Illustrated Mac IIci Teardown
by Steve Wood
July 7, 2000
I had needed a good non-multiscan monitor at home for testing Mac II series computers for some time. Occasionally, I'd bring home a unit from school to use over a long weekend, but moving monitors around isn't one of my favorite things to do. All the jostling in transport can't be very good for the display as well.
When I saw an eBay item that included a 14" Apple display with a Mac IIci for just $8.95 (ha-ha, $37.50 with shipping) just minutes before the end of the auction, I grabbed it. It was sort of a back door way of getting into the Mac IIci, as the CPU certainly wasn't my primary reason for making the purchase.
The 25 MHz Mac IIci was offered from September, 1989, to February, 1993. Pricing for the IIci ranged from $6,700 to $8,000, depending upon when in its life cycle one purchased it. Today, you can get a IIci as I did for a pittance. However, pricing of upgraded IIci's or the upgrade cards alone holds up pretty well for a ten year old computer!
The IIci brought a number of firsts to the Mac II series. It carried onboard video support, leaving its three NuBus slots open for something other than a video/graphics card. It also was the first Mac II with 32-bit clean ROM, allowing the use of up to 128MB of RAM. Another IIci first was the appearance of the PDS slot which can be used for all sorts of the aforementioned third party upgrades.
When my Mac IIci and monitor arrived, I really feared I'd been had, as the letters "UPS" had been carved deeply into both the computer case and monitor. Both units were covered in grease stains. The interior of the case was no better. I suspect from the filth and lettering, this unit must have been used in a warehouse or shipping department somewhere.
Despite the appearance of the units, both worked well on an initial startup, although the floppy drive was bad. When the dust bunny (dust rhino?) pictured and his buddies greeted me upon opening the case, I decided a complete teardown and thorough cleaning was advisable. If all you need to do is switch hard drives or upgrade RAM, no teardown is necessary as both are accessible, although the RAM is in tight quarters. This unit took more than a quick wipe and a shot of compressed air.
I ended up cleaning the power supply out in the garage with a heavy duty air compressor! The motherboard received the gentle touch of a camel's hair paint brush that I keep hidden from the would-be decorators in our household. I did use some of the precious and expensive "canned air" to push the most resistant dust from nooks and crannies of the motherboard.
While I scrubbed the exterior of the case vigorously, the platinum would not give up its grease stains. If I take this machine apart again, I suspect I'll resort to using something like Spic 'n Span on the exterior.
Since Apple has chosen to hide their service manuals once again (You didn't get them all when they were briefly posted this spring?), I'll lead you through a quick teardown of the unit.
Notice I'm not leading you through a teardown of the display. While I do venture inside of them occasionally for cleaning or very minor repair, the voltage involved makes it seem prudent to allow others who are better trained and equipped than I to do any serious work on them. Seems like a bargain to me!
When you pop the cover off a IIci, you should see something like the picture at the lower left. Before pulling the power cord, do tap the power supply (the big silver thing) to discharge any static electricity you may have built up.
To pull the power supply, you'll need to push a plastic catch under it towards the drives. The catch is actually part of the plastic drive holder. When released, pull the power supply up and out. You may have to jiggle it to get it out. If it doesn't seem to want to come out, make sure you've gotten the catch released. If you've worked with a IIcx, this is the same part as it uses.
To pull the drive assembly, first disconnect the drive power and SCSI cable and then the floppy drive cable which is underneath the former two. If it's not already gone, remove the retaining screw and release the lever (both circled in white) and move the drive holder toward the rear of the case about one inch. Then it should easily come straight up and out..."should."
If you're going to go ahead and pull the motherboard, you'll need to unplug the speaker wires and pull the whole speaker assembly. This catch worked easily for me. Then gently push or pull the motherboard towards the front of the case and then up.
With any luck at all, that should be it!
With drive assembly out, you can swap out drives easily. I found it far easier to change RAM chips around with the motherboard out.
While you're at this point, it might be a good idea to change the 3.6 volt lithium battery, since it sits under the drive assembly. If you have to change it later, you'll need to go through the whole task of pulling both the power supply and the drive assembly.
A note of caution about changing RAM. With older machines the plastic RAM clips may have hardened with age, I try to be as careful as possible with this process. I've snapped off any number of plastic clips over time due to the plastic hardening and not bending as it's supposed to do. That's my excuse, anyway.
There are two different Mac IIci motherboards which require, of course, different kinds of RAM--parity and non-parity. My Older Macs column of January 10, 2000, more fully addresses the Mac IIci memory issue. To tell which type of RAM a IIci requires involves checking the motherboard, per the Apple Memory Guide (1584K PDF document) diagram, for the presence of a parity chip. If the chip is there, you must use parity RAM. Otherwise, any 30-pin 80ns SIMM will do (in groups of four, this is).
Mac IIci Links
Speaking of Low-End, some of you sharp-eyed URL watchers have probably already noticed this column appears under the Busman's Holiday banner on my MATH DITTOS 2 site, instead of the Low-End Mac site. I'm "on hiatus" (my choice) from Low-End and View from the Classroom for the summer at least. The bad news there is that I don't get a cent for writing this column. Ah, but there's lots of good news.
First, I got a good computer and monitor out of the deal. I spent the better part of two or three very enjoyable days tearing down, cleaning, upgrading, photographing, and playing with the "new" machine. Now equipped with a 500MB hard drive and 24MB of RAM, the IIci runs smoothly on System 7.6.1. I used it with the school's old JVC CD burner to make a few CDs and it performed without incident. The IIci will replace our IIsi as our backup machine in my classroom next year. Later on, it may find a new home as a 'big item" in one of our behavior modification sales. Before that time, I hope to snag one of the many upgrades available for the Mac IIci (check Low-End for a list).
In the process and discipline of writing, I had to check out more than a few things and wound up learning a thing or two I'd missed about the Mac II series. (That and about $5 will get you a cup of coffee at any Starbucks! Mac II specialists aren't in overwhelming demand these days. :-)
One of the nicest things about publishing to my own site is the ability to make timely corrections when I've blown it or add stuff that readers send in on the subject. I spent a good bit of the month of June updating links on old columns as I transferred them to the new MATH DITTOS 2 site. And, I obviously don't worry much about streamlining graphics for my self-hosted columns. This part of the site is noncommercial and the economics of commercial web sites and optimized graphics really don't apply. (Home Page lists this page as a three minute load on a 28.8 modem!)
I really enjoyed using the newly upgraded Mac IIci while writing and editing this column. But when it was done, my Mac IIfx, which is home on leave from my classroom for the summer, went back online and in service. After running at 25 MHz while testing the IIci, the 40 MHz IIfx feels like a screamer. And of course, right across the room from it, also on summer leave at my house, is my trusty 250 MHz 7500/G3.
A Glaring Omission: (7/8/2000)
While I linked to some true chip upgrades in this column, Thomas Haller sent a nice note pointing out what I'd totally spaced on: A cache upgrade for the IIci will noticeably improve performance. I actually just picked one up on eBay and am awaiting its arrival!
After writing this column, my Mac IIci was used only intermittently. Along the way, I got involved in giving each of my part and full-time special ed students a take-home Mac. These were mostly LC IIIs, but I finally ran into a special situation that required something better. Two brothers are in my classroom and will share their take-home Mac. They only have space for one computer at home, so the obvious answer was to give them something a bit more to make up for the "value" of two LC IIIs.
I decided to dust off my mostly unused IIci for them. I set it up with a 500 MB SCSI-2 hard drive, 24 MB RAM, and a cache card. It really zips along. At right is a digital photo I snapped (4/24/01) of the IIci during its final shakedown and student training in my classroom. I suspect the IIci will have a better life at their house than it had at mine.
Sorta Unbelievable (4/26/2008)
After all these years, I find it really amazing that folks still visit this page with some regularity (over 300 page views already in 2008). Since I'm once again either unemployed or retired, I had the time today to reformat this page a bit, go back to the original graphics and improve them as much as possible, and update all the links. I was surprised to find that there apparently are still new upgrades available for the Mac IIci. I guess that's a testimony to what a dandy little computer the Mac IIci was and is.
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©2000 Steven L. Wood