LGR – Apple IIGS – Vintage Computer System Review


[typing] June 10, 1977, marked the launch
of the original Apple II microc omputer, released as a follow up to the Apple I, primarily designed by
engineering genius Steve Wozniak. The computer was a landmark
in both design and function, as it not only looked noticeably slicker than many of the other
home computers of the time, but it had color graphics, a built-in keyboard, and a huge potential for expansion with its eight expansion slots. 40,000 units of this first model were sold, and Apple continued to build on its success with subsequent updates to the 8-bit machine, like the II Plus, the IIe, and the IIc. Apple released several other
machines alongside these, like the Lisa, and even an intended successor called the Apple III, but for various reasons,
these never gained much of a foothold, and the Apple II remained Apple’s cash cow for years. However, by the mid-’80s, the Apple II faithful longed for
an update to their computer, since the machine had tons of software and it was still very useful, though it was quickly losing ground to newer computers like the Amiga and the Atari ST. But in 1984, Apple had released the Macintosh, and while it wasn’t initially very successful, the company continued pushing
the Mac as the company’s future. As such, the Apple II line was receiving
less and less attention from Apple, And when the next-gen Apple II
was finally released in 1986, called the IIGS, it never got the corporate fanfare it deserved. While the IIGS sold very well in its first year, and was a proper reimagining of the Apple II, featuring backwards compatibility
and updated graphics and sound, as implied by the name “GS,” the computer was nonetheless still an Apple II. It held onto the past while hinting at the future, and was a bit of an oddity in that respect. Still, the IIGS was quite capable, and held out until 1992 when it was
totally eclipsed by the Macintosh and discontinued. There are a few main variants
of the IIGS to look out for, starting with the first
10,000 machines manufactured, known as “Woz Editions.” The only thing setting this apart from the regular IIGS is a silk screen signature of
Steve Wozniak on the front of the case. Which brings me to the most common machine, the stock GS. Same thing as the Woz Edition,
just without the signature. And this is the one you’re most likely
to run across when searching for one, though it may have any number of
expansions installed, increasing its value. Another version is the IIGS upgrade, which was a kit made available
to owners of the older IIe. With this, your 8-bit Apple IIe could be retrofitted with a 16-bit Apple IIGS motherboard. Although it wasn’t very popular due to
the fact that it didn’t save much money, it didn’t come with a mouse and
some of the newer expansion boards didn’t fit the slanted IIe case. I got my Apple IIGS for the cost of shipping, thanks to the incredible
generosity of YouTuber Dayv99. Thank you once again, sir of sirs. However, you can expect to pay
anywhere from $50-200 or so depending on what the computer comes with, as the stock IIGS itself isn’t too costly, but the peripherals and add-ons certainly can be. Just looking at the outside of the IIGS, you’ll notice that it’s more boxy and
predictable than the older Apple II’s, although that’s not intrinsically a bad thing. In fact, it has lines reminiscent
of the Apple IIc released in 1984. And I like the look and feel of that,
so the IIGS isn’t terrible or anything, but I still prefer the classic
lines of the II, II Plus, and IIe. Same goes for the keyboard, which is again
more similar to the IIc’s than, say, the IIe’s. It feels good enough to type on, I suppose, but the keys don’t travel very far and unfortunately it seems a tad brittle, ’cause mine was busted up a bit during shipment due to being delivered by rabid gorillas, and the original IIGS keyboard isn’t
easy to replace for a decent price. Fortunately, the IIGS uses ADB, the Apple Desktop Bus, so you can use compatible
peripherals with no problem. It was actually the first Apple computer to use ADB, predating the Macintosh
getting it by about half a year. So, yes, you can also use any ADB mouse with it, although the mouse that
it comes with is nice enough. It’s often called the “trapezoid mouse,” which was also included with Macintoshes
for years after the GS introduced it. It’s an improvement over Apple’s serial mouse, but it kind of feels like you’re
fondling a block of cheese. On the back, you’ve got a bunch of integrated ports, which is a nice change from the more
barebones configurations of Apple II’s past. You’ve got headphone or speaker output, serial ports for both a modem and printer, a joystick port, an external floppy drive port, RGB video output for monitors, NTSC composite video output, ADB keyboard input, and a power plug and switch. You may see more ports up above, depending
on what add-on cards you have installed, or if you’ve been hit particularly
hard in the head recently, but this is just the basic configuration. As with the earlier Apple II’s, opening it up and gaining access
to its insides is pleasurably simple. While the GS is pretty darn capable on its own, chances are you’ll want to expand the machine. You are supplied with seven expansion ports and one memory expansion port, and this is plenty, considering all that’s
built into the motherboard already. You’ve got at least 128K of standard RAM, 128K of fast RAM, as well as 64K of dedicated sound RAM. In fact, it has an Ensoniq 5503 digital oscillator chip for wavetable music and sound. providing 8-bit audio wth 32 oscillator channels resulting in eight independent stereo channels. Pretty impressive stuff. It was actually designed by Robert Yannes who also designed the legendary
SID chip in the Commodore 64, and is the same chip used in
keyboards like the Ensoniq Mirage and ESQ-1. For the display, you have a custom video graphics chip, providing compatibility for all
the old Apple II graphics modes, as well as new 320×200 to 640×200
resolution modes using a 12-bit palette for a total of 4,096 possible colors, usually showing 16 at once from multiple palettes. And running the whole show is a 128K system ROM with a WDC 65C816 CPU running at 2.8 MHz, allowing for an 8-bit data bus
and a 16-bit address bus. There were three main revisions
to the IIGS through the years. so newer machines may have more pre-installed
RAM and a larger, more optimized ROM. Of course, all of this can be expanded
upon no matter what the version, and my machine came with several additions. The first is an Apple memory expansion board, which increases the amount of random access memory to allow for more complex software and multitasking. Super handy stuff. I also got an InnerDrive hard drive kit, which allows for installation of IDE hard drives. It not only comes with a controller board, but an entire new PSU, in order to provide the extra
power the hard drive requires. There are also more modern options for
installing compact flash cards and such, and I’d probably recommend those instead. Also highly recommended is an accelerator board, like this Transwarp GS by Applied Engineering. This provides an expandable cache
and faster CPU clock speeds, allowing the IIGS to seriously fly at anywhere from 7 to even 18 MHz. Now this is important because some IIGS software
can run pretty friggin’ slow on a stock machine. So a board like this or the Zip GS is incredibly useful, although they’re not cheap. And while these things are optional,
there are a couple of things you’ll need in order to do much of anything with it, starting with a monitor. I have here the original IIGS color RGB monitor. And unless you’re going with a
composite display of some kind, you don’t have a ton of other options. It’s not compatible with RGB Macintosh monitors, since it needs one that can horizontally
sync to 15.75 KHz, so keep that in mind. Another thing that you’ll probably
want is a floppy drive or two, as Apple IIGS software came
on 800K 3½-inch floppies. And if you want to play older Apple II software, then you’ll want a compatible
140K 5¼-inch floppy drive. And if you’re into playing games,
you’ll likely want a joystick of some kind. Any old Apple II joysticks or
paddles should work just fine. Now as for software, well, running Apple II stuff is pretty much
the same as it was on older systems. Start up the machine,
insert a ProDOS disk or whatever, and run the proper command
for the proper drive and slot. It gets a bit more involved when
you begin messing with GS/OS, the graphical user interface for the IIGS. It’s actually pretty similar to
the Macintosh OS of the time, although in some ways it’s actually better. It’s in color for one, and makes efficient use of file system translators, allowing it to support multiple on-disk
file systems transparently to applications, letting you read things like ProDOS
and Macintosh HFS disks. Of course, you’ll need at least 1.25 megs of RAM and preferably a faster-than-stock CPU to use GS/OS, but still, if you can, it’s awesome. As mentioned before, older Apple II
games work just fine on the IIGS, though you may have to slow down
the CPU to get proper speeds. But there isn’t nearly as much
IIGS-specific software out there. I think there’s less than 150 retail games and a bunch of shareware, but there is still some seriously
great stuff, if you look for it. And here are a few of my favorites. [chiptune music] [chiptune Arkanoid theme] [echoing beeping] [zap] [Arkanoid “Game Over” jingle] [various synth sound effects] [gasping sound] [tires screeching] [water bubbling] [splashing] [gasping] [chiptune Thexder music] [pistol cocking] [metal door slides open] [gunshots, grunting] [pistol cocking] [“Test Drive II Main Theme” plays] [engine revving sound effect] [car crash sound] [sting, chime] [“Silph of Wind” plays] [Rastan music plays] [men grunting, gunfire] Like I said, there isn’t a ton of IIGS software, and what there is isn’t super easy to come by, at least in its original form. If you don’t have a flash memory solution installed, one way to get software is to write it to a blank disk using another system. You either try to write Apple IIGS software on
an older Macintosh with a 3½-inch floppy drive, or connect the IIGS to a more modern computer and just use a null modem serial cable connection to transfer it using a program like ADTPro. It’s kinda clunky and it’s slow, but it works. Of course, the emulation option is
always there, too, if that’s your thing. and I’d recommend KEGS if
you’re wanting to emulate the IIGS. Though if you just want to
emulate the regular Apple II, then something like AppleWin will suffice. So, is the Apple IIGS worth buying or not? I would say absolutely yes! Possibly, maybe. Depending on what you’re looking for. That’s often what it comes down
to with these kinds of machines. Because while it is awesome, and pretty underrated, it can also be pretty expensive to get a machine
that’s worthwhile messing around with because I can’t understate the importance of one of those
accelerator cards like the TransWarp or the Zip. So… yeah, those things can be really costly. Thankfully, I got a good deal. You can’t
beat the cost of shipping for this one, so… that’s why I got it. I always wanted one, but you know,
the cost is sort of a barrier in that respect. Even though, yeah, the machine is awesome. I mean, in some ways it even
surpasses the Amiga and the Atari ST And of course, those systems have a ton more games. That’s kind of beside the point,
but what this does have is fantastic, is what I’m trying to say. So… It’s in the same league as those other great 16-bit systems of the ’80s. And I think that’s awesome. It’s just a shame it didn’t sell many units and didn’t get a ton of software. So for… you know, it’s got those ups and downs that if you’re a hardcore collector, you like these ’80s machines, definitely give the IIGS a look. Otherwise, you might wanna look
towards, like, the Amiga or the ST, simply because it has more software and it’s more affordable. [electronic music plays]