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Classic II vs SE/30

I’m fairly proud of the fact that I am currently working with the oldest of Apple’s current Mac models, the SE/30. I bought it not because it was the obvious computer to buy at the time (it wasn’t even available), but because all I could afford at first was an SE, and then the upgrade to an SE/30 was irresistible a year or so later. In retrospect though, I think I made the correct choice for what I do, especially since I was able to add a Micron card and Apple 13" color monitor to the SE/30 later on, which gave me the one thing I envied in the Mac II series. I am sad to see that the SE/30 will be going the way of the Fat Mac once Apple introduces the Classic II, a Classic run by a 68030 chip. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, there have been loads of complaints in Usenet discussions about the Classic II. Most people seem to feel that the Classic II is not an adequate replacement for the SE/30 even though it seems to be aimed at that target.

There are a couple of issues here. First, the Classic I (or would that be Classic Classic?) is still selling like there is no tomorrow. Although there may be no tomorrow for the Classic I, I suspect it does have a next week. The Classic II is aiming at exactly the same market as the Classic I, although Apple wants the people who weren’t quite up to getting an LC (for whatever reason) to go for the Classic II. It will be significantly faster, at least twice as fast, but purists note that the SE/30 is probably four times as fast as the Classic I. So there’s the first trade-off. The Classic II is faster than the Classic I, probably to the point of significant increases in utility, but doesn’t begin to compare to the SE/30 in speed.

Second, the Classic II is a closed system like the Plus and the Classic I. The SE and SE/30 both had a single slot which added design and manufacturing costs to the price of the machine. When Apple introduced the Classic and discontinued the SE, an Apple rep told us that only about 8% of the people owning SEs had purchased expansion cards for their Macintoshes. I’m not sure of the exact figure for the SE/30, but it may be similar. There certainly aren’t a lot of cards available for the SE/30 – believe me, I’ve checked. However, the Classic II does have a ROM/FPU socket. Unimaginative people will think of putting a new ROM chip or a 68882 coprocessor in it. Imaginative companies should come out with expansion boards that use that socket and provide a pass-through socket for a coprocessor as well. I guarantee that six to twelve months after the Classic II comes out, you’ll be able to add a large monitor card or accelerator to a Classic II. That may help address my first point as well.

Third, I gather that the Classic II will have only two SIMM slots. My suspicion is then that Apple will solder 2 MB to the motherboard, allowing you to go to 2.5 MB with 256K SIMMs, 3 MB with the rare 512K SIMMs, 4 MB with the standard cheap 1 MB SIMMs, probably 10 MB with 4 MB SIMMs, and maybe even 18 MB with 8 MB SIMMs. I guess even 34 MB is possible with two 16 MB SIMMs, but I’d be surprised if the Classic II could handle the 8 MB or 16 MB SIMMs and even the 4 MB SIMMs would be a bonus. In comparison, the SE/30 had eight SIMM sockets which gave it bit more flexibility, again at the cost of, well, cost.

Fourth, we have to consider the market. Right now, the IIsi has a bit of competition from the SE/30 since the IIsi is only slightly faster once you add the coprocessor and it’s more expensive. By phasing out the SE/30, Apple clarifies the muddy waters of the middle of the market (that’s advertising alliteration, as in, "Buy a IIsi or suffer with an LC.") and still ensures that people can purchase the performance and expandability, if not for the price they’d like. When I said I wasn’t surprised that people on Usenet were complaining, it was because the people who stand to be offended the most are the sophisticated users who liked the elegant compromise between size and expandability in the SE/30 (although once you start adding stuff, the size increases a lot. My system takes up close to four feet of desk space at this point.). In some ways, Apple may make a marketing mistake by alienating those users, but I’m sure the promise of the Classic II selling like the Classic I has blinded them to the plight of the sophisticated user (as in, "Buy a IIci or suffer with a IIsi.")

As I said before, Apple doesn’t want the Classic II to replace the SE/30 as such. Instead, the LC and the IIsi will take over for the SE/30 and have done so for a while now. What people aren’t considering when they look at the Apple lineup is that the only reason the SE/30 stuck around as long as it did is that it could be priced extremely competitively since it was old technology (remember the ROMs?), its design costs were long paid off, and it was the closest Apple came to a powerful Mac in the traditional toaster box. Now that the Classic II can be the high-end toaster, Apple can let the LC and IIsi replace the SE/30 as the mid-priced expandable machines. You may not like it (and I plan to stick with my SE/30 for some time yet), but it does make sense from Apple’s standpoint.

Information from:
Michael Peirce — [email protected]
Subrata Sircar — [email protected]
Terry Lee Thiel — [email protected]
Jim Gaynor — [email protected]
Dan Goldman — [email protected]

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