The Motorola 68020

Filed under: Hardware

This post was originally written and published on Patreon. Please consider supporting Stories of Apple to help the research and production of new content.

When in January 1984 Apple launched the Macintosh, the engineers at Motorola, responsible for the 8 MHz 68000 CPU at the heart of the “insanely great” computer, were already at work on a new evolution of the chip. The fruit of their labor was announced a few months later, in April, as the MC68020.

MC68020Compatible with the 68000‘s instructions, the 68020 was a much modern, capable and faster CPU. It could be clocked much higher, up to 33 MHz, offered a L1 cache, supported coprocessors and had a 32-bit internal and external data and address buses (while the 68000 was a 16/32 bit hybrid) which meant – among other things – that it could manage a greater amount of RAM.

The first specimens of the 68020 were made available only in 1985, in limited quantities and at lower clocks. The CPU was initially used by Sun and Hewlett Packard in their UNIX workstations, while Apple kept on using exclusively the 68000 until March 1987 when the newer CPU was used to power the Macintosh II.

Thanks to a 68020 at 16 MHz the Mac II was four times as fast as the Macintosh Plus, introduced the year before and still on sale.
The new Macintosh was initially positioned as a powerful image-manipulation computer since it not only had power to spare but also six NuBus expansion slots, allowing the installation of graphics cards capable of handling up to 16.7 million colors.

In 1988 Apple even offered the Macintosh II as a UNIX machine. The 68020 could be equipped with optional PMMU and FPU, coprocessors for paging memory and math operations, which enabled it to run A/UX, Apple’s ambitious implementation of UNIX, made under license from AT&T.

Then, apart from popping up in one of its high-end printers, the LaserWriter IINTX, Apple seemingly abandoned the 68020 and opted to use its successor, the 68030. Although not vastly superior the new chip had improved cache features, included a PMMU and was capable of running up to 50 MHz clock speed.

But the 68020 wasn’t done. It reappeared two years later, in a maybe less glamorous but still very important role for the future of the Macintosh.

In October 1990 Apple addressed the longstanding criticism about the Mac’s high prices and the need to expand its user base and market share, introducing two cheaper computers. The base model offered was the black and white all-in-one Macintosh Classic, which kept on using the 68000 CPU at 8 MHz, and whose strongest selling point was its price: only 999 US dollars.

Mac LC - scheda madre con 68020

More demanding users, but still on a budget, could instead opt for the Macintosh LC (the initials stood for Low Cost).
Housed in a slim “pizza-box” case, it had no screen but supported color monitors, had one expansion slot and audio input (Apple even bundled a microphone).
The LC was powered by a 16 MHz 68020 which, while hobbled down by a slow bus, allowed for good-enough performances. It proved a success in the home and education markets, spanning a series of LC models, and for many it was the first entry into the world of Macintosh.

Nota: The Motorola MC68020 pictures are from the Storie di Apple / Stories of Apple archive and have been shot by Serena Di Virgilio. Special thanks to fellow retrocomputerist Luigi Serrantoni.

Wednesday 11 December 2019, 12:07 pm
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“Revolution In The Valley”

Filed under: Books

This post was written and published on Patreon. Please consider supporting Stories of Apple to help the research and production of new content.

“Revolution In The Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made”
Authors: Andy Hertzfeld & VVAA
Publisher: O’Reilly
Other info: 320 pages of text with pictures; also available in ebook form

“Revolution In The Valley” is the most authoritative text on the origins of the Macintosh: it is fundamental reading, and also a funny one. This can sound as excessive praise but the fact that Andy Hertzfeld and the other authors were all Apple employees and part of the original Mac development team, is the first clue that this is probably a must-read book if you are an Apple historian, fan or long-time user.

The textual contents of the book have been originally published online, since 2003, on the website. The project started with Hertzfeld’s recollections, written in mid-90s, about working at Apple on the Macintosh project, and was later expanded.

Unlike other journalistic works about Apple, and its printed version, “Revolution In The Valley”, are basically an attempt at choral storytelling, penned firsthand by many of the people who created the hardware and software of “computer for the rest of us”.

Alongside Hertzfeld (who wrote the bulk of the material) you will also discover contributions by (among others) Steve Capps, Donn Denman, Bruce Horn, Bill Atkinson, Susan Kare, Daniel Kottke and Caroline Rose, all adding to a mesmerizing and vivid patchwork of tales and tidbits about groundbreaking hardware decisions, managerial dead-ends, personality clashes, crazy jokes, cool hacks, eureka moments and days and nights of heavy work under impossible deadlines by a group of insanely talented people.

Among my favorite stories are two that offer a mix of behind-the-scenes insight and humor: “I Still Remember Regions”, where after a serious accident Bill Atkinson’s strives to assure Steve Jobs that he still remembers a key programming solution he devised, and “Quick, Hide In This Closet!”, a group effort to go behind Jobs’ back and make sure a new (and better) technology will work with the Macintosh.

The book, of course, has a conventional table of contents and lacks the hypertextual nature of the website (which is very handy) and leaves to the reader the task of putting the whole picture together after reading the many stories. On the other hand “Revolution In The Valley” is a beautifully designed object and also offers some extra content, most of all an expanded iconographic component. In its pages, alongside the texts, you will find sketches, pixel-art, ads, screenshots, Susan Kare’s internal flyers done with MacPaint, nice full-resolution pictures of the authors and some rare and eye-opening images such as a series of Polaroids chronicling the evolution of the graphical interface of the Lisa.

Wednesday 20 November 2019, 12:30 pm
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The man who prototyped the Macintosh – An interview with Daniel Kottke

Filed under: Did you know that...

Daniel Kottke and Steve Jobs met at Reed College in 1972. They became friends, bonding over the seminal book on yoga and meditation “Be Here Now” and later made a trek together to India, in search of spiritual enlightment. In 1976 they even shared a house together, with Jobs’ then girlfriend Chrisann Brennan, mother of Lisa (after which the 1983 computer was named).

Kottke initially went to Columbia College studying music but after being asked by Jobs to help assemble the Apple he got interested in technology and in 1977 became officially the 12th employee of Apple Computer, Inc.

As an electrical engineer Kottke debugged circuit boards and built prototypes, working on the hardware of almost all of Apple’s first computers, including the Macintosh, as his signature in the interior of the first versions of the Mac’s case attests.

I contacted Daniel Kottke with some questions and he was so kind to answer, shedding some light on his years and colleagues he worked with at Apple.
Please keep in mind that this interview was originally conducted in 2011 and some info could be outdated.

At Apple you were responsible for hardwiring, putting together and/or testing prototypes. Can you tell us more about it? Did you work with Woz?

Well I never worked with Woz directly, hardly anyone did, probably only Randy Wiggington when they were getting the first DOS working. The Apple I and II prototypes were completely Woz’ work — what I did was to prototype lots of the Apple II expansion cards and the Apple III and the Mac.

Mcintosh logic schemaic

Did you work with Macintosh hardware engineer Burrel Smith?

Yes of course, we shared the same office for the first year or two of the Mac project (1981-2)… although like with Woz, Burrell didn’t really work ‘with’ anyone, [but] did a lot of his work late at night or at home.
Burrell wasn’t easy to work with in that sense but he was immensely talented and hard-working and I was happy enough just to be part of the Mac team. My main design contribution on the Mac was the detached keyboard (hardware and software), which Ed Riddle did the primary work on and then turned over to me when he left Apple, I think in 1982.

What are your recollections of the work on the Macintosh and with the rest of the team? How hard was the schedule?

The schedule was constantly being revised, it was originally a one-year project that stretched into 3 years… during which time the team grew to 100+ people. Very exciting times though I wasn’t a primary contributor the way Burrell was… I was still learning engineering myself… lots of late nights! Very colorful team dynamics, what with Burrell and Andy Hertzfeld and Brian Howard and Steve Capps… (more…)

Tuesday 15 October 2019, 12:00 pm
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50 years of frog design

In 2019, renowned internation design firm frog (formerly frogdesign) is celebrating 50 years of work. On their website you can peruse a concise and stunning gallery with 50 examples of what they consider their “most awe-inspiring, game-changing and award-winning entries in their portfolio, yet”.

Among these entries there’s a section of great interest for historians, enthusiasts and long-time Infinite Loop users, The Apple Era.

Celebrating 50 Years of Innovation in Design - frog – The Apple Era (edited)

Almost forty years ago, from 1982 to 1986 frog helped define and shape the industrial design identity of the Apple // and Macintosh line, contributing directly, among others, to groundbreaking products such as the Apple //c IIgs, the Macintosh SE, II and the first LaserWriter. (more…)

Wednesday 10 April 2019, 12:00 pm
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ARMageddon and ARMistice

Filed under: Hardware

Twenty five years ago, in May 1992, at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Chicago, Apple CEO John Sculley previewed Newton, a groundbreaking pen-based “personal digital assistant” technology. Manager and Newton champion Michael Tchao declared it “so easy to use that it actually assists the user”.

But the black, videocassette-sized device, with a 3-by-5-inch screen shown to the CES attendees wasn’t really working. (more…)

Sunday 01 October 2017, 11:49 am
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