Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Cory's Blog


Quick Launch

Stenoweb Home Page > Cory's Blog > Posts > The Compromised Macs List
August 20
The Compromised Macs List

I was out and about yesterday thinking about what I would write on my blog this weekend, and was both pleased and annoyed when I came across the thing that would capture my attention for the next few hours.

It's well known at this point that I'm not the biggest fan of Low End Mac. LEM was founded over twenty years ago at a time when some of the Macs they're most known for their opinions on (the 6200 in particular) were still selling in retail used computer stores for hundreds of dollars. In 1997, it made perfect sense to give the advice that if you were sitting in front of a 6200 and a 7200 with the same specs and for the same price in a Computer Renaissance, you should pick the 7200.

In that sense, Low End Mac as a spec database and reference resource does a lot to de-contextualize its advice and the editorialization of various machines. The site does little to differentiate between pages that contain "reference" information and pages that contain "editorial" information, and in both cases with particular machines (I have written about this as it pertains to the Power Macintosh/Performa 5200 and 6200 before) LEM explicitly continues to rely on "technical analysis" of the machine and the platform that has long since been disproven as essentially made up by people with no good reason to write what they did, other than that at some point a Power Macintosh 6200 harmed a pet or family member.

I think that the 6200 was the first machine classified as a "road Apple" (nickname for when a horse poops on a road) by LEM, but since then, basically anything qualifies a machine for what has since been re-classified "Compromised Machines." The list completely de-contextualizes these machines from what computing was like when they were new and how much they cost. So, you get machines where the compromises made were in the name of either making development faster and easier, or simply makes a machine cost less. I think in a lot of sense, this has poisoned the word "compromise" – because, it's important to realize that any computer is purchased with a set of compromises. The compromise on the Performa 6200 is that it's architecture is essentially "Performa 630 but with a PowerPC upgrade preinstalled". The compromise on a contemporary machine like a 7200 or a 9500 is going to be that in trade for the better platform and higher performance, you trade and you need to do more work in terms of selecting components and software.

So anyway, the Big Thing That Happened is Burger Becky (who is extremely nice and this shouldn't be taken as being about her at all) tweeted a link to LEM's site, with an article about how the Macintosh Quadra 800 is considered a "compromised Mac" (although in terms of the site's structure, the URL is still "/roadapples/").

I did miss a few details as I was looking on my phone, but I think it's still severe. (Worth noting: this article claims to have been written in 1999, a detail I couldn't see on my phone.) I was surprised to see any part of the 800 was on the Road Apples list, and keep in mind the list didn't get rebranded as "compromised" until a lot later. Like, 2015 or so. "Fortunately" it appears they are referring only to the case, but the article is phrased in such a way that it does not reveal that until the very end, and nowhere is it acknowledged that the Quadra 800 is very arguably tied with the 800 and 950 for the top 68k Mac, depending essentially on whose benchmarks you're using and what your specific needs are. It's got a faster platform and better memory access than the 950 and the lower CPU speed than the 840 is offset by more standard support for things like A/UX, support for more memory, faster memory access, and overclocking and other upgrades can offset the CPU speed difference anyway.

Notably, part of the article I missed on the phone is that it applies to the 840, 8100, and 8500/9500 as well – this is fair, since all of those machines share the same overall case design, despite internal variations. The main criticism is essentially that the case is too difficult, even bordering on "dangerous" to open up, which I would argue is "true" but only to the extent that most PCs were at the time. Is it true that Apple had better designs? Yes. Did they use them? No. Do I know why? Also no. Does that matter? Really, no. It's a bad machine for people who are in and out of their computers all the time, but most Macs are, really.

The other worthwhile mention here is the article hasn't addressed the fact in the nineteen years since it was published, a lot of the machines lauded for having very easily accessible cases (Looking at you, Power Macintosh 7200/7500) have had their plastics degrade. These are still better case designs but it's a good example of how LEM fails to take context into account. Any context, at all, other than (without stating it) some of the context from the time the article was written. The entire site is like this.

The overall context here is that when LEM started, most '030 and '040 based 68k Macs were just a few years and were still viable as daily use computers. Prices were falling and as I've been doing with mine, a high-end Macintosh Quadra does a reasonably good job of running most of the "everyday computing" software that was available in 1998. (Office 98, notably excepted, although I suspect it would have worked, Office 97 on PC will run on a 486.). If you were working in any kind of group setting, Office itself would likely have been your biggest limitation.

This kind of thing is one of the most frustrating things about how popular Low End Mac is as a resource in the vintage Mac scene. You get people who come into other spaces with unrealistic ideas about what machine they "should" get or what's "best" and they've read Low End Mac and are rightly confused because LEM doesn't as a resource reflect modern reality. Low End Mac doesn't often address issues that have come up in the last ten to fifteen years, for example, and so their site is helpful if you were buying a 68k Mac to use as a third computer or for a particular task in 1999 or 20002, the reality and environment have changed a lot.

On twitter, I was perhaps a little more alarmist than I should have been, thinking this was perhaps new content. If so, it would be a little disturbing to say the least, in part because it does a huge disservice to talk about the 800 or the 840 without addressing that, yes, they're basically the fastest 68k Macs. (They both outrun the Quadra 950, which has the same CPU speed, the 840 because it's got a faster CPU and the 800 because of memory access, so the main reason to have a 950 is if you're building something needing a lot of slots.) I still think the article is bad, not because I disagree that the 800/840/8100/8500 case is bad (it is) but because I disagree that that's something that merits putting the machine – one of the fastest and most versatile Macs from its era – on the shit-list.


There are no comments for this post.