Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

The mystery of the iMac's granddaddy: The Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh

Christopher Phin | July 9, 2015
I got not one, but two very exciting Macs this week. The first was a new main Mac, the replacement for my trusty 2008 MacBook Pro: A tricked-out 5K iMac.

tam 1 primary

I got not one, but two very exciting Macs this week. The first was a new main Mac, the replacement for my trusty 2008 MacBook Pro: A tricked-out 5K iMac.

The second, though, was just as exciting: I became the caretaker for a Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, the grandfather of the modern iMac.

The TAM is a complete aberration. It doesn't fit into any product line, it cost $7,499 when introduced, only a few thousand were made, and nothing like it would ever be made again. Few enough people have ever heard of it, never mind know what one looks like, and fewer still own one. And yet at the same time, the same design decisions that gave us the basic formula for an all-in-one--which we first saw with the iMac G5--clearly informed the design of the TAM. 

In essence, the TAM is an iMac: An all-in-one Mac with the components all held in a vertical case behind the screen. It might not seem slim next to the 5-millimeter edge of my new iMac, but for the time when it was introduced in the late 90s, it was implausibly, enchantingly slim. This, remember, was the era of bulky, unequivocally three-dimensional computers like the Power Macintosh 5500, behemoth screens like the AppleVision 850, and elephantine peripherals such as the LaserWriter 8500. This stuff was big and imposing and there, but in contrast, the TAM looked flat and ephemeral and somehow self-effacing. 

And sure, it's all a bit of a lie--the same lie Apple peddles still by shouting about that impossibly thin iMac edge while the case bulges pregnantly in the middle--but even viewed from the side, and even with that backpack hump to allow for expansion cards, it nevertheless doesn't look like a computer that's pushing twenty years old.

It doesn't look like a modern computer, either, mind you, but it's such a weird, rare thing that it's a glitch in the matrix--you don't have context or cues to help you decide how old it is.

There are, however, clues. The first is the huge rectangle that dominates the front of the machine: It's a CD-ROM drive.

CDs are held vertically, of course, and you'll note there are buttons for controlling playback and volume of audio CDs on the front of the TAM. These hook directly into the CD drive's hardware, and so, as I was reminded given the TAM's reputation for not being particularly stable, even if the Mac crashes hard, not only does the music keep playing, but you can still skip forward and back. And oh, how good it sounds! The Acoustimass speaker system was by Bose, and a beautiful external subwoofer gives the whole thing a fat, unctuous sound. 

 

1  2  Next Page 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.