you use System 7.0 to its fullest. With System 7.0, the 24-bit ROMs limit you to 13 MB of RAM (that's a maximum of 8 MB worth of DRAM SIMMs plus whatever virtual memory you need to have a total of 13 MB RAM - you probably wouldn't want to use a system configured to a total of 13 MB unless 8 MB of that RAM was from real memory). So if you install eight 4 MB SIMMs, you'll still only get 13 MB of usable RAM (that's one reason for petitioning Apple for new ROMs - see below). For the moment, I'll just address what can be done about the screen.

The most common expansion that an SE/30 will experience is the addition of an external monitor. The compact size of the SE case restricts the SE/30 to the 9" monitor, but the Processor Direct Slot (PDS) can hold a video card to drive an external monitor. The PDS has never been as popular as NuBus, so you won't find as many choices of cards for the PDS, though several have appeared over the years. As far as video cards go, the most popular 8-bit card appears to be the Micron Xceed card (the one we have), which runs about $350 mail order and supports 640 x 480 color monitors. Micron also has an 8-bit card which supports 1024 x 768 monitors. Another popular card is the RasterOps 264/SE30 card, which costs a bit more than the Micron card but provides 24-bit color. SuperMac also may have a ColorCard SE/30, which is also slightly more expensive than the Micron Xceed, but I haven't heard much about this card in quite some time, so it may no longer be in production. Finally, Nutmeg Systems has two SE/30 video cards as well ($400 for an 8-bit color card or $500 for a card to drive a full page display), though we have no specifics short of a brief ad in the MacConnection catalog. MacConnection also mentions several MegaGraphics card/large monitor combinations, but no one on the nets had said anything about these.

Once you have a video card, you need a monitor. The Apple 13" color monitor is always a good choice, though it tends to be more expensive than others. That's the one we bought because of the educational discount. Other popular monitors include a Magnavox 13" color monitor (about $530 from MacConnection), the Sony 1304 for a bit more than $600 from various places, and the Seiko CM1445C (about $600 from MacAvenue). Those three monitors all use the same Sony Trinitron guts that Apple puts in its 13" color monitor, and thus should be fairly similar in picture quality. Another popular monitor is the NEC MacSync, but its lower price (about $500 from Mac's Place) seems to be reflected in lower quality - people on the nets have been less pleased with the MacSync. Of course, a monitor is a subjective beast, so if it's at all possible, use the monitor before buying or at least make sure you can return it if you don't like it. Also keep in mind that installing a video card in an SE/30 is not a trivial job and you probably don't want to mess with it unless you're quite familiar with discharging monitors and connecting cables in irritatingly small places. It took me a while to install my Micron card, and while it wasn't hard, it was a pain.

It's relatively easy to add a larger color monitor, and the dual monitors are well worth the cost. I'm completely addicted to the dual monitor setup because it allows me to keep Remember?, Timeslips III, QuickMail, and ThoughtPattern open on the little monitor and use the large monitor for my primary work (i.e. writing TidBITS in Nisus :-)). You will notice that many programs are not smart about remembering their window positions or zooming to the correct monitor size, but these are minor drawbacks considering how much more productive you become when you have a lot of windows open at once.

Micron Technology -- 800/642-7661 -- 208/386-3800
Nutmeg Systems -- 202/966-3226
RasterOps Corp. -- 408/562-4200

Information from:
Dieder --
Paul Jacoby --
David Hightower --
Puneet Pasrich --
Pottie Karl --