Today in Apple history: The forgotten first Mac with an internal CD-ROM

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Oct19
Do you remember the Macintosh IIvx?
Photo: Apple

 19October 19, 1992: Apple launches the Mac IIvx, the first Macintosh computer to ship with a metal case and, more importantly, an internal CD-ROM drive.

The last of the Macintosh II series, the Mac IIvx would experience one of the more notorious price adjustments in Apple history. Within five months of shipping, its launch price of $2,949 would be slashed to $1,899.

Well, that’s one way to reward early adopters…

Code-named “Brazil,” the IIvx reportedly started out as a research project to see how an internal CD-ROM (Compact Disc Read-Only Memory) drive could be incorporated into a Mac. However, after then-CEO John Sculley delivered a speech at MacWorld Tokyo describing a future Macintosh with this functionality, it was rushed into production.

At the time — at least from the perspective of a younger user — the Mac IIvx was an impressive machine, particularly if you primarily wanted a computer that could play games and utilize the other cutting-edge multimedia software of the era.

The CD-ROM drive was developed and launched in 1985, a year after the original Mac shipped. From 1988, Apple produced SCSI-based CD-ROM drives for the Mac under the name AppleCD.

For the vast majority of users, however, these were lavish peripherals and not the kind of thing most people had attached to a home, office or school computer.

The rise of CD-ROM and QuickTime

The Mac IIvx marked the beginning of Macs shipping with a built-in CD drive, which continued until Apple started to phase them out with the introduction of the MacBook Air in January 2008. (Apple finally eliminated the CD drive from iMacs in 2012.)

The IIvx also arrived right around the time that QuickTime started arriving on Macs.

The ability to easily play video was, again, incredibly futuristic for its day. The computer came bundled with QuickTime 1.5, a faster, more robust version of the video-decompression software that let users watch 640-by-480 videos at 30 frames per second.

On top of this, the IIvx came with support for a second monitor — letting Mac users significantly enlarge their desktop work area by moving documents, files and folders across both screens.

And all this back in 1992!

So why isn’t the Mac IIvx more well-loved?

With all of that stated, the Mac IIvx should be a beloved part of Apple history. So why is it often ignored — and, worse, why did it become one of the only Apple products in history to become a verb, in the sense that users talked about being “IIvx-ed?”

There are a couple of reasons. The first is that it was significantly underpowered. The IIvx ran a 32MHz CPU on a 16MHz bus, which gave it a slower performance than the Mac IIci, which had been released in 1989. The IIci ran 30 percent faster than the IIvx — and extending it by adding 32KB cache made it 60 percent faster. The Mac IIvx’s serial port was also limited to 57.6 kbit/s, which caused problems with serial connections and MIDI hardware.

Given the popularity of the aging Mac IIci, many customers opted for an older, often-discounted Mac instead of buying a new model that ran slower than its predecessor.

In terms of other specs, the IIvx boasted 4MB of RAM, an 80MB hard drive, 3 Nubus slots, an accelerator slot and 512K of video RAM (VRAM).

A bigger problem was the arrival of the significantly more powerful Macintosh Centris 650, which turned up four months after the IIvx first shipped — but somehow cost $250 less, with a starting price of $2,700.

The Mac IIvx was repositioned as the entry-level Centris model (despite not having the Centris name), and Apple cut its price to $1,899. People who had rushed out to buy it when it was new were bilked out of more than $1,000 in just a few months. The controversial early iPhone price reduction had nothing on this!

One more thing…

Looking back from today’s vantage point, the Macintosh IIvx fills me with a real sense of nostalgia — and sums up pretty well Apple’s pros and glaring cons at the time.

On the plus side, the Mac IIvx was an impressive machine that almost comically ran rings around the MS-DOS-running beige plastic boxes many PC owners were using. It ran Apple’s System 7 operating system, and helped bring CD-ROM technology into people’s homes.

At the same time, its confused naming once again highlighted how impenetrable Apple’s product line had become less than a decade after shipping the original Macintosh. The fact that Apple rushed the Mac IIvx to market, then made it redundant within months (while upsetting Apple loyalists who had rushed out to buy it), also speaks to Apple’s chaotic culture in the early ’90s.

Do you remember the Mac IIvx? Leave your comments below.

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  • Ed Jones

    I remember selling it in a department store in the UK, it was exciting to use and show off, we sold a lot compare to the windows machines of the time, people would usually buy a StyleWriter printer with them too.