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

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Why did the Mac IIvx fail to take the world by storm?
Why did the Mac IIvx fail to take the world by storm?
Photo: Apple

October 19: Today in Apple history October 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 experiences one of the more notorious price adjustments in Apple history. Within five months of shipping, Apple slashes the computer’s launch price of $2,949 to $1,899. 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 drive (Compact Disc Read-Only Memory) 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, Apple rushed the computer into production.

At the time — at least from the perspective of a younger user — the Mac IIvx seemed like an impressive machine. Particularly so 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 external CD-ROM drives for the Mac under the name AppleCD.

For the vast majority of users, however, these were lavish peripherals. They were 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. That practice continued until Apple started to phase out the devices with the MacBook Air in January 2008. (Apple finally eliminated the CD drive from iMacs in 2012.)

The IIvx also came 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. This let users watch 640-by-480 videos at 30 frames per second.

On top of this, the IIvx would support a second monitor. This let Mac users significantly enlarge their desktop work area by moving documents, files and folders across both screens.

And all this was back in 1992!

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

With all of that stated, the Mac IIvx should occupy a beloved spot in Apple history. So why do so many people ignore it? And, worse, why did it become one of the only Apple products in history to become a verb? (Many disgruntled 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. (Extending the Mac IIci by adding 32KB cache made it a full 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 the older, often-discounted Mac instead of buying a new model that ran more slowly.

In terms of other specs, the IIvx boasted 4MB of RAM, an 80MB hard drive, three 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.

Apple repositioned the Mac IIvx as the entry-level Centris model (despite not bearing the Centris name). The company also cut the computer’s price to $1,899. People who rushed out to buy the IIvx at launch got 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. It also sums up pretty well Apple’s pros and glaring cons at the time.

On the plus side, the Mac IIvx was an impressive machine. It almost comically ran rings around the beige plastic boxes running MS-DOS that many PC owners used at the time. The IIvx 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 (upsetting Apple loyalists who 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.

  • 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.

  • Donald Aehl

    The first Mac I purchased was a Performa 600 (the IIvx’s nearly identical twin). I had saved up for a few years, and at the time the IIci was still over twice as expensive. So at the time I never regretted the purchase as it had all the capability I needed for a home user. It served me well running System 7 until I finally stepped up to a PowerPC 7100/80 about four years later. Those were the days!