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The Macintosh LC and a meditation on miniaturization

Christopher Phin | June 24, 2015
One of the notable side-effects of the very inexorability of technology's progress is that while in the abstract we know that computers used to be more primitive in the past, it's only when you actually sit down and examine vintage tech that you see the progress in real and graspable terms.

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One of the notable side-effects of the very inexorability of technology's progress is that while in the abstract we know that computers used to be more primitive in the past, it's only when you actually sit down and examine vintage tech that you see the progress in real and graspable terms.

The computer above is, of course, one of the LC range, the adorable little "pizza box" style Macs that were Apple's early attempts at making a cheap (or "Low Cost") computer. I love the LCs, and dearly wish I had a working one in good condition, complete with the 12-inch RGB display that sat perfectly on top.

This pairing, incidentally, was the first time I'd seen a Mac in a shop. And since I was used to the crude green-on-black screens of my family's Amstrad PCWs, seeing a nearly perfect photograph reproduced on the Mac's screen--"nearly perfect" only because I can now realize that it wouldn't have been displaying millions of colors--had such a huge impact on me that I can still see the image and remember my wonder two decades or more later.

The thing modern eyes notice about the LC, though, when you flip its lid off, is the chunkiness of all the components. It's not just the big things that are big, either--things such as the hard disk. No, the chips themselves are hefty, thick slabs jutting up from the circuit board, and for all their dizzying complexity inside, I can't help but think they look simple and primitive in part because of the small number of prominent pins, and because there are so few of them.

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This, of course, is an artifact of how surrounded we are today by unimaginably more complex systems rather than an absolute truth, but that doesn't make it any less real for me. By way of comparison, look at the circuit board of my 2008 MacBook Pro, the machine that (having reassembled it after taking the below photo!) I'm writing on now. Look at how much tinier and apparently infinitely more numerous the chips are, and at how closely they cleave to the surface.

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The irony here, of course, is that my trusty MacBook Pro is itself technically classified by Apple as vintage these days, and that if you want to see the current state of the art in miniaturization, you need to look at, say, the insanely tiny circuit board of the new MacBook or at what goes on inside an iPhone.

Here's maybe a more useful real-world comparison. As you probably know, the Raspberry Pi is a small self-contained computer which, although it has a far greater emphasis on learning and hobbyists than the LC had, was created within the same set of compromises, a focus on producing a cheap, accessible computer. Here it is next to the LC.

 

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