Hands on with the first Mac: Apple’s Macintosh 128K

Editor’s note: The following article is reprinted from Macworld U.K. Visit Macworld U.K. for the latest Mac news from across the Atlantic.

On January 24, 1984, Apple revolutionized the computer market with the brilliant Macintosh 128K. Apple’s computer became the blueprint for other companies making computers.

To put the impact of the Macintosh 128K into perspective, we performed a hands-on examination of a vintage Macintosh 128K. How much of its original influence remains? What is it like to use the computer years after its original launch?

A good number of Macintosh 128K computers are still in healthy, working condition. The Cambridge Centre for Computing has a Macintosh 128K that we used for this article. (Thanks to The Cambridge Centre for Computing for allowing us to spend time with the original Apple Macintosh 128K. We enjoyed every minute of it.)

Up and running

hands on test macintosh 128k

What you first notice about an original Macintosh 128K is the familiar structure of the computer, keyboard, and mouse. It’s unlike computers from 10 years prior to the Macintosh 128K, like the Altair 8800. The physical shape of the Macintosh 128K body—with the screen and computer housed in a single unit—is also a delightful sight to anybody who’s used a modern Mac.

The Macintosh 128K is, at the same time, much smaller and bulkier than most computers that exist today. The unit itself seems quite small, but the keyboard and mouse are almost comically huge. While the modern iMac appears to be a virtually floating screen, the Macintosh 128K has a lot of “Mac” surrounding the small screen.

The display

By today’s standards, the Macintosh 128K’s screen is tiny. It’s a diminutive 9-inch CRT with a screen resolution of just 512-by-342 pixels—marginally smaller than an iPad screen, although it has a much lower resolution (lower even than the original iPhone). The bulk of the Macintosh 128K itself makes the display seem much smaller.

The screen is also black and white, a bit of a curveball—we haven’t used a monochrome computer in many years. And the screen’s curvature makes it undeniably retro.

The keyboard

There’s no getting away from the keyboard and mouse. Both feel incredibly chunky. The keyboard has a 1970s feel to it, even though it is from the 1980s.

Macintosh Plus keyboard

The keyboard we are using on this computer for our hands-on is a Macintosh Plus keyboard, not the very first keyboard that shipped with the Macintosh 128K. That keyboard had no numerical keypad, whereas the Mac Plus keyboard has one. At the insistence of Steve Jobs, the Macintosh 128K keyboard had no arrow keys; he wanted people to use the mouse. The Mac Plus keyboard has arrow keys arranged linearly, rather than the inverted-T shape on modern keyboards—another nostalgic touch, but clearly not as practical.

In terms of design, though, it is beautiful. It has the familiar Shift, Option, and Command keys, although only on the left side. On the right side sits a backslash key. The…


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