Archive for May, 2014

I came upon some videos from a vintage computer collector named Rudolf Brandstötter. He goes by the handle “alker33” on YouTube. He also has a blog here.

I was gratified to come upon these videos, because they allowed me to take a look at these old computers. The Apple models I’d used growing up were the Apple II+, the IIe, the 512K “Fat” Macintosh, either the Lisa 1 or Lisa 2, and the Mac Plus.

The size of each video window below is so small that if you want to take a good look at what’s going on on the video screen of each computer, you need to blow the video up to fullscreen. You do this by hitting the “broken square” icon in the lower-right corner of the video window. To take it back to normal size, hit the “shrink” icon in the lower-right corner, or hit the ESC key.

The Apple I

This was a kind of mythical machine back when I was a teenager in the early 1980s. People didn’t talk about it much, but when they did, there was some admiration for it, because it’s what started the company, and it was the first computer Steve Wozniak built. Even back then they were collector’s items, fetching (as I recall) tens of thousands of dollars. I don’t think I got an idea of what it actually was until the early 1990s, for it was not sold as a consumer computer. It was just a motherboard. It came out in 1976, and famously sold for $666.66 ($2,691.95 in today’s money). Steve Wozniak was asked about the price recently, and he said it wasn’t a marketing gimmick. There was no satanic meaning behind it. He said they looked at the cost it took to make it, and ran it through a standard profit margin formula, and it just happened to come out to that number!

It did not come with a keyboard, a monitor, power supply, nor a storage device. It came with a MOS Technology 8-bit 6502 microprocessor running at 1 Mhz, and 4 kilobytes of memory, upgradeable to 16K. It came with composite video output built-in. The only software it contained in Read-Only Memory (ROM) was a machine language monitor that it booted into when you turned it on (that was the operating system!). The owner could use it to enter and run programs in hexadecimal via. keyboard. This was an improvement over earlier microcomputers like the Altair, which had their owners entering programs one byte at a time using a panel of switches. A tape recorder interface card had to be purchased separately to store and load programs. The card came with Steve Wozniak’s Integer Basic on cassette tape.

An Apple I in a homemade case, from Wikipedia

Brandstötter, as I recall, got his from someone who had framed the motherboard. Some of the chips had to be replaced, but otherwise it was in working condition, as you can see in this video.

An original Apple I

I have to admit, watching this is anticlimactic. There’s not much to see, but I was glad I got to see it anyway. Finally, I could look at this machine that I’d heard rumors about for decades.

Brandstötter takes you on a “tour” of the machine, and shows the Apple I manuals. The computer boots into the machine language monitor, from which he can either program in hexadecimal, or load machine code from a cassette tape. Brandstötter does one of the standard tests of typing in a “hello world” program in hexadecimal. You can read about the built-in operating system (all 256 bytes of it!), and the assembly mnemonics of this little test program here. Then he loads Integer Basic from tape (after which he types in a short Basic program), and then he loads a program that displays Woz’s and then Steve Jobs’s mugs as ASCII art. The Apple I did not have a graphics mode.

Lest one think that maybe Apple used some sort of digitizer to get their faces into binary and saved them to tape, I learned not too long ago that it was common back in the 1950s and 1960s among those who were into digital media to hand-digitize photographs in ASCII. That may have been what happened here.

What’s special about this, as Brandstötter notes in the video, is he owns one of 6 working original Apple I motherboards in the world. There are modern Apple I replicas that have been made that work exactly like the original. What I read in the discussion to this video (or one of the other Apple I videos I found) is that when Apple came out with the Apple II (the next one I show below), they had a trade-in program where people could turn in their Apple I motherboards. The reason they did this was it saved them on customer support costs. So there aren’t that many vintage motherboards around. (I’ve read a couple claims that there are between 40-60 of them in the whole world.)

The Apple II

The video below was an interesting find. I remember hearing from somebody years ago that there was such a thing as an Apple II before the II+. This is the first time I’ve seen one of them. Just from how it runs, it seems no different from a II+, though there were some minor differences (I derived this information from this Wikipedia page).

The II came with the same 6502 CPU as the Apple I, with configurations from 4 kilobytes up to 48K of memory. In its lowest configuration it sold for $1,298 ($4,921 in today’s money). The 48K configuration sold for $2,638 ($10,002 in today’s money). It came as a complete unit, with its own case (no assembly required), ready to be hooked up to a monitor or TV. It had several internal expansion slots, Woz’s Integer Basic, and an assembler/disassembler built into ROM. If you just booted into the ROM it would take you to Integer Basic by default. When it came out in 1977, owners still could only load/save programs on cassette tape. A disk interface, created by Steve Wozniak, and disk drive, along with a Disk Operating System (DOS) written by a company called Shepardson, came out for it a year later. Applesoft Basic (written by Microsoft), which handled floating-point, also came out for it later on tape. As you’ll see in the video, the II had a graphics mode. What you don’t see (due to the monochrome monitor) is that it was capable of displaying color.

The II+ came out in 1979, with 16, 32, or 48K configurations, and could be expanded to 64K. It had a starting price of $1,195 ($3,777 in today’s money). It came with Applesoft Basic in ROM (replacing Integer Basic as the standard language). The assembler/disassembler was removed from ROM to make room for Applesoft Basic, though it retained a machine language monitor that users could enter using a “Call” command from Basic. Owners could load Integer Basic from disk. In addition, the graphics capabilities were enhanced.

The Apple II (not the II+)

Brandstötter types in a brief Basic program that prints numbers across the screen. He copies some files from one disk to another to show that both disk drives work. He brought back memories loading up Apple Writer. This was one of the first word processors I learned to use in Jr. high school. Lastly, he loads up a game called “Bug.”

The Apple III

I only saw Apple III‘s back in the day used as props on a TV show called “Whiz Kids.” The computer came out in 1980, and was designed as a business machine. It used a Synertek 8-bit 6502A 1.8 Mhz CPU. I think the model Brandstötter uses in the video has 128K of memory (it was capable of going up to 256K). It sold for from $4,340 -$7,800 ($12,084 – $21,718 in today’s money). The OS it booted into was called SOS, for “Sophisticated Operating System.” As you’ll notice, it defaults to an 80-column display (the prior Apple II models had 40-column displays). Interestingly, the OS runs through a menu system, not a command-line interface. It’s reminiscent of ProDOS, which I remember running on the Apple IIe sometimes.

The Apple III was designed to either run off of a floppy drive, or a 5 MB hard drive Apple sold called “Profile” (or both). You don’t see the Profile in this video, though you’ll see it in the video I have below on the Lisa.

The Apple III

Here’s Steve Jobs in 1980 describing how the company got started with the Apple I, his philosophical outlook at the time with the Apple II, and what he was looking forward to with “future products.” I really liked his perspective on what the computer enabled at the time. I get the sense he had a very clear idea of what its value was. With regard to “future products,” I think you can read from some of his answers that he was talking about the Apple Lisa, and possibly the Macintosh, though he was being tight lipped about getting into specifics, of course. Unfortunately there are some glitches in the video tape, and there’s a part that’s unintelligible, because it’s too badly damaged.

The Lisa

This is the Apple GUI computer that preceded the Macintosh. It came out in 1983. It used a 16-bit 5 Mhz Motorola 68000 processor, and came with 1 MB of memory, expandable to 2 MB. It sold for $9,995 ($23,022 in today’s money). The OS featured pre-emptive multitasking, enabling the user to run more than one application at the same time.

Here’s the Wikipedia article on it.

The Apple Lisa

Brandstötter tells an interesting story about the “Twiggy” floppy drives. They’re the two 5-1/4″ drives on the right side of the case. They were named after a 1960s fashion model who was famously thin. From a get-together Jobs had with Bill Gates 7 years ago, where Jobs mentioned them, I thought he was talking about the 3-1/2″ drives that ended up on the Macintosh, but in fact he was talking about these drives. Brandstötter says that Apple tried using it on the Mac during its development, but they ended up going with the Sony 3-1/2″ drive, because these 5-1/4″ drives were so unreliable.

They used special floppy disks that were only made for use on this drive (talk about lock-in!). They stored 870K per disk. Brandstötter shows them to the camera, and my goodness! They have two “windows” per side where they can be accessed by two read-write heads, in a double-sided fashion. (Normal 5-1/4″ disks only had one “window” per side.) The two read/write heads (one on top, one on the bottom) were positioned on opposite sides of the spindle, and moved in tandem across the disk, because the designers were concerned about head wear in a conventional double-sided disk configuration (with two heads opposing each other, on the same side of the spindle). Each head was opposed by a pad to press the disk against the head.

Apple ended up having buyers trade in their Lisas for Lisa 2’s (which came out in 1984), which had the more reliable 3-1/2″ drive. However, Brandstötter shows off the fact that his “Twiggy” drives work. After a reboot, he shows a bit of what LisaDraw can do.

This was a really interesting romp through some history, most of which was before my time!


As I was doing my research for this post, I noticed that there was some talk of Apple I software emulators, enabling people to experience using this vintage machine on their modern computer. If you desire to give it a whirl, here’s a page with several Apple I, and Apple 8-bit series emulators that run on various platforms. I haven’t tried any of them out. It looks like there might be a little setup necessary to get the Apple I emulator running. I noticed there was a tape Prom file (for, I assume, accessing tape files, to simulate loading/saving programs). Usually this just involves putting files like the Prom file in a known location in your storage, and directing the emulator to where it is when you first run it. Also, here’s the Apple I Operating Manual, which contains the complete hex and assembly listing of the machine monitor, and a complete electronic schematic of the motherboard. It’s up to you to figure out what to do with it. 🙂

I leave it up to readers to find emulators for the other platforms. I know there are at least Apple II emulators available for various platforms. Just google for them.

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