iMac Rev A-D

Released : August 1998, Revised January 1999

Price: $1,299 (Rev A-C), $1,199 (Rev D – 5 Colors)

Acquired: Sept 2011 (Craigslist)

Cost: FREE

About the Machine

Promotional photo of the iMac showing “hello (again)” – an homage to the marketing campaign of the original Macintosh

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 times were tough.  Apple’s stock price was low, debt was high, profits were hard to come by, operating system strategy was a mess, and it had a large and confusing line of products.  Jobs got to work streamlining the product line, building a solid operating system strategy, and turning some profitable quarters.  But Apple needed more than just a new product line and some profits to stay alive – they needed something bold, something innovative, something that people would remember. It was called the iMac.

The left side of the iMac showing the translucent bondi blue and white case as well as the keyboard and “puck” mouse.

Introduced in May 1998, the iMac was unlike any computer before it, PC or Mac.  It was a curvaceous all-in-one computer with a 15″ screen, tray loading CD-ROM drive, set of stereo speakers, and microphone all inside of a translucent Bondi Blue and white case.  It was shaped like and egg and came with a colored keyboard and matching round mouse that looked like a hockey puck.  It was like the original Macintosh for a new generation.  The iMac ran on a powerful 233 MHz G3 processor, packed 32 MB RAM, and had a 4 GB hard drive. It sold for $1,299, which was considered extremely affordable for a Mac at the time (it was $700 less than the 233 MHz G3 desktop without a monitor).

The iMac was designed to be eye catching.  Its all-in-one design made it convenient and its translucent colored case demanded attention.  The iMac made a statement.  If a person owned an iMac you knew that it was a Mac.  There was no confusing it with any of the other computer.  It was a conversation starter. It said something about the person who owned it.  It was cool.  It was chic.

The back of the iMac showing its handle and egg-shaped design.

The iMac was as  famous for what it did not include as well as for its design.  It was the first Mac to include USB, but did so at the expense of all of the Macs legacy ports – ADB, Serial, and SCSI.  It didn’t even include a floppy drive!  In fact there was no way to transfer data off of the iMac other than over a network or through an external USB device (such as Zip drive or floppy drive). Remember, back in 1998 floppy disks were still a big thing and were used as a means of storage and transfer.  The lack of a floppy drive was a big deal at the time. The lack of legacy ports also complicated things because existing Mac users couldn’t use their existing keyboards, mice, and printers.  That was a problem for those who didn’t want to use Apple’s also-controversial USB keyboard and puck mouse.

There were four revisions of the original iMac design – revisions A through D. Revs A and B were for the original Bondi Blue model, revisions C and D for the five flavors models.  The Rev A iMac had some extra features that were removed in Rev B to save costs and lower the price.  Rev A iMacs include an IrDA port (like a remote control) that allowed users to beam files from a laptop to the iMac. It was an odd feature for a desktop at the time because it was only included on PowerBooks and Newtons up until then.  It also included an internal expansion slot dubbed the “mezzanine” slot. Apple never advertised the slot or created anything that could go in it so it’s always been a mystery as to what it was for.  At the time some third party companies were able to reverse-engineer it and sell CPU and graphics card upgrades for it.

The iMac was important not only because it was visually interesting and affordable, but also because it pushed the Mac platform forward technologically.  Instead of using more expensive Mac-only technologies, Apple used standardized technology from the PC industry such as IDE hard drives and CD-ROM drives, USB, and PC standard RAM.  This made the parts both cheaper for Apple and easier to upgrade for users.  For example, USB gave Mac users access to hundreds of products that, prior to the iMac, were only available to the PC. The iMac defined Apple’s new technical platform.  Every Mac since has included PC standard drives, memory, and ports. And no Macs included floppy drives.

What it Means to Me

In January 1999 the iMac was updated with a faster processor and came in five new colors.

Over the next year and a half the original iMac’s processor was bumped to 266 and later 333 MHz, the hard drive was increased to 6 GB, and the Bondi Blue case was replaced with five options – blueberry, grape, lime, tangerine, and strawberry.  I have a 333 MHz Blueberry iMac with 64 MB RAM and a 6 GB hard drive.  I was originally uninterested in the original style iMac, but when I got mine for free off of Craigslist I changed my mind.  The case has a nice texture and shape – it almost seems to glow when light hits it from above.  It’s actually pretty fast for a Mac OS 9 machine and is pretty even though it has a fan. Every time I use it I feel like I’m back in 1998 sitting down at the product that would put Apple on people’s minds again.

The iMac was the computer that saved Apple.  It was the first Apple product since the original Macintosh that said “Hey, look at me, I’m easy to use, I’m different, and you should buy me”.  It introduced a design language that would dominate Apple’s products for the next three years and remains Apple’s consumer desktop to this day.  The iMac was the beginning of a golden industrial design era for Apple.  Ever since, Apple’s products have pushed the envelope on design and construction and helped Apple become the tech giant that it is today.  The iMac not only helped Apple regain its former glory, it helped it eclipse it.

Tech Specs
Processor 233 (Rev A,B), 266 (Rev C), or 333 MHz (Rev D) PowerPC 750 (G3) w/512k backside cache
Memory 32 MB PC-66 SDRAM
Hard Drive 4 or 6 GB
Other Drives 24x Tray-Loading CD-ROM
Video Card ATI Rage IIc / 2,4,6 MB (Rev A) or ATI Rage Pro / 6 MB (Rev B-D)

15″ 1024 x 768 pixel CRT

Speakers Stereo SRS
Expansion Slots Mezzanine (Rev A), NONE (Rev B-D)
Ports 10/100 Ethernet, 33 or 56k modem,  2 USB, Audio In, Audio Out, 2 headphone, 4Mbps IrDA (Rev A)

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