I've always liked the Apple Macintosh, but I've had trouble recommending Macs to budget-minded computer shoppers. Apple has just changed the equation.
Last Monday, the company announced three new Macs -- each designed to increase the company's share of the personal computer market. The lowest-cost machine, the Macintosh Classic, has a suggested retail price of $999. The Mac LC is the least-expensive Mac capable of displaying color. The Mac IIsi is the lowest-cost member of the top-of-the-line Macintosh II family.
The Classic, while more expensive than many IBM clones, is nevertheless a good buy for home and small-business users who want an easy-to-use computer at a reasonable price. The LC and IIsi, while cheaper than previous Mac II models, are still pricey compared with similarly equipped IBM compatibles. But if you like the Mac and want color and expandability, they're definitely worth considering. If you decide to buy an LC or IIsi, you'll save money by purchasing the basic unit and shopping around for a compatible monitor.
The Mac Classic is a replacement for both the Mac SE and Mac Plus. Like those Macs, the Classic is a compact machine with a built-in 9-inch black and white monitor. The unit uses the same Motorola 68000 central-processing unit as the SE and Plus.
The $999 system comes with 1 megabyte of memory, a keyboard and a single 1.44-megabyte floppy disk drive. The unit can be expanded with extra memory -- as much as 4 megabytes -- and an optional hard disk from Apple or another company. Apple also announced a $1,499 Classic that comes with 2 megabytes of memory and a 40-megabyte internal hard disk.
All Macs come with the operating system software -- an extra cost on some IBM compatible machines. Macs also include a built-in port for connecting to a local area network along with connectors for a printer, modem, external floppy disk drive and audio. A Small Computer System Interface port makes it easy to plug in an external hard disk, scanner, compact disc drive and other peripheral equipment.
The Macintosh LC may be the cheapest color-capable Mac, but it's more expensive than most IBM-compatible color systems. The basic unit, which comes with 2 megabytes of memory and a 40-megabyte hard disk, has a suggested price of $2,499 without a monitor. Apple color monitors start at $599, setting the price of a color system at about $3,100.
The LC has a Motorola 68020 central-processing unit that runs at 16 megahertz -- about the same speed as the original Mac II but slower than the current generation of Macintosh II systems. The machine will not be available in volume until late January 1991.
Apple also announced a $199 expansion card that will allow the LC to run Apple IIe software. It will be available in March 1991.
The LC does not have the same expansion slots as the Macintosh II. It does have one "processor direct slot" that makes it possible to add some peripheral equipment.
The Macintosh IIsi features a 20-megahertz Motorola 68030 central processing unit, which, according to Apple, runs programs about five times faster than the Macintosh Classic. While other Macintosh II machines have at least three built-in expansion slots, the IIsi has only one slot. To use that slot, you need to buy a $249 adapter card. The keyboard and monitor are not included.
Both the LC and the IIsi come with a sound input jack and a microphone. Aside from lower cost components, sound input represents the only technological difference between these and previous Macs. The inclusion of this technology is part of Apple's strategy to one-up IBM and other competitors by adding yet another data input option to its systems.
While we are still years away from sophisticated voice recognition technology, sound input can be used to include voice annotation in electronic messages or as part of word processing or spreadsheet files.
Unfortunately, Apple did not include sound input on the Mac Classic, but it is possible to add sound input to that or any other Mac by purchasing the $249 MacRecorder from Farallon Computing of Emeryville, Calif.
At a time when other computer makers are cutting prices, it's nice to see Apple get in step by reducing costs. However, even with the new pricing, Macintoshes are still more expensive than many IBM compatibles with similar memory and storage specifications. The hard-disk-equipped Mac Classic, at $1,499, is reasonably priced for what it delivers. While it doesn't display color and it's not as fast as the high-end systems, it is easy to use and it comes with everything you need except a printer and application software.
Readers' comments are welcomed. Write to Lawrence J. Magid, P.O. Box 620477, Woodside, Calif. 94062, or contact the L. Magid account on the MCI electronic mail system.