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Apple ][+

The Personal Computer

apple ][+
[Click to enlarge]

My Apple ][ Experience

I cut my teeth on the Apple ][, and I say that with pride. As a kid I always wanted one, but that wasn't to be -- the Apple ][ was hideously expensive in its day. I had to settle with the Apples we had at school (St. Leonard's College in Melbourne, Australia), and, given their limited number, there was often contention over getting your hands on a unit.

I first came across the Apple (let alone any personal computer) during a presentation given to our class in '80 or '81, for which they actually set up one of the newly acquired units in the classroom -- a rare occurrence indeed, since they were usually kept under lock and key. I got to power the baby up and heard that now familiar sound of the beep and booting floppy. We played a few rounds of Lemonade Stand, presumably because it was deemed educational 'n' stuff.

In 1983 I began programming on the Apple in BASIC and some machine language as an after school activity. There were only about 10 systems as I recall, one of which actually had a colour monitor and was consequently furiously fought over. Another was hooked up to a bulky, wood veneered colour TV via an RF modulator. The rest were an assortment of original Apples and Orange Micro clones with 12-inch green monitors and one (my favourite) with the classic 9" portable b&w monitors. Among the peripherals was a clunky DECwriter, an Epson FX-80 printer, and a "turtle" robot which could carry a pen and be programmed under LOGO. You needed special privileges to get into the computer room, which was locked at all times (for obvious reasons).

Games were strictly no-no's, and our supervisor checked on us regularly to enforce this rule. Those caught playing were stripped of their privileges and banned from the room! Of course that didn't stop us, and we actually posted lookouts at the window to check for the approaching super while the others pounded away with classics like Star Blazer, Choplifter, Repton, Gorgon, Horizon V, and Raster Blaster, just to name a few. If/when the super did turn up, we immediately slammed the RESET key (aptly dubbed "the panic button"). Of course the sound of 10 or so Apples all beeping and booting their floppies in concert the instant you come in isn't the least bit suspicious, is it? :^)

The Apple ][ has always been notorious for power supply problems, notably the failure of the power switch. Interestingly, the unit at school with the 9" monitor refused to power off, which proved fatal for one kid playing Horizon V on it (IIRC that game is boot resistant, so you had to power cycle). Suffice to say, the supervisor came in and caught him flicking desperately with the power switch, to no avail. The super's wrath came down on him, and the poor sod was banished from the computer room for all eternity. Interestingly, the unit in question was marked #5, a bizarre coincidence with the robot gone amok in the movie Short Circuit. :^)

Super with Apple ][+
Our supervisor with one of the school's first Apple ]['s in 1981. This was the unit with the classic 9" b&w monitor which I used quite often. Simply marked #5, it became my fave because it was almost never taken (everybody wanted that damn colour monitor). I wonder what that mallet's for... :^)

I never did manage to call an Apple my own in those days, but many years later I bought one off a colleague at university (thanks, Norbert!) and fulfilled my wish. It still sits on my desk and performs flawlessly. Of all the vintage computers in my collection, the Apple ][ is my most cherished. To say I'm partial to this system would be an understatement. It holds a special place in my heart, but I guess that goes for anyone's first computer encounter.


It is said that Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs laid the foundation for the personal computer industry when they founded and operated Apple Computer out of a garage. While that may be debatable, there is no doubt that they had a fundamental impact on the industry and the direction in which it was headed in the mid to late 70s.

Wozniak was the brains of the outfit, while Jobs was the brawn. The former was the engineering wizard who designed the products, while the latter had the business acumen to successfully market and promote them. In 1976 they introduced the Apple I, a single board computer Wozniak designed around the 6502 microprocessor according to his concept of what a personal computer should be. It sold in kit form, which was not unusual in those days as personal computing was nothing more than an emerging hobby. What set it apart from other computer kits was an integrated keyboard interface and video output (most single board machines at the time had LED blinkenlights and switches for twiddling and displaying individual bits). The Apple I sold in large enough quantities (we're talking just a few hundred units here) for the duo to realise that there really was a potential market for a personal computer.

The followup Apple ][ was introduced in 1977 and became one of the first mass produced personal computers along with the Commodore PET and TRASH-80 Model I. It came in a handsome plastic case with built in keyboard and switching mode (!) power supply (no clunky transformers sitting on the floor as with the TRASH 80), and integer BASIC in ROM (no more loading from tape as with the predecessor). The case design was attributed to Jobs, and is in my mind one of the most elegant designs ever to house a computer. It's a unique blend of the classic and futuristic, and Jobs insisted that the Apple ][ should have a polished, corporate look and feel (although it remained to a great extent a hobbyist machine) to attract business clientele.

Apple ][ ad
An ad for the original Apple ][ from 1977. Yes folks, the computer has been domesticated, or so the message it seems to convey. You can hook it up to your domestic TV and set it up in your own domestic kitchen. Your domestic housewife takes care of the domestic chores while you get to play with your new toy because, after all, computing is a man's job!

With an introductory price of $1300 with 4K of RAM, the Apple ][ retailed for more than double the price tag of Commodore's and Tandy's offerings. This surcharge was not unjustified, as the Apple was more sophisticated in several ways: it offered greater expandability by way of eight expansion slots for add-on cards, it had an analog joystick/paddle connector, and it could boast hi-res colour graphics and sound capabilities. According to Wozniak, the latter were added on a whim expressly to enhance his implementation of Little Brickout, one of the demo programs that shipped with the Apple ][.

Jobs & Woz
Jobs and Wozniak (hacking). They appear to be checking a Disk ][ unit with an oscilloscope, which would date the photo some time between 1977 and 1978. Note the classic TI calculator (possibly a TI Programmer) next to the drive [Click to enlarge].

The Apple ][ was hugely successful, setting new standards in personal computing. Although popular in schools and small businesses (the advent of the IBM PC changed all that), the Apple ][ was essentially at home with hobbyists. Aptly enough, Apple's advertising at the time emphasised it as the personal computer. Its popularity also spawned a whole slew of clones, second in proliferation only to IBM PC clones. Among them such popular names as the Franklin Ace and Laser models. Needless to say, Apple wasn't happy and sued... and eventually won, in the case of Franklin.

Compuserve ad with Apple ][
A smug pair, aren't they? One of a series of innovative and amusing CompuServe ads from the early 80's depicting personal computer owners (and of course CompuServe users) from the computer's bug-eyed perspective, in this case an Apple ][. These two have achieved the ultimate American middle-class dream at that time: no kids, but they do have a computer! And of course they only had to wash one glass, which suggests they probably don't have a dishwasher either. This ad raises the philosophical question of whether computers have some level of awareness, but I think we'll just leave it at that. :^) [Click to enlarge].

1978 saw the release of the Apple ][+, with the plus denoting a improved version. Overall, the improvements were modest, consisting mainly of some minor hardware changes, but most importantly a new firmware. The Apple ][+ came with Applesoft BASIC in ROM, which, unlike the predecessor's built in integer BASIC, was capable of floating point maths and also provided commands for hi-res graphics. The ROM's "autostart" feature was also capable of booting from the Disk ][ floppy drive (previously released that year) without user intervention. To accommodate the new code, some popular features such as the resident miniassembler were removed from the original Apple ][ ROM, much to the dismay of a sizeable portion of the user base. The most significant hardware change was the memory capacity, which was boosted to 48K. At $1200, the Apple ][+ actually retailed for less than its predecessor, despite having more memory. The Apple ][+ was also the first in the line to be exported. Since it only generated a colour NTSC signal, a modified Europlus model was shipped which generated a monochrome PAL video signal. A PALcolour card to generate PAL conformant colour encoding could be plugged into slot 7, which provided the Apple's 3.5 MHz colour reference signal on a dedicated pin .

Apple ][+ ad Apple ][+ ad
A strange ad for the Apple ][+ from 1981. We don't tend to associate computers with farming, except apparently in the midwest. Comparing the Apple ][+ to a tractor that "plows through paperwork in minutes" is pretty bold, to say the least [Click to enlarge].


For the intents and purposes of its day, the Apple ][ is a superbly engineered machine. Particularly the firmware routines are quite advanced for their day, with support for text windows, and I/O redirection to/from any of the eight expansion slots.

The sound capabilities are crude, consisting simply of a speaker connected to a memory location (-16336, a so-called softswitch in Apple ][ parlance) that can be "clicked" at various frequencies under software control, effectively constituting a pulse width modulation (the original IBM PC would also adopt this form of sound generation). Crude as the hardware may be, crafty programmers nevertheless elicited some remarkable timbres and even digitised speech from it in such classic titles as Electric Duet (which could produce polyphonic sound), The Voice, Castle Wolfenstein (the pre-PC original!), Plasmania, Sea Dragon, and Tumble Bugs a.k.a Dung Beetles ("We GOTCHA!").

Sound coupled with the hi-res colour graphics and a joystick or pair of paddles turned the Apple ][ into a respectable games machine for its day, though certainly not up to par with the then popular video arcade games. Labels like Muse, Sirius, Br0derbund, Sublogic, Gebelli, Sir-Tech, Datamost, and Sierra On-Line turned out a steady stream of classic Apple games. But also serious applications abounded. Infact, the Apple ][ could arguably boast the largest software library of any microcomputer in its day.

This machine is a tinkerer's dream, primarily because it's a completely open system -- literally, as the lid pops off to reveal its innards, inviting the user to explore and poke around inside! This philosophy is further reflected in the documentation, which is unlike any computer reference manual I've seen since, containing firmware routine documentation, a memory map, expansion slot and connector pinouts, an overview of the 6502 instruction set, a commented ROM listing, and to top it off, full circuit schematics! Infact, few computers out there are as well documented as the Apple ][.

Along with the reference manual came two manuals describing Applesoft BASIC. One is a tutorial for beginners which, on occasion, reads somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Take this brilliant piece of prose from the section covering sound generation:

"Clicks, ticks, tocks, and various buzzes are easily generated. You can make sounds on your Apple if you tap it, scratch your fingers across it, or drop it, but the sounds covered in this manual are produced by programming it."
Apple ][ Reference Manual Applesoft Tutorial Applesoft Tutorial
Apple ][ documentation. The reference manual (left) is replete with hardware info and primarily aimed at techies. The Applesoft tutorial (centre) is an introduction into Applesoft BASIC primarily for beginners, while the Applesoft reference manual (right) is for experienced users [Click to enlarge].

Since the system used off-the-shelf components, there were no secrets to be guarded (that changed considerably as home computers with custom ASICs arrived, which were sparsely documented at best). These factors encouraged experimentation and exploration, and some pretty nifty add-on gadgets were developed. This resulted in the evolution of a whole cottage industry around the Apple ][, not so much from corporate but rather from hobbyist backgrounds. Among these was Microsoft's popular Z80 SoftCard, essentially a coprocessor that endowed the Apple ][ with the ability to run the industry standard CP/M operating system -- a strong selling point, as it opened up the door to a range of business applications, thereby elevating the Apple ][ into the upper echelons of professional computing.

Z80 SoftCard
A Z80 SoftCard clone. The ability to run industry standard CP/M applications on the Apple ][ was of particular value to small businesses [Click to enlarge].

Other popular add-ons were the Language Card which plugged into slot 0 and expanded the Apple's memory to 64K (so called because interpreters and compilers usually occupied the upper 16K residing on the card), and the Super Serial Card to connect serial devices like modems and printers. More exotic boards included clock/calendar cards, speech synthesisers (such as SAM), accelerator boards, audio/video digitisers, and even Motorola 68000 coprocessors.

While the Apple ]['s expandability was one of its strong selling points, it also led to, paradoxically, a weakness in the design: a fully loaded Apple ][ ran hot, and heat dissipation became a problem. Third party vendors offered fan units which latched onto the side vents. I simply dropped a Papst Variofan into my Apple and hooked it up to the 12V pin which normally powers the RF modulator

Apple ][+ inside
Popping off the lid reveals the innards. This baby is loaded! As this is a Europlus, slot 7 at the front is empty and usually reserved for a PALcolour board [Click to enlarge].

Hardware Issues


Year of introduction 1978
Retail price $1200
CPU MOS 6502 at 1.023 MHz
RAM Up to 64K
ROM 12K with Applesoft BASIC and system monitor
Display 40×24 monochrome text (80 column card optional)
40×48 lo-res graphics (16 colours)
280×192 hi-res graphics (6 colours)
Audio Built in speaker, PWM actuated
I/O Expansion slots (8), composite video out,
cassette in/out, analog joystick/paddle connector,
auxiliary video for PALcolour board or RF modulator,
optional serial and parallel interface
Storage Audio cassette, 5.25" Disk ][ floppy drive (143K)
Keyboard Full-stroke upper case with repeat key
Operating system Proprietary, with Disk ][: DOS 3.3, ProDos, CP/M (with optional Z80 SoftCard), UCSD-Pascal
Rarity Common
Verdict A classic if ever there was one!


Steve Weyhrich's excellent Apple ][ History
Steve Woziak's Website!!!
The Unofficial Apple Museum
Apple ][ FAQs
Apple ][ Tree (Japanese)
Apple ][ World (Japanese)
Apple Forever! (French)
Apple ][ documentation, emulation, and software repository at

Update: Apple ][ Sounds & Videos!

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